COLORADO PLATEAU ROAD TRIP - November & December 2018.


Aug 18, 2018
Ever dreamt about going on a long road trip? The kind where you slow down, seize the day, hike a lot and explore the outdoors.

But something is always in the way of a road trip full of new experiences: too little time off, not enough money, kids still in school, beloved pets at home, life in general. So what does it take for things to shift enough, that a long road trip all of a sudden becomes a reality?

In our case it was several life changing events, that shook us up. Big changes, mega stress, sadness and uncertainty defined those times. But the same events also hit a "reset button", freed up important time, eliminated day to day obligations and were the kick-start to a series of late year Colorado Plateau road trips full of new experiences:

A perfect morning in The Needles end of November:


Before we head out to southern Utah again, I wanted to share our 2018 November & December road trip to Capitol Reef, The Needles, Cedar Mesa, the Paria Plateau and more. I might have attached too many photos from The Needles and The Paria Plateau :))

As you all know, a trip in Nov & Dec was impacted by short hiking days with pleasant temperatures and very long cold nights with frigid temperatures on the plateau. In November daylight hours dropped from 10hrs and 40 mins in early November to 9hrs and 45 mins towards the end. The daylight hours in December were about 9 ½ hours EACH DAY, so that was about 14 hours of darkness. When the sun was out it was magical with a dusting of snow and at night we could stargaze and admire the sky:

Paria Plateau at Night


A dusting of snow was magical:

PART 1. Capitol Reef hiking, Cathedral Valley, GSENM, Burr Trail rd
After 2300 miles behind the windshield we rolled into CRNP
on a gorgeous fall afternoon at the very end of October 2018. We were happy spending our first full week in that area and got surprised with stunning fall colors along the Fremont river:

Beautiful late afternoon sun on the trees:

We took it easy the first week to acclimatize to the altitude and dry air. The first day hiked up Cohab Canyon and the Frying Pan trail, the scenery was incredible and it was super quiet with nobody around, just perfect!

Here is Rick on the Frying Pan trail doing the "Celeste pose" (named after one of our neighbor's kids who poses like that for the camera)

Great views from the Frying pan trail"

Beautiful late fall colors on the way back to the Jeep:

The next morning we drove over Boulder Mountain and the shaded side of the road was covered in a crusty layer of fresh snow and travel was slow. But as always the Groves of Aspens (recently shown in one of @WasatchWill 's TR here ) were mesmerizing with some frost on the ground:

Later that morning we hiked to Lower Calf Creek Falls hoping to avoid too many people by going on a midweek day. Rick took 360 photos at the waterfall. The dampness and shade at the falls made it feel very cold, but it was impressive to watch the water gush over the edge:

The Cottonwood trees were in full fall glory, we had a gorgeous day! It was also one of the few days where we were not alone on the trail. During the next upcoming trip, we hope to finally explore the Escalante / Boulder area MUCH, MUCH better!

It was still early afternoon, so we decided to drive via Burr Trail Rd back to Torrey, both curious to see the lay of the land. Burr Trail Rd had plenty of distractions (and we are curious to check out the high clearance back roads on our next trip). Close to a canyon I approached a nice couple camping and they gave me some tips about dispersed camping. They were both dressed in vintage clothing for a photo shoot. A welcome change from brides lined up in front of red rocks in Sedona :))

View of The Gulch with the couple camping:

Along Burr Trail Rd, beautiful Cottonwoods:

Once we reached the CRNP the road changed to gravel/dirt and we reached the steep Burr Trail switchbacks just in time for the sunset. It was a wonderful evening and we enjoyed every second (a heavily iPad edited switchback photo):

Henry mountains, early evening:

Below the switchbacks the road changed to clay/dirt and we drove back northbound on Notom Bullfrog rd, which was dry, so we made good time and reached pavement some time after darkness. It was a very long day, but we saw a lot and it felt like such a freedom to finally drive a high clearance vehicle!

The next day Rick got some running in and he prepped for a consulting job, that would later “interrupt” the road trip. We headed out to the park late afternoon and many fast low clearance cars, incl. 2 yellow Corvettes quickly caught up with our yellow Jeep:
In a passing zone all 5 fast cars flew by us and then immediately pulled over ¼ mile later!!!

We went on a short walk in the gorge, we also drove down to Pleasant creek and we enjoyed the sunset on the way back. Next trip we certainly need to check out things beyond this building, maybe not as adventurous as @WasatchWill - you set the bar high, but we will try:

Sunset on the way back, notice how the weather suddenly turned into awesome:

The next morning we changed plans, drove out again on Notom-Bullfrog Rd and hiked a loop with spectacular twisted canyon and a stunning rim area full of 360 views. It was my favorite hike that week, a detailed TR is here . Even the cloud formations were stunning all day:

Need to say anything?



