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Follow the Red Dirt Road (Utah & Arizona)Author: Amelia
Date of Trip: May 2010
As a side note, we had wanted to take Lower Butler Wash road to Blanding rather than the main road, because Butler wash follows Comb Ridge and it is filled with so many ruins. We decided to avoid the road because it was dirt and the weather looked like it might rain; you never want to be caught in these canyons in the rain because flash floods are probable, as well as lightning strikes. If you ever get to an area where the hair on your arms is standing this means there is heightened electrical activity and you should get out of there because this is a warning sign that lighting can strike! I learn something new on every trip I take.
Leaving Blanding, we took HWY 95 west past Butler Wash ruins, Mule Canyon ruins, and the Grand Gulch area which is another group of canyons filled with relics, geology, and beautiful colorful rocks. Grand Gulch and Natural Bridges NM is at the junction of HWY 95 and HWY 261, if you want to hike the Grand Gulch you must stop at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station on HWY 261 and get permits to hike as well as check weather reports to make sure conditions are favorable. There are at least 10 different places to enter the Grand Gulch, some easier than others and you will have to research this according to your fitness level. From the Grand Gulch area we followed HWY 275 to Halls Crossing where we caught the ferry to Bullfrog. Along HWY 275 I spied some ruins right off the road, no signs pointing to it but in this area it is easy to find ruins, glyphs, and rock art.
We stayed at the Defiance House Lodge in Bullfrog, part of the National Recreation Area and a very nice place to stay. The restaurant at the lodge was excellent, nothing fancy but very good food. We rented a boat for the day and had the best time because at Bullfrog you can quickly get to the interesting narrow canyons which are more difficult to find from Wahweap Marina down in Page. We like this part of Lake Powell best because it is not as congested and easier to navigate. The lake was pretty low and when we visited Forgotten Canyon where the "Defiance house ruins" are located, we were not able to get to them without potentially ruining the rented boat! Safetyman Ken would not risk harming the boat and adventuring Amelia was not allowed to drive! ?
Our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park. We drove the Burr Trail from Bullfrog to Boulder and hiked some amazing slot canyons along the way, ones that were easy to enter and required no repelling. Headquarters Canyon is an easy 2-3 mile round trip hike to a great slot canyon and I highly recommend seeing this slot. Secret Canyon is another good one but I think Headquarters is the best. The Burr Trail is part paved and part dirt but easy to drive and very scenic. At the end of this road is the best food around; stop in at the Burr Trail Grill on HWY 12 in Boulder, Utah and you won't be disappointed. You may decide to linger longer in this area after you taste this food. They serve local meat and wonderful vegetarian food grown locally as well, by the time we got there in the afternoon they had sold out of all the local Angus Hamburgers and I settled on the incredible Madres Veggie Sandwich which was so good I had to go back the next day for another!
After our fabulous meal we continued on HWY 12 north to Capitol Reef, staying at the Best Western close to the park. This hotel was nice, had great views, clean rooms, and was priced reasonably. After a brief stop at the Capitol Reef visitor's center, we followed the main road to the Grand Wash which you can drive up so we followed the wash all the way up because we had our high clearance vehicle which is all you need to explore these back roads in dry weather. I did see some people driving it in their cars but I would not take a car on many of the roads I found because of the rocks. We couldn't find any decent food in Torrey and ended up eating at Subway which was very good!
The next day we headed back to Boulder and Escalante following the Notom back road around the Waterpocket Foldan amazing geological landmark called a monocline which exposes many layers of different rocks and fossils. The Waterpocket fold is 100 miles long but only a few miles wide and it spans from Capitol Reef to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It's quite colorful and contains some incredible narrows and slot canyons as well. Notom road is one of the only ways to see this geologic wonder, it is a dirt road but definitely passable for any car as long as it is not raining. Most of these backroads contain Bentonite Clay which becomes very slippery when wet, then they are not passable with even a 4 wheel drive. We picked up a guide to this drive (Notom and Burr Trail) at the Visitors center and this showed us how to find the reef filled with fossilized clam shells, an interesting thing to see in the middle of the USA, a thousand miles from any ocean. Thus the name Capitol Reef!
We stayed in Escalante at the Slot Canyons Inn B&B, a destination in and of itself. The building, which is off the main road HWY 12, is hardly noticeable because it fits so well into the landscape you can hardly see it, it is a beautiful place filled with cows and lovely green fields, rocks and even a hidden canyon with a waterfall. We missed the grand opening of their new restaurant by one day but the breakfast food was fantastic and I imagine the restaurant food would be divine. You need to book early for the best rooms.
Throughout this trip we visited much of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a relatively new park that many people have not discovered. This is one of my favorite parks around, it is loaded with ancient relics, Dinosaur bones and tracks everywhere, and geologic wonders at every turn. Throughout the GSENM you will also find narrow canyons and slots, and never many people. Most of the roads through this park are dirt, and suitable for passenger cars but it is important to visit a GSENM visitor center and check conditions the days you visit. There are 7 GSENM visitor centers throughout the park; one in Paria (between Kanab and Page on HWY 89), one in Big Water, 2 centers in Kanab, one in Blanding at Edge of the Cedars State Park, one in Boulder at the Anasazi State Park, and one in Cannonville. All the visitor centers follow different themes such as geology or culture and offer displays and plenty of info.
The conundrum of this trip was the weather and time of year. While it is less likely to rain in the springtime (a good thing) it also tends to be the more windy time of year (a bad thing) and breathing all that dirt is gross! Ideally you have the flexibility to change plans depending on the weather, especially if you want to hike the canyons. One day we had 60-80 knot winds then the next day it was perfect weather without any wind at all! I downloaded some great apps on my iphone for this trip including a National Parks App which gave me maps and info on every park we visited. I checked the weather daily because of rain; you never want to be caught in a slot canyon in the rain.
We averaged about $150 a night for hotel rooms, although we had a two bedroom suite at the wonderful Slot Canyons Inn B&B in Escalante and this cost almost $200 a night, and Gouldings was $200 as well. Gas was a little more expensive in Utah because we visited out of the way places. The one day boat rental at Lake Powell cost almost $600 including boat rental, gas, and insurance. Safetyman Ken just turned 62 so we got a lifetime National Park pass for $10 and this was a great bargain. We saved hundreds using the National Parks Pass and I did not realize how expensive the parks had become in this poor economy. Zion and Grand Canyon were both $25 to get in. Cha-Ching!
National Parks & Monuments http://www.nps.gov/
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) http://www.blm.gov/
GSENM Visitor Centers http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/grand_staircase-escalante/visitor_information/visitor_centers.html
Go Utah (back roads, byways, activities, and more) http://www.go-utah.com/
City of Kanab http://kanab.utah.gov/
Kanab Guide http://www.kanabguide.com/
Desert Rose Inn (Bluff) http://www.desertroseinn.com/
Slot Canyon Inn (Escalante) http://www.slotcanyonsinn.com/
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