Tag Archives: desert

Capitol Reef National Park

Overview

Amongst the phenomenal National Parks of southern Utah, sometimes Capitol Reef gets overlooked.  Stretching along the geologic warp of Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park is colorful in the extreme.  Driving the miles of dirt roads that crisscross the park may be the best way to explore its hidden treasures and no visit should be completed without some back road driving, even if it is the easy drive down Caineville Wash Road to the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

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Highlights

Fruita Historic District, Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash Trail, Strike Valley Overlook

Must-Do Activity

After exploring the Fruita Historic District and Grand Wash Trail, drive across Highway 24 to the petroglyphs and the trailhead for the steep one-mile hike to Hickman Bridge, a massive stone formation cut into a gorgeous canyon.  Be aware, this is the busiest part of the park because it is one of the few places with paved roads.

Best Trail

Leaving from Strike Valley Overlook, the all-day trek through Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers many unnamed arches, slickrock slopes, narrow passages, sheer cliffs, and stunning views as it winds 10 rugged miles to form a lollipop loop.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Strike Valley Overlook offers an amazing perspective on Waterpocket Fold, but requires a high clearance vehicle to drive the last three miles after a long drive down Notom-Bullfrog Road or Burr Trail Road.

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Peak Season

Spring and Fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

The only fee is on the paved Scenic Drive south of the Fruita Historic District, but the NPS accepts the America the Beautiful pass for that.

Road Conditions

Most of the dirt roads (like Notom-Bullfrog and Caineville Wash) are passable to any vehicle, but high clearance is needed on the last bit to Strike Valley Overlook and to cross the Fremont River on the Cathedral Loop.  However, there is not much infrastructure in this rugged and dry National Park, so you need to be well-prepared in case of emergency.

Camping

The Fruita Historic District offers camping along the Fremont River, close encounters with mule deer, and free apple picking in the fall.  Dry sites are free at Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley Campgrounds.

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The trail climbs steeply one-mile to Hickman Bridge.
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Fruita Historic District
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Mule deer near the campground in Fruita Historic District.
Heading into Grand Wash in Canyonlands National Park
Grand Wash Trail
Sun hitting the walls
The Walls of Jericho catch the morning light in Cathedral Valley.
By the arch
Brimhall Natural Bridge.
Tiff checking out some cool sandstone
Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers many unnamed arches, slickrock slopes, narrow passages, sheer cliffs, and stunning views.

 

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This design we created to celebrate Capitol Reef National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why is the park named Capitol Reef?

 

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE …THRICE

Big Bend National Park

Overview

The park is named for a curve in the Rio Grande which forms the international border with Mexico.  This corner of Texas is not easy to get to, so when you do decide to visit plan on staying for at least a few days.  The weather can be very pleasant in the winter months.

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Highlights

Chisos Basin, Hot Springs, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Located down a short dirt road from Rio Grande Village Campground, a quick walk takes you to a riverside hot springs, a great spot to relax after a day of hiking in the dry Texas desert.  While soaking there, you are literally a stone’s throw from another country.

Best Trail

From Chisos Basin it is a short two mile canyon hike to The Window for a gunsight view to the west.  This trail is especially popular at sunset.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The most popular back road is Grapevine Hills Road which accesses the short Balanced Rock Trail and passes a couple of the most accessible of the 70 primitive backcountry car campsites (which require a permit from a visitor center).

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Peak Season

Spring and fall, but we have had good weather during visits in December and early March.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

We found that many of the dirt roads are passable with a mini-van, but some are four-wheel-drive only, so check with a ranger first.

Camping

There are many choices of campgrounds and backcountry campsites (permit required) throughout the park, but we recommend the Chisos Basin for its roadrunners and nightly ranger programs.

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The trail to Balanced Rock is also beautiful, especially in the golden hours.

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Hot springs on the Rio Grande (with Mexico in the background)
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View looking west through The Window.

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The ruins of Mariscal Mine make for a neat place to explore.
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This design we created to celebrate Big Bend National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What rare migrant bird do birders annually “flock” to see in this park?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview

“The green desert” is home to dense stands of saguaros, ocotillos, and its namesake organ pipe cacti.  The monument’s 330,689 acres sit on the Mexican border of Arizona and were recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.  The park has a reputation for being dangerous, which it can be for NPS Law Enforcement due to its border location, but tourists should encounter no problems while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

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Highlights

Ajo Mountain Loop, Alamo Canyon, birding, earn an “I Hike For Health” pin

Must-Do Activity

The namesake cactus is more common further south and shares this landscape with 27 other species of cacti, including the famous saguaro.  To see the cacti at their best, I recommend driving the 21-mile dirt road Ajo Mountain Loop in the evening before turning in for the night at the campground.

Best Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a shuttle some mornings to Senita Basin from where you can hike back to the visitor center (with an optional side trip to the abandoned Victoria Mine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park’s Ajo Mountains are mostly volcanic rhyolite and their jagged outlines photograph well in the twilight hours with the famous saguaro cactus silhouetted in the foreground.

Saguaros and Diaz Peak

Peak Season

Anytime but summer when temperatures regularly soar above 100°F.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/orpi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The highway is paved to Kris Eggle Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground, but most of the dirt roads are passable for all vehicles.

Camping

The park has the very nice Twin Peaks Campground (with solar showers) where you can pick up free hiker shuttles that allow for one-way trips back to your tent.  There are also a couple dry campsites (permit required) on Alamo Canyon Road.  A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Lots of organ pipes

A cristate formation on an organ pipe
An organ pipe cactus with a unique cristate formation.

Sunset on the Green Desert

Estes Canyon

Phainopepla
We saw unique bird species like this phainopepla, in addition to Scott’s orioles, Gila woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows, and, of course, ravens.

Explore More – Why is the Visitor Center named for Park Ranger Kris Eggle?

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WONDON WAS HERE