Goodbye Moab, Hello Scenic Byway 12: Utah Adventures

IMG_20140712_195624At the last minute of our vacation planning this summer, we had switched which hotel we were going to stay at in Moab, on the basis of dog friendliness. The hotel we chose, the Kokopelli Lodge, I would recommend as a motel with character and friendly owners. It also boasted a small garden area, where dogs were allowed to romp and guests were allowed to use the BBQ grills to cook their dinner, which we took advantage of to grill some hot dogs and vegetables.
After our visit to Arches and a stop at the Moab Rock Shop (most awesome for little rock lovers like mine), I took a late stroll out to this garden. I was about to sit down on the bench when I noticed something moving in front of me. It was dark out, so I had a hard time identifying what I was looking at until it held still for a minute, and then I caught my breath and my heart kinda jumped as I realized that what was standing still about a foot in front of me was the upraised tail of a skunk. What do you do?
My mind raced with coming up with a plan as we stood frozen in a stand-off position. Finally I decided to just back away slowly and talk in a low voice, saying “go away, skunk”. As I was backing away, though, I heard a noise behind me, and another one came running along from my right! By this time, though, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness a little better, and I could make out that they were young skunks, and they seemed to be trying to avoid me by this point, so I just kept talking and slowly lowered myself to the bench as they started to make their way to the edge of the garden. Right as they were about to squeeze out of the fence, a woman came walking by the sidewalk nearby, and I felt like I should warn her. It turns out she lived right next door, and was quite familiar with the antics of these little skunks. As we discussed this, it occurred to me that where the baby skunks were, there was sure to be a momma, and sure enough, I did see their mom on the way back to my room. She was exploring the area around the hotel trash cans. I thought about getting a better look at her, but then…I decided not to. I had no idea how to de-skunk a human being, so better safe than sorry.

In the morning, we ate cold cereal in our room (this motel doesn’t offer free meals, but we had plenty of our own we needed to eat), and then set out for Scenic Byway 12, the slow route to Bryce Canyon National Park.  We choose this route because it offered us a chance to drive through more National Park and National Monument areas on the way there.

route 12

I had literally spent quite a bit of time mapping out the possibilities along this route, but I am not sure what happened to my hand-drawn map with notes. We all know from experience though that it is one thing to dream a thing, and quite another to actually experience it live. There were also so many choices of what to do that I had decided to not get too attached to any of them, and just see where the day took us. In a way, I regret this mindset, because I feel like it played a role in getting us to certain destinations later than I intended, but we did have fun exploring. Here is a short summary of stops we did make, and stops I wish we had made.

En Route: we could have stopped at Green River and Goblin Valley State Park, but we didn’t feel like making those side trips. We did, however, stop for a while at a cache called Desert Sentinels, which gave my older son a chance to explore rock formations unhindered, and was a highlight of this day for him.
IMG_20140713_102520We also drove past some alien-looking rock areas where there have been numerous UFO sightings reported. This area near Hanksville is so other-wordly that the Mars Society actually has a Mars Desert Research Station out here for research crews to simulate living on a Mars environment.

Capitol Reef National Park: there were a lot of stops we could have made for at least taking some pictures of the scenery, but Jason didn’t feel inclined and we were making good time. I wanted to stop at the Fruita orchards, where allegedly there is always fruit in season that visitors can pick on a pay-what-you-take basis. The youngest got his heart set on this idea so intently that when we did make a stop to see some petroglyphs, he cried the whole way along the boardwalk to them, and then refused to look at them. I tried to explain that this stop didn’t RULE OUT stopping at the orchards, but then he was being such a brat about it that we didn’t want to reward his behavior, and plus, I never saw an entrance to Fruita or an orchard that wasn’t fenced off. Next time we go, I am going to have to research the locations more exactly. We saw a deer grazing near the petroglyphs, and I am amazed that the ancient people who carved these were able to reach the rock face like that, and wonder what kind of message they were leaving on the rock walls.


We could have taken a mile long hike out to the Hickman Bridge, an interesting natural formation in the park, but again, we were making good time and did not feel inclined to stop long yet.
However, it was getting close to lunch time, and I wanted to stop at a place I had read about in my Road Food book, the Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe. It was an interesting place, and the food was all right, but now I wish we had waited it out and stopped instead at the Hell’s Backbone Grill, which I have heard from a couple people now is *the best* place to stop for food in these parts. Also, we wasted too much time both at the restaurant and putzing around Torrey. We were moving slow at this point. We did find a particularly fun geocache, though, that was outside a local coffeehouse. The cache was called Robbers Roost, and it was a handmade treasure box filled with fun stuff located inside a shady, grassy yard that was filled with birds, as the property owner has many bird feeders out to draw them to her place. This one earned a favorite point from us.
We stopped another time at a lookout point to find an ammo can cache and take some pictures. Here is my youngest at that stop
Anasazi State Park Museum: I wasn’t sure if we were going to stop here, but I am glad we did. We took the little walk around the back and explored the kind of shelters the Anasazis lived in. We also found a fun ammo can cache back there. The Anasazis were thought to have lived in this area from about AD 1050 to 1200, and then they just took off. My youngest said he learned that their gods told them to leave, from reading the exhibit signs. I am glad to know he learns independently.  Here is my oldest by one of the shelters:

After this, we did stop to take a hike: the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls that I posted a couple of pictures of on Facebook. That hike was so epic that it deserves its own post, so we will leave you, the reader, here for now.

