A Celebration of Color and Form, Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon NP

We were looking forward to cooler weather as we left Arches and Canyonlands on our way to Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Park . Several days of waking up at 4 AM to beat the heat, and sometimes the crowds, had taken it’s toll. In addition, shorter drives to trail heads and points of interest, as well as a shuttle bus at Bryce, promised a more relaxed pace.

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Capitol Reef embraces a geological formation called the Waterpocket Fold which is a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust, a step-up in the rock layers. The most scenic portion is found near the Fremont River where one can see white domes of Navajo Sandstone and the park’s colorful cliffs. Three steps, each of which occurred over millions of years, created the captivating landscape: deposition, Colorado Plateau uplift, and finally erosion. The erosion that sculpted the current landscape occurred within the last 20 million years with the major canyon formation probably occurred between one and six million years ago. Putting this into perspective, the oldest human fossil is 2.8 million years old while at the other extreme some of the oldest surface rock in north America, between 2500 and 3800 million years old, can be found in the Canadian Shield.

As one hikes the park trails some rock looks as though it was just placed there yesterday.

The Grand Wash Trail.

Along Cohab Trail.

Shaded and sunlit rocks, a challenge for the photographer.

Indian Paintbrush.

Along the trail through the Grand Wash.

“Capitol” and a tree.

Petroglyphs and grass along RT 24 in the park.

More petroglyphs along Rt 24.

Bristlecone Pine.

Capitol Gorge, once the only east to west route through the park.

Chimney Rock near sunset.

Tree and sculpted sandstone.

The Reef.

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Leaving Capitol Reef and travelling about 100 miles to Bryce Canyon takes one to a very different world. Situated along a high plateau at the top of an area known as the Grand Staircase, the park includes a series of natural amphitheaters and contains the earths largest concentration of irregular columns of rock (hoodoos). It’s geology is unique but along with sandstone formations the stretch the imagination the park is home to numerous beautiful wooded and meadow landscapes.

Along the rim trail, a lone pine looks down into the hoodoos.

Hiking down through “Wall Street” from Sunrise Pt.

Looking up.

Along the Swamp Canyon trail grass sparkles in the early morning sunlight.

A Limber Pine casts it’s shadow at the canyons edge along the Rim Trail.

Flowering Rabbit Bush contrasts with the colors of the rock.

Bristlecone Pine.

A view from the edge along the Rim Trail.

Juxtaposition.

Fallen tree, rock, and sky along the trail below Sunrise Pt.

Hoodoos frame a long dead Bristlecone Pine.

Looking up along the trail below Sunrise Pt.

Hanging on at the very edge.

Natural Bridge.

Along the Mossy Cave Trail.

View from the Bristlecone Trail loop.

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As we explored the parks, and hiked the trails, we were always on the lookout for wildlife and we were usually not disappointed.

Desert Spiny Lazard, (Donna).

Black Phoebe, (Donna).

Connecticut Warbler, (Donna).

Young Short Eared Lizard, (Donna).

Hummingbird checks out a flower, (Donna).

Mountain Chickadee, (Donna).

Steller Jay, (Donna).

Eastern Fence Lizard, (Donna).

Weidemeyer’s Admiral, (Donna).

Black-throated Sparrow, an active an elusive bird, (Donna).

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, (Donna).

Utah Prairie Dogs had their “towns” not far from the Bryce Canyon NP Lodge. The Utah Prairie Dog is the western most of the five species that inhabit North America. Limited to the southwestern quarter of Utah, the Utah Prairie Dog has the most restricted range of all prairie dog species. (NPS), (Donna).

Clark’s Nutcracker, (Donna).

Sagebrush Lizard, (Donna).

Immature Western Bluebird, (Donna).

Mature Mountain Bluebird, (Donna).

Hedgerow Hairstreak, (Donna).

Melissa Blue, (Donna).

Rock Wren, (Donna).

 

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As we wrap up our stay at Bryce, our westernmost destination, we look forward to a different type of adventure at Mesa Verde NP where we will travel back in time. Thanks for stopping by.

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Arches and The Canyonlands

Before leaving Montrose, a check of the forecast for Arches and Canyonlands National Park for the time we would be there indicated that midday temperatures were going to reach 100F. With that in mind it was obvious that getting an early start each morning would be the plan. It had been at least twenty years since I last visited Arches. At that time I was touring on a BMW motorcycle which was a concession to the fact that I wasn’t going to live long enough to see the American West using my favorite mode of transportation, a bicycle. However, as with most motorcycle trips it had essentially been a “fly by”. We would try to dig a little deeper this time.

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The arches are the reason folks come from all over the world to Arches NP and they are certainly worth the effort. Some are more spectacular or beautiful than others while some seem to defy anything we thought we knew about how arches and the laws of gravity work. However, to really appreciate the park’s uniqueness, it is also important to notice the other things. Strange, sometimes human-like, rock formations grace the landscape. At first glance one might think that the wind has sculpted the sandstone but that is not the case, rather in this arid place it is the endless effect of water, it’s freezing and thawing, that works the artistry. Shrubs like blackbrush and purple sage favor the shallow sandy soil, while greasewood and Mormon tea favor the alkalinity of the soil in this unimagined place. The dominant plant community in the parks, the pinyon-juniper woodland, find a home in the fractured bedrock.

The unique landscape of Arches NP.

Tunnel Arch.

Landscape Arch.

Rockscape.

Broken Arch.

Delicate Arch at sunrise.

Another view.

Tree

Signs from the past chipped into the desert varnish that often covers the rock. What signs will we leave?

Skyline Arch.

Tower of Babel

Purple Sage.

Sculpture.

The hardscrabble evidence of an early settler.

Double Arch.

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Our visit to Canyonlands differed from Arches in that we were mostly looking down at spectacular views from high mesas. In Arches, the sandstone, the result of an ancient sea, is a light yellow-orange in color. All of the formations consist of Navajo Sandstone dating from about 174 to 163 million years ago. In the Canyonlands, more layers are usually visible. Ancient sand was blown into the area from sea beds forming the white bands in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Red bands came from sediment carried down by streams from adjacent mountainous areas long since gone. These layers of sand were laid down on top of each other and created the park’s distinctive rocks.

Before sunrise near Mesa Arch.

Grand View trail, Canyonlands NP.

Morning sun.

Distant mesa.

The Colorado River.

A cave provides shelter from the heat.

An old cowboy camp took advantage.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch.

The canyonlands.

The Grand View point overlook.

Early morning along the canyon rim.

The Needles Area, Canyonlands NP.

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To take a journey back in time on the human scale Newspaper Rock was a mandatory stop as we left the Needles Area of Canyonlands NP. 

What’s the person in the middle doing?

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While I was captivated by the landscape my wife was looking for any critters that might appear.

Prairie sunflowers defy the arid landscape.

Longnose Leopard Lizard, (Donna).

Desert Spiny Lizard, (Donna).

Western Whiptail Lizard, (Donna).

Pale Evening Primrose.

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As I write this, we just finished exploring the 800 year old cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Mesa Verde NP. When I think of the fascinating geology, beautiful scenery, and intriguing history of the America west, I am in awe and we have barely scratched the surface. I hope this post wets your appetite for new adventures, perhaps in the American west. Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

Photos by Donna

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