Western USA Road Trip, September 2016 - Picture HEAVY.

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Oct 6, 2003

September 2016 - Colorado, Wyoming and Utah Road Trip.

After the success of my 2015 trip to New Zealand I decided there was no reason to put off another of my “bucket list” trips any longer, so in the spring of 2016 I started planning a trip to see some of the Western USA. I wanted to go slightly off-season, after the heat of summer but before winter set in, and had to dovetail with some family related plans. September looked the most suitable month and I made my plan to drive a great loop, starting and finishing in Denver, Colorado, which would take me up through Wyoming to Yellowstone, then down through Utah to Bryce Canyon, before crossing Utah and the Colorado Rockies back to Denver. I would have liked to go slightly later, but family stuff had me arriving just before the Labor Day weekend, but I had three weeks in hand, which seemed like enough.

Early on I decided I was going to hammock camp as much as possible so I tried to choose camping stops with this criterion in mind. In New Zealand I had borrowed a big tent and found it overly bulky to travel with, and I just like my hammock. Google Maps and Google Earth were absolutely invaluable in helping with planning. Hammock Forums with their dedicated sub sections for parts of the US was also really good. Given the number of times that things didn’t go quite to plan I hate to think what it would have been like had I not planned using such powerful tools.

This wasn’t just a trip to see national parks; it was also a road trip. So although I might have had more time to see parks if I had flown into Salt Lake City, or taken hops to smaller airports, I actually wanted to drive and I don’t regret that choice at all. The downside of all the driving, 3500 miles in all, was that I didn’t get time to do much hiking and almost no backpack camping.

Denver wasn’t just a gateway, if was a destination in itself. Spyderco have their US operation in Golden, on the west side of Denver, and as a bonus, Kifaru have their factory and show room in West Denver. Although Spyderco don’t make the BushcraftUK or Proficient knives in Golden, I was keen to see how they went about designing and manufacturing their knives and asked, well in advance, if there was any chance of a factory tour.

Wednesday 31 August.

British Airways, direct flight to Denver, arriving at about 5:30pm. Picked up hire car from Alamo (booked through http://www.usrentacar.co.uk/) and checked in to pre-booked Microtel Inn.

Thursday 1 September.

No problem getting up early enough, jet lag saw to that. It was an hour’s drive across Denver to reach Spyderco for 10:00, which left enough time to pick up some food from a super market on the way.

I wasn’t expecting much of anyone’s time, maybe just a couple of hours to look around the factory, so was totally blown away when I found that Sal had left the whole day clear in his diary so he could show me around! He had even come to work in his British car to mark the occasion!

DSC04856 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I am sorry to say that I don’t have photos from the tour. I am not good at playing photo-journalist, and as expected the number of things that I could have photographed was limited. Anyway BladeHQ has already done a far better factory tour video than anything I could produce. The visit was for me, rather than for me to share. :p Some of the manufacturing equipment they have is seriously cool. I had a great time, learned a lot, and got a far better insight into the thought and design philosophy underpinning Spyderco's products.

Sal and his wife Gail were most concerned when they learned that I didn’t have anywhere booked for that night and that I planned to camp. They told me that even though it was Thursday, the campsites would be full running up to the Labor day weekend and I quickly found myself being “organised” by the Glessers. :D In an effort to find me some local expertise they introduced me to a remarkable young lady working for them who had arrived in Denver and camped at various spots in the mountains until she found a place to live. I think Sal said she did that for some months. Pretty cool. Between them they narrowed down on an area of National Forest that I could just pull off the road and camp in. Gail, who has a wicked sense of humour, kept needling me, the fresh off the plane British tourist, about camping out in the wilds; did I think I had enough gear, did I have enough warm clothes, did I have any knives with me, did I know what to do about bears…and so on. After dinner we set off in convoy with Sal and Gail leading, the area of forest happened to be just off a road close to where they lived. As it got dark and we got closer, the heavens opened, the rain fell in sheets and the sky was lit by lightening. At which point Gail told me in no uncertain terms that there was absolutely no question of them allowing me to hike off into the storm looking for somewhere to camp! LOL Around we turned and all drove the 45 minutes back into Golden where they installed me in the apartment that they keep in town! Beyond feeling very guilty for having put them to such trouble and grateful for their incredible generosity, it was also very funny. This was my first day of driving in the US and I hadn’t even begun getting used to the car, the road signs or driving on the right, and I can’t help thinking that the dark, rainy 45 minute drive back to Golden might have been more dangerous than setting up camp in that thunderstorm!

Friday 2 September.

The following day I got to run the rest of my Denver errands; get a SIM card for my phone from an AT&T shop ($45 for 3Gb data and a load of calls for a month), spend way too much money in the REI flagship store, buy camping food that didn’t need refrigeration and then visit Kifaru’s show room :D. The folk at Kifaru were great but I must make special mention of Eric who spent the afternoon talking to me about how they design and prototype their packs and giving me some advice on how to improve the DIY day-pack I was using. All on the Friday afternoon before a bank holiday weekend! Just great!!!

Friday night I was finally able to find a camping spot, pretty much where Sal had suggested. It was getting dark by the time I set up in a grove of aspens off Squaw Pass Road. I wasn’t disturbed by anything during the night, but just before dawn I heard an elk bugle way in the distance, a sound that really told me like nothing else that I was starting an adventure far from home.

Saturday 3 Sept.

DSC04869 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

When Saturday dawned I found other signs that I wasn’t at home any more. People don’t shoot big holes in the trees in the UK! Turned out that tree mutilation was pretty common where-ever people often camped in Colorado and Wyoming. It added a certain something when choosing trees to hang from that I had to check them for rotting out bullet holes as well as dead limbs!

