Thursday, April 30, 2009

Balanced (for how long?) Rock

Leaving the Visitor Center at Arches NP, we climbed about 1600 feet on a winding road to an altitude of 5600 feet.

Soon after reaching the plateau, we were greeted by the named rock formations of Arches. A short walk took us to the formation named Park Avenue.

Then came stops at the Three Gossips,

the Tower of Babel,

the Organ,

and the Sheep Rock. It is believed that an arch once joined the "nose" of the sheep to the base in the left corner of the photo.

Taking our eyes off the rock formations for a short time revealed other scenes of interest. This shows the common types of vegetation on the plateau.

Even the dead trees add interest to the combination of desert plants and rock formations.

Less than halfway into the Park, we came upon Balanced Rock. This silhouette gave the best view of how precariously the rock is balanced on its pedestal.

Viewing the formation from a different angle, I was still wondering how the rock remained positioned on its stand.

Finally, looking up at the formation, I took this photo quickly, fearing that the rock could fall any second. Looking at the space between the rock and the pedestal, I shook my head in wonder.

Everyone knows that someday the balanced rock will fall, . . . but when?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On the Road Again

Continuing our National Parks of the West Tour, we headed east out of Torrey to Moab, Utah, and Arches National Park.

We left lands of red Wingate Sandstone and the whitish Navajo Sandstone and traveled Route 24 that followed the winding course of the Fremont River.

In the roughly 70 miles from Torrey to I-70, we encountered an entirely different terrain.
The hills along the route appeared uniformly greenish, but I don't know if it was the rock itself or some type of growth on the rock.

In nearby areas, the hills seemed grayish, similar to piles of ashes. Even though the scenery was either uniformly green or gray, there was an intriguiing beauty to the scenes, but one that we were drawn to for only a few moments.

There were only two small towns between Torrey and Green River, and the landscape was not very conducive to any type of agriculture. Nearing Green River, Utah, we begain seeing a bit more color in the rock formations.

Approaching Route 191 to Moab, we saw these formations appearing on the high desert. The clusters were small in number and widely separated.

Our curiosity grew.

Soon after we reached our campground just south of Moab, the winds began to pick up.
The next morning we had gusts of 35-40 miles an hour. When we commented to people over lunch that we thought it was really windy today, one person's reply was: "Could you see the mountains?"


"Then it wasn't very windy."

I still think the angle of this tree's branches shows that there was a pretty good wind. Anyway, we'll see over the next two weeks.

By evening, the wind had died down and we could see the La Sal Mountains very clearly.

Along the west boundary of the RV Park was this rock wall.

Even before we entered the National Park, we felt as though we had found several geological and meteorological matters to study.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Small Towns, Big Hearts, and Mighty Fine Food

There's something about small towns.

Kate and I grew up in a moderately small town (Clinton, IA) and a small town (Plainfield, IL), respectively, and live in a very small town (Wycombe, PA, pop. less than 600). So as we drove down Main Street in Torrey, UT, we felt right at home. Stopping at Austin's Chuckwagon Lodge and General Store provided all the basic foodstuffs, along with advice on places to go and where to find a physician if we needed one.

Finding parking spots in front of the stores you want to shop in, not having to pay parking fees, seeing trees lining the street were very reassuring sights.

Finding a fenced-in yard with a few goats just a block away reminded us our Wycombe neighbor whose ducks, geese, chickens, and peacock were often in our back yard.

Small towns also seem to appreciate their history. Several homes in our hometown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Torrey's case, the Torrey Log School and Church fits the mold. Construction began in September, 1898 and was completed three months later. In addition to serving as the school and the church for the town, the 21 x 37 foot building was used for dances and civic, social, and religious meetings until the new school house was built in 1917 (see photo below). It continued to be used as a Latter Day Saints Church and community center until the 1970s.

About two blocks away was the Torrey Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast Inn (center, photo right). Begun in 1914, the Torrey Schoolhouse operated as a school and cultural center from 1917 through 1954. The second-floor community dance hall served as a gym for its students during the week, and as community dance hall or sporting arena on the weekends. One of its most famous (or rather, infamous) regular visitors was Leroy Parker (AKA Butch Cassidy) who, along with other outlaws of his time, found refuge in this area-- sometimes called "Robber's Roost."

