Sunday, September 29, 2013

Glen Canyon - Capitol Reef - Bryce

I'm looking at a pre-historic landscape. No other campers arrived, no-one to disturb the absolute silence, just me and a landscape that must be millions of years old. The sun slowly creeps over the horizon behind me and colours the mountain range to the west bright orange. It looks almost on fire. There isn't a cloud in the sky, not a worry in the world. It's one of those magic moments that I'd like to be able to last longer, freeze time if you like.

Luckily that didn't happen though! As we wouldn't have been able to see all the things that we were about to. Thinking the first part of the day was just a 'connecting section', we found ourselves riding through meandering valleys, looking at strange mountain ranges and crossing a majestic river that winds is way through it and giving life to the bright green trees in an otherwise barren landscape. Of course some people prefer a career and being stuck in a traffic jam to work, while looking at the faces around them that are as bored as they are. For some reason I prefer what I'm doing today as 'my ride to work' and the accompanying 'office view'… The landscape I was riding through looks incredibly old, ancient almost. Judging by how much Lake Powell, which had formed in the Glen Canyon, has receded it must have been in drought for years, but it's still impressive. At times we feel like we're on Mars, the colours, the desolation, the mightiness of it all.

At a parking area, overlooking a valley that is so huge that it seems to stretch beyond the horizon, a couple turns up with a Toyota hybrid 4WD. Why would you have a hybrid 4WD, I wondered. Yet somehow this single car paints a complete picture of this country; a strange combination of gas guzzling cars and trucks on one end of the scale and hybrids and even electric cars on the other. 

We continued our ride through landscapes that impressed us more and more. Strangely shaped big rocks with holes in it that make them look like big sponges. Mountains made from thousands of little pillars that seemed to have been pushed out of the ground. Balancing rocks that seem out of balance, apparently defying gravity. Rocks that seem to 'hang' on cliffs as if they are glued on it. Impressive and majestic.

Rising early has it's advantages. Not only is the early morning a beautiful time of the day, it also means we arrive early enough at the Capitol Reef campground to take one of the last spots! Less than half an hour later all spots were taken… What we didn't know at the time is that it was going to be literally the last spot in a National park! We could only pay for 1 day as all the National Parks in the USA were about to close. How can any civilised country close it's National Parks… how can any government use its National Parks as leverage? It's too ridiculous to understand, but apparently possible in the USA.

Capitol Reef is a strange National Park. It has enough natural beauty alone to make it a National Park, but the traces of its settlers through the decades give it so much more. People have lived here for thousands of years, leaving their marks in petroglyphs. More recently Mormones arrived, in what is now known as the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches. The orchards still exist today and fruit can be picked from them by visitors. 
With the threat of closure we went out and did as much as we could for the remainder of the day. To be honest, I didn't think they would close it down. Surely this was just a lot of political mud throwing that wouldn't actually happen? Still, we went to the end of the gorge, as far as we could go as flooding had done severe damage to the gorge's narrowest section which was now closed off. We also rode the two dirt roads into the park and took lots of photographs, arriving back at the campground only just before dark. 

The next day, as early as 7 am, it became clear that all National Parks would indeed close… the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Unaware of the full scale of the implications of all this, I asked the ranger that was placing signs everywhere, what was about to happen from now. She said we would get one day extra at the campground but then had to go…! As they were not getting paid, they would close the park. Later-on we saw just some of the things that rangers do when they don't get paid; they closed each and every toilet (including the ones in parking areas along the main road), they place hundreds of thousands of signs everywhere, they patrolled every road like they are the military police, chased people that were ignoring the signs etc etc. In short they did more than when they were getting paid! The results of all this was people peeing (and more) all over the place as they still had to go, BLM sites that were packed to the rafters and thousands of people had their holidays ruined. People were angry, and rightfully so. Image having saved hard and spend a fortune to come to the USA, only to find a couple of bushrangers trying their hardest to ruin your holiday because of a political dispute… Months ago I read a sign in Alaska from local residents that made it clear they do not want National Parks there, I can understand why.

We stayed the extra day, thinking it might have all been resolved in the morning. Surely someone somewhere at the top must realise this was ridiculous? They didn't. A mass exodus from Capitol Reef followed the next morning.
With our visit to Capitol Reef cut short, we moved on towards Bryce. Another National Park of course but who knows they might have solved the situation by then. Surely this situation wouldn't last for days? From Capitol Reef to Bryce leads you over the Staircase Escalante. A kind of 'top of the world' highway over the mountain ridge with beautiful views on either side. The trees displayed their bright yellow autumn leaves in glowing sunlight. It's a beautiful day and also a beautiful ride. Utah sure has the landscapes!

Along the way we're being photographed and interviewed by a journalist who wants to write a human interest story about us, as she thinks what we're doing is special!?! we're just on a bike trip...
We found out that many of the state park campgrounds had already closed for the season and expected commercial campgrounds to be full as the NP campgrounds were now closed. The state park campground at the Kodachrome Basin wasn't just full, the whole area was shockers! Strangely enough the nearby KOA campground was virtually empty and even gave us a discount if we wanted to stay. The owners said that 90% of the reservations had been cancelled because the NP's were closed… We decided to stay an extra day to do a full backup of the computer, laundry etc. Later in the afternoon we're in a full blown sandstorm. Lucky our tents have two entrances, so we could use the one not facing the sandstorm… The storm raged on most of the night and the next morning we found everything covered in a layer of sand. It's cold too!

Bryce Canyon is a short ride from the KOA. It's closed of course, but who knows we might be able to see something? Along the way we found National Park barricades being broken down, toilet doors broken into etc. by protesting Americans! Ruby Lodge, just before Bryce, offered free shuttle busses to the edge of the rim from where you can look into Bryce NP. The driver of the shuttle bus told us the gate and field next to the parking area is Ruby Lodge property too, but the gate after that would lead into the National park. 'You shouldn't go in there', he said with a wry smile. Guess what we all did? What a nice gesture from Ruby Lodge! We placed them on our 'people that matter' section. Very much appreciated. We bought some items in their shop of course and had a hamburger at the restaurant. Just as we sat there it started snowing… time to move to the Ruby Lodge campground and call it a day! The lady offered us a cabin for a reduced price, told us there was a heater in it too, but we took the campsite. The next morning we were greeted by 10 degrees frost!