The Supermoon of Moab

Yes, I am still telling stories of our summer vacation. This is a place for us to hold on to them so they won’t disappear from our memory.

When we were in the planning stages of our vacation, Jason didn’t even want to go back to Moab, and especially not Arches National Park. It was great when we went in 2010, but he was a little over it. I had this sense, though, that this was a place that my oldest son would really feel called towards, and I wanted to give him a chance to see it. In the end, I was right. Among the many places in our travels, the most inspiring to my oldest son was this visit to Arches.
He felt a connection to the rock formations, and wanted to be a part of it. We explored the Windows section near sunset, and he had a chance to connect with the Park intimately through its accessibility. He decided that someday he wanted to return to some of the National Park places to have a deeper encounter with rocks, canyons and mountains. Since then, we’ve been hitting the rock gyms and looking for weekend opportunities for him to go test these skills in the hill country with a group. This is important to us, as he is tiptoeing into his teenage years and we want him to have healthy connections with nature.
As we walked down towards the parking lot, we felt a collective gasp among the other park visitors, and turned to look at what they were seeing. The “Supermoon” was peeking through the North Window, surrounded by a cloud halo, and it was so beautiful we all stopped and stared for a while. None of our cameras could capture that incredible display of light and beauty, but we did get this one shot above of the moon over a different formation.
The memory of this view lingered for days after along our visits of other National Park areas. “Remember that legendary moon we saw?” my younger son would ask, and we would all murmur in agreement. These treasured moments in Arches; the inspiration for future goals in which to better explore the wilderness awoken in my older son, and the way the world lit up for a moment in a dazzling display of earth and sky, will forever be a beacon for us to draw us into exploring more of what this country’s National Park areas have to offer.

Lost Bearings in Buena Vista, Colorado: Cottonwood Hot Springs

Buena Vista





We had a plan for the night when we left the Wolf Center, but just like many good plans do, this one came unraveled fast.  It was all the fault of that nasty cold virus the little one shared.

We were having a great time cruising down Highway 24 west from Lake George, enjoying the scenery.  It got late, though.  Suddenly, the thought of setting up camp was too much for Jason, who was the most sick and usually has the most work to do setting up camp.

We decided to find a hotel instead.  Only, there was a monkeywrench thrown into this whole mix.  First of all, we had no reception, so there was no way to map hotels or call around to get a room.  Secondly, there was a whole issue of a travel book for Colorado that would have helped out, but we weren’t sure where it was – packed away in the back, or left behind.  Thirdly, there was a whole other set of fate working against us, a reality in which every hotel in the entire town (of which there were several), AND in the closest town 50 miles away, were all booked up for the night.

I was having trouble grasping this because the feel of the town had completely changed since last time I had been there, sixteen years ago.  I remembered a Subway in the middle of the prairie, mountains in the distance, a drive in theater, and a few inns.  Now Buena Vista seemed to be full of hip new places and hot festivals, restaurants, houses, and hotels; every one of which had a “no vacancy” sign in the window.

So we sat at K’s Burger right off the main street, borrowed their phone book, and made frantic phone calls in the dark while scarfing down our dinner.  What it came down to, this late, was that we found one room available in town…and it happened to be like a rent-a-room in the house of the out-of-town owner of Cottonwood Hot Springs.  We shared the house with two or three other couples and paid way too much for this luxury.  However, the bed was very comfortable, and we were able to get passes to enjoy the Hot Springs the next morning, which turned out to be a highlight of our entire trip.

Perhaps it was meant to be.  I DID want to bring my children to this Springs.  I had been there when I came here so long ago, and had fond memories of the place.  The place seems to be run by a bunch of hippies, but the atmosphere is one of total relaxation.

Here is a poem I wrote representing the five public pools in the Hot Springs area, all of which were connected by a stone walkway.


Slow, cool, calming Cold Pool

Invigorating, rising the spirit

Clean, esoteric female fertility statue

Pouring life force into our souls


Move over to Watsu

Deep. pure moderation

Float up to meditate

Let go, feel troubles float away


Walk into Belly Pool

Multi-colored stone floor

Slightly dank, sulfur smell

Visceral reflection of reality


Slide into Elbow Pool

Warm, inviting social pool

Sit on stone benches, smile

Smell the mint and awaken


Relax in warmth of Head Pool

Hot mist rising around faces

Feel tension slip further away

Loosen stiff muscles, limber up


Rinse, repeat as necessary

What Does the Wolf Say?

What does the wolf say, when he points his muzzle at the sky?

Is it a call of camaraderie, or a long goodbye?

When those last notes trail off, does he look around for friends?

Or does he know that the bond of the pack never ends?

I wonder if he is thinking of those who passed on,

And that is what adds the forlorn sound to the song

Or is it a solemn celebration, a call for an ally

A communal effort to make the pack rallyIMG_20140711_174851

Whatever it is, you can’t deny that effect

Heart beats faster, rising of hair on the neck

A feeling like you are part of the whole

Carrying  friends with you in the depths of your soul

The feeling is overwhelming; to be honest it made me cry

Hearing the sad, sweet songs of the wolves saying goodbye

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Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, Divide CO, July 11 2014