And then there's the food. Not large enough for the chains to set up, small towns are often blessed with the specialities of the best cooks in the area.

The Patio, described as the “place where the locals hang out,” was such a place. Walking in there one noon, I could easily believe that statement. Decorated with strings of lights hanging from the ceiling, a lava lamp (you do remember these from the 60’s, don’t you?) sitting by the bar, and a Victoriana-style lamp complete with those dangling icicle things hanging from the shade, you could picture a fine time being had by all after a few beers.

Add the horseshoe pit, dart board, disc golf, live music, and outdoor tables facing the cliffs – well, you get the picture.

That day, the restaurant was populated by three other grey-haired couples, so the atmosphere was subdued. Or as subdued as a place can be when the cook hadn’t shown up, and the waitress/bartender/cashier was also doing kitchen duty. The menu is short and to the point: chili, three sandwiches (BBQ chicken, smoked brisket, and I forget), nachos, baked spaghetti, and a long list of pizzas. At first we took a table outside, but the wind soon began to blow the sand, and we quickly retreated inside.

Our last experience with Utah pizza had not been satisfying (I chose not to write about it), so we were hungry for a decent (we were not even looking for great) pizza. We asked the server/cook if the crust was thin or thick, and she said it was medium. Some help. We decided to give it a go and ordered the large sausage and asked her to go light on the sauce. The result was a pizza with a crust thicker than we prefer but with good somewhat spicy sauce, good sausage, and an abundance of stringy cheese.

This was definitely an average (3.5 Addies) pizza, but it did satisfy our pizza craving. Maybe at our next location we will find pizza more to our taste.

Have you been to a restaurant where, as soon as you enter the front door, you feel that you are at home? It can be the funky décor, the smells coming from the kitchen, the friendly greeting from the servers. Or it can be a combination of the three. That was our feeling about Slacker’s Burger Joint in Torrey, Utah. Sure, the 5.0 Addie fries and great burgers had us coming back. But Cherie, the owner’s mother and counter person/waitress certainly played a major role.

So as we approached the end of our stay in Torrey, a final trip to Slacker’s was mandatory. Knowing that we planned on dessert, Chuck only ordered the single cheeseburger and we shared an order of the excellent fries. I had been anticipating the Bleu Bacon Burger, and it totally lived up to my expectations. A juicy burger on a toasted sesame bun, crisp smoky bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a very generous topping of outstanding tangy and salty bleu cheese. What more could a burger lover want?

Then, on to dessert. We shared the banana split: two servings of vanilla ice cream, one serving of chocolate ice cream, hot fudge on the chocolate, raspberry topping on one serving of the vanilla, and strawberry topping on the second. And, if this was not enough, a mound of whipped cream covering all.

Slacker’s, like Frog City Café in Rayne, LA; New Jersey Pizza in Flagstaff, AZ; and Hill Country Café in Kerrville, TX, is one of those places we wish could follow us on our trip around the country.

A final thought. Everywhere we have been in Utah, we have encountered the friendliest and most accommodating service staff. I mentioned the cook/waitress at the Patio. While the ceiling was falling in around her, she maintained her good humor and provided excellent service. Cherie at Slacker’s may be the restaurant’s secret weapon. The staff members at grocery stores would repeatedly ask if we needed help finding anything. And the young cashier at the Walgreen’s in Hurricane drew me a verbal road map for finding the Ace bandages.

We are getting spoiled!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Capitol in Capitol Reef NP

"A giant, sinuous wrinkle in the Earth's crust stretches for 100 miles across south-central Utah. This impressive buckling of rock, created 65 million years ago, is called the Waterpocket Fold."

So begins the National Park brochure's description of the Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold is the geologic centerpiece of Capitol Reef National Park. The ridge of resistant sandstone tilted up by the Fold gives, at least in part, Capitol Reef its name. The ridge was a barrier to travel and such barriers were called "reefs".

