We had one real vacation in 2020:  an 11 night motel road trip to Southern Utah for hiking and sightseeing.  We were a little worried about Covid exposure since Utah was not taking strict precautions, but everything worked out ok.  Our goal was to see lots of sandstone scenery and formations, slot canyons, Anasazi ruins/art, natural arches, hoodoos, vast views, you name it.  And we did see all of it!  We stayed in all the hot spots:  Bluff, Hanksville, Torrey, Escalante, Tropic, and Page (AZ).  The motels normally would have included breakfast, but not during Covid.  Some had granola bars/oatmeal/etc in the room and we also brought a lot of food from home.  Most dinner meals were take-out from local restaurants.

Day One was a travel day from Albuquerque to Bluff, Utah.  On the way we stopped at a geologic area East of town called the Recapture Pocket for a short hike/meander.  Lots of great hoodoos and interesting spires and formations.  No trails, just meandering.  A great start to the trip.  We stayed at the La Posada Pintado B & B for two nights, actually our favorite accommodations of the trip.  They had a hot breakfast individually served in their dining room (only 2 tables available due to social distancing, you had to reserve your time).

Day Two was our Anasazi day.  Anasazi means "Ancient Ones", the ancestors of the modern day Pueblo Native Americans.  They were known for their cliff dwellings and petroglyph art across the desert Southwest.  We spent the day visiting several sites along Comb Ridge, an uplifted ridge that runs North-South West of Bluff.  The ridge is deeply cut by many canyons where the Anasazi ruins and art are located.

Our first stop was the Wolfman Panel, a great collection of petroglyphs down a steep path into Butler Wash Canyon.  It's really hard to figure out exactly what the etched figures represent!  The last two stops were hikes to cliff dwellings in alcoves deep in the side canyons.  The Monarch Cave ruin was very well preserved but very difficult to get up to, so we viewed from below.  The Cold Spring Cave ruin was reachable though not as extensive.  There was a big seep at the back of the alcove, rare in this desert area.

On Day Three we woke up to a dusting of snow on the truck!  This was our coldest and windiest day.  You will see some nice mountain snow in the pictures below.  One of our longer drive days from Bluff to Hanksville, with lots of short stops, viewpoints, scenic drives and one slot canyon along the way.

We drove the Valley of the Gods Scenic Drive, scenery similar to Monument Valley with large red sandstone monoliths and formations.  Then up the Moki Dugway, a steep windy dirt road to the top of Cedar Mesa, to Muley Point.  Gorgeous views!  We had our picnic lunch at a remote spot overlooking Fry Canyon, then had a very scenic drive North crossing the Colorado River, with views of the snowy Henry Mountains.  Last stop was for a hike up Leprechaun Canyon.  Beautiful high walls at the start before it narrowed to a slot.  We got a short way in before it got too narrow and dark!  A lot of fun, especially for Stef.

Only one night in Hanksville, so Day Four was a short drive to Torrey, passing through Capitol Reef National Park.  Of course, several stops along the way and in the park!  We backtracked a little for our first hike at Little Egypt, another geologic area of weird red and white sandstone formations and funny hoodoos.  No trail so several miles of wandering around.  Very neat.

Our second stop was in the Factory Butte area Northwest of Hanksville.  The Butte is very picturesque!  That led to a tremendous overlook of the vast desert at Skyline Viewpoint.  A great lunch stop with a view!  Back to the highway and on to Capitol Reef National Park, a beautiful park of sandstone mesas, spires and great hiking.  We had time for another hike to Hickman Natural Bridge (actually an arch, not a bridge).  The scenery along the trail was amazing!  Our final stop of the day before ending in Torrey was a Fremont Petroglyph site.

Day Five was a full day in Capitol Reef National Park.  As you will see from the pictures below, a rugged, beautiful, colorful park!  This was one of our lesser driving days, yea.

Our morning hike was to Cassidy Arch.  The best views were along the trail on the way up, though the arch itself was pretty spectacular .  Stef got to stand partly on top of it!  Red, white, and cream colored layers everywhere.

We had lunch in the parking lot, which was common to both our morning and afternoon hikes.  Our second walk was up and back the Grand Wash, a gorgeous canyon with high walls and a nice narrows section (but not a slot).  Lots of sand made the easy level hike a bit more tiring.  We then drove the rest of the Scenic Drive, more beautiful scenery.

On the way back to Torrey, we stopped for a short hike out to the Sunset Point lookout.  And for once we arrived at the appropriate time, around sunset!  The normal description:  beautiful expansive views!

On Day Six we traveled from Torrey on scenic Highway 12 to Escalante, where we spent three nights.  But first we backtracked a few miles to Capitol Reef for a morning hike on the Chimney Rock Trail.  More of the same!  Gorgeous red and white colored sandstone mesas and buttes on a good up and down route.  Then a mostly driving afternoon contouring around Boulder Mountain (high enough for forests) and stopping at various overlooks to admire the views (back to sandstone vistas as we neared Escalante).

The afternoon "100 Hands" hike was to see Native American pictograph (painted) and petroglyph (etched) art.  The "trail" had some interesting sections, scrambling up a ledge and a bit of steep slickrock.  The Bighorn panel figures were recognizable as bighorn sheep.  The Shaman panel had some interesting "humanoid" figures.  We missed the namesake 100 Hands pictographs on the way out but made sure we found them on the return.  It was so high up the wall it was easy to miss!  Definitely no way to get close to those!

