Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Glamping at Arches National Park: A National Park Odyssey Days 36-37

Arches National Park, Moab, UT


Park #18 in my ubiquitous pink hat

Several years ago, I started a Pinterest board titled “Glamping.”  On it, I have pins that link to websites showcasing glamorous camping accommodations all over the globe.  Yes, I realize that glamorous camping is an oxymoron.  As you can probably guess from the title of my blog, I’m not a roughing-it sort of girl.  I like to be comfortable, even pampered, when I travel, so hauling three days’ worth of food in a musty cooler and sleeping on the ground without showering for days on end is not for me.  Ew.  I shudder just thinking about it.


But, oh, those places on my pin board.  Places under the stars in beautiful, scenic locations, but with comforts usually associated with luxury hotels.  Those places have called to me from the pages of travel magazines for years.  So as we were planning our epic national park adventure, I scoured the internet for glamping options near our destinations that could accommodate four people.  And up came Moab Under Canvas.
The sign at the entrance to the campground (or is it glampground?)

Before I booked our glamping reservation at Moab Under Canvas in May of 2016, I had spent hours reading reviews onTripAdvisor, and the reviewers either loved it or hated it.  There was little middle ground.  People praised the views, the safari-style tents perched on wooden platforms, the king-sized beds and luxury linens, the stunning views of Arches National Park, the shocking number of stars visible in the sky, and the nightly campfires with free s’mores.  Others complained about the scorching heat, the dust covering every surface, the shared bath trailers for the less-expensive tent accommodations, and the exorbitant cost for a place with no electricity or hot water.  But here’s what I found interesting – every single hater had received a comment from the owners saying that they would have been happy to make things right for the guest if the guest had brought the problem to the attention of the management.  This impressed me immensely.


The company has a two-night minimum, and we were planning to be in Moab for three nights.  When we were planning the trip, I thought that staying in one place for all three nights would be the easiest thing for our family, but I feared that the soaring summer temperatures in the desert would make the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons.  I decided to call and ask if we could book three nights (paying in full a year in advance as was company policy) but then be released from our third night with a full refund if we ended up being miserable.  The manager happily granted my request and even sent us a confirmation email so that we had the promise in writing should we need it.

The reviewers also complained about how close together the cheaper options were and how long the lines were for the restrooms and showers.  Since I wanted my glamping experience to be mostly the glamorous part and only a little bit the camping part, we booked the top-of-the-line suite tent.  It boasted a king-sized bed, a leather sofa that converted to a queen-sized bed, a private en suite bathroom including a shower, sink, and flushing toilet, a series of misters that provided moisture to cool the hot air inside the tent, a wood stove (which we clearly wouldn’t need in July), and a private deck with the best views the camp had to offer.  The pictures on the website were drool-worthy and reminded me of a more upscale version of the tents I had stayed in 25 years earlier while on safari in Africa.  (I'll have to blog about that some time.)  I was smitten, and the rest of the family gamely went along with me.

Just in case we ended up being miserable, we went ahead and booked a back-up reservation for the third night at a Marriott in Moab, and our year-long wait began.  But a year later was suddenly now, and I was faced with the reality of 103 degree temperatures for three nights in the desert.  Needless to say, I was worried.

We arrived at the camp at dusk, and a perky employee helped us find a place to park and then brought a golf cart for our luggage.  We could see the circus-sized tent that served as a lobby/lounge area as well as the fire ring where several families were already gathered and making s’mores.  Beyond that area were several campsites that were very close together, and off to the far right were other larger tents that were spaced much farther apart.  We followed the golf cart to tent #2, the second farthest from the lodge, and the employee gave us a few tips.  1)  We might want to zip the bottom flap of our tent to keep snakes out.  2)  Watch where you step because there are rattlesnakes.  3)  Only walk on the trails because the soil here is alive.  Yes, alive.  It has a greenish tint because of algae that forms its crust.  Not only does it need to be protected because it is fragile, but it also can give you a nasty rash.  I began to imagine a million rattlesnakes coiled on living soil waiting to get me.  And then I remembered a quote from that bastion of American filmmaking, Anaconda.  “This river can kill you a thousand ways.”  Except I decided the real threat was the desert.
This desert can kill you a thousand ways.