The following day we drove into Cathedral Valley to see all the sculptured Monoliths and the glass mountain. Rick wanted to ford the river. We had previously asked about the height of it and I didn’t like the river ford idea after all the 2018 October rain in southern Utah. We later heard from a local that even Jeeps have been carried away in the past. Rick was taking photos all day in Cathedral Valley:

One cow had to check out our Jeep and the ranger was not amused:



Of course we stopped at Glass Mountains too:

I drove most of the day and we finally got back out on the pitch black paved road between Hanksville and Torrey. Suddenly far in the distance I saw several black cows in the middle of the black road on a black night! As we were changing drivers a truck with 2 guys stopped. Before I knew it, I was standing in the middle of the road helping the two. Their question? “Where on earth is Notom-Bullfrog rd, we keep driving back and forth?” No idea how they could have missed it, but I approached the truck and saw that the passenger of the truck was sitting with a rifle between his legs. Hm…. It turned out they were joining a group, who had 20 tags for bison hunting at the bottom of Henry Mountains. In the winter the Henry Mountain Bison herd migrates to the lower Western side of the mountains and the state tries to maintain the number of Bisons, info here. That was the second time that week we heard about the Bisons.

The next morning we finally we felt like we could tackle the Navajo Knobs trail, (recommended by @Perry , thanks) and we were the first at the TH on a week-end morning:

It was a beautiful hike with one sheer drop off, where I walked far away from the edge, (and I was thinking of you Perry )…. At the top Rick made a couple of 360 photos for some nice hikers (one woman was Ranger in Arches NP) and they were all super happy. Not surprisingly there was a full cell signal and on the way back Rick got a call about the consulting job he was working on:



We hiked off trail on the return. (Since then TRs from @WasatchWill and @Jackson have sparked my interest for exploring off trail areas inside CRNP, but also outside the park).

PART 2. Burr Trail Rd hiking and Camping, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, Cedar Mesa ruins and hiking in The Needles.

We had run out of supplies, so at the recommendation of a local, we drove north to Loa and re-stocked for a week at a great supermarket. We got ice for the cooler and those ice cubes stayed ice cubes for almost a week. Yes, that’s how cold it was on the trip. I believe it got into the teens on Cedar Mesa some nights later. In the grocery store I was introduced to Ramen Noodles in a cup. Rick insisted they might come in handy while camping, so we stocked up on those high carb processed soups. Hm… but hubby was right! In the afternoon I cooked a giant pot of chili with lots of veggies and rice for our upcoming nights of camping.

The next day we again drove over Boulder Mountain and we later had fun exploring an area full of beautiful white slick rock (thanks so much to @regehr ). That was incredible and gave me lots of ideas for future trips too. I’m only going to post a few photos towards the end:



We got in the Jeep, found a campsite and set up camp early evening and enjoyed some warm chili with lots of veggies & rice. I was pretty tired and hit the bag very early. Rick stayed up and experimented with his first light painting and night photography:

The temperature plummeted to 23F that night and our cheap sleeping bags were not warm enough. We were happy to at least feel our body heat reflected back from the foam Thermarest pads (placed on a cushy comforter inside the Jeep). At 2 AM I climbed out of the Jeep to locate and fire up some “Hothands” to stick inside our socks and I immediately saw a meteor. The darkness was surreal and the stars were beautiful. I slept on and off that night, but at least I completed my first bag night in 23 years!!! For Rick it was longer, but he slept ok after the hothands heated up his feet.

We made coffee and ate breakfast, while we packed up. We continued on Burr Trail rd, it was a beautiful morning drive. We ended up hiking the southern end of the twisted canyon, which used to be a Pioneer route. It was an easy hike on a super gorgeous day:


Lots of cool formations:

We were still so lucky to see fall colors everywhere:

No shortage of taffoni on that trail:

We turned back, drove down the switchbacks, headed southbound and wanted to camp somewhere along Burr Trail rd because the views were stunning:

Stunning at sunset along BULLFROG CREEK

A great campsite was already taken along Burr trail rd, so it got to be another long day, darkness was approaching and surprisingly the primitive campgrounds at the lake were closed for the season. We ended up having to camp at the Bullfrog CG. It had maybe 10 people in total, so not too bad. And it was free, because they had run out of “pay envelopes”. It was toasty 39F and the heated bathrooms were nice, but the area had WAY too much light pollution at night:

We had a good night sleep and we were so glad we didn’t continue in the dark the previous night. What a drive the next morning! Canyons everywhere, future trip opportunities. We will be back to explore more and I admired the backcountry in front of me:
Wish I knew then, what I know now about the Colorado Plateau!

