Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

After our back country excursion to Alstrom Point, I knew I had to explore more of these 4×4 dirt roads. The landscape is so perplexing and surreal that I couldn’t leave the area without delving deeper into Mother Nature’s handy work.

The land here is remote, harsh and unforgiving, and therefore I knew we shouldn’t explore without being prepared. Before embarking on our exploratory excursion into the back country, I made the short drive up to the nearby visitor center located just a few miles north of the Arizona – Utah border in the small town of Big Water, Utah.

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch – Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Big Water Visitor Center

The visitor center is a worthwhile stop and the staff are a wealth of information regarding everything Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Don’t expect to get BLM info or any other information pertaining to the area outside of Grand Staircase-Escalante. This visitor center is all about the monument.

In the courtyard before entering the building, guests are greeted by a replicated dinosaur dig along with informative educational signs. Inside the visitor center is a large topographic map of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, as well as a fascinating dinosaur display complete with pamphlets describing the exact dinosaurs that once roamed the area.

After receiving a map and having all my questions answered regarding the condition of Cottonwood Road, I felt more comfortable about embarking on our trek through the Grand Staircase-Escalante. It also helped that fellow blogger and friend, Sue, had driven this road just a couple of weeks earlier and was able to share additional information.

The drive begins …

The following day, Al and I loaded up the Toyota Tacoma with plenty of food, water and emergency equipment. We knew we’d be traveling through some very remote territory without cell phone connection and running into another vehicle wouldn’t be a common occurrence. Thus, we’d be on our own!

The start of our excursion

From our campsite along the Arizona – Utah border, we traveled northwest via Highway 89 for about 17 miles and then turned north onto Cottonwood Road. The land starts off stark and barren and the road is easily navigated with the exception of some washboard areas.

Paria River valley – here’s some of the washboard road which had our teeth rattling

Eventually, the scenery changes and we rolled into the Paria River valley. Cottonwood trees line the river’s edge and free-ranging cattle dot the landscape.

I found the speed limit signs and the ‘reduced speed’ sign humorous.

A few miles later as the road bends away from the Paria River, the landscape gets barren once again. The road gets rougher, narrower and we spot a sign … Reduced Speed Ahead. After reading that sign, the first thing out of my mouth was, “No sh*t, Sherlock!” Hmm, single lane road made for two-way traffic, a blind curve, and a rutted road … exactly how fast should I go?

Cockscomb range

As we rounded a bend, we were greeted with a perplexing range of hills called the cockscomb. Each mound seems to emulate the crest of a rooster. Therefore, we can see how this range got its name.

Cockscomb

Cockscomb range

Are we there yet?

The landscape seems to go on forever. At this point we’ve driven over twenty miles (from the time we turned off Highway 89 onto Cottonwood Road) and it has taken us somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to travel that distance and although the land exhibits a raw beauty, I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed with the scenery.

Finally wowed!

I’m not sure what kind of landscape I was expecting, but a few miles later when we crested a hill, my mouth dropped open. Wow!

cottonwood canyon

Cottonwood Canyon – now this is what I hoped for!

Okay! Now we’re talking drop dead gorgeous mind-boggling landscape. Of course this calls for a photo-op stop … don’tcha think!

In the above photo, at the bottom of the hill is a pull-off to the right for a trailhead called Cottonwood Wash Narrows. I could see portions of the canyon/slot from the road and was tempted to lace up the hiking shoes, but today was about the drive and I made a mental note for a future outing. Although, I think the hike would be better attempted when camping in Kodachrome State Park or any number of options near Highway 12. The drive to the trailhead would be easier and shorter from Highway 12 than driving up from Highway 89.

Crème de le crème

After lingering and savoring this unique sight, it was time to finish those last five miles to set my eyes on the real gem of our journey …. Grosvenor Arch!

It was a Sunday morning and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. We literally had the place to ourselves … that is, until it was time for us to return to the truck. I’ve wanted to see this famous arch ever since I first heard about it seven years ago.

When we visited Bryce Canyon in the past, I attempted to see the arch, but recent rains made the road to Grosvenor Arch impassable. This is another place you’ll want to check on road conditions at the Cannonville visitor center before embarking on the drive. From Kodachrome State Park to the arch is about a 17 mile drive on a gravel road with a small stream crossing.

A stunning state park

And speaking of Kodachrome State Park …. it was near noon by the time I was done photographing Grosvenor Arch and our bellies were growling. What better place to have lunch than at the state park!

