Heading West: The Lands of Utah

Onward towards Cedar City

I left Glenwood Springs, CO around 5:00pm, which meant I drove a ways in the dark and had to find my first true public lands “van camp” spot in the dark too. Fortunately, I’d done some research prior to setting forth and had an idea where I might set up. It was about 3 hours to get to the Eardley Canyon Trailhead, which sits at the base of a section of the San Rafael (SR) Swell. I had no idea what that was, but thought it sounded intriguing. And, it was located along my chosen route just a bit off from I-70, after turning onto Utah State Route 24.

I never did find the trailhead that I’d intended to locate. My GPS seemed confused and wanted me to turn into a fence and the dark abyss beyond. A few miles onward, however, I saw an opening to a dirt road, so turned off and started my drive into the unknown. It was kind of fun and a little bit spooky, but pretty soon I saw some pull-off spots that looked to have potential for parking for the night. I also noticed a silhouette ahead of what appeared to be a flat-ish mountain/tall wall-like rock structure. I assumed this was the SR Swell. I wanted to get as close as I could to its base, but after maybe 10 minutes bumping along, my road reached a washed out section. Rather than test out Ronnie’s off-roading capabilities even more, I figured this was a great place to stop!

It was a successful first sleep out in the wilderness. Here’s my views waking up. The sunshine made clear what the night before I could only guess at…

I’m learning I’m very messy and that I’ll need to learn better organization skills in such a confined space!

It was quite chilly overnight (as the frosty window suggests) and so during my morning breakfast and coffee I cracked a window and tried out my little heater.

After making my french press coffee (so fancy, right?) and enjoying a gas station pastry (maybe not so fancy), I opted to go for a jog/walk towards the SR Swell. My hope was to get right up to it and maybe even explore some of it, but I was way off in judging the distance and so turned around well before reaching it. I did enjoy the expansive views and even met a solo cow friend along the way…

I was back to Ronnie before 9:00am and after a quick pack up, started my stroll back to SR-24. From there I headed south and was dumbfounded by the beautiful drive! I found myself pulling over several times to take it in and snap some photos. Plus, there were very few cars on the road, so I felt completely content just cruising along at my own pace…

I think the snow-covered mountains are the Henry’s, which I’ve heard are some of the most remote in the state…

Next up on my itinerary… Capitol Reef National Park!

I know very little about this park except that all the people I’ve talked to who have visited absolutely love it. It doesn’t seem to get as much fame and popularity as some other National Parks in Utah like Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches for example, but for that reason, it offers more solitude I suppose.

I made it to the visitors center, bought an annual park pass and received a free brochure/map. It was around lunch and I discovered there weren’t any places in the park itself that offered food. Poor planning on my part, but not a big deal. Off to nearby Torrey, UT for some Subway. Driving through the park itself was amazing, but I was eager to get out hiking and explore more. I decided to try out the Rim Overlook Trail in hopes of making it all the way to see Navajo Knobs. This was an aggressive choice being around 5 miles one way and over 1,500 feet elevation gain, but I figured I could always turn around whenever.

Starting off, leaving the highway, there were neat volcanic-looking rocks mixed in with the lovely Juniper Trees. Soon, I climbed up to be surrounded by tan-ish brown colored rounded and heavily weathered sandstone giants…

After 2.5 miles or so, I made it to the overlook, a straight cliff where I could peer over and see the highway and visitor’s center far down below…

After a nice break taking in the view and having a Snickers bar, I continued onward for more stunning views…

Y’all are smart and quite observant I imagine, so you may have noticed that the skies seem to be darkening throughout my photo slideshow. Indeed, the last photo was about the time when I could see snow clouds off in the distance heading my way. I stopped and had an internal debate about whether to continue or retreat. The less reckless side of me persevered and I turned around. My thinking was that I’m unfamiliar with weather out here and didn’t like the idea of going down steep sections of trail if it all-of-a-sudden turned icy.

It did end up snowing on me and the wind picked up as well, but luckily I had packed all the warm gear I needed and had no issues making my way down! Since I’d finished my hike a bit earlier than planned, I now had an opportunity to explore more of the park than anticipated. So, off to the “scenic drive” I went. Only bummer was, The Mama’s and the Papa’s got stuck in my tape deck 😦

(It would be a few days before the tape randomly got spit out and things went back to working fine! Also, I realize I need to do a clean, probably fine sawdust still from the van build)

Here’s some photos/video from the 8 mile scenic drive and jaunt up Capitol Gorge…

My original plan had been to utilize the remote Cedar Mesa campground in the park, but it was getting later in the day and talking with the Park Ranger earlier, I’d learned it’s a slow dirt-road drive to get there, and in the opposite direction. So… I decided to just keep on my route towards Cedar City and find a place to park for the night along the way! I was surprised after going a bit on the Scenic Byway 12 to find the road gaining some serious elevation! I later looked it up and found I was climbing up the side of the Aquarius Plateau. I ended up finding a snowy forest road to turn down to make my home for the night (I’ve been using an app to help me find these spots, but so far it seems I find random public land places just as easy).

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