Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall Trip '07: Little Egypt to Capitol Reef National Park

I decided to do the long drive from Cedar Mesa to Capitol Reef National Park Sunday night, but after hitting a deer I was too exhausted to make it the whole way. I stayed in a rest area near the Hite Crossing Marina on the upper reaches of Lake Powell, or where Lake Powell would be if we weren't in a drought (or if the Colorado River's water wasn't overallocated).

That gave me the opportunity to drive through the gorgeous White Canyon as the sun rose. I was also able to stop at Little Egypt just after sunrise, sort of a mini Goblin Valley on BLM land.

This was my second visit to Capitol Reef National Park, and I headed immediately to the Fremont River crossing that would take me to the 4WD road that leads to the Bentonite Hills. For the 100 foot journey down the river to the road on the other side, the river's water was not up to the bottom of my doors like it was last year, and a grader was actively working the ramp on the other side. The driver was too busy grading to see me, so after several minutes I waited until he drove all the way out into the streambed, then I darted out and behind him, waving as I charged up his carefully groomed ramp. The road on the other side was missing most of the loose, axle-deep sand that almost stopped me last year. It doesn't get any easier than this.

At the end of the day I did the tourist drive into the main canyon by the visitor center. At the end of the road I decided to take a "shortcut" on the map, marked like the well-graded roads that I had been driving all day. The "road" turned out to be South Draw Road, a serious 4WD trail, so it took me 4.5 hours to go the next 25-30 miles. At one point I was getting out about every 30-40 feet to scout the obstacles ahead. I was lucky to get through without a backup vehicle to pull me out of gullies or off of rocks. Fortunately I hadn't expected the condition of the road, so I was short on water and that encouraged me to press on through rather than drag it out into the next morning.

I pulled it off, so the memory is of a great challenge successfully overcome, rather than a poor decision that turned into a survival story. A couple of times I was a few tire slips away from having it turn out differently. Lesson learned: next time I'll carry more water, hopefully be driving something better equipped for off-road trails then a stock Ford Explorer with aging tires, and I'll do the trip in daylight so I can capture photos of the most exciting parts!

Again I had some adventures that slowed my progress, but that's the charm of adventurous travel! I rolled into a viewpoint at around 9000 feet in elevation a little bit after midnight, and looked forward to a sunrise view the next day.

Update: I looked up South Draw Road on the Internet, and the one review of it that I found says, "Best advice: TURN AROUND at the park boundary"!