Our luxury accommodations

Thank goodness she led us into the tent then.  All fear melted away, and we oohed and aahed as we entered the dreamy suite.  Two camp lanterns cast a glow over the cream-colored canvas, and the misters and open tent flaps made the temperature bearable.  As soon as we walked in, the leather sofa was directly to the left situated on a cowhide rug with two chairs nearby.  Our “loo with a view” was directly opposite the entrance and had a curtain tied back in case we needed more privacy.  Our bed was to the right with a small bedside table on each side and an antique dresser at the end.  A basket containing fluffy white robes, thirsty towels, and luxury soaps and shampoos was on top of the dresser.  A coat rack stood to the dresser’s right.  Opposite the dresser was the little wood stove and a stack of firewood which we certainly would be using.  Near the loo was another curtain that could be tied back or released to give more privacy for the shower which was right beside the sink and mirror.
We had plenty of space for the four of us and all of our stuff.

Our loo with a view

And what a view it was!
Kinley and Josh enjoy a few moments on our front porch.

We took a few minutes to unpack and then enjoyed some time on our front porch before heading into Moab for a delicious Italian dinner.  After that, we drove back to camp and went to the fire circle to make s’mores.  As the stars began to emergewe listened to the other families recounting their adventures while we each roasted a marshmallow in spite of the summer heat.  After gorging ourselves on s’mores, we returned to our tent.  We pulled out the sofa bed for the kids, took a few moments to be grateful for our sink and toilet (it wasn’t hard to remember how we had to trek to the bathhouse to brush our teeth and use the restroom before bed while at Yosemite), said a quick prayer of thanksgiving that it wasn’t too terribly hot, and slid between our silky soft linens before drifting off to sleep in the desert night with a plan to get up early and have breakfast on our porch with a view of Arches before taking off for a day in the park.
The heat didn't keep us from roasting marshmallows.


When we woke the next morning, we realized the folly of our breakfast plan.  Our porch faced the rising sun in the east, and it was already a jillion degrees out there at 6:30 AM!  There was no way we’d be able to stand the heat out there while we ate, and, in fact, the tent itself was already beginning to heat up.  And we couldn’t even turn on the misters because they aren’t available until 9:00 AM each day. 
Our first glamping morning and proof that, just as Knox says, Kinley DOES hog the covers.

We woke the kids, dressed quickly, and ate some stale Cheerios and the pie we’d bought at Capitol Reef the day before.  Moab Under Canvas doesn’t have any food service options on site, but they will arrange for you to pre-order food from a local place called Peace Tree Juice Cafe that delivers to the lodge for breakfast and lunch.  We didn’t use this option because a $14 yogurt parfait is just nuts.  Especially when you can drive into town and get that same yogurt parfait at the actual Peace Tree Juice Café for $8.  Which is still too much for yogurt, granola, and a handful of berries, but I digress.

After our meager repast, we drove to the park which had special opening and closing hours while we were there due to road construction that was taking place overnight, so the gates didn’t open until 7:00 AM.  We wanted to beat the crowds to the Delicate Arch trail, so we went straight there to join the March to the Arch, the nickname for the notoriously crowded hike to Utah’s most famous arch.  It’s the one on their state quarter and on the license plate, so it’s no wonder that there are throngs of people making the trip each day.  Plus experts are always saying that it’s going to fall over one day soon, so everyone wants to see it before it does.

When we arrived at the parking area for the trailhead, there was actually a ranger in the lot directing cars to make the parking process more efficient.  I felt kind of sorry for him.  I can just imagine what he thought being a park ranger was going to look like, and I’m guessing that wearing an orange vest in 96 degree weather to wave mini-vans and RVs into designated parking spaces was not what he signed up for.

