Overlooks and Outbacks

Saturday, April 29, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Day 8:  Torrey, UT to Escalante, UT

Before leaving Torrey, we decided to retrace back through the incredible Capitol Reef National Park on UT-24 to get a better look at what we drove past when we arrived in Thursday's twilight.  Along the way, we detoured south on Highway 1670 a few miles to find a letterbox at a spectacular pair of monoliths by the roadside.
Formations are much larger than they appear as Ken is standing 40 yards in front of them.
Expecting a dramatic formation like the river meander we had seen near Mexican Hat, we stopped at the Gooseneck overlook off Hwy-24 as we passed back through Capitol Reef.  Though the scene was splendid, the gooseneck shape was not nearly as distinctive or visible from the lookout as the one at Goosenecks State Park.  In fact, a puzzled tourist standing at the overview asked, "Where is a gooseneck?"
Continuing west, we passed through the little town of Torrey (pop. 181) and turned south on Utah's well-known Scenic Byway 12.  Soon we entered the Dixie National Forest and began climbing up the eastern flanks of Boulder Mountain.  Near the 9,200-ft. summit, we paused at the Larb Hollow Overlook, which offered  breathtaking views of the colorful terrain stretching out below.
As it crosses over the mountain, the highway is surrounded by a forest of aspen, spruce, pine and fir.  At the crest, evidence of recent snow lined the roadside, and light flurries began to drift from the sky.
Slightly down the other side of the mountain, we stopped in the town of Boulder (pop. 223), long known as "the last frontier in Utah."  At an elevation of 6,700 feet, the settlement was so isolated that mail was still delivered there by horseback until 1935.  Fresh milk was transported from the town of Escalante, some 30 miles away, by mule wagon during that same period.  Legend has it that the milk often turned to butter along the way because of the rough route between the towns.
In Boulder, we visited the Anasazi State Park Museum located on the site of an ancient village that archaeologists speculate was occupied between 1050 and 1175 AD.  Excavations in the 1950s uncovered 97 rooms, 10 pit structures, and hundreds of thousands of artifacts.  Only about half the site has been investigated.
After visiting the museum, we found the Magnolia's Street Food truck set up in the parking lot and decided to give them a try.  The food was fresh and flavorful, the service friendly and prompt, and the location convenient and timely.
Just past the museum, we turned east onto the Burr Trail Scenic Backway, which wound through a deep slickrock canyon and provided access to the eastern portion of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, another protected area currently in President Trump's crosshairs for rescinding its designation.  In the interest of time, we drove only 16 miles into the area, passing dozens of rust-colored buttes and mesas along the way.
Then we were back on UT-12 west toward the town of Escalante, our destination for tonight.  The road teetered on a ridge between two canyons, dipped down into one and back to the top, where we stopped at Head of the Rocks Overlook.  The scenic viewpoint showcased a rainbow-hued vista of colorful slickrock stretching out almost as far as the eye could see, including the winding ribbon of Hwy-12 we had just traversed.
Just before we reached Escalante, we stopped at the Hole-in-the-Rock turnout for a letterbox.  At 62 miles on rough roads, it was too far and too late in the day for us to visit the actual location of Hole-in-the Rock, but the interpretive sign at the site told an amazing story.  In 1879, a group of 234 Mormon men, women and children set out from the town of Escalante with the assignment of settling the San Juan River basin in southeastern Utah.  They had to blaze a trail as they went along, with the terrain becoming increasingly rough.

Finally they reached the Colorado River, which they knew they would have to cross, only to find it was 1,800 feet below them.  Undaunted, the intrepid pioneers labored for months, forging a trail down a steep chasm using blasting powder and hand chisels.  Eventually, the entire entourage, including 83 wagons and more than 1,000 head of livestock, made it safely down the makeshift road with a 25 to 45% grade.

We continued into Escalante and, upon the advice of the innkeeper at the new Estrada Escalante Lodge, went to Escalante Outfitters for an excellent pizza dinner.  Who would have guessed a clothing and equipment merchant would have such good food?  Tomorrow we'll continue west on UT-12 to Bryce Canyon National Park, another of Utah's "Big Five."


    •  Started in:  Torrey, UT
    •  Ended in:  Escalante, UT
    •  Miles driven:  177   (total 2,958)
    •  Weather:  26° to 57°, clear to hazy
    •  Letterboxes:  Found 3, Planted 1   (total:  F17, P6)
    •  Walked: 2.33 mi   (total 30.75)
    •  Buffalo:  15
    •  Deer:   2
    •  Overlooks:  7

Loved:  The seemingly endless variety of landforms we saw—colors, textures, shapes, sizes.  
Lacking:  Mile markers on the Burr Trail

Learned:  We were astonished and humbled to learn about the 19th century pilgrims and their bold confidence that led them to believe they could (and did) traverse this rocky crevice in a bunch of covered wagons along with women, children and livestock.
Hole-in-the-Rock (photo from Wikipedia)
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