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Day 176 – Bryce Canyon Country, May 22, 2011

So Torrey has about three restaurants, three motels, a few RV parks, two gas stations and TWO coffee shops.  I’m amazed a small town and through traffic could support two coffee shops.  I guess that’s why a shot of coffee is three bucks!

We took advantage of the free wi-fi at the RV Park across from the Days Inn this morning, so we got a bit of a late start.  VANilla wound past groves of leafless aspen, startled a few mule deer, and chugged over a 9,600 foot summit patched in snow before we finally reached Boulder, Utah where we briefly stopped to gather some information about the area.

Shortly after we left Boulder, the steep road full of switchbacks wound through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which spans 1.9 million acres of America’s public lands.  I don’t know the origination of the name, but as I maneuvered VANilla down the 14% grades and around countless bends, sometimes I felt like I was on a staircase, especially at the point where the road seemed to pass along a wide rock fin with drop offs on both sides.

We eventually arrived at Calf Creek Recreation Area around lunchtime to take a walk to Lower Calf Creek Falls.  The map indicated the six mile roundtrip to the falls was dog friendly.  Given we had both been cooped up in VANilla, I opted to bring Petey with me, though I doubted we’d make the whole trek in the full afternoon sun.

The sandy path to the falls followed the canyon’s edge past old fence lines, petroglyphs, and granary structures.  On occasion it turned close to the creek where I spotted a few trout and where Petey could take a dip in the icy water.  In addtion to trout, I spotted several lizards, a snake, and a black-headed grosbeak. Compared to recent hikes, the mediocre views along the trail enticed me to reach the waterfall, otherwise, the hike would have felt like a bust.  We took about one hour and forty-five minutes, but we finally made it to a 126 foot cascade tucked in the shade.  While better than the rest of the trail, I think it was slightly anti-climatic for the 6 mile trek that ultimately took us three hours and fifteen minutes.  Perhaps if I didn’t have to go at granny pace, the walk wouldn’t have felt so long!

Though I didn’t notice, the trail must have gradually ascended on the way to the falls, as Petey gained a bounce in his step on the way back to VANilla.  I’m certain the sun, hidden by the clouds, contributed to the spring as well.  Regardless, I have to give Petey props because we shaved fifteen minutes off our return trip.  I know some runners that would be happy with that stat.

After our visit to Calf Creek Recreation Area, we stopped at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.  I don’t recall ever having seen petrified wood in a natural setting.  I left Petey behind to rest, while I connected the Petrified Forest Trail to the Trail of Sleeping Rainbows to hike 1.75 miles above the campgrounds along a mesa top peppered with pines and junipers and of course petrified wood.

The mesa was once the bottom of an ancient flood plain.  Approximately 135 to 155 million years ago, trees up to 100 feet tall were uprooted and buried in mud in times of flooding.  Because the trees were trapped in an oxygen free environment, they did not decay.  Instead, silica solution in groundwater which permeated into the trees over time replaced the organic material, but left the cell structure intact.  Due to erosion, the forest is now exposed.

The Trail of Sleeping Rainbows is aptly named.  Scattered on either side of the trail, the petrified wood with a smooth texture like flint shimmered in the setting sun reflecting an array of colors.  The colors are caused by the presence of other minerals that entered the wood during the petrifying process.  Iron oxides produce orange, red and yellow while manganese oxides create blues, blacks, and purples.

Once I rejoined Petey in VANilla, we carried on to Bryce Canyon City.  I’m looking forward to an early start hiking around the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park.  ETB

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