We were able to snag a spot, but I would guess that about 20 minutes after we parked, the lot was full.  If you want to do this hike, get there early.  Like, pretend you’re rope-dropping a Disney park.  And not just because of the parking, but also because it’s just going to get hotter as the day goes on.  We had read warnings about this trail, especially the heat and the “slick rock” section, so I was a little worried that we wouldn’t have enough water or stamina to do it.  I asked the ranger if the trail was really that difficult, and he assured me that we could do it.  Or maybe he just wanted me to leave him alone so he could direct traffic in peace.  Either way, I walked away relieved.  We struck out and joined the already-forming line of hikers.
This was the sign in the toilet at the trailhead.  Who knew you needed to tell people not to use the floor?

The climb wasn’t easy, but with frequent stops for water (where I had to FORCE my older child to actually drink) and to catch our breath (where I had to repeatedly remind myself that family time is a good thing), we made it.  When we got to the viewing area for Delicate Arch, I was stunned at the view.  I had been looking at student-made dioramas of this scene for years and years, and never had I realized A) how huge the arch was and B) that it was perched on a cliff.  The scene looked nothing like what my students had been creating out of clay and papier-mache all these years! 
Joining the March to the Arch.

This was the "slick rock" portion of the trail.  I can see how it could be treacherous in icy conditions.

A much-needed rest and water break on the way up
Our first view of Delicate Arch. 

At first, we were content to get a family picture from this vantage point.  We soon changed our minds.

Then we noticed that there was an actual queue for pictures under the arch.  And I’m not talking about 5 or 6 people waiting their turn.  I’m talking an actual line of 30 people.  And it wasn’t moving quickly.  After seeing that, we almost decided to just settle for taking pictures from a distance.  But then we figured that we’d come all this way, and that from our current vantage point, you couldn’t really tell in a photograph how big the arch actually was.  We would need to stand under the arch to get a better perspective in our pictures.  So we caved.
We were stunned by how tiny people appeared under the arch.  It was much taller than we expected.

We gingerly climbed over more rock formations to get to the area where the queue had formed.  It was perched on the bowl-like slope leading to the arch, and, of course, there was no shade, so we just had to stand in the baking sun for 25 minutes while we waited our turn.  Yes, you read that right.  We waited 25 minutes for a picture at a national park.  And let me just tell you some things we learned while waiting.

  1. The photographer for your group has to be pretty far away in order to get the whole arch in the picture.  The photographer also has to pick his/her way farther down into the bowl-like area near the arch in order to get a good perspective.  Don’t send your most balance-challenged family member to be the photographer.
  2. Walking on this sloped, bowl-like area in flip-flops is ill-advised.  We had on our hiking boots, but the group in front of us was completely unprepared for this hike and all wore flip-flops.
  3. Make friends with the people in line with you (even if deep inside you’re judging them about the stupidity of their footwear and lack of water) so that you can trade off taking pictures of each other.  Why?  Because the other people in line get really annoyed with you if while you are taking your group pictures, your group members keep switching spots and taking turns being photographer and running back and forth to switch out.
  4.  Don’t confuse the hike to Delicate Arch with the hike to the lower viewing area for Delicate Arch.  The former is strenuous, 3 miles round trip, and takes about 45 minutes each way, not counting your time waiting for people to take eighty bajillion pictures of their group while you wait in the stupid picture queue.  The latter is an easy 10 minute walk from a parking lot beyond the lot for the Delicate Arch Trail.  Confusing these two trails might result in your entire family hiking a strenuous trail in flip-flops with no water.
  5. Do not get your whole group to try to make a human pyramid under the arch for a picture.  It’s really annoying to the people in line in the burning desert heat.
  6. There is, in fact, a line.  So get in it and quit trying to pretend you didn’t notice until you wandered up to the front.  Feigning surprise at this point is still going to get you sent to the back anyway.
  7. Do not take ten shots with every possible group configuration – couples only, kids only, grandchildren only, grandparents only, everyone, everyone linking arms, everyone with their hands up in victory, everyone in a human pyramid, or whatever other pose you can think of.  Because did I mention the 96 degree temperatures?  At 8:30 in the morning?  Yeah.  That.  Get your shot and get out of the way.
The queue is on the left.  The three people you can see getting their pictures taken did not wait in the line.  The people in yellow in the background under the arch did.