We continued to Natural Bridges NM and the BEST EVER ranger on duty, she was super! We walked down to the Sipapu Bridge and looked in the canyon. We wanted to do a loop hike partly involving the mesa, but the wind was ripping up on the mesa, it was very cold so we chickened out:

Sipapu bridge


Clearly things were getting more remote:

We drove via Blanding, which is still a dry town and continued down to Bluff on the San Juan river. We stayed in Bluff two nights, at the recommendation of a local in Torrey. That was a great call. We always enjoy chatting with the locals who were super friendly! Most restaurants had closed down for the winter. We did have good food (Pork Carnitas Tacos) at the Twin Rocks Trading Post Cafe.

The next morning we drove to Monument Valley, which had been on our bucket list for years. Hazy sky on an iconic spot:


We really hadn’t met many people for a long time, but that all changed in the valley! It felt very commercial, it was busy and buzzing, but the landscape was still impressive:


On the way back to Bluff we detoured via Valley of the Gods to check out the lay of the land. We will definitely camp in that general area next time:

As we were packing up the Jeep and leaving the next morning a local guy told us about the many ruins in the area. We left and Rick drove up the fun Moki Dugway switchbacks:

Then we did a slow drive on a very bumpy road out to some lovely ruins on Cedar Mesa
. We were very surprised to see a lot of cars parked at the TH. But it was a holiday week-end. Our first visit to major ruins on Cedar Mesa did NOT disappoint:




Towards the end of the day, a nice local couple from Monticello told us about a new BBQ place in their town. So we went to Doug’s for great food and service that night in Monticello.

We got up really early the next morning and drove in frigid and windy conditions to The Needles to hike to Druid Arch in Canyonlands. Close to Newspaper Rock a “big cat” crossed the road. Whoa… what was that? It was a Bobcat and we had a 10 min stare down contest, cool:
Unfortunately we didn’t bring the telephoto lens.

We have been to The Needles several times and we still find the scenery magical. The whole hike out to the arch was one giant distraction to us:

There was still a lot of water left after all the October rain:


We hiked slow, took many photos and by the time we got to Druid Arch, it was cloudy and the sun was gone. We waited for an hour, because we could see a sharp line with sunshine notching slowly towards us, but we just cooled way down while waiting:

On the return trip I showed a very hesitant woman how to approach the final steep bit of the dry fall that @Scott Chandler bypassed one icy winter day some years ago. This is actually the photo of me on the way out to the arch, there is a steeper bit beyond me:

Then soon after leaving Druid Arch, the sun arrived and wow! I looked at the map and suggested to tag on Chesler Park to the hike, because I love it there. The short cut route from the arch to the park was jaw dropping. The views back towards the trail were spectacular:

Again, we were constantly stopped to take in the views. I was very happy, hard to leave!



We arrived at Chesler Park under a blue sky and puffy clouds:

It was familiar territory on the way back, but wonderful with the late sun:


We could easily have camped at the campground in the Needles or outside the park, as it only dropped to about 20F. But I made a classic newbie mistake the day before, because they predicted a frigid night temperature in Monticello combined with super low windchill, but I forgot about the altitude difference between Monticello and the Needles (warmer). So our stuff was in Monticello and we headed back there.

The next morning we changed plans and instead of driving via Moab and Vail pass, we drove to visit a good friend in Crested Butte, Colorado on our way back to Denver. We had splendid views along Gunnison River:


Dick gave us a little mini excursion on snowy back roads in Crested Butte with steep drop offs in his old Cherokee Jeep and he didn’t drive slow!
We took him out for dinner and it was great catching up. We have an open invitation to visit, any time! Awesome guy, who seems to know somebody in every major US city, he used to stay with us many times in Denver.


PART 3: Meeting in Canada & Thanksgiving with friends in Denver

We returned to Denver for 2 reasons.
Rick had to fly to Canada for a 2 day review meeting related to a consulting job and we love to have Thanksgiving with our close friends in Denver, where we used to live. It did add a considerable amount of driving, because we later drove westbound again to Utah, but that’s what we have done two years in a row (and will do again in 2019).

The kids were off school and thrilled with the visit. We spent a fair amount of time playing Ping-Pong, which gave me very sore Medius Glute muscles (walking, running and hiking in general don’t have a lot of lateral movements like in ping-pong). We also took the kids hiking in Rockborough SP and we visited the Dinosaur Ridge to see tracks and waves in Morrison:


The boy reminded me that I also promised them to go shopping for gifts. Right, I forgot, but he didn’t. The boy then said: “What’s my budget?” Funny, he even managed to negotiate the amount up with me!