Nearly 10,000 feet of sedimentary rocks are exposed in and around Capitol Reef. The eroded "petrified dunes" of the Navajo Sandstone reminded early settlers of the rotundas of capitol buildings in Washington, D.C.

As we drove along the eastern edge of the Park on the Notom Road. we came upon this scene. The "expanding" series of clouds seemed to be reaching out to us. It must have worked, because we sat by the roadside for a good period of time just watching the clouds float overhead.

We stopped to watch this farmer disc his field because it was very peaceful, watching the driver's dog running alongside the tractor, and because it was the the first piece of tillable farmland that we had seen in weeks.

We passed several farms with cattle, sheep, bison, and even ostriches grazing on irrigated acreage, but no crops on the arid lands.

Heading west toward Torrey (UT) on Route 24, we came upon the Behunin Cabin. In 1882, Elijah Cutler Behunin and his family built this cabin. A family of ten lived here. Braided rugs covered the dirt floor. Ends of dress materials became curtains. There was a fireplace to cook in, and a water supply near the floor. The family probably ate outside.

The local environment provided stone, but it didn't provide much for mortar. The blocks appear to have been mortared with mud. The blobs of muddy mortar resemble the mortar work executed by the Ancestral Pueblo (or Anasazi) builders at Mesa Verde.

Father, mother, and two smallest children slept in the cabin. By widening a dugout in the cliff behind the cabin the older boys had a place to sleep. The girls made a bed in an old wagon box.

One of the other buildings remaining near the town of what was Fruita is the schoolhouse. In 1896, Elijah Behunin donated land for a school building that he and other early Junction (later re-named Fruita) settlers built. Even though only eight families lived in Junction, these farmers had large families. Twenty-two children attended the school at its highest enrollment.

The log building also served as a community meeting house and church. As late as 1924, the building was also used for dances, town meetings, elections, church youth activities, box suppers, and celebrations.

Not far from the schoolhouse on Route 24 are these petroglyphs from the Fremont Indians, who lived in the area from approximately 700 A.D. until 1300 A.D. (Click on the photo to see the figures more clearly in the lower part of the reddish rock.)

We both took photos of the Capitol Dome and could not decide which one to use. One featured the trail to the Dome, the other featured the Fremont River, so . . . .

We had not known anything about Capitol Reef National Park before touring the Park and the area.

We left wishing we had scheduled more than just one week here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Rules are Meant to be Broken

Well, I may have to take back what I said in my last post. Or, at least, I may have to expand my dining horizons.

When we thought we might need to drive eight miles up the road to Bicknell (population 353) to retrieve our mail, something about the town tickled my memory. A quick web search reminded me that Bicknell was the home of the Sunglow Motel and Café (sometimes referred to as the Sunglow Family Restaurant), best known for the café’s unusual pies – pinto bean, sweet pickle, buttermilk, and oatmeal still being made from the previous owner’s (Cula Ekker, aka “The Pie Queen”) recipes. But the café is known for more than pie. The restaurant’s breakfasts are equally praised, especially the biscuits and gravy.

We didn’t need to travel to Bicknell for mail after all, but decided that a hearty breakfast would be the right way to start the day. So after stating that I try to avoid motel restaurants, I find myself sitting in a “mom and pop” motel restaurant. But at its core, this café is a small town diner, and some of the best meals we’ve eaten have come from small town diners. This was no exception and may have added yet another to my “Who’da thunk it?” list.

In addition to the biscuits and gravy, the menu contained a variety of omelets, French toast, country fried steak and eggs, pancakes, and egg combinations. But two entries caught our attention. First, the Sunglow Skillet: hash browns topped with ham cubes, cheese, their “soon to be famous” chili verde, two eggs, and a choice of bacon, ham, or sausage. So, while I came for biscuits and gravy, I couldn’t resist the Sunglow Skillet.