I wish we could’ve stayed longer to explore Kodachrome State Park, but we knew we had a long and dusty drive back to camp and didn’t want the day to drag on too long. We enjoyed our lunch at the group picnic area and afterwards strolled the short nature loop taking in the magnificent scenery. This place needs to go on the list of must see places. It is stunningly beautiful!

Cottonwood Road

And then we were on the road again, traveling the return 47 miles back to highway 89. It was a loooong day, but a fantastic day. We encountered few other people traversing Cottonwood Road on a Sunday (April 15, 2018). Although much of the road can be driven with a 2 wheel drive car, there are portions where a higher clearance vehicle would be preferable.

Driving Cottonwood Road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should not be attempted if rain is in the forecast or it has rained the previous days. The road does become impassable even with a 4×4 high clearance vehicle. And do note – a GPS should not be used to help navigate your travels within the monument. You WILL be lead astray.

We are but a minuscule blip in history

Later in the year, I’ll be celebrating a mile-stone birthday, even though I don’t have birthday’s anymore 🤗 It’s a number that has me questioning where has the time gone, but in comparison to this land, I’ve been on this earth but a small faction of time …. a minuscule blip in history.

As I peruse the literature on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I read the monument has been quietly doing its thing for 50 million to 275 million years. Who’s the spring chicken now 🤣

This Delaware-sized piece of land is the last part of the lower 48 United States to be surveyed and cartographed. Fossil excavations have yielded more information about changing ecosystems and the end of the dinosaur era more than any other place in the world. This remote unspoiled land is a dream for many: geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, biologists, and tourists like myself.

More than rocks …

Although they are an interesting photographic subject, dead trees are an important part of the desert ecosystem. These dead trees provide nesting habitat for insects, birds, reptiles and rodents. These Junipers also help prevent erosion by holding the soil in place.

dead trees

As trees decompose, they release vital nutrients and minerals back into the soil making it possible for new growth to occur. Mother Nature is a wonder!

Grosvenor Arch

If you’re looking for solitude and quiet recreation amongst an amazing landscape, you’ll find it here in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But come prepared – the land and weather are harsh and unforgiving, but the beauty is like none other.

The finest workers of stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time – Henry David Thoreau

(affiliate links) These essentials made us feel a little more secure exploring this remote land. Being self-sufficient while exploring the remote back country is vital considering you may not see another vehicle for hours and cell reception is rare. Note – a GPS is not to be trusted in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Viair 40047 Automatic Portable Compressor KitColeman Folding Shovel with Pick
Maxtrax
 Tow Strap
Utah Road & Recreation Atlas

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Best Spot for Lunch near Page, AZ

After our amazing slot canyon hike just two days earlier, I wasn’t expecting any more epic adventures. Boy, was I wrong! Our back country 4×4 excursion to Alstrom Point was packed with plenty of adventure and spectacular scenery.

Alstrom Point

Best overlook on Lake Powell

Before arriving in Page, Arizona, I did a little Googling on best photographic spots near Lake Powell. Alstrom Point kept popping up and my interest was piqued. It’s known as the best scenic overlook on Lake Powell, and therefore, my camera demanded she be taken there. Needless to say, a drive out to Alstrom Point was put on my ‘must do‘ list during our time in northern Arizona.

Our friends, Faye and Dave, were still in the area, and after spending a couple of nights at the Wahweap Campground, they joined us out at the Lone Rock Beach area for a little dry camping. This would be Dave’s opportunity to try out his new portable solar paneland new generator. Yep, he and Faye were ready for a little boondocking.

camping with friends

Once they were comfortably parked, the four of us set about planning a few exploratory adventures. Since Alstrom Point was at the top of my list, the next day we packed a picnic lunch, cooler full of water and jumped in my Toyota Tacoma for a little back country exploring.

Lake Powell, Page, Arizona

The scenic two-lane highway from the town of Page, Arizona, to our turn off in Big Water, Utah, was about 15 miles. Once in the town of Big Water, we turned east …. opposite direction from the nice visitor center. It wasn’t long before the pavement ended and we crossed a small trickling stream and were greeted with the most perplexing and fascinating landscape.

Lots of stopping for photo-ops. Dave can be seen in the photo, giving scale to the landscape

four-wheel drive was not necessary on this fine weather day

About an hour and a half and a few turns later, this foursome were uttering wow’s at the most incredible jaw dropping scenery laid out before us. The truck was quickly parked, so we could all walk over to the edge and take in the stunning sight.

We weren’t quite to Alstrom Point just yet. So after a few photo-ops, we hopped back into the truck to continue the journey, but we didn’t get much further before needing to stop to assess the road condition. There was a section of road that we all agreed the Tacoma was unable to traverse safely. The length of her wheel base was just a little too long for the hill, rocks, and deep ruts, and going any further might result in the Tacoma turning into a teeter-totter.