Was it worth the wait?

After getting our shot, we headed back down, stopping off near the parking lot to view some petroglyphs from the 1700s.  Back at the car, we refilled our water bottles from a jug we had brought along, and all tried to rehydrate.  We then drove 10 minutes to the parking lot for the Delicate Arch viewing area where we went to both the lower and upper viewing areas.  Kinley was feeling really hot and icky on the upper viewing area trail (possibly because she stubbornly refused to drink water earlier???!!!), so she rested in the shade of a scrubby pine while the rest of us went on up.  The perspective from this viewing area made Delicate Arch look tiny, and we were glad we’d gotten a closer look.  The parking lot here was filled with tour buses whose occupants, based on their clothing and footwear choices, clearly were only getting this view of the iconic formation, and I felt kind of sorry for them.
Delicate Arch fit between my fingers when viewed from the Lower Overlook.

My boys on the Upper Overlook Trail

Delicate Arch from the Upper Overlook.  Can you see all the tiny people?

Our next stop was Sand Dune Arch, an area that was also hot and crowded but had the additional obstacle of being surrounded by a thick base of dry sand meaning that you have to trudge your way to the arch.  It’s amazing how difficult it is to walk through dry sand.  At the beach, I tend to walk on the wet, packed sand, but at a sand dune, you don’t have any choice.  I would be a very bad desert nomad.
The line for pictures was much shorter at Sand Dune Arch.

We took the requisite pictures at that arch (once again having to wait in line for our turn but this time only behind a couple of people), and then hiked to Broken Arch which Josh had read about in advance.  A sign at the trail head led everyone else to believe that the entire trail was closed, but thanks to Josh’s research, we knew that it was actually open all the way to Broken Arch.  Only the trail to the campground was closed.  But because this sign was at the beginning (and, I guess, people don’t read signs carefully?), the trail to this arch was completely deserted!  We saw not one other soul for the better part of an hour, and this was after waiting in line for pictures at the last two arches!  On top of that, Broken Arch has shade!!!!  We sat in the cool comfort of that arch for a long time, just enjoying the view, the solitude, and the lack of scorching heat.  We wished we had brought a picnic, though we all agreed we wouldn’t have wanted to haul it.  It would have been the perfect spot, though.


Read the sign, people!  You can go all the way to the campground!

The trail less traveled
This arch may not be as famous as Delicate Arch, but we enjoyed it just as much if not more.

Kinley still wasn’t feeling 100%, so she stayed in the shade of the arch while Knox, Josh, and I hiked on to Tapestry Arch.  The trail was much less distinct here since it traversed several large rocks, and we had to rely on the cairns, little piles of intentionally stacked rocks, left by rangers and previous hikers to find our way.  I was in front of our little band, and I picked my way carefully, watching for rattlesnakes as I went.  While they had been a threat in many of the parks we’d visited, this trail was so devoid of visitors that it seemed a perfect place for a snake to be napping.  And knowing that Kinley was expecting us back somehow made me all the more worried that a rattler would delay our return to her.
The back side of Broken Arch is behind Knox and me.  This was after we left Kinley in the shade of the arch.
Not a rattlesnake
This was as close as we got to Tapestry Arch.

My (irrational) worry about leaving her alone combined with the intense heat and our lack of water meant that we turned back once we were in view of Tapestry Arch rather than hiking all the way up to it.  We hurried back to her and found her happily drawing floral designs and Disney Princess signatures in the sand.  Clearly I shouldn’t have worried.  We sat together in the glorious shady coolness of the arch for a few minutes more before heading back to our car.  We didn’t encounter another soul until we got back to the warning sign.  Once there, we tried to convince a couple of other hikers that the trail was, indeed, open as far as Tapestry Arch, but I don’t think any of them believed us.

Back in the Volvo, we made a lunch out of odds and ends from the food basket and leftovers from our fabulous Italian dinner at Pasta Jay’s in Moab the night before.  Since our tent had only had some battery-operated lights and cell phone chargers, we had been keeping the leftovers cool-ish in ice in our little cooler.  None of us got sick, so it must have worked out OK.