One of the days I went on a long solo hike into Waterton Canyon and saw a lot of Bighorn Sheep action, because it was mating season. The Bighorn sheep were fun to watch. I would highly recommend going there to check out the Bighorn sheep. You can bike into Watertown canyon too. Sorry just iphone photos:

The ewes were not too interested, but eventually he chased one around in circles:


and finally he got a nice long sniff:

There was more animal entertainment in Denver. Our friend’s 2 rescue cats were fun to play with, especially the younger black kitty, who was (and still is) a complete nut. After he figured out I liked to play, he would lunge and with both paws grab one of my legs, if I walked up or down the staircase! He also loved chasing shadows in between the 2 shower curtains, while one of us was showering. Here they are sitting underneath one of Rick’s photos:

We also checked in with everyone at home and made sure we were enrolled for Healthcare in 2019. Luckily the state auto enrolled us for 2019, so we didn’t have to go through a lengthy and excruciating process.

Rick was happy to get lots of running done in Denver, especially up on the bluff with views over the mountains:

After 12 days in Denver we drove across the mountains immediately after the first big winter storm. Beautiful!!! Tons of fresh powder around Shrine Pass.
Not sure where exactly this photo was taken:

It was a beautiful drive which came to a full halt for an hour on I-70 due to ice before Glenwood Springs. A surprising amount of people made a u-turn across the middle V-shaped deep ditch with cars coming right in their direction. We stopped at the Rifle exit and did groceries for a week, so we didn’t have to shop constantly in Moab. Though Moab does have a nice supermarket.

PART 4. Back in Utah: 2x hiking The Needles, Potash Rd & Shafer Canyon Road 4W, Snow in Arches, Winter storm Moab.

We started the week off a classic hike in Arches NP, but it wasn’t busy right after Thanksgiving and we got off trail to a few special areas:




That day we also visited an area with some lovely petroglyphs:



On the way out we stopped and picked up some permits for Fiery Furnace for later that week.

The next day we got up very early and drove back to The Needles, Canyonlands to hike the loop with joint trail.
It was an amazing morning, it doesn’t get any better in The Needles, right?


@Jackson : This is close to the area, where a Raven was waiting for it’s chance to take away my sandwich on a previous trip! We only saw 2 women all day long. Absolutely perfect, we loved it:


After a mind blowing hike we eventually ended up here and notice it got all cloudy:

The Joint trail is always fun:


And just like the previous trip to The Needles the sun came out again, it was amazing and we enjoyed the views in Chesler Park:

We knew the trail back well, so we lingered on purpose and saw the most amazing (!) cloud formations later that afternoon on the way back to the Elephant Hill trailhead.


I’m glad we didn’t need to use our headlights, because hiking in darkness in the Needles is asking for serious trouble.

We drove northbound back in the dark and we stopped for gas and beer, close to where we stayed in Spanish Valley. But something was wrong, Rick couldn’t use the credit card at the gas pump
. He went inside, the guys were very confused, but checked things out. Apparently a woman before us had prepaid $30, then immediately left the gas station without a word and drove away without filling up. Rick filled up the Jeep, but we always wondered what happened. The gas station had a great selection of Moab Brewery beer, so we got some. We cooked a nice dinner and enjoyed some beer.

The next day it was cloudy and we decided to drive the Potash rd, the Shafer Canyon rd & switchbacks. And again it was obvious, I was still not crazy about drop offs. Before the switchbacks there were a few rough spots with boulders where Rick got out of the car and guided me through with the Jeep. Good experience for a 4W newbie. The views were beautiful:


Our Jeep below @Scott Chandler 's old office (I think):

Colorado River, fancy iPad edit:

Looking back down from the switchbacks into Shafer Canyon:

It had gotten too late for us to stop at @Scott Chandler 's office, but we did get a quick sunset photo in Canyonlands:


The next grey day we explored Fiery furnace.
Such a fun place,
our third time and we had a great time exploring on a grey winter day, see a detailed TR here .



We had some rain that night and the next morning the roads were still wet, when we drove southbound very early to hike in the Needles again. The damp roads of course turned into crusty sleet and ice as we gained elevation. It was a tense drive. Rick drove carefully and we stopped at the Newspaper Rock. The side steps of the Jeep were completely covered in ice and they were super slippery! Luckily it got warmer at lower elevations and everything had melted by the time we reached the campground inside the park.

We bumped into @IntrepidXJ and Diane camping on the first day of December.
It was super helpful to learn about Gaia, we later got the app and downloaded maps etc that were essential on the Paria plateau later on. And recently I learned to make our own routes and that’s backcountry empowerment right there. GAIA IS AN AWESOME APP!

We hiked an amazing route that day, we saw a lot of potholes filled with water, we also saw hands, a lot of them and it was without doubt one of my top hikes in 2018:





It was a long drive back to the Spanish Valley and on the next trip I would love to stay and camp in or close to the Needles. That night and the next day we got some nice fresh powder during a winter storm in Moab, beautiful. We hung out all day and I wrote another TR.