Day Seven was our "Hole in the Rock Road" day!  We had been wanting to try this famous dirt road and it's hiking opportunities for many years. The road is a dead end route 50 or 60 miles long (4 wheel drive during the last part), so over 100 miles round trip if doing it all.  The original plan was to go out the HITRR on both full days in Escalante, but that changed!  We drove out about 25 miles (50 miles round trip) on this day.  It was wide and two wheel drive that far, but had BAD WASHBOARDS on 95% of the route!  Big Ugh!  Dentist had to replace two fillings when we got back home!  Not really.  But it was enough to make us change our plans for the next day, since the original plan had us driving out even further.  No way!

Two great canyon narrows and slots today.  The Dry Fork Narrows were long and narrow with some slot-like sections.  Beautiful and fun.  Then on to the true slot canyons.  The standard route for the slots was up Peek-a-Boo, a short cross country, then down Spooky.  We took a peek at the Peek-a-Boo slot and bypassed it.  You had to scale a 15 foot dryfall to enter the slot!   Maybe when we were younger...  So on to the Spooky slot.  We did an out and back as far as Tom wanted to go (Stef went further).  We had to remove our day packs for some sections and Tom was squeezing sideways through some really tight spots!  It was fun and a real experience, but glad we did not attempt the loop route.  On the return hike we went back through the Dry Fork Narrows, more fun!

The last stop on the way back along the HITRR was the Devils Garden, another geologic area with weird sandstone formations and hoodoo-like structures.  No trail, just meandering around and enjoying the colorful scenery.

Day Eight was a light activity day.  Tom's knees were acting up a bit, so just one hike.  We had planned to do that second day on the Hole in the Rock Road but those teeth-rattling washboards necessitated an itinerary change!  Kodachrome Basin State Park was a good replacement.  A medium-level hike on good trails through a colorful landscape of spires and mesas.  Not bad!  Of course, more relaxing time back at the motel, along with an extended cocktail hour.

Day Nine was a short travel day between Escalante and Tropic, where we spent two nights.  Our motel was a nice 9 room establishment.  One thing to note is that we never saw another person or vehicle at the motel!  Our keys were ready for us in a box outside the office, and that's where we dropped off the keys two days later!  Talk about social distancing!  We arrived on Sunday November 1st and the sign said "No Vacancy" all during our stay.  The motel was probably closed, so not sure how/why we were able to reserve our two nights.

Our activities today were along the Cottonwood Canyon Road, a long dirt road that was mostly very good.  Not near the washboards as on the HITRR.  The Cottonwood Canyon Narrows were very picturesque if not skinny, with high colorful walls in places.  And a lot of sand, again making for a soft yet more tiring hike.  The area around the trailhead is nicknamed "Candyland" due to its red and white colored spikey ridges.  After lunch we hiked the North Cottonwood Narrows and liked those even more.  There were some sections that approached slot status.  More obstacles to negotiate and we finally turned around at a big chokestone.  Last stop of the day was a quick visit to Grosvenor Arch, actually a double arch.  Quite nice.

Day Ten was Bryce Canyon National Park day!  We probably saw more people today than we saw the rest of the trip.  There was no solitude on the trails in Bryce Canyon!  The top of the mesa as you drive in is forested, giving no clue to the amazing scenery so close by.  You park in one of the big parking lots, walk over to the rim and behold!  The Bryce Amphitheater is spectacular.

We did a loop hike in the Amphitheater that combined several trails.  This is a reverse profile hike:  down at the start, back up to the rim at the end.  Amazing variety of formations and hoodoos everywhere.  Orange/red and white/cream colors predominate, with more green from pine trees than we encountered elsewhere in the Utah deserts.

After the hike, we drove the rest of the scenic drive, stopping at many viewpoints.  The weather had turned cloudy during the afternoon with rain here and there, but we didn't get caught out in it.

It was time to start heading back towards New Mexico, so Day Eleven was a longer drive from Torrey to Page Arizona (one night).  The morning started off cloudy but the weather mostly cleared by the afternoon.  Of course, we still had time for several stops and walks along the way.

Our first stop was not far from Bryce at Red Canyon, a part of Dixie National Forest.  We did a loop hike among the red/orange ridges and formations on a good trail.  The second stop was for our last slot canyon of the trip, Red Hollow.  The trail is up a very sandy canyon until it starts narrowing into a slot.  Very colorful and windy with several obstacles to scramble over until it ended at a 15 foot dryfall.  There was a rope in place at the dryfall and Stef HAD to give it try!  Still hard to get over the top chokestone so we turned around here.

Picked up lunch (Subway) at a truck stop and drove to the town of Kanab.  Nice meal at a picnic table in a small city park.  Our third and last activity of the day was a hike to some of the Rimrock Hoodoos from an unmarked trailhead.  Partly on a very sandy trail before going cross country to the hoodoo area.  Some really nice tall hoodoos along with colorful sandstone mesas and badlands.  Nobody else encountered on this hike!

Day Twelve was our longest drive day, about 450 miles from Page to Albuquerque.  We did break up the vehicle travel with one outing at the Painted Desert part of the Petrified Forest National Park.  Stretched our legs at a couple of viewpoints and did a short walk along the rim trail.  The rim trail overlooks a vast colorful hilly area of badlands and desert.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to hike down and wander around.  That will have to wait for another trip!

We arrived home around 6pm, another great road trip in the rear view mirror.  The weather was even better than expected and cool enough for good hiking.  One thing to note about future Utah trips:  places start shutting down for the season in late October and early November.  While most motels were still open at this time, many restaurants and shops were closed or getting close to closing.  Might run into some issues with a later November trip!

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