Our next stop was the Visitors’ Center where the kids worked on their Junior Ranger booklets while I A) found an AWESOME floor air-conditioning vent in the gift shop that was positioned directly under a wooden bench, B) camped out on said bench hogging the A/C while pretending to read a book from the gift shop for a good 15 minutes, C) eventually gave up my spot to go outside to fill my water bottle from the spigot, and D) volunteered to take a group picture for a Japanese family who was STUNNED when I counted to three in Japanese before snapping the pic.  I am a woman of many talents.  (I was grateful that they pretended not to notice when I said, “Si,” instead of, “Hai,” for yes.  Or maybe they really didn’t notice.)
Yet another swearing in ceremony

Once the kids finished and got sworn in, we had a quandary.  One of the drawbacks of our glamping setup was that we had nowhere to escape the heat during the hottest part of the day.  Had we been staying in a traditional hotel, we could have gotten out early to see the park before the day really heated up, returning to air conditioned comfort during the afternoon to nap and avoid the scorching temps, and then go back out to do a late-evening trail after things cooled down in the evening.  But even our top-of-the-line tent didn’t offer any reprieve from the blazing sun, and the park was closing at 7:00 PM every day for construction, so we weren’t sure how to spend our afternoons.

What we did know was that we needed to decide whether we were going to stay at Moab Under Canvas or move to the Marriott the next day.  Our Marriott reservation was fully refundable until 5:00, so today was the day we had to make our choice.  I have to give props to my family here.  They all knew that glamping had been my dream for this trip, and so they all left the choice up to me.  This wasn’t all good news to me, though.  It was a hard choice!  We weren’t miserable in the tent, and it was really cool to feel like we were on safari in the US.  But not being able to use our (super expensive) room during the day was a definite drawback.  Since it was only lunch time at this point, I decided to put off making a choice for a few more hours.

Now for the problem at hand: what to do to avoid the heat.  Since we knew that our en suite shower was only cold water, we thought that it might feel refreshing after hiking.   So we went back, turned on the misters to cool off the tent a bit, and took turns cleaning up.  Once we were clean, we all agreed that it was too hot to stay put so we struck out to find a rafting outfitter that had space for us the next day.  After visiting and calling several places that were already booked up, we found Adrift Adventures and made a reservation for a half day rafting trip including lunch the next day.
Knox enjoyed the misters. A lot.  If you look closely, you can see the mist in the picture.  

Then we had a brilliant idea.  What’s a great place to kill a couple of hours in air-conditioned comfort?  The movies!  We went to a showing of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and happily munched popcorn in the dark, cool theater.  But by the time we came out, it was decision time for me.  Should we stay put, avoiding an extra move and the awkwardness both of asking for a refund and admitting that we are not, in fact, the least bit outdoorsy?  Or should we move to the Marriott where a hot shower and a full breakfast would be less than ¼ of the cost of our tent?

What ultimately made the decision for me was cost.  Once I started thinking about how much we would be spending on our third night and the lack of conveniences we got for the price, the choice was easy.  Plus, a nice, hot shower after coming off of our river adventure the next day was going to feel really good.  And, of course, we would have free wifi at the Marriott, too, and I’ve already complained regularly on this blog about how maddening it was to try to blog and podcast with spotty wifi.  It was settled.  We were going to bail on our third night at Moab Under Canvas and head to the Marriott.

When we returned to camp, I walked over to tell the manager of our decision, dreading the conversation the whole way, but the guy in charge was incredibly kind and understanding.  We got a full refund for out third night, and he didn’t even seem to think we were wimps.  The relief I felt after that encounter confirmed to me that I’d made the right choice.  While I was going to enjoy this last night in our tent, I was excited to move back to the comfort of a hotel the next day.  My family was equally excited, but they kindly kept reminding me that they were happy to stay if I wanted to change my mind.  I didn’t.