The next day we headed out early to see Arches NP covered in snow and it was magical:

Double O with a dusting of snow. A sentimental Arch, as it reminds us of how it distracted our minds during a difficult time in the past. We also love photos where we are so insignificant next to giant formations in nature:


We were determined to break trail somewhere quiet that morning:




Later we passed Fiery Furnace covered in snow- good we got our hike in earlier:

PART 5. Exploring Paria Plateau, Sand Hills (hiking, camping & night photography), Winter hiking in Bryce, Cottonwood Rd 4W.

Since we had permits for a fixed day on the Paria Plateau, we drove from Moab to Kanab. We have a habit of getting distracted by the scenery, but we tried to drive through to our destination. But it didn’t last long and we had to stop at the San Rafael Swell view area. Since that brief stop I have read many TRs about the San Rafael Swell area (thanks to @Udink and many others ) and we hope to explore more soon:

Along the way we also encountered this amazing 22 degree winter sun halo, very cool, so we stopped for that too. I have later seen it in one of @chandlerwest @chandlerwest 's TR.


We arrived in Kanab and that evening I got very nervous about our upcoming first ever sandy 4W drive to CBS, but many on BCP helped assure me we would be ok in 4W, thank you all!. We drove via Jacob’s lake and it was frigid, but we had a smooth ride. HRVR was mostly frozen, we made great progress and with the help of Gaia we had a fun sandy 4W drive. Initially the weather was sunny, but the clouds arrived and it was pretty cool the rest of the day. We had a great day exploring:







wavy stuff- beautiful.jpg
We had a fun 4W drive back to HRVR and we later went to Escobar’s for dinner.

The next day Rick first went for a run and then we headed out to explore some surreal white looking landscape. Within 1 minute we stepped in heavy blue clay, yack…! Wet, semi-dry blue clay is nasty, it cakes under the shoes and you can’t get that stuff off once it dries. It dries out like hardened cement. We hiked into the white canyon, bypassed the dam and the whole area is pretty surreal:


There was water dripping down everywhere and a small stream started running, while we hiked. I later regret not entering the slot canyon, but we re-traced our steps, got onto the rim and hiked further towards an area with great views:



It got late, we took the easier, but less scenic route through the sagebrush and cow poop back to the car:


That evening we had dinner at Escobar in Kanab again.

The next morning in Kanab, Rick got a run in and we headed back north (yes, Northbound again) to our next stop at 8,000 ft. We only go in the winter, when it’s as good as empty and we carefully time it with perfect weather. The forecast had a spectacular blue Utah sky with frigid temperatures at night. @Yvonne would have been thrilled !!!

As we got closer to the park, I noticed a big white paper on the door of our favorite winter restaurant, Bryce Canyon Pines, which makes homemade soup, meals and fantastic pies. Family owned and it was closed for a few days. As expected with the closure of Bryce Canyon Pines, we later ate the worst meal on the entire road trip. I shall not name the other restaurant, we got something to eat, enough said.

Luckily we knew the hotel breakfast itself was great for a long winter hike: real coffee, real eggs, plain yogurt, tons of fruit, the best ever red grapefruit all cut up, real potatoes and all the regular carb stuff, etc. I’m pretty sure I ate about 2,000 calories that first morning, because I wasn’t hungry the rest of the day, ha. Did I mention the bacon? Once per year, a Bacon Binge in Bryce. We make our own breakfast every day of the year (no bacon), the only exception is at Bryce!

We drove into the park, put traction devices on our hiking boots. It was a chilly and crisp winter morning:

We dropped off the rim and hiked the Fairyland loop, which is amazing in the winter and it was super quiet, we met just a few people. In our opinion it’s the best time to see the canyon.





The rim had areas with drifting snow.
Our socks were drenched, but we were not cold. We got our boots dried out overnight, but we again didn’t have a great dinner.

Since we previously have photographed many winter sunrises at Bryce, we got a late start the next day. We ate less of the tasty breakfast and hiked the scenic figure 8- peekaboo loop. It was more busy, but still beautiful with all the snow:





In anticipation of driving southbound on Cottonwood Canyon Rd, we asked at the Bryce visitor about the conditions: Giant 5 ft holes washed out the road in places after the October storms and it still had to be repaired. They said part of the road might be open, but you couldn’t drive all the way through. The news for Bull Valley gorge was even worse, a clear no. Maybe one day we will see it, thanks to @LarryBoy for suggesting it! The area had plenty of snow right before we arrived to Bryce, so the likelihood of wet, slippery and unpassable clay Cottonwood Canyon Rd was high. So unfortunately we yet again had to stay on the pavement the next day on the return to Kanab (but we did drive it some days later).

