Monday/Sunday, May 17&18: Perfect Road / Million Dollar Road

The perfectly situated Rock Springs Bend BLM dispersed campsite at the heart of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Monday, 5/17/21: The Perfect Move

At my dining room table back in February, while I was pouring over my maps, books, apps, and atlases, I spotted the perfect BLM dispersed campsite, called Rock Springs Bend. Located near Cannonville, just a couple of miles from Kodachrome State Park. It is the perfect jumping off spot for a ton of explorations. Let’s see, we could hit Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, the slot canyons along Skutumpah Road, Grosvenor Arch and trails along Cottonwood Road, Kodachrome Basin State Park, the slot canyons along Hole-In-The-Wall Road, Calf Creek Falls and Escalante River Trails, the incredible highway 12 (the Million Dollar Road), the Burr Trail Byway, etc.

What are the odds of finding a spot in such a wonderfully placed free campsite? There are a handful of alternatives, but they are all far less conveniently placed. It was time to apply my strategy. It is Monday. We left our Old 89 BML campsite at 7:30 am. It was only 77 miles to Rock Springs Bend, so we expected to reach the site around 9:00 to 9:30 am.

Although free, we still had to get a permit to camp from the Cannonville BLM Visitor’s Center, which is conveniently placed on our way to Rock Springs. We also hit a lot of road construction, so we didn’t drive into Rock Spring until 10:00 am.

Well, did we find a spot in this perfect spot that I have been eyeing up for months? You bet we did. In fact, there was only one other camper, well away from our site.

We went into the town of Tropic to find a laundromat. We found a small one with only three washers and three dryers. The weather was odd. Black cells gathered overhead. My weather app told me that lightening struck within 5 miles of us and we’d better take cover. I did hear some thunder several times. I checked my radar app and cells were popping up just to the West of us. To reach our new campsite we have just a 3/4 mile stretch of sandy washboard road to navigate. However, rain could easily turn that into a quagmire so we were a little apprehensive about these ominous looking clouds overhead. My Dark Skies app warned that precipitation would start in 10 minutes and last for an hour.

But....., not a drop hit the ground. The cells kind of dissipated right over the town of Tropic. No quagmire today, I guess.

We met a world-traveling couple in the laundromat. The husband was French but born and raised in South Africa. His wife was from Switzerland. Like the world traveling couple we met at Big Bend National Park, they put our 13-country travels to shame. Jeez, we should have started at 18 years old.

Anyway, that was about all we accomplished today. We have big plans for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, 5/18/21: The Million Dollar Road

I love the designated scenic byways around the country. I even bought National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Scenic Highways and Byways. Most have delighted us with great drives. Utah’s Highway 12, or the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, captured my imagination when I was investigating the treasures that Utah had to offer. An old high school schoolmate, John, who just returned to Wisconsin from Utah, reinforced my impression with an email recommending Highway 12 as a must-see route.

It did not disappoint. We were heading for three trails just east of the town of Escalante: Escalante River Trail, Lower Calf Falls Trail, and Upper Calf Falls Trail. Highway 12 was as much of a highlight as the trails. We had already driven on Highway 12 from Panguitch to Cannonville. It burrowed under the red arches at Red Cliff and past the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive was pretty, but the road really shines just west of Escalante.

It took five back-breaking years to hack and dynamite this part of the route in the 1940s. It was also expensive, ergo the monicker Million Dollar Road. There are stretches along the narrowest spine of a mountain top that barely had enough width for mountain goats, yet somehow they found enough real-estate to lay down a narrow road. The pinkish-white cliffs provide eye-candy as you wind your way through the switch backs. We loved it.

Our first trail, Escalante River Trail, was a flat 5-mile round trip walk that followed the clear running Escalante River though a wide canyon. The bluffs were gorgeous but the river valley was wide so you didn’t get that slot canyon feel. The trail ends at a natural bridge arch.

The trail crossed the river at least five times. The trail itself is deep sand that saps a lot of energy with each step. The solution for many people was to just wade up the river. Of course, we foolishly left our water shoes in Saturn. When will we ever learn?

We ran into our first bout with mosquitos at the end of this trail. That seemed odd as our entire trip has been virtually bug-free. The hungry mosquitos limited our time to admire the natural bridge and we quickly returned. The bugs subsided once we left the natural bridge.

The Escalante River.

I was keen on hiking the Lower Calf Falls Trail, but the parking lot was jammed, the trail is about 6 miles round trip, and the deep sand had sapped a pretty good deal of our energy. So, we pressed on to the supposedly shorter 1.6 mile round trip Upper Calf Falls Trail.

There were plenty of spaces in this very crude parking lot, and for good reason. The trail isn’t really a trail. You just look over a white cliff and decide whether to jump or not. The near vertical surface required shoes with gripping power. We changed shoes. Still, any loose sand sent you skidding and tumbling down the cliff. We carefully picked our way down, making sure to only step on bare rock.

The entire way down the 900’ descent, we were cognizant of the return trip up. Occasionally, we met people coming back up huffing and puffing and perspiring and red in the face. Yet we plunged, almost literally, on.

The payoff was a lush river valley with a tall waterfalls splashing into a deep pool. OK, nice, but now we have to climb 900’ back up.

When we finally did reach to the top, all I could think about was kissing the ground and a cold beer. We were totally spent. Gaia GPS pegged the 1.6 miles of trail at 2.5 miles. I guess we wondered off trail a bit. Actually, there wasn’t a trail per se, just an occasional cairn pointing in the right direction, which was basically down.

Lower Calf Falls Trail would have to wait for another day. As we drove back, we stopped at every overlook. I spotted the Lower Calf Falls Trail as it paralleled the Calf River. It was nice and level and looked like a it had a hard surface. Drat! Yes, we must come back for that trail. We slept well.

The top part of the near vertical hillside. This was only a small part of the trail. It kept going down and down and down......

Getting close to the lush river valley. You can see the tops of the trees.

On the road back we stopped at overlooks. Down below we could see the flat Lower Calf Falls Trails

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured. 6) QT. Quaint Town.

Dave and Wanda

Mask Up To Save Lives.

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