Although Utah State Highway 95 was marked with green as a scenic route on the map, this was scenery of a different kind, and the joys of today’s 200 miles drive from Bluff to Capitol Reef NP were all the better for being completely unexpected.
Our breakfast waitress’ grandfather would have been recruited as a Navajo code talker in WW2 if his mother hadn’t sent him to mind the sheep so that he just missed the mysterious bus. (Yesterday we had learned that the code based on the Navajo language, which played a crucial role in the war in the Pacific, is the only code in military history never to have been broken by the enemy.)
Natural Bridges National Monument, which we took in on spec as we passed, turned out to be a superbly laid out and lovingly-curated site with an 8 mile one-way drive offering observation points and trail heads. ($10 entry all covered by our National Parks pass)
The short (1 mile) trail we chose took us down smooth rocks and strongly-built, rustic ladders…
…to the river bed under the first of the arches.
The uniformed park ranger in the Visitor Centre said he had been in the job five years and his jaw still hadn’t left the floor for the wonder of the place.
And the road on just got more and more jaw-dropping as we crossed a seemingly endless succession of vast, empty landscapes, eroded through sedimentary layers of ever-more wonderful colours, shapes and textures.
Mile after mile after mile on the almost empty road, fuel-gauge down to quarter by the time we took our choice of the six pumps at one of the two gas stations which seemed to be the main feature of Hanksville. Inside the dusty, tardis-like building, however, was a general store, a restaurant and truly-monumental rest-rooms. And the friendly attendant led us through filling up the car and paying for our provisions at the same time as he conducted an animated phone conversation. He may have been Hank.
Moving on with the confidence of a full tank there were even more variations in the colours of the sedimentary layers, until the towering formations around us became an unearthly cement grey and we finally gave up stopping to try to record it all.
Looking forward now to three nights here at the Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse and a more leisurely exploration of Capitol Reef National Park.