Inspired by @Dave 's and Colin’s river camp dinner in @Nick 's Gates of Lodore TR from the day before, we then decided to drive back and forth from Kanab to Page to get a good selection of fresh veggies and fruit. We purchased asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, beans, peppers, avocados, herbs, fruits, berries, hummus, olives, protein and other stuff in Page. We then went to Safeway in Page and bought more veggies, fruit, berries and got some of our favorite Boar’s Head deli. Our groceries filled the Jeep all the way to the ceiling, ha….! Too bad I didn’t take a photo. We could no longer see out of the rear window on the return to Kanab. Some roasted cauliflower and asparagus from later that evening:

The next morning we drove down HRVR and stopped at a popular TH. That’s where we met 2 interesting guys. We hiked with one of them and he pointed out cool pictographs to us. Lesson learned: ”bring small binoculars, when you search for pictographs!

I was dressed in black pants with a heavy fleece lining and wore my “waterproof” (read=hot) Merrell boots, so I quickly felt super hot walking in the sunny desert on a warm winter day. Perfect for 8,000ft at Bryce, but I failed to adjust and was fooled by the chilly winter morning temperatures. Another classic newbie mistake. But the scenery was spectacular:





@scatman or @Perry - who of you started the "animal poop album"? Suddenly I was taking photos of blue poop!

As we returned to the TH we met the second guy- barefoot in his underwear and t-shirt inside out. He suggested that I could just remove my clothing and hike all naked, since I was so hot! Wise guy, but maybe not. With red hair and fair skin I really would end up looking like a cooked lobster. Read more on BCP about NAKED HIKING HERE .

I felt off all evening and the next day we were suppose to again go to CBS and camp somewhere, but the wind was forecasted to rip all day in the Sand Hills, so instead we stayed in town. We cooked a nice meal and I made another batch of chili with lots of veggies. Rick went for another run and made sure the 4W routes & maps were properly downloaded into Gaia. That night we packed up the Jeep for camping and got ready for an early departure to the awesome Geminid Meteor Shower in the Sand Hills next night.

We topped off the Jeep with gas before leaving town and drove via Jacob’s lake. They were doing controlled burns up there. The drive was smooth and there was only a short iffy stretch on the shaded side, as we descended to HRVR. We aired down to about 29 psi (thanks to @SteveR 's recommendation) right before driving into the Sand Hills, but the roads were frozen. Having GAIA as navigation was essential. It was a fun drive in the sand and we arrived at 10am, yah! Just a few years ago it would have been an unlikely event to drive there. We walked around till 2 pm and enjoyed having the entire place for ourselves:







Eventually we got hungry and returned to the Jeep to heat up Chili with lots of veggies and some rice. There was a JEEP parked next to ours at the parking area. We previously met the nice Jeep couple on both days hiking in Bryce and he was the one who told us about the peak of a superior meteor shower that early morning of Dec 14! It was great to see them, his mom and 2 friends.

It was very pleasant, sunny and warm that afternoon. Then two 4W trucks with customers showed up for late afternoon and sunset photography. We got dressed in many layers for evening photography and we headed out again. One of the 4W tour companies had a customer flying a drone. We went to a different area, we didn’t want that buzzing thing over our head. The scenery was surreal and the golden hour was beautiful:




We stayed after darkness, the moonshine was helpful and Rick shot some great evening photos (thanks to @wsp_scott , @Yvonne and @NorthwestWanderer for always posting many star shot inspirational photos and TRs:



With the help of the gps, we navigated back to the Jeep around 8 pm, ate some of those Ramen Noodles and went to bed. I heard the other Jeep packed with 5 people leave at 10 pm and we were alone again. We slept till my alarm went off at 2 am for us to get up and see the Geminid meteor shower. It was 16F and very cold, but the meteor shower was amazing. The meteors were very frequent, it was awesome:

We jumped back into the sleeping bags and later got up at the crack of dawn, ate more Ramen Noodles in 16F. So much for trying to keep carbs low. It was a chilly morning! We walked around, but spent way too much time standing still for photos, so I got really cold and it was cloudy. The sunrise was very muted and we didn’t get many great photos:



We originally wanted to explore more in the area, but after such an amazing 24 hours, we were very happy. We left, had a smooth and fun 4W drive out. We decided to drive northbound on HRVR and check out the entire stretch of the clay road incl. State line campground. Right around State line we noticed deep, heavy rutted tracks from a week earlier. The rest of the road was fine. But in wet weather that road would be a complete nightmare.

My body still felt partly frozen (!) and I wasn’t motivated to hike into a cold and dark well known slot canyon off HRVR, so we headed back for a warm shower and Rick got another run it. We later stopped at the BLM office in Kanab and we were lucky to meet our favorite, helpful guy! And there was also a new younger girl who was also extremely helpful. We got plenty of help for future trips and they both thought, the Cottonwood Canyon road would be dry enough to try out. The giant holes were repaired and we should be able to drive through all the way.

