SOUTHERN UTAH FALL COLORS LOOP September 26 to October 1, 2009

Saving my car, and with nobody to come forward to climb anything together this summer, I figured on doing, at least, this one road trip, this year. I have cost and global warming concerns, and chose, for the summer, to mostly stay close to home, and patronize local businesses to help the city economy. I like dining out, and can do this without spending too much.

But, even that gets old, and I tracked the Net for fall color reports once the season rolled about. One website showed the Southwestern Utah mountains peaking, so I figured to make plans. "Come quick, or it'll be gone," said one writer.

I had hoped to resolve an issue with a new travel toy, but by then, it was too late to do anything. So, I had to operate with reduced capacity, due to the battery recharging issues, and thusly couldn't make better and longer use of the many connection ops while on the road.

I made my room reservations, and packed my stuff quickly. Leaving town in the morning on Saturday the 26th, I motored eastbound along Interstate 80. Making some photo stops, and reaching Reno, NV, I purchased some items from my favorite outdoor clothing store, hiked the local hill, and then continued on my way east.

Making only stops then for rest breaks with drink, gas, and food, I finally arrived in Wells, NV. Weekend rates were in effect in other towns, so I saved some money here. I tried out my new device, finding mild happiness there. Many places that I passed offer Wi-Fi, some free. Not seeing very many users of laptops or other Net capable gadgets, I presumed to keep mine a secret. I seem to have been told of an former neighbor being robbed, they are so easy to take.

Sunday, I motored eastward, and passed through Salt Lake City, UT. The Wasatch Mountains were in haze and backlit, so I couldn't see the fall colors till further south. I took U.S. 6 east out of Spanish Fork, UT, and then snapped some photos at the Spanish Fork River Park. The hillside maples were turned nicely.

Touring south on U.S. 89, I passed through the small towns of Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim, Manti, Gunnison, and finally, Salina, Utah. All had their own special charm, and being a Sunday, traffic was light. Distant fall colors were to be seen on the Wasatch Plateau to the east.

Then, I took my long awaited drive, eastbound, along Interstate 70. This highway splits the fabled San Rafael Swell, a large area of badlands and rock formations. I liked stopping at the four or five highway vista points and capturing the sights. Managing a short scramble onto the side of Ghost Rock, I got slightly elevated views of the view to the canyon-like north, with its cliffs and spires.

I had a reservation for two nights in Green River, UT. I arrived at a good hour, and got a mile walk going for a meal, more of my breakfast-for-dinner type plates. I used my signal locator to check if I could get into a free network as I waited for my cuisine, but there was nothing. I have to learn about getting Wi-Fi to use my latest handheld. I have software to tell me the ops for free, nearby Wi-Fi, but then you have to already be online!

Settling down after my sausage and eggs dinner, I would have plenty of things to do without connecting to the Net!

In the early morning of the 28th, I got some eats and drink, then motored the 45 or so miles to Arches National Park. I had meant to do all of the trails here, and to see what arch formations that I had missed on my previous visits. This had to wait some 9 years after my initial visit.

First viewing Sand Dune Arch, I strolled over to catch nearby Broken Arch. These are short hikes, less than a mile total. Then it was to the Devils Garden trailhead, to start a primitive trail loop. Landscape Arch was a nice sight, again, then I spotted Black Arch. It is a side trip to come to the base of the Dark Angel, a high pinnacle, which I told some hikers, "Wasn't much."

Back to the main trail, I adventured forward to see the additional arches. Shocked that this "primitive" trail had some drop-offs with some class 3 friction moves required, I worried a bit, but continued. I came to a water hole that appeared to have a precarious traverse to get by it. Hikers came up behind me. I didn't know how deep the water was, and if you slipped, you might plunge into the murk, from a considerable, however short, distance up.

Fearing for my camera gear, I chose for myself the friction climb to about 25 feet above the pond, and gratefully I made it. Others chose to wade, and I saw it was only about knee deep. The loop completes itself back at about Landscape Arch, and after a side trip to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches, I had the short walk back to my car.

Now warmer in the afternoon, I made the various park road stops to view more sights. Using my a/c, I decided to visit Moab, UT, and saw new things. I had it in mind to view the La Sal Mountains fall colors further south, as the most incredible red aspen grove that I had photographed way back in 2003. But time was short, so at a bit past the spot where I had crashed into a car that had pulled out and slowed in the middle of the high speed highway, I turned around.

Going back into the National Park after another breakfast-for-dinner, I saw there were no clouds. It would be futile to try to get a better, great sunset photo of the classic Delicate Arch, as I had much better ops on my last two hikes there. I picked the auto viewpoint for the La Sal Mountains, but had no dramatic sunset, or any clouds to turn red.

From my lodging in Green River, I woke up before sunrise and motored back west on Interstate 70 and took Highway 24 south. In Hanksville, UT, a nice sausage and eggs plate did me fine. I took a photo stop at the road to Factory Butte, and then motored west into Capitol Reef National Park.

I hiked the Rim Overlook trail, with magnificent views. You get a glimpse of Hickman Natural Bridge, then following ducks, hike past towering cliffs and in the morning, backlit views to the rest of the park. Running into other hikers, I stopped at the rim overlook. You look down upon the highway and its groves and orchards. It was getting too warm to head further for the Navajo Knobs, and I had a way to drive with other things to see.

Taking more pictures as I hiked back down, hikers going up were wet with perspiration. Not having to pay any park entrance fee, this way, I stopped at Panorama Point, then took Highway 12 south. I knew that this was scenic and filled with aspens. I was right on that! The high hogsback in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument had its sights and views, too.

