Friday, July 7, 2017

Random Tales 1

Utah Highway 12

In 2002 the National Transportation Secretary added 13 All-American Roads to the National Scenic Byways Program that was initiated in 1991. In the Press Release for these roads it was stated, “To receive an All-American Road designation, a road must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a ‘destination unto itself.’ That is, the road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.” 

If you, our readers, saw the National Park TV special commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the the National Park Service, you understand the kind of vacations that Roger & I took as children and those we eventually took with our son (to his chagrin). Well, now in our travels we also have All-American Roads to traverse, as well as national parks, seashores, lake shores, historic parks, etc. I just don’t know if we can fit it all in.

For some time now I’ve been wanting to travel Utah Hwy 12, an All-American Road.  We traveled some or all of it on our first major RV trip in our first RV, a Winnebago Brave motor home, when Chris was about 4.  But I don’t remember much of that trip. 

Utah Hwy 12
Utah 12 starts about where we stayed near Red Canyon and ends at Capitol Reef National Park (NP). Roger covered Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome Basin and Grosvenor Arch in the last post, so I will start with Powell Point and then Petrified Forest State Park (SP).  We decided not to drive the road in our Winnebago Forza towing our car because the road is winding, narrow in spots and has a couple 14% grades.  So we drove it in 2 segments, the first east and north from Red Canyon and the second from Capitol  Reef NP south.
Powell Point
Powell Point was named for John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the Colorado River in 1869.  He apparently passed the point during his exploration surveying the area.  At over 10,000 feet it is the highest point that one can readily see as part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (NM).  The gray geological layer (Kaiparowits Formation) below the point is where most of the dinosaur fossils were found in this area. 

Petrified tree

Wide Hollow Reservoir

Escalante Petrified Forest SP sits next to the Wide Hollow Reservoir.  It is a nice place to spend an hour or two, more if you have a boat.  There is a small visitor center but the most interesting site is a whole petrified tree. That finishes up the first segment.  Roger will cover Capitol Reef later. 

Anasazi artifacts
Our campground in Torrey, UT sat at the northern end of UT12.  We climbed Boulder Mountain to the pass at about 9000 feet. Along the way were several scenic view pull-outs with gorgeous views of the valleys and desert below.  Unfortunately it was rather hazy.  Then we came to the town of Boulder, the last town in the contiguous states to receive its mail by motorized vehicle because of inaccessibility.  UT 12 wasn’t finished until 1940.  Prior to that mail arrived by horse or pack mule.
In Boulder we visited Anasazi State Park.  It has a small but interesting visitor center, really a museum, and outside there is a reconstructed pueblo building completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also some excavated pueblo ruins.  Like the other Ancestral Puebloan ruins we visited, they were abandoned for unknown reasons around 1200 CE. There is also evidence that these people traded with Mexico, other Ancestral Puebloans and Pacific Coast inhabitants of the time.
Excavation at Anasazi State Park
Looking down from Hell's ackbone
Next we drove over Hell’s Backbone and into the canyons of the Escalante River.  At Hell’s Backbone we drove over a ridge where we could look way down into the canyons on both sides of the road.  Fortunately there were one or two places we could pull off to take pictures.

On another day we took the Burr Trail Scenic Drive that heads east from Boulder.  It was a road built to explore and haul ores and minerals out of the area.  Most of the road now travels through Grand Staircase Escalante NM.  It is the largest NM and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rather than the NP Service.  Its mission here is to facilitate scientific study, conservation and ecology of the area, as well as supporting the tourist trade. 

Along the Burr Trail
There are 2 or 3 visitor centers along UT 12 run by the BLM that are quite good and have the requisite 20 minute film just like in any NP.  The Burr Trail continues on into Capitol Reef NP but we didn’t continue on that far because the road was no longer paved and it was getting late in the day.