Oh well, time to park the truck, strap on the hiking shoes, and get in a little walking. I don’t think we made it all the way to the official Alstrom Point, but none of us were complaining. The views were fantastic and Dave and I were giving our cameras a good working out.

The four of us were enjoying a near perfect weather day. The temperature was in the low 70’s with a slight breeze, and clear blue skies. But at 4,000 feet in elevation the sun was intense, but we were all well prepared. The day before, I got a little too much sun on the left side of my face and neck. Thus, the big hat and cover, but this was definitely T-shirt and shorts weather here in northern Arizona at the end of March.

Our little stroll along the canyon edge had us working up an appetite, and therefore, it was time to find the perfect spot for lunch. And I believe we found it!

lunch at Alstrom Point

The perfect spot for lunch near Page, Arizona (well, 90 minutes from Page, but who’s counting)

I think this has to be the best spot I’ve ever had lunch. We admired the beauty and enjoyed our sandwiches in near silence, which if you knew Al or Dave is a rarity 🤣 After letting our food settle and savoring the scenery, it was time to slowly head back to camp.

But not without a few more photo-ops ….. what a fun day!

Memories of a bucket list destination

I remember well the first time I heard about Lake Powell. It was the early 1980’s. I was a Flight Attendant for a regional airline based in Chicago, and a die-hard magazine reader at the time. One day, in-between flights, I was at one of the airport’s news stands scouring the racks of magazines when I picked up a copy of Outside Magazine.

Lake Powell

This was definitely a far cry from my usual choice of Vogue, Cosmopolitan or any number of fashion magazines that I was partial to reading, but the photograph on the cover captivated my attention. I had to learn more about where that photograph was taken. Hmm, Lake Powell???

I didn’t know how or when I’d have a chance to visit Lake Powell, after all, it seemed so remote and out-of-the-way from my home in the Chicago suburbs. At that point in my life, my vacation travels revolved mostly around cities with trips to Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii and even Europe, but somewhere in the recesses of my mind, Lake Powell was stored as a must see travel destination.

Lake Powell

That magazine was stored in a dresser drawer for the longest time, but by the late 80’s Lake Powell was forgotten when my focus was juggling a job, children and a household …. until…. until 1993 when Michael Bolton filmed a music video there.

Lake PowellBack then I would use the television for background noise, and quite often, I would have the TV channel set to either MTV or VH1.

Okay folks, no judging here! Those were the days when these channels played music all day long and it was cool at the time and so was Michael Bolton. Therefore, that was my form of background music while doing household chores.

It didn’t matter what I was doing, when the video for “Said I loved you but I lied” came on, I sat down and watched and listened and dreamed. (You can view that video toward the end of this post)

The video renewed my interest in Lake Powell. At the time, we were living in Las Vegas, Nevada, and all of a sudden, Lake Powell didn’t seem so far away. The following April, we packed up our camping gear, two little kids, and dog and headed to the Wahweap Campground along the shores of Lake Powell near Page, Arizona, for a camping trip and the fulfillment of a dream.

Still being a bonifide flatlander at the time, I hadn’t wrapped my head around elevation and weather. In Illinois if you want colder weather, you head north. If you want warmer weather, you go south. Ah, not in the west! It’s all about elevation. You go up in elevation, it gets colder. You go down in elevation, it gets warmer. With that said, it may have been 90 degrees in Las Vegas in April, but not so hot yet in this part of Arizona.

So although I did get to set my eyes on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona, and it was amazing, it wasn’t the kind of trip or experience I had hoped for. The overnight temperatures were still a little too cold for tent camping, and the needs of small children and care of a dog, took priority over my scenic quest.

boating on Lake Powell

Fast forward

It was somewhere around 2006 or 2007. One child was off to college and another was staying at a friend’s house while Al and I loaded up the truck camper, hitched up the boat and headed for Lake Powell. Finally, I’d be able to delve into this fascinating landscape…. only twenty-five years after first hearing about this unique lake. Better late than never, huh!

We were living in Colorado at that time, and therefore the Bullfrog Marina would be the closest location for us to access Lake Powell. It is also in the fricken middle of no where, which made this former city slicker a little uncomfortable. My how times have changed, or rather, how I have changed. Back then, I found the harsh and barren landscape foreboding, and now I love it and embrace its unique beauty.