Coming into Escalante, UT, the town was a bit more vibrant than in 2000. There has been more development since my last time for many of these towns, and it looked good. We have high tech, now, and the formulas for attracting people seem to work. The Escalante Petrified Forest State Park cost me $6 to get in, but was worth it. A 1 mile loop hike enables one to view the town to the east, and some small specimens of fossilized wood.

Continuing west, I turned north to come into Panguitch, UT, and took Highway 143 west. This was some of the best aspen sights, once you get up high. With many bare trees, one might venture that the peak has passed, but I captured images of the many turned groves.

Coming to the Sunset Point parking in the Cedar Breaks National Monument, I endured a cold wind to witness and record the sunset. Back on a road trip in 1978, the light turned the cliffs beet red, with some saying I used filters or faked my shots. Nope, then.

Missing the nice canyon views down Highway 14 due to nightfall, I came to Cedar City, UT, and then Interstate 15. It is another 50 miles or so to St. George, UT, where I gained lodging and food. Using my Wi-Fi, there, I checked on fall colors reports back in the High Sierra. I caught a short part of the heralded Ken Burns PBS documentary on the National Parks. Ironic that I would be hitting three of them over the time of the broadcast.

Zion National Park was next. Wednesday the 30th, I motored out of St. George, and then north on the Interstate to the turnoff for Highway 9. Coming to Springdale, UT, I looked for any parking lot for the free shuttle into the park. Seeing only bus stops and plenty of lodging and malls, I had to ask the entrance station ranger on what to do. I paid my walk-in fee, went back to my car at a small parking area just outside the entrance station, and showed my receipt again as I entered the park. They are trying to eliminate traffic jams in the park proper, which I support.

Hopping aboard the free, in-park shuttle, I debarked at the Grotto stop and began my hike to the West Rim. I remembered the trail from when I hiked to the top of Angels Landing. Soon, I was hiking new terrain to me, and enjoying the sights. Dozens of hikers were climbing the class 2, chained route to the top of the Landing, and I hoped to do my 2X when I returned from the West Rim.

The trail climbs and drops. Some fall color in red maples and oaks appeared. The trail then is built into an airy ledge carved into the side of a large cliff. Unnerving at first, I had to wonder about the experience imparted to hikers about the parks, out here. I spoke with a backpacker couple about where the West Rim view was, and they answered with a spot a bit further. More backpackers affirmed this.

About my turn around time, 2 p.m., I came to thin, but fire ravaged forest, and the apparent highpoint of the hill here, with some prominence. Seeking the best vantage point, I believe that I had found it at the post "5," with a campsite to the right, then a makeshift rock bench to the left for the vista.

I got my photos of South Guardian Angel (7,140'), and the Left Fork. It was freezing wind near the edge. I wore just T-shirt and shorts on all of my hiking, with an additional moderate layer of jacket for the mornings, and the wind up here.

I then had to head back down. I had an emergency, map viewer, software app installed on my device, but refrained from using it for the fear that I'd reduce the battery charge. Then, I couldn't surf the Net as much. As it was, I depleted the battery to about 45% for a couple hours of use for this maiden, high tech, voyage.

Getting more sights on my way back and down, I came back late to the bus stop and was carried back to the main parking lot. The driver pointed out wild turkeys and deer along the way. Many foreign tourists also appreciated the driver's jokes to pass the short driving time.

Out of the park and back to my car, I took off quickly for a stop in Hurricane, UT. Then, at night, I went back to the Interstate and my motel. Even the restaurant where I ate had free Wi-Fi. The hiking was over. I had to return home. Now, I pretty much have done the trails for day hiking in Zion and Arches.

Up really early again on my last day out, I motored southwest on Interstate 15. Tempted to stop in Las Vegas, NV, at the Bellagio for a nice luxury breakfast, I didn't know the hours, and had to guess that they might still be closed. It was about 5 a.m., PST.

Primm, NV, then Baker, CA, and Barstow, made for some sights. Turning north on U.S. 395, I sought to see this favorite highway of mine, and took more photos of the high peaks. The new Interagency Visitor Center just south of Lone Pine, CA, was quite a sight, too.

There wasn't much new in Big Pine or Bishop, CA. They are doing lots of road work, though, to widen the highway. Having had an expensive tamale and rice lunch back in Lone Pine, that alleviated my idea and appetite for a nice late lunch in Mammoth Lakes, CA. The fall colors began to appear. Some had suggested an early fall. I wasn't surprised to see mostly green, as you have to take what you may read on the Web not as gospel fact.

Motoring over Monitor Pass, then Carson Pass, I had seen that the fall colors have yet to appear, and maybe in 10 days, I will return to view and photograph them. This was a good trip for scenic panoramas. I shot a lot of wide open spaces, and like to use my software.

Safe and sound back to home, I had driven a little under 2,300 miles, captured about 2,700 images (I shot my final 2 rolls of Kodachrome), and spent about $540 total. Lodging for five nights was under $200. Total gas cost $151, down to 2.719 in Utah. I used about 56 gallons, giving me a trip fuel efficiency of about 41 mpg. I hiked a total of 32 miles, with maybe 5,000 feet of gain.

Feeling a bit slimmer, it felt great to be back to my computer and in my place. Woe to those who never hike, climb, or ski, and refuse to visit our glorious National Parks. While the sights are indeed magnificent, the local club hikers shut themselves out with their mandated ways, via the Club chapter executives. Shame that for the petty hate politics, so many will never know the wildlands and incredible beauty that wait, hopefully, forever, for those lucky ones that partake of the superb travel adventures, available to all who choose to join the few of us who still do this!