The next day we drove the entire stretch of Cottonwood Canyon rd up to Bryce and it was our very first time. Paria river:


But we had planned poorly and we were unprepared to hike across the cold river to Yellow Rock. We walked into a few canyons, but the day was pretty much a lot of driving to finally see the lay of the land.



The road got a bit muddy and slippery towards the northern end some miles south of Grovenor Arch:


Sunset at red Canyon, it was a long day and we were both tired driving back to Kanab.

The next day Rick went on a morning run and we later headed out to the "all white landscape" yet another time (!) to explore more. Rim views of Sidestep canyon:

This time we did find a way to the mid level:



But it wasn't going to get easy, there was a steep drop off (not visible here) to the bottom of the narrow canyon. There is a way down probably, but it wasn't an easy canyon. I can't explain why we didn't just bite the bullet and figure out how to get down to the bottom (we are not very experienced, maybe one day!):

Since everything was pretty crumbled and steep, we chickened out and hiked back to spend time at some colorful hoodoos:




The day after we decided to leave the Arizona strip and head south to warmer temperatures.

PART 6: Flagstaff Oil Change, Sedona hiking, Christmas in Tucson.

With all that driving the Jeep was due for an oil change and tire rotation, so we made an appointment at the Jeep dealer in Flagstaff. Rick first dropped me off at the supermarket to use that time somewhat productively and I did groceries while he waited for Jeep at the garage. It was very busy at the big box store right before Christmas, everyone was busy.

We then drove south to Sedona, where we only go in the winter and only midweek! We know a lot of trails, so we stuck with some favorites. We hiked a loop including a mountain bike route called the Hi-Line. We had spectacular sunny weather, that warm weather end of December felt amazing and we loved being in shorts/skirt again:





We splurged that evening and went straight from hiking to Elote in Sedona for dinner. Best to be there ½ hour before they open, because the place is always packed. We just had a mix of appetizers, like their signature Elote dish, various mini tacos, etc, all very yummy. This time I bought the chefs cookbook, had it signed and we made the Elote appetizer several times this summer. You might not stay skinny eating that, but it’s tasty with fresh summer corn.

The next day we hiked another favorite, namely the Hangover trail ( previous TR from another trip ). Remember the TR with the nail biting mountain bike videos? It doesn’t get any better in Sedona. Superb views, exposure, red rocks, water, reflections:

It was a few days before Christmas and I was dressed in a skirt. Hard to compete with @scatman 's kilt look, but I'm pretty sure my hat is bigger! Reflections in pools of water:



Beautiful views:

And then over the deep end, whoa!
This is much much steeper than the photo shows and it's a surprise every time we get there (double black mountain bike trail!):


We had two spectacular days of hiking in Sedona and Rick also did a lot of running, so we were both happy. The next morning Rick received a phone call from a big Veterinary hospital at home about some issues related to a 360 Google photo shoot he did before our trip. It took an hour, but he got things straightened out and the customer was happy.

It was now Friday right before Christmas, so we obviously got out of Sedona, but not before Rick squeezed another Sedona run in! We drove to Phoenix and spent the rest of the day visiting the Desert Botanical garden. We saw some Hummingbirds, but unlike in Feb 2018, we didn’t see our favorite little hummingbird: Costa’s Hummingbird, known for its stunning spaceship appearance during mating

Due to a very serious accident that afternoon between Phoenix and Tucson, the Interstate was backed up in both directions. We decided to stay a night in Phoenix and drove to Tucson first thing Saturday morning before Christmas.

That drive was interesting! We had very heavy traffic. We saw a ton of trucks overfilled with Christmas gifts and lots of furniture, all creatively packed and stacked very, very, very high. At one point someone lost a bunch of stuff out of their truck, but they must have continued. In the middle of the Interstate a little girl’s bike with Christmas ribbons was completely warped, a wooden dresser had split into many pieces and gifts & stuff was spread out over 2 of the 3 lanes! Glad we notice in time, so we could drive around it in the left lane. I imagine this incident made a number of kids very unhappy at Christmas.

In Tucson we had booked an extended stay place, which had a dirty carpet that had seen better days. But we could cook, so we headed out late that evening and did groceries at “Trader Joe’s” and “Sprouts Farmer Market” close by. I was so (!!!) excited see TJs and we got food for 4 days.

The next morning we left early to hike up to Wasson peak in West Saguaro NP ( older TR here ). It was pretty warm and I felt tired, not sure why. We ended up aborting the hike to the peak (been there many times) and figured out another very interesting loop and we saw beautiful wildflowers everywhere.




The day after we hiked from the Douglas Spring TH, right on the edge of East Saguaro NP and it’s a fantastic area to walk or hike in. Tons of trails, we could stay low or head into the mountains.

Group hug?

