It’s already become clear that I did not budget enough time for each stop on this trip. But I had to book campsites months in advance, so it’s too late to make a course correction. Sadly, that’s made me what I used to snicker at: the Drive-By Tourist. My original goal was to hit all five of the Utah National Parks. But when I found that between the Park Formerly Known as Bryce and Capitol Reef was the Grand Staircase Escalante, I thought I should at least swing by. Of course, that took much of the little time I had reserved for Capitol Reef. Added into that equation is that I’m finding there is travel time, and there is RV time. I can’t do long hauls in Buffalo Soldier. It still feels like driving a big rig to me, so I have to take frequent stops and walking breaks. Well, in addition to all the photo stops I would take anyway. So the two and a half hour drive between the Park Formerly Known as Bryce and Capitol Reef ended up taking a long day. That left no time for exploring Capitol Reef on my day of arrival. In fact, I had just enough daylight left to check in and set up camp.
At that point, I thought I’d take myself out to dinner. I should have cooked, but a long day of driving made me lazy. The beauty of my little RV is that it is supposed to be easy to pick up sticks and go. But I find that once I’m in the RV park, I just want to leave it there. That means my dining options are confined to walking range. Luckily that eliminated the so-called fine dining spot the nice RV manager was trying to talk me into. I find plenty of fine dining in the Bay Area and Europe. When I’m in small out of the way American places, I get very distrustful of any place that bills itself as Fusion Cuisine or Artisanal Dining. Just give me a place with a good sense of place, ingredients sourced locally and a few interesting characters to talk to.
That’s how I ended up at the Broken Spur Steakhouse. They had a signed picture of John Wayne on the wall, George Strait on the sound system and a cowboy owner who proudly told me that he raises all the beef they serve. In fact, you might call him a Beef Evangelist. He let me log into their wi-fi (password: EatBeef) and he helpfully pointed out the laminated cards that would tell me “more than I bet you know about all the products you can get from cattle.”
I think he thought he’d converted a dangerous city slicker on the verge of veganism. I didn’t disabuse him of the notion.
That left just a morning to explore Capitol Reef since I had to be in Moab by the evening. Holy Guacamole! I’m going to have to come back here. Because the main feature of the park, the Waterpocket Fold, is absolutely mind-boggling. Probably the most impressive geologic feature I’ve ever seen. Basically, it’s a 100 mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that compacted a layer cake of various sedimentary strata, tilted it, then thrust it up several thousand feet.
Throughout these upthrust walls, different levels of erosion have painted multiple hues and left pockets where water collects and plants and animals thrive.
The ranger at the Visitors Center, when I said I only had a few hours, insisted that I must take the road into the Capitol Gorge. I explained that I was in a 19 foot RV and would the road be safe? “Sure, sure, you just can’t miss this.” I am learning that National Park rangers are quite sanguine about sending people and vehicles into places they have no business being. Yes, it was the experience of a lifetime. It got me up close and personal with the Fold. It was also one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had.
I’m not sure where the 27 feet comes from. There were corners in this narrow gorge that I could barely get around. And I saw nothing coming out of the canyon but rugged Jeeps and four wheel drives. Technically Buffalo Soldier HAS four wheel drive, but still. I hadn’t intended to go off-roading again. But I did when the pavement ran out and the Gorge was too narrow for a U-turn. This is an out and back road. You start in and you are committed for miles until you reach the turnaround at the end. Luckily, the Jeeps could climb up on the shoulder bank to pass because Buffalo Soldier wasn’t getting off that one lane dirt road.
That’s about when it started to rain, the road got narrower, and the fallen boulders got more numerous. At about this point I just started muttering to myself, “I just want this to be over.” But I made it to the turnaround and parking lot in the Gorge to the astonishment of the other people there who were all in Jeeps and ATVs. I let them scramble out of the way while I turned Buffalo Soldier around. Because I was getting the hell out of Dodge. At ten miles per hour. Snapping pictures through the windshield because I was afraid to open the RV door in case a boulder dropped on my head or a flash flood washed me away.
I left glad that I’d done it, even the scary bits, and vowing to return to Capitol Reef someday for the hiking.