When I went to get into my bed that night, I noticed that the white, downy duvet was covered in grit and dust.  In fact, my pillow, the sheets beneath the duvet, and pretty much every other surface were also covered in grit and dust.  But I didn’t let it bother me. I knew this was my last night to sleep in style under the stars, so I just dusted it off as best I could and climbed in, telling myself that it was all part of the experience while simultaneously patting myself on the back for choosing to bail on our third night.  

The next morning, we slept until the heat woke us, and then we made breakfast out of whatever was unnoticed by the ants that were now marching in and out of the Cheerios box in the food basket.  They had found the mother lode and must have called for reinforcements.  I took a moment to daydream about the free breakfast I’d be eating the next morning at the Marriott and then started packing up.  I went to the manager’s tent to ask for a golf cart for our luggage since schlepping it down the rocky path was probably not going to be good for the little wheels (or the living soil), and we loaded up.  We took one last look out over the desert from the chairs on our front porch, turned off our misters to save water, and made our way to our car.
Farewell, Suite #2!

We arrived at Adrift Adventures by 11:20 to get checked in, get our life jackets, and pack our keys and camera into a dry box before boarding a bus that took us 45 minutes up the Colorado River to the put-in spot.  When we arrived, we had enough time to use the bathrooms (which were really just glorified permanent porta potties) before our safety talk.  A few minutes later, the rafts and guides that would be taking us down the river arrived carrying both full-day clients and those who had bought the morning-only option.  After some shuffling, we climbed into a raft helmed by Rizzie, a tanned, tattooed twenty-something whose full beard seemed at odds with the scorching temperatures and whose underwear I could see all afternoon as he row, row, rowed our boat mostly-gently down the stream.  The heat and sun were intense, so there was plenty of water on board for all of us. I was seated next to the cooler in the front of the raft most of the time, so I kept busy passing out and refilling little cups to keep us all hydrated and cool.
My view for most of the day included Rizzie's undies.

The other scenery surrounding the Colorado River, however, was beautiful!

The best way we found to stay cool, though, was by jumping into the relatively calm river and floating feet-first downstream, leaving Rizzie alone to pilot the raft and shout instructions to us as we drifted through riffles and around bends.  But, of course, if one gets out of the boat, one must get back into the boat.  I accomplished this feat with all the grace of a wounded manatee attempting an Olympic vault.  It wasn’t pretty. Rizzie grabbed the shoulders of my life vest, performed a mighty heave, and into the bottom of the raft I flopped with nothing wounded but my pride, only slightly more embarrassed than the rest of my family at the way my appendages sprawled and splayed with lives of their own.
Floating in the cool Colorado helped us beat the heat.

An hour and a half into the relatively-calm trip (the water level at this time of year made for gentle ripples but nothing close to the whitewater I had experienced on other rafting trips), we stopped on a sandy beach where the seven or eight guides hauled out tables and lunch with impressive speed and efficiency.  Coolers held deli meats, breads, cheeses, condiments, potato salad, chips, cookies, and lemonade which the guides set up with well-practiced ease.  Knox and I staked out a spot, dumped our life jackets, and wrote our name in the sand so that we could distinguish our pile of stuff from the other identical piles littering the beach.  Then we went to get in line for lunch.
Marking our territory

Lunch by the river was set up with speed and efficiency.



At Disney, we learned years ago from a cast member that when you are faced with a choice in line to go to the left or to the right, you should always chose left.  That line is almost always shorter because most people tend to go to the right.  Well, Knox and I didn’t follow the Disney directive.  We joined the lunch line on the right, and as a result, we got our food a good 15 minutes before Josh and Kinley.  In fact, some people were going back for seconds before Josh and Kinley (and the guides, for that matter) had even been able to get their first serving!  The left hand line moved so slowly, in fact, that Josh said to Kinley, “These people have clearly never been to a church potluck.”  I have never seen a buffet line move more slowly and for no apparent reason. 
Kinley FINALLY got her lunch after a super pokey line.