Crested Saguaro:

Young Saguaro:


Christmas Eve we got up early and drove out to the East Saguaros NP close by. We saw a very large family getting together outside for a Christmas morning breakfast at the Javelina Picnic area. Nice! We hiked up the Tanque Verde Ridge trail in the Rincon Mountain district. It had terrific views along the ridge and it would have been a great spot for a sunrise, but we were too late:



When it changed to all junipers we returned the same way down and we were happy to see the Saguaros again and went back to cook a nice meal.

In the past we avoided the very popular Sabino Canyon, but we figured we could go early on Christmas Day, avoid the crowds and hit the Phoneline trail into the canyon. Good call!

It was a spectacular hike as it parallels the canyon and it’s about halfway up from the ridgeline. It was fairly quiet and funny enough, it turned out we were just 1 day apart from bumping into @fossana on the same trail, she was also in Tucson and hiked a much bigger loop.


The area has many large white rocks.


Switchbacks at the intersection with Sabino Canyon Trail:

We really enjoyed the Sabino Canyon hike and it turned out to be a great decision to do it, when Christmas activities were in full swing in many Tucson homes. We hiked back on the paved road following the canyon floor and it eventually got busy. Saguaro were lined up in masses on the sunny side of the canyon and we saw many awesome reflections. It’s simply a stunning canyon, wonderful with flowing water everywhere (but not overflowing the road as it sometimes does). It’s not a surprise it’s such a favorite area for many locals :



We drove back and prepared some beef tenderloin with arugula, grilled asparagus and baked sweet potatoes for dinner, it was tasty. A front came through late that afternoon, it rained all night and Mt Lemmon got a lot of snow, I believe they closed the road. We would have loved to visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory (info here ) outside Tucson on a dark night and also visit the Pima Air & Space museum incl. getting on the aircraft boneyard tour (info here). Unfortunately we failed to plan ahead, get tickets far in advance, but by writing this TR I just got reminded to book something right away for this year!!!

PART 7 : The end of the road trip.

After 2 months on the road, mainly exploring the Colorado Plateau, we then decided to drive back on Dec 26. We started the drive sandwiched between 2 winter storms, but we eventually drove out of it, went diagonal across country and got home 4 days later. We were able to join friends and neighbors at a wonderful New Year Eve’s party!

We are newbies in the desert, but we love it. And what a difference a year makes. Since the road trip I have learned a lot from you all on BCP. During our upcoming trip we hope to do much more off-trail hiking, dispersed camping and 4W driving on backroads to more remote areas on the Colorado Plateau.
We will seize every day and stay grateful for being able to do such trips.

Thank you all for the inspiration and help on BCP over the past year!
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Incredible report! You guys saw more of the Colorado Plateau in two months than I have in my entire life. Thanks for taking the time to put this all together and share it with us. I hope your upcoming trip is fantastic!
Thanks for the report! Now when I need ideas for the CO plateau, I'll scan through this trip report instead of flipping through the Kelsey book. Seriously, this looks amazing. I don't dream of the big through-hikes (PCT, AT, etc)---I dream of trips like this.
Thanks everyone :)

@Perry - your recent hiking milage is a great stretch target! It helps me push the daily milage further up and get out of my comfort zone.

@regehr - we are so looking forward to explore more off-trail, I can't wait. We probably have to start there!

@Jackson - there is so much to see on the Colorado plateau! I think we will explore more this trip and get off the beaten path more, like you.

@RyanP - yes, those trips are amazing and I hope your dream comes true some day! BCP is really an awesome resource and it constantly gives me new ideas for the Colorado Plateau. Every week I learn something new on BCP and hear about a place we would like to explore more. Pls feel free to send me a private message, if you would like more specific info one day.
You know @Titans, it's a short hop from a skirt to a kilt. :) Wow, what an adventure for you two. Thanks for taking us along. I love all of your pictures, but the B&W image from the Sabino Canyon shots with the Saguaro and the clouds has me spellbound for some reason. I love it.

I'm not sure your claim for the bigger hat is accurate though. ;)

Thank you so very much for putting this together. So glad that you got to WP off of HRVR. ;) With friends of mine, we rented an all- terrain vehicle and hauled it all the way from St. George just to get over the sand hills to see it. We were there during a Annular Solar Eclipse. (Just a fun coincidence, what with you seeing the Meteor Shower.)
Wow, that was quite a trip and beautifully captured in your photos. Too bad we didn't meet up in Tucson. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing. Great pictures, and your write up nicely captures the excitement of a huge road trip.
What @regehr said. And what @Jackson said. So many great pics! I've actually bookmarked this one because there was so much in it, and much inspiration for future trips of my own now. Good stuff!
The picture that jumped out at me was the Saguaro with the fall colors just beyond them. Serendipitous juxtaposition. I love shots that make you smile when you take them, as I feel this one did.
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