A Grand Day Trip into the Grand Staircase
A few minutes before 7 am, my phone rang. It was David from Red Desert Adventures, who was supposed to take us on our 4-hour canyoneering outing this morning.”It doesn’t look good”, he said, “but I’ll leave it up to you.” The temperature was barely above freezing and it was raining, so it was definitely going to be a very cold and wet day out there. We opted to cancel the trip and figure something else instead.
That something else turned out to be a 3-hour excursion deep into the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. This area, slightly larger than the state of Delaware, was declared a national monument by Bill Clinton in 1996. It comprises of layers of sedimentary (not sedentary, like I wrote earlier) rock that resemble, on a very large scale, a staircase that descends all the way into the Grand Canyon.
Our first stop was in the town of Orderville, where we enjoyed pastries and coffee at a German bakery.
By then, clumps of snow were falling, but luckily, the temperature was just above freezing, so nothing stuck on the road. The landscape around us, however, was quickly covered in white. The red rocks around us stood out even more under the dusting of snow.
We got onto Hwy 12, a scenic road that’s been rated one of the top 10 roads in the US. We passed Bryce Canyon National Park, and shortly after went through a section of road where the right-hand lane had clearly fallen into the canyon below. It made us realize how treacherous the road we were on really was.
We continued climbing to about 7700 ft, then descended back down into the town of Escalante, where we stopped at the visitor center to get oriented and grab some maps. Olivia met her new boyfriend there – a handsome guy who was very helpful to top it off. I had to drag out of there so we can get back on the road. Luckily, the crazy weather, which had been alternating between snow or sun or both throughout,finally improved for a bit and we got to see patches of blue sky. The fog and clouds lifted, and as we continued on towards Boulder, the landscape became even more amazing. We snapped photos at an overlook along the way.
Afterwards, we visited a coffee house that sprung out of nowhere on the side of the road. It was a perfect time to stop for lunch, and we enjoyed pea soup, coffee and a homemade banana cream pie to die for. The coffee house was perched atop a rock, with beautiful views all around. There was even a little guesthouse you could rent next door. Olivia and I were both planning our next trip here in our heads, since we both were itching to try some of the amazing hikes here, and the Kiva Koffeehouse and cottage will definitely be on the list.
We continued on to Boulder, and the road took us on a ridge of a cliff where we were surrounded by canyons on both sides. It was pretty scary, actually. The views were amazing but we were pretty much on a cliff in the middle of a plateau with miles upon miles of canyons all around us. It was hard to imagine that there was a town of 200 people ahead of us, but soon enough the rocks and canyons gave way to a little valley. Boulder, UT is so remote that people used mules to get their mail from nearby Escalante well into the 1930s. The road coming up here from the East, across Boulder Mountain, wasn’t fully paved until 1985. Let that sink in for a minute. And the road from the West – the road we had been driving on, the portion of Hwy 12 between Escalante and here – was built at a cost of 1 million dollars in 1935. 1 million dollars in 1935 money, can you believe it? Having an absolutely stunning road going over crazy terrain to a super remote area is the epitome of the American road trip for me.
Had we kept driving, we would have reached the town of Torrey, UT, and Capitol Reef National Park, but we had neither the time nor the desire to drive across the 11,000 ft Boulder mountain, so we turned around. Temperatures were now 10 degrees higher than in the morning, and all the snow from earlier had melted, so we felt like we were on a completely different road on the way back.
As it always works out, the way back seemed much faster. We were on the Eastern edge of Zion just before 5 pm, and we visited the Zion Ponderosa Ranch, where I picked up my bib for the half marathon tomorrow. We ate a spaghetti buffet dinner hosted by the ranch and exchanged travel and running stories with fellow runners. The storm that had accompanied us on our road trip had also messed with many people’s travel plans. A couple from Milwaukee told us how they were supposed to have a lav over in San Diego before Vegas, but couldn’t land in Vegas due to wind, so their plane went back to Ontario. Instead of waiting there, they rented a car, drove to Vegas to pick up their luggage, then came here and checked into their hotel a good 24 hours after leaving home. Only crazy people would do this running thing, I am more and more convinced every day.
After dinner, we hightailed it back to the hotel in Kanab for some R&R. We have a 4 am wake-up call tomorrow. I just hope it finally stops raining, although I am in for a muddy second half of the race no matter what.