Eventually, though, they got their sandwiches and joined us on the sand.  Knox and I were finished by the time they sat down, and ten minutes later, the guides had reloaded the tables and coolers into the boats and were ready to set off.  The rest of the trip was pleasant, and Knox even got to take a turn rowing the boat!  Rizzie gave him detailed instructions and coached him through the process with skill. He had the ability to break down the task into small, achievable steps so that a first-timer could understand what to do and experience success relatively easily.  I was so impressed with his ability to instruct that I suggested he look into teaching as a career.
Rizzie patiently teaches Knox how to row the raft.

Knox tries it on his own.

I think this is the only picture we got of Josh all day!

At the take-out point, we were allowed to swim while the guides loaded the rafts and gear onto the trailers and buses.  Knox swam while the rest of us talked to other families on the trip.  This process took far longer than I would have liked, and had I known that the pack-up process would take the guides so long to complete, I would have stayed in the cool water with Knox.  We waited for a good 45 minutes before we could load the bus to return to Moab.  I was hot, soggy, tired, and ready for a shower, and I was certainly grateful that we would be heading to our new hotel soon instead of to a tent with no air conditioning.


Finally, we loaded the bus and returned to Moab.  I gave Rizzie one last push toward education, and then we drove to the Marriott.  And, oh boy.  Did that shower feel good!  The kids swam in the pool, and Josh and I luxuriated in the ability to catch up on pods, blogs, and emails.  For us, moving to the hotel was the right decision.  I am so glad that we tried glamping, and I have every intention of continuing to add to my Glamping board on Pinterest.  At a lower price point with cooler weather we might even try glamping again at one of the other places I’ve pinned!  But I’m also glad we had the sense to know what was best for our family.  And if we learned anything on this trip, it’s that what’s right for our family of travelers isn’t always what’s right for other families.  And that’s ok.  We’ll just do our thing our way and let you read about it.  Or listen to it.  You can shake your head and think, “Those Boyds are nuts.”  Because you’re probably right. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Orchards, Petroglyphs, and Abandoned Uranium Mines At Capitol Reef: A National Park Odyssey Day 35


Two late nights in a row meant I was slow to get myself moving when my alarm went off on Day 35.  A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) was having a worship service in the lodge at 9:30 AM, and we wanted to be there since it was a Sunday.  We hastily threw on clothes and hoofed it to the lodge, electing to shower and eat breakfast after the service.

Once again, ACMNP volunteers led us in a short time of praise and worship similar to those we’d experienced at Grand Canyon and Sequoia.  We joined a small group of other tourists and park employees, all committed to starting the new week off right by honoring the Maker of Heaven and Hoodoos.  I sat next to a park ranger who leaned over to me near the end of the service to comment conspiratorially that she’d seen tremendous growth in the ACMNP volunteers over the summer.  They had evidently become much more confident worship leaders in the weeks leading up to that point, and she mentioned that she’d noticed a great deal of spiritual growth as well.  This was the first park where we had seen any park employees at a service, and it was nice to have a mix of visitors and regulars there that day.

Feeling uplifted and upbeat, we returned to the cabin to clean up and clear out.  We took one last peek at the prairie dogs on our way out and stopped at the Visitors’ Center to get Junior Ranger badges.  The Visitors’ Center had a donation box with a slot for each state, similar to the one that we had seen at Sequoia and Kings Canyon.  Knox wanted to represent Indiana well, so he stuck in a dollar or two.  The ranger who swore in the kids was especially gregarious and helpful, and he was impressed that the kids can gone the extra mile to earn the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” stickers.
The line to speak to a park ranger was at least 10 people deep, but this nice man spent at least 10 minutes with our kids.  You can see Knox and Kinley's rubbings from hiking the hoodoos on the counter in front of Knox.  Notice that Kinley's has three colors and Knox's only has one.

Knox makes a donation to represent Indiana.

With Bryce in the rear view mirror, we started our two hour drive toward Capitol Reef National Park.  The small town of Torrey,Utah, is the gateway to the park, and I was charmed by its quaint cafes and bed and breakfast options.  We stopped for lunch at the Capitol Reef Inn and Café which had several delicious menu items including a Ten Vegetable Salad for lunch and homemade pies and cobblers for dessert.  I told Josh that I thought Torrey looked like a nice place to come back to and spend some time on a future trip since we had only allowed a few hours for this visit.
Check out the Capitol Reef Cafe if you're in the area!