Unfortunately, that boating excursion out of Bullfrog didn’t meet my high expectations. Don’t get me wrong. It was still a great trip exploring Lake Powell, but the lake feels more river like than lake like around this section of Lake Powell. We loved exploring the various canyons via our boat, but those tall canyon walls had an interesting effect on the water that Al and I had never experienced before and made us feel a little uncomfortable.

houseboats on Lake Powell

lots of houseboats on Lake Powell

Think of sitting in a bathtub full of water and pushing your hands through the water making waves. The walls of the tub don’t allow the waves to disperse creating bigger and bigger waves the more you push the water. Hence, boating through the smaller canyons with a bunch of other boat traffic, boats much larger than our small 20 foot bow-rider, putting out a steady stream of wake, results in the water swishing back and forth between the canyon walls creating constant wave activity which was scary at times in our little boat. The thought of being capsized was not entertaining!

Antelope Point

Lake Powell near Antelope Point Marina

We learned to head out onto the water early in the morning before the boating traffic picked up and returned to the camper around lunch time. By then, the temps were already nearing the 100 degree F range, and we were ready for a little A/C.  After all, it was July. Another lesson learned …. it’s hot 🔥 at Lake Powell during the summer …. and crazy busy.

Although, I wasn’t wowed by that section of Lake Powell, it was still a worthwhile and memorable trip.

camping near the shores of Lake Powell

I’m finally wowed!

The boat was sold along with the wave runners and canoe. As of 2010, we were no longer proud owners of a watercraft 😔 So a few years later, what do we do? We head to Lake Powell with a RV and camp along her shores.

This has become one of my favorite stops while passing through northern Arizona and this recent visit finally left me wowed … seriously wowed! Although, I believe the scenery was more breathtaking when the water level was higher, this gal ain’t complaining. Yeah, water level is somewhere around 60 to 70 feet below the full level established back in 1980.

It’s been a great couple of weeks and I already look forward to returning. Hmm, but next time we may need to rent a boat! Anyone care to join us? 😀

Alstrom Point and Gunsight Butte can be seen from the Antelope Point Marina. To think, we were driving somewhere up on that mesa. Although, we didn’t make it all the way to the point, fun none the less!

Alstrom Point

Me in the back country overlooking Lake Powell with Gunsight Butte in the background. Somewhere off to the top far right is where Michael Bolton stood while filming that music video. Gunsight Butte can be seen in his video as well as he filmed in a slot canyon. (I could do without the corny flames in the video, but then again, it was the early ’90’s 😄 still a good song …. remember, no judging)

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have, if we only seek them with our eyes open – Jawaharlal Nehru

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 foldable Solar Panel

Daypack with 3 Liter Water Bag  

Women’s Wide Brim  Sun Hat

Final thoughts on Idaho

From our campsite at the Beaver Dick Park near Rexburg, we enjoyed a few out and back day trips exploring eastern Idaho.  After spending two months in this state, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.  The land around here is some of the most diverse I’ve ever seen.Idaho

July 2016 – home base was situated among rolling agricultural land.   One of our day drive excursions took us past green and golden fields that were occasionally interrupted by quaint towns, small subdivisions, farms and ranches.  Fifty miles northwest of Idaho Falls, hills of fine white sand loomed in the distance.

Elgin Lake at St. Anthony Sand Dunes

Elgin Lake at St. Anthony Sand Dunes

Talk about a playground fit for any age with a diverse landscape that is extremely intriguing ….. huge sand dunes that are bordered by freshly harvested fields to the south, brush-covered lava plain border the north, and a body of water that sits at its base (Elgin Lake).  Fun recreation abounds!

Boys and there toys!

Boys and their toys!

Ah, but lots of girls get in on the action. Isn't she the cutest? Safety first - helmet and gloves!

Ah, but girls get in on the action too. Isn’t she the cutest? Safety first – helmet and gloves!

These out-of-place sand dunes spill across the Snake River Plain in a wide arc and provide endless OHV adventure (off highway vehicle).  St. Anthony Sand Dunes consists of 10,000 acres of dunes rising 400 feet up and look to be quite the thrill…. check out this video….

I did try talking Al into renting a razor for the day, but alas, one of us needed to be the voice of reason.  So that means, I did not get to experience those amazing sand dunes up close and personal…. sigh.  However, hubby did promise – if we ever find ourselves in this part of Idaho again, we would definitely camp at St. Anthony and rent an OHV.

This Sheriff enjoys his job!

This law enforcement officer enjoys his job!

After getting that promise in writing (LOL), it was time for us to head north to the little town of Ashton.  You see, our daughter’s name is Ashton and I just had to get a photo of Ashtonthe town sign, AND she is definitely my adventurous child. Thus, this sign seemed fitting.