My order brought forth a large (very large) portion of hash browns that, while I suspect came frozen from a bag, were cooked crisp. My eggs, over easy as requested, came with the white cooked through (I hate runny egg white) but the yolks still liquid. When cut, the yolks ran like a golden river over and mixed with the potatoes, ham cubes, cheese, and very mild chili verde. I chose the “Texas Smoked” bacon which was delicious, but for my taste, could have been crisper. But these are the things you learn on your first visit to a restaurant.

Mountain Man Chuck saw the Boulder Mountain, the second eye-catcher, named for a 11,317-foot peak along Route 12 (the road we did not take to Torrey). This was two pancakes, two eggs, two slices of bacon, two sausage patties, and hash browns. When his two plates arrived, I asked the waitress how late they would be open thinking that he might need the whole day to finish. But with a little help from me, he managed to put this away in half an hour.

The eggs and sausage were good but not exceptional. The bacon and hash browns mimicked my breakfast. But, Oh!, the pancakes. We agreed that these were the best pancakes of our travels--better than the Groveland Grill, our favorite breakfast spot outside Doylestown, PA; better than Matt’s Big Breakfast in Phoenix; better even than Hill Country Café in Kerrville, Texas. These buttermilk cakes, each eight inches in diameter and maybe a third of an inch high in the center, were light, airy, fluffy, and just soaked in the butter and syrup. So, seeing the mountain of food set in front of him, I sacrificed my waistline to help eat the pancakes. (I’m sooooo good to him!)

So I hereby resolve to no longer be smug about motel restaurants. Not all motel restaurants are created equal.

Sunglow Café earns 4.0 Addies overall, but a 5.0 Addie score for the wonderful pancakes.

We returned to the campground just in time to prepare for a glimpse of winter.

I had photographed this scene of the farm adjacent to the RV Park during my morning walk. I was caught up in the tranquility of the scene as I watched the horses grazing and then happily rolling around the ground.

The scene changed later that day as storm clouds gathered. The wind picked up with gusts reaching 35 mph, and it began to snow. It was snowing horizontally at a good rate.

As we watched it snow, we wondered what the Sunglow's pinto bean pie would taste like.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Names in Stone--The Pioneer Register

Traveling to the end of the Scenic Drive into Capitol Reef NP brought us to the Capitol Gorge.

There a one-mile gravel road led us into a narrow gorge with steep, towering walls. Because of the frequent stops, it took us most of the morning to cover the one mile drive and another mile hike.

One of the intrepid Wanderers is shown above walking along this road.

This one wall caught our attention. I believe the cavities are called "potholes" and are caused by differential rates of erosion. We hadn't seen cavities of this enormous size at any other point in the Park.

This photo and the one below are close-up views of the cavities in the stone wall shown above. Photographed up close, the holes appeared very different from stone. The swirls in the stone caused by erosion look very similar to the grain in wood.

Fortunately, there was no traffic during our time of photographing these effects of water and wind. They deserve a more artistic name rather than "potholes."

We have some bowls (left) made from the burls of trees by Robert Woods of Bear River, Nova Scotia that looked very similar to the cavaties in the wall of stone.

We became quite fascinated with these formations in the wall of stone.

At the end of the gravel road, a one-mile trail began. This trail followed the dry stream bed, which ranged from 10 feet to 50 feet wide. Signs alerting hikers to the risk of being in the stream bed during a thunderstorm were posted at several points in the Park.

The trail merged with the stream bed within a short distance. It was hard to believe that this stream bed was the only road through the Waterpocket Fold portion of the Park until 1962.

It was along this road that turn-of-the-century travelers recorded their names on the canyon walls. Extending for a distance of about 75 yards, the wall must have a couple hundred names carved on it.

The names "C F Brownlee, Oct 17 96" (above) and "M Larson Nov 20 1888" (left) were just two of the many names carved into the wall, announcing the passage of these travelers.

When we returned from the Pioneer Register, we saw this artist in the parking lot just beginning to pack up his paints and canvas. Judging from the canvas, he seemed to be in the early stage of putting his impression on the surface.

As we headed north on the Scenic Drive toward the Visitor Center, we passed this imposing formation. Called The Egyptian Temple, the formation did indeed appear to be a temple.

This seemed to be a fitting last impression of this Drive.