Wednesday was kind of tiring. I chose a route that required a lot of driving, but it was through the most interesting landscapes you can imagine – sometimes these southern Utah landscapes really do verge on the unimaginable. And I ended up having a really nice evening. I had been in a rodent-induced spiral of sleep-deprived negativity, and what seemed to break me out of it was getting off the road and jumping into Lake Powell. Things have been getting better ever since.
Best is that I seem to be mouse-less, without having had to commit violence! I had both the nice trap and the mean trap deployed, with murder in my heart, but no mousie! My theory is that I did a good job of hiding my food. I created such a barren foodscape in the van that my furry pal deserted me for the splendors of the Red Rock Steakhouse dumpster! On earlier nights his outside menu was pine cones and seeds, so he might as well hang with the van and see if he can steal another cashew bit from a trap. But tonight his other option is a full-on dumpster! Sobye bye van with large yelling mammal in it. My feelings are a little hurt that he could be so fickle!
So I was able to sleep through the night for the first time in four days, and did not wake up worrying that someone was shitting in my electrical wiring. That’s a better start to any day right there!
My little restaurant think they’re a steakhouse, so I invest in the steak and eggs – quite good, for a less than I pay for patty sausage at Pegs in Reno.
The drive from Hanksville to Torrey might be the most interesting of all for the connoisseur of crazy rocks. First time out, one is much more taken with the Boulder to Escalante run. But really, that is all just a bunch of well-sculptured limestone. Very dramatic, but kinda all the same. This stuff, whatever it is, is more like chunks of the walls of Death Valley picked out and dumped in piles right here along Route 24. First time through you zoom right past it because it looks like mining waste, but in fact it is gray dirt or green dirt or red dirt or lavender dirt because God threw in a little copper or iron or magnesium to make it that way and left it huge untidy piles right here. No human intervention at all except to cut a road through it. This was I think my third time through here in the last … 16 years (first time on my Autodesk sabbatical in 1995), and this time I finally think I got it and started to savor how unusual and bizarre it really is.
Turn left (south) at Torrey, and get a little break from the just outrageous scenery. About 40 miles of lovely green mountains. Dixie National Forest, pines and aspens, streams, vistas, campgrounds. Very pleasant driving … except for the bane of this particular year’s trip, German’s driving rented RV’s. No dude, it is not OK to just stop in the middle of the parking lot and block everyone’s cars because you really want to see the vista. I seem to have come the absolute peak time to visit here, and there are huge, unwieldy touring vehicles everywhere.
Anyway eventually I come down out of the mountains to remote Boulder Utah. Take a right to resume the eastward trek through Escalante (see above) to Bryce. The town of Tropic looks on the map like the gateway to Bryce, but it’s too far away in temperature and elevation. Tropic is rather .. tropical for Utah. West of it you can see high above you the hoodoo formations that are the signature of Bryce. Then you realize that at Bryce you are looking down on the these formations. So starts quite a long climb. At the actual gateway to Bryce (used to be just a gas station and a crappy motel – now it’s a glittering tourist complex), you are at 9000′.
Tonight here at Bryce I’m having the night I planned and wanted to have at Yellowstone! I got a non-crappy campsite inside the park and was able to walk from that campsite to interesting things. I got there about 5, hung out till about 6:30 and walked east towards the lodge and the all-important Rim walk.
Do a little more rim hiking, grab a little wifi in the lodge, and it’s bye,bye Bryce. This time I got tricked by my research. Yelp indicated a restaurant in Panguitch (rhymes with sandwich, they say…) which sounded good, so I drove past 2-3 (unlisted) likely spots to get to it, and when I got there it was exceedingly average, sucky even. It’s hard to know when to follow your gut or when to follow Yelp.
A very pretty drive up the Sevier River Valley, with Mystic Hot Springs as my destination. There was much less to the town of Monroe that I hoped, so I have to decide whether to drive 12 miles to a grocery or have leftover night. A long afternoon nap decided the issue, leftovers it is!
Mystic Hot Springs is a pretty trippy place! The main building is a shambles. The fellow behind the desk was nice. The camping area is back down the road a bit. It also looks very shabby but is really pretty nice. There are a couple of grassy shaded lawns surrounded by gravel, so I found a nice place. The decrepit trailer park with the junkyard dogs does kind of detract from the ambiance.
But the hot tubs – the whole point of the place – are really nice! There are couple of pools with the always-appreciated hot waterfall, and 5-6 individual bathtubs, on the corner of a hill with a great view of the wide Sevier Valley.
I did learn something from the folks I talked to up there. The row of derelict school buses that make the campground look extra shabby turn out to be a feature rather than a drawback! The plan is to make them into lodging, and indeed, the nicest one evidently already being rented out as an overnight room. Like I say, this is a funky place.
Excellent morning soak. I was up there early enough to have a little corner of morning shade.
Then off to Richland, UT for breakfast and the usual amenities of civilization. I ate in a goofy little Stepford wives breakfast place. I was able to meet all my daily wifi needs while waiting for my foot-long sando to be assembled at the fine deli there.
Once you go west of I-15 in Utah, you’re basically in Nevada, even though it’s still called Utah for about 100 miles. I put in my time and get through it – a couple of pretty spots, but pretty barren overall. I get to Great Basin about 4pm, which is pretty good. At the Vis Cen I discuss campgrounds with the cute but cranky ranger, and realize that this is the time when I will actually make it all the way to the top and stay at the Wheeler Peak CG, at almost 10,000′!
This is the fourth time I’ve been to this park. Twice it was later in make the drive to the top. This time I have time, good weather and propane in the tank so I can stay warm tonight!
I did a small hike, but I now know there is a nice bite-sized 2-3 mile loop trail around a couple of alpine lakes that I could do if I had more time before sunset (and more energy at 10,000′).
I started out thinking this was the penultimate day of my trip, but it turns out to be the ulitmate!
Having coffee at the place in Baker was a FAIL, it closes at 9:30 in the morning! f—ing useless to me. So coffee waits an hour for Ely. Billboards keep telling me that the Hotel Nevada has wifi. I know the Hotel Nevada, it is the historic downtown casino hotel and is pretty cool. So that becomes the plan – breakfast and wifi in the hotel coffee shop. I’ve got the laptop on the table, and the iPad on the bench beside me following the Niners game. In honor of being in a casino I had liver and onions rather than breakfast. I know that makes no logical sense to you, but it did to me.
A few short miles west of Ely was a HUGE mining operation around the tow of Ruth. Maybe it was there when I passed through five years ago, but I don’t remember it. I made it through the three wide valleys and three 7,000′ passes to get to my planned stopover, Hickison Petroglyphs BLM site, at about 4:30.
I pulled into a likely looking site to …. think about what I want to do. Any other day of the trip, I would’ve stayed right here and been happy to do so. Set up shop, fiddle around till sunset-ish, take a nice hike and have a pleasant time in this shady little oasis in the high desert. But I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t want to hang around in the dirt with no wifi for another night when my nice shower and nice TV are a mere 250(!!) miles away.
So I start my engine and strap in for the long, tiring stretch run through 3-4 more wide valleys and 2-3 more high passes, through Austen, Fallon and Fernley with the sun directly in my eyes, through that last scary piece of I-80 (not a scary road per se, but I am a pretty scary driver by that time on this long day).
Indeed, that sofa, shower, tv and bed are might fine tonight!