But the town of Ashton wasn’t the only reason for us to head in this direction …… The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.  This thirty mile scenic road meanders through the Targhee National Forest.

The combination of rolling meadows, pine woodland, and views of  rushing water was a visual delight.

The major tourist stop along this route is Upper Mesa Falls.  The Big Falls interpretive center is a great place to learn about the geology and history of the area.

Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

scenic overlooks

scenic overlooks

From the interpretive center there are several developed trails, allowing visitors to view the falls and rushing water below.

The interpretive center building was charming

The interpretive center building was charming

Upper Mesa Falls is 200 feet wide and drops about 110 feet, and although I found the area to be difficult to photograph, the setting was perfect for a picnic lunch.  While munching away, we Mesa Fallsbreathed in the fresh scent of pine as the sound of rushing water below and singing song birds above serenaded us.

Our picnic table was pleasantly located under the shade of pines near a meadow filled with wildflowers.  Yep, great place to relax and enjoy our lunch .

We did stop at lower Mesa Falls, but the view is from a roadside overlook and the falls are pretty far away.  The view was a bit of a disappointment and almost not worth the stop, but there were some large informative signs that enlightened us on the flora, fauna, wildlife, and geology in the area making it Mesa Fallsworthwhile after all.

Personal opinion ….. Upper Mesa Falls definitely has better views than lower Mesa Falls.  We thoroughly enjoyed this visit.

Other Idaho note worthy sights……

Henry’s Lake just north of Island Park and not far from West Yellowstone offers a state park with camping, but if you don’t mind driving to the other side of the lake, the Bill Frome County Park offers free dry camping.  Donations are appreciatedcampingAl and I had every intention of moving up to this location so we could explore West Yellowstone, but we had some commitments that required us to head east, thus the timing didn’t fit.  Plus, I was starting to miss my beloved Colorado.  We’ll save a stay at Henry’s Lake for another time.

Henry's Lake looked like a great place to park for a while.

Henry’s Lake looked like a beautiful place to camp

If you own an OHV or are into four-wheeling, then you’d fit right in in eastern Idaho.  Island Park was loaded with off-roaders having a great time tooling around the back country, but anglers seemed to enjoy the area equally as well with no shortage of places to test their hook and line.

Ririe Reservoir

Ririe Reservoir

Our last camping spot in Idaho was near the tiny town of Ririe – The Juniper Campground.  We ended up staying here for a couple of nights so we could get caught up on household chores and stock up on supplies in nearby Idaho Falls.  Tidbit – you can call the camp host to make a reservation at the Juniper Campground. If you do, please ask for his recommendation on sites.  The map that’s on their website is out of date and labeled incorrectly.

Juniper Campground - Ririe Reservoir

Juniper Campground – Ririe Reservoir

From what we gathered, the majority of the time a reservation isn’t necessary but does give you the opportunity to secure one of the nicer sites.  Many of the sites are unlevel or sloped which would make setting up a little more challenging for some RV’s.  Therefore, checking with the camp host is a huge advantage.  We thought the Juniper Campground was a gem of a park to stay while exploring this side of Idaho.

The Oregon Trail and Goodale's cutoff

The Oregon Trail and Goodale’s cutoff

On a final note …… I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fascinating history found in Idaho.  Idaho has done a fantastic job with signage; educating us on her past ….. reminders of those far more adventurous than today’s full-timing RVer’s.  While I sit on a leather seat in the comfort of a climate controlled truck, pulling my equally comfy home behind me, complete with refrigerator and toilet (my two most important items), I envision the strength and fortitude it must have taken those pioneers to embark on that western migration via horse and covered wagon navigating the Oregon Trail.Oregon trail

Oregon Trail

Many lost their lives.  Many decided to not travel any further and homestead here instead.  Others came to Idaho seeking riches in mining.  Whatever reason they had to leave behind all that was familiar, I can’t help but admire those that paved the path west.

Mackay Idaho

After spending two months in Idaho, it was time for me to bid farewell to this agriculturediverse and fascinating state.

I hiked a Lava Tube for the first time, laid eyes on one of the most picturesque lakes I’ve ever seen, photographed a carpet of unusual wildflowers growing in the harshest of conditions, experienced the roar of powerful waterfalls, witnessed an extreme sport, and followed the trail blazed by Pioneers.

It was an interesting and fascinating visit filled with fond memories.  Auf Wiedersehen Idaho …. until we meet again!

My blogging friend, Char, wrote “Between Hope & the Highway” while living in Boise, Idaho.  Unfortunately, timing didn’t work for us to meet in person, but I do have a copy of her new book on the way!

                

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