Capitol Reef

The west end of Capitol Reef
Somewhere around the summer of 1994 or 5 our family took our first RV trip through southern Utah.  Along that route we stopped in Capitol Reef National Park.  In those carefree days of youth we assumed that the name somehow arose from the fact that the whole area was once a part of the great inland sea.    Maybe there were fossil remains of a coral reef there.  You know, something that made sense.  Now we are older and more jaded.  Now we know the truth.
A dome??
Early settlers looked at the rocks and some of them reminded these yokels of a capitol dome.  Now we looked all over for these alleged domes and finally found this.  A whitish
boulder with a rounded top that might look a little like a flattened dome... maybe.  This is supposedly a common shape for this kind of rock, but damned if we could find any other examples.  So from this they got Capital.  Some of those early settlers were sailors.  The guidebooks say that
Cliffs that make up the "reef".
they took to calling anything that got in their way a reef.  And the cliffs in the area stretching 100 miles from end to end were in their way.  So instead of calling them cliffs like any reasonable person, they called them a Reef.  So there you have it... Capitol Reef.  The Capitol is no capitol and the Reef is no reef and the two parts of the name have no relationship to each other.  From this I can only conclude that the early settlers were morons.  Or Mormons, as the case may be.
Layers pushed up
The cliffs are caused by something called the Water Pocket Fold, which is the defining feature of Capitol Reef.  The layers of sediment laid down by that ancient sea got pushed up by colliding continental plates but instead of breaking the land bent and the layers were pushed up at about a 30 degree angle and folded over.  At least that is what we were told.  Over and over again we were told, but it still makes no sense to me.  I
Twin Rocks at Capitol Reef
mean, I can see the 30 degree angle, but the cliff face is at a perpendicular to that and folded earth should make a hill with a rounded top, not a shear cliff.  I've been trying to understand this for 20 years and I still don't get it.  And by the way, where is the Water Pocket?  I have no idea.  Traveling is supposed to be educational, but in this case it is just confusing.  (Actually, the national park service web site says the water pockets are little holes carved out of the sand stone by water erosion.  They have nothing to do with the fold really.)


Vicki heads into the pie house in Fruita
Resident marmot
In the middle of the park is a little oasis a few miles long where the Mormons planted orchards and sold fruit to the west coast.  The town was called Fruita and there is a little house there where they still turn the fruit into tiny pies to sell to tourists.   These are delicious and we nab one every time we pass through (every 5 to 6 years or so).  The house currently has a marmot living in the yard and a few rabbits that were being harassed by tourist children.  This valley is still dotted with orchards of varying ages and examples of archaic farm equipment and has it's own spring fed stream running through it.  A nice peaceful enclave in the middle of the desert that's worth a visit.


Mount Nebo

By now you’ve learned my passion for scenic drives so since we needed to stop before we hit Salt Lake, Nephi seemed a good choice.  We stayed near Nephi back in our 1st year of full timing in a lovely campground at the base of the Wasatch mountains and we made reservations there again.  Looking online for things to do near Nephi we discovered the Mt. Nebo Scenic Loop. (I don’t know what the loop is.)  It is part of the National Scenic Byways program and is touted as a lovely place to see fall colors.  So not a lot of people go in the spring. In fact, almost nobody was on the road when we went.
Mount Nebo
Lake near Payson
Mount Nebo is the tallest mountain in the Wasatch mountain range at 11,933 feet. We started the road along the Salt Creek near Nephi at roughly 5100 feet and climbed to about 9000 feet.  Oh, I thought the creek was a river.  What does a former SoCal person know.  The scenery was a lovely spring green starting with desert scrub brush and changing to forest at the higher elevations.  Near Payson we stopped by the Big East Reservoir.  From Payson we drove I 15 back to Nephi.  Later that evening we drove back up to the summit hoping to see wildlife.  All we saw was one lousy deer near Salt Creek.  I will let the pictures speak to the beauty of the drive.