We started off at the Visitors’ Center, picking up advice and Junior Ranger booklets before heading to a ranger-led program on petroglyphs in the park.  We arrived just as the ranger was beginning (as we often tend to do), and learned that the carvings on the rocks on front of us were much taller than they appeared from our vantage point.  Petroglyphs are carvings in rock while pictographs are drawings on rock, and the ancient Fremont people who inhabited the area from around 600-1300 AD left hundreds of examples of the former on nearby rock formations.  Boardwalks afford views that are close enough to get a good look but far enough away to protect the petroglyphs from damage.
The ranger talk about the park's petroglyphs was interesting and informative.

Each human figure in these ancient petroglyphs is about 3 feet tall though they appear much smaller from the viewing area.

In addition to the ancient rock carvings, another interesting feature of this park is its numerous fruit orchards.  Apples, pears, peaches, cherries, apricots, and plums all grow within the park, and the more than 2700 trees are reminders of the early Mormon settlers in the area. 

When we visited Hot Springs National Park, we learned that not all parks have the, “Take only photographs; leave only footprints,” rule, but that park led us to believe they were the only park in the system that allowed guests to take things away.  (At Hot Springs, you can bottle the spring water and take all you want from public fountains.)  But, in fact, you can take fruit from the Capitol Reef orchards, too!  Any fruit you consume in the park is free when it’s in season, but there is a small charge to take fruit out of the park.  Unfortunately, our timing was off.  We had just missed the peach, apricot, and plum season, and we were too early for apples and pears.  We had to be content to buy a cherry pie made from the park’s fruits at the Gifford Homestead in the Fruita area of the park.  We sampled their homemade ice cream, too, and would definitely recommend both.

In addition to pies and ice cream, the Gifford Farm sells vintage-inspired, hand-embroidered linens, jams, jellies, and items such as soap, wooden kitchen utensils, and rugs made by local artisans.  There were several pear trees in the barnyard, and while the fruit was awfully tempting, the lady at the shop assured me it would give us a stomachache since it wasn’t ripe.
The pears were so tempting!

From the Gifford Homestead, we could easily see the campground, and we noticed that it was practically empty.  Compared to Bryce Canyon or Zion, this park was deserted.  On our drive through the park, we encountered few cars and even fewer other visitors even though a quick drive-through seemed to be the typical tourist’s method of doing the park. 

As we drove we saw several bighorn sheep, and we encountered the remains of several old uranium mines.  We enjoyed sweeping views and beautiful rock formations, too.  There was the one resembles the dome of the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., that gave the park its name, but we also drove to the Goosenecks Overlook which affords a view of a turn in the Fremont River which has spent eons carving out a picturesque gorge.  We walked up to Panorama Point and later took a short hike to Sunset Point.  Like Bryce, the colors and layers here were distinctly different with beiges, maroons, rusts, and even pale greens making up the palette. 
The dark, cave-like holes covered with ramshackle wooden barriers mark the old uranium mines.

Bighorn sheep roam freely through the park.
The huge dome-like formation ahead is the park's namesake.
The view from Goosenecks Overlook was spectacular.  You can see the tiny river far below continually carving the canyon.
A short hike brought us to Sunset Point.

A bench at Sunset Point was the perfect place to enjoy the view.

Since it was early evening and we still had to make the two-hour drive to Moab, Utah, we returned to the Visitors’ Center to finish up the kids’ Junior Ranger badges so that we could move on to the part of our trip that had been giving me anxiety for months.  I had alternately looked forward to and dreaded this day for more than a year. We were going to be spending three nights glamping (glamorous camping) at Moab Under Canvas outside Arches National Park, and it was either going to be awesome or awful.  (Isn’t it weird how those two words are opposites but share the same stem?)  But you'll have to read my next post to find out which adjective I'd use to describe the experience.
A panoramic shot from Panorama Point