The next day dawned with a bright sun in the sky and so we decided to head for Capitol Reef after all, via Hell’s Backbone. The Hell’s Backbone road turned out to be particularly ill named. It was, in fact, a lovely drive through the woods. The road was built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps to connect the towns of Escalante and Boulder. (In the summer only; the road was closed when it snowed.) Up until that time, Boulder received its mail by pack mule in the summer and in the winter not at all. Today it is a winding, mostly single lane road, but even with the snow, it was not too slick for a heavy 4×4 and a bit of care. The Hell’s Backbone ridge narrows to a knife edge at one point, spanned by a one lane bridge. The original wooden bridge, which lies in ruins below the present structure was started by a local tractor driver nicknamed “Sixty” for his love of speed. In this case, he drove his Caterpillar tractor across the gap, towing a compressor, on two leveled logs. (Somehow, a safety rope around his midsection doesn’t seem that reassuring.) We had no such troubles and crossed the bridge with ease.
N.B. These are large images and will expand, in two steps, when clicked.
Rejoining Utah 12, we continued down to the main highway, enjoying spectacular views of the Capitol Reef from above.
We enquired at the visitor center about visiting the famous temples of the Sun and Moon in the northern part of the park, and thence continuing on to the campground, but were told that the road was impassible. So we headed off down the paved sixteen mile scenic route. The road and parking lots were all packed for the Memorial Day holiday. We turned off on one of the dirt spurs to the Grand Wash, but it, too, was busy. There was no room to park at the turnaround; indeed, there were cars and RV’s scattered everywhere. We decided to give up and headed back to the asphalt, carefully obeying the speed limit and trying to avoid puddles. This earned us a horn bleat from a motor cycle that decided to zoom past just as Fred moved left. So much for speed limits!
After lunch, we decided to ignore the dire warnings and try the Caineville Wash road heading north, which lies just outside the Park. This turned out to be remarkably easy dirt and in about an hour we came to a sign that confirmed that we were, indeed, on the right road.
It was very exciting to see the famous monoliths in the distance. We soon arrived at the turnoff for the Temples of the Sun and Moon. We turned in and were treated to some wonderful views of two mud monoliths.
While the road was easy, we only saw four cars, including one SUV parked in the middle of the road. He was heading south and we wondered if he had broken down. While at the Temples we received the compliment of the day from a gentleman driving a Toyota Forerunner, “That’s one badass motorhome!” (We tend to agree.) From there the road got much better, if punctuated by muddy water crossings. It is clear that it will be very hard for us to get usable information on road conditions. Clearly, at 11,500 pounds, we are heavier than a common 4×4, but, at the same time, we are much, much more capable than an normal car or RV. Fred was wary of the mud, but, in the end, we did not even need to air down the tires.
We continued and turned in to view the Gypsum Sinkhole. Denise found it and it turned out to be exactly what you would expect, a huge hole at the base of a cliff wall. We noted that one of the washes seemed to flow into a hole in the ground so the sinkhole will probably get bigger in the future.
We continued to the end of the valley, passing beautiful scenery and enormous monoliths. Finally, there was a steep grind up the wall and a last view of the valley. (Sadly, the Chevrolet does not have the tightest turning circle, so one switchback required us to back and fill to get around the corner.)
The Cathedral Valley Campground had six sites and incredible views back towards Colorado. Stopping for the night was an easy decision. (And besides, the cat was tired of rough roads.)