One lousy deer

 Promontory Point

Promontory Summit is out in the middle of nowhere,  just over 50 miles from Ogden, Utah.  You may recall from your history books that this is where the East met the West at the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Actually, since they were getting paid by the mile, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific track prep crews passed each other and kept right on going for nearly 200 miles before congress decided where the official meeting place would be.  On May 10, 1869 Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad Company was given a gold spike and a silver headed hammer to drive in "the last spike".  He missed.  Then Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific took a whack at it.  He also missed.  They finally had to bring in an actual rail worker to do the honors.  His name was not recorded. 

Vicki standing in front of Jupiter
The ceremony was a big PR deal and the site was supposed to become a train depot and, supposedly, a town.  But there was no water source nearby to fill the boilers with, so they moved everything to Ogden where there was already a train station of sorts.  Promontory Summit today looks much like it did in 1869, except for the visitors center and a train shed hidden behind a hill about a mile away.

We arrived at the visitors center one sunny day in June, just in time to see smoke belching out of a train stack.  We had no idea they actually had operating steam engines here, but it turns out that in

Union Pacific engine 119 heading for its rendezvous
1974, the National Park Service decided they should let people see what the trains looked like.  Unfortunately, the government didn't own any mid-19th century steam trains the park could have.  But they figured you saw these trains all the time in movies, someone's got to have them.  So they visited Disney Studios and asked if their prop department could build them a couple of trains.  Disney said "We really aren't in the train building business, but we know someone who might help" and referred them to Chadwell O'Conner.  O'Conner was a structural engineer, an inventor and kind of a steam engine nut.  His main claim to fame was the invention of fluid head camera mounts which he initially made for Disney to use on their nature films.  He was so excited about the prospect of building a couple of real steam engines that he intentionally underbid the contract to keep anyone else from winning it, then kicked in $750,000 of his own money to make up the difference.

There were no copies of the plans for the engines that met at Promontory Point in 1869, so  O'Conner had to re-engineer the trains from black and white photographs of the Golden Spike ceremony and knowledge of other trains in use at the time.  In the end, the park service claims that these two reproductions are within a half inch of the originals.  The Jupiter represented the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento and was a wood burning model, which you can tell by its big funnel smoke stack.  The Central Pacific's route went through the Sierra Nevadas where there were plenty of trees to chop down for fuel.  The Union Pacific, on the other hand, came across the great plains from Council Bluffs, Iowa and trees were pretty scarce along their route.  But they had pre-existing railway lines to bring them coal from Pennsylvania and other parts east.  So their engine, the 119, was a coal burner with a thin, round stack.  These two steam trains met cow-catcher to cow-catcher for the great continent joining ceremony in 1869 and their modern model progeny now meet the same way daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on special occasions in the winter.  Quite by accident, we got there just in time to see the show.

The trains are brightly colored , which was apparently de rigueur at the time and look very impressive moving along the tracks.  I snapped way more  pictures than I really needed.  I even took a short video, which is rare for me.  A ranger gave a fairly informative talk about the trains, then we went back to the visitors center to go through the less than stellar exhibits.  We could have had a plastic replica Gold Spike for just $25 but decided to give it a pass.
The refurbished concrete monument

Out in front there was an interesting item.  The "powers that were" in 1870 set up a concrete monolith at the site some months after the ceremony, then everybody departed for Ogden and forgot about it.  Water exposure began eroding away  the cement and the pylon slowly settled into the prairie.  In 1903 the No. 119 engine was sold for scrap and the Jupiter met the same fate 3 years later.  By the early 1940s the railroads had long since quit using the line in favor of more direct routes, so the steel rails for 100 miles in each direction were pulled up and re-purposed for the war effort.  With the concrete pylon gradually decaying into rubble, soon there would be nothing to mark the site of one of the most significant moments in our history.  But then Harry Truman decided to set up a National Historic Site here in 1947.  They found the concrete monument and it was restored and set up on a pedestal where it now sits in front of the modern visitor center.  The original bronze plaque was too corroded to fix so it got a new one from the park service.  As monuments go, it's actually kind of ugly but I'm glad it is still there.