Going to do this in a couple of parts due to time constraints here on my end.
After months of reading, researching, lurking around the forum (always my favorite part of trip prep :-) ) our party of two veteran road trippers set out on our long anticipated loop trip for the southeastern Utah national parks. Trip was planned as a decades birthday celebration for me. Won't say exactly which one, but will mention that of the four knees also coming along, one of mine is dicey, so no long or taxing walks or hikes were originally planned.
Also not originally planned was the government shutdown which started Oct. 1--we flew to Utah on Oct. 2. There was a brief conversation about whether we should postpone in light of the fact that our itinerary was Capitol Reef, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Park City and SLC. Consensus (apparently we are better at that than the people in Washington DC) was that to change plans would mean that they'd won and that there were plenty of ways to still have a fabulous trip. Also at that point we still had hopes that before the end of our trip the light bulbs would come on and the shutdown would be over and all would not be lost. So off we went.
Landed in SLC around midday; baggage retrieval and rental car pickup went smoothly. Made two quick stops before leaving SLC area to grab some lunch and get a cooler and some provisions and the adventure began. Drove to Torrey, where we had reservations for two nights at Austin's Chuckwagon Lodge and General Store. Enjoyed the drive as the terrain began to change and caught glimpses of fall color--we don't get a lot of that here in Houston.
Checked in (no vacancies either night we were there); young lady at the desk very friendly and helpful. There was a list of alternatives for things to do in the area posted at the desk, along with a warning that anyone "discovered" on any of the trails on federal land could be fined $150. Room was spacious, comfortable and clean--who can ask for anything more? Walked around a bit to get some fresh air, and then decided on an early dinner. Ate at Café Diablo (both hotel and restaurant decided upon based on TA recommendations) which was bustling. Enjoyed our meals, as most diners seemed to be doing. Got outside in time to see a lovely sunset. Early night due to early start of our travel day.
Woke up to a bright, brisk, windy day. After a great breakfast at Capitol Reef Café down the road, we drove north on one of the streets in town out to the rocks. Great light; already impressed with scenery. Picked up our box lunches at the deli and set off on our day. Stopped at visitor information where the very helpful lady discussed road conditions and made great suggestions, as did all the other travelers there, all trying to salvage vacations. Drove down highway 12 to Boulder--great drive. Stopped at the overlooks and enjoyed the vistas. Made a stop at Anasazi State Park Museum (figured that might be all the ruins for us on this trip) where we enjoyed the exhibits.
We had decided to drive Burr Trail Road (having done the rest of 12 on a previous trip), knowing that we could go to the park border on paved road and then decide whether to continue along and up Notom-Bullfrog Road. We stopped by the entrance marker for Grand Staircase-Escalante (looked for the DE's etc who we knew were nearby but you guys weren't there :-) ) for a picture stop and talked to another couple. The guy said the upcoming section of road was his second favorite in the world; favorite is the rest of Route 12! All I can say about that drive is WOW WOW WOW. Every twist and turn brought something even more stunning. So glad we decided to do that drive and take our time. Next thing you know, there we are at the entrance to Capitol Reef. How could we resist? Mr.TX was driving and was up for it; rental car gods smiled down upon us, weather was cooperating--so once again off we went. What a FANTASTIC drive. To drive so long with that fold right there; spectacular scenery and almost no one else around. Those switchbacks had me whimpering, I will admit--but at the bottom we came across a guy who had apparently driven down them in an RV. Glad we didn't have to see that. Though the drive was long and a bit bumpy in places, we feel we got to see way more of the park than we would have if we could have done the scenic drives and overlooks that were closed. (This will be a recurring theme.) Finally made it back to 24 and drove west through Capitol Reef there.
Another great drive. Although a couple of pull-outs were blocked with cones, and we did see a couple of NPS employees blocking another area with their trucks, it was still amazing to drive through those formations. Knowing that we would be back through there the next day as we left for MV and, needing some facilities, we drove, slowly, without stopping through the park. What an overview. Beautiful skies, brilliant sunlight, and all that geology around us. Couldn't have asked for a better day.
Coming up--snow blowing sideways, the Moki Dugway and Monument Valley.