IMG_0794 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Squaw Pass Road is on the way to Mt Evans, a 14000 peak accessible by road, which I already had on my list of places I wanted to see. Sal told me that there was a chance they might close access soon because of snow risks so I went to see it at the start of the trip instead of the end. The road up to the park is pretty spectacular in its own right. Certainly you need to pay attention with all the tight bends.

DSC04882 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Summit Lake. The place was alive with ravens, saw over 30, plus a couple of marmots and one very active short tailed weasel (aka stoat).

DSC04889 - pano by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There is a herd of these fellows that make the mountain their home. Totally unconcerned by people, they wandered across the road, up the hill, and across the road again. Not quite as much of a thrill as seeing animals that are wary of people, but still an encounter to remember!

DSC04969 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There were no shortage of signs warning about the dangers of altitude sickness and the lack of air was noticeable for someone who had only recently been close to sea level. Spending the night at 9000ft was a good move and probably helped.

DSC04984 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Me with Summit Lake in the background, now looking absurdly small! There was a fantastic lack of guard rails or warnings about not falling off the precipices. :D

IMG_0796 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Before I travelled I found many excellent videos showing the drive up this mountain. Here is my effort.


The way down was every bit as interesting as the way up!

DSC05008 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Down at the tree line there is a whole area studded with bristlecone pines, those most ancient of trees. Didn’t see them anywhere else.

DSC05018 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05013 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Squaw to Cottonwood by Last Scratch, on Flickr

As usual, I was later setting out on my journey than planned, so it wasn’t until about 4pm that I started north out of Denver on Interstate 25. Plan A had been to drive up just past Muddy Gap Wyoming and camp on Green Mountain, Plan B if I couldn’t make it that far was to camp in the Medicine Bow National Forest off of Interstate 80. I was so late that I was going to be setting up in the dark anyway so I pushed on for Green Mountain. Thank goodness for phones with GPS! Never really got used to how US intersections were sign posted and went about eight miles down the wrong road after missing a turn in the dark at 3-Forks Muddy Gap Services. I had the location for the side turning off the highway marked on my phone on a downloaded map so at least I wouldn’t miss that. Anyone interested can find it at 42.463541, -107.585225 on Google Street View. Think there is a bit more of a sign about the camp site, set back off the road now, but there isn’t much in the way of land marks! Got there at about 22:30, it was raining, and the sign stated that the camp was down the track 11 miles! Didn’t look that far on the map….and it was over the worst corrugations I have ever felt!

The camp was pretty busy with big trailer rigs, pick ups and people out to do some 4-wheeling over the holiday weekend. That’s why the road was so rough, it gets some heavy traffic. Really nice site otherwise.
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Oct 6, 2003
Sunday 4 Sept.

I didn’t get to see the view as I arrived, but it was worth the ride on the way back!
DSC05038 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05047 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Driving across southern Wyoming felt like visiting an alien world. Saying it is desolate does not begin to adequately describe it for anyone who hasn’t seen such a landscape.

Cottonwood to LakeCreek by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The speed limit is generous and surprisingly for me I never got bored, or sleepy at the wheel. There were also some unexpected spectacles, such as the change in height along WY135 Sand Draw Road.

Highway 287 and 135 between Jeffery City and Riverton

And the Wind River Gorge, which I didn’t know anything about until I started driving through it. Very cool surprise.

Central Wyoming, Wind River Gorge

DSC05068 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There was also some wildlife to be seen. I saw my first pronghorn on the drive up from Denver and half a dozen more before reaching Thermopolis.

Eventually reached Cody at about 4:30pm, the mountains to the west were shrouded in clouds and it wasn’t long before it started to pour rain. The main street was full of tourists in shorts and t-shirts shivering and chattering “itttttssss ssssoooo ccccccoooolldd!” At 57F (13.8C) it felt about like most of our summer! I was a lot less pleased that there would be no view as I climbed the Chief Joseph Highway. If I had been earlier and it had been clearer I probably would have driven up to Red Lodge Montana to drive the whole Beartooth Highway, but it wasn’t.

DSC05077 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

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Lake Creek Campground. Only a couple of the sites were really good for hammocks, but those that were were great and there was only one other couple in the whole camp. Given that it was still a bank holiday that was great. It was pretty cold that night, but no snow.

IMG_0808 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Monday 5 Sept.

Yellowstone terrain route1 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

In the UK it is necessary for a place to have a cathedral in order to be called a city. Not so in the US where many wild optimists have applied the term to their local settlement. Cooke City is proud to be in Montana, and it was nice to be able to set foot in another state. As a gateway to Yellowstone it is a bit of a tourist trap, but with only about 100 residents you can forgive that!

DSC05123 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05130 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The road twisted higher and there was a section where the night’s snow dusted the verges.

When I reached the Yellowstone gate I was so excited to have arrived that I totally forgot to photograph the entrance! Duh.

The great Lamar valley is famous for its wildlife and at the right time of year plays host to herds of bison, pronghorn, elk and is said to be one of the best places for a chance to see wolves. Not so on my trip. Every so often there would be a gaggle of cars and excited people pointing, and it was only when you got really close that you could see that they had found a bison or trio of pronghorn.

DSC05153 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05210 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The late season and the change in weather pushed the animals around and meant that they were hard to see. The scenery does compensate somewhat!
DSC05160 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05206 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The Yellowstone river was quite a spectacle, even with approaching rain and low clouds.
DSC05208 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Yellowstone has a lot of thermal features and I know that some people just get a kick from seeing them and thinking about the subterranean power that drives them. I discovered that I was less moved and was drawn more to those that presented good photo opportunities!

Hotspring1pano by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I pre-booked for a place at Grant Village Campground. Although it is heavily wooded, the trees form the buffers between tent oriented pitches so my hammock spot was a little closer to my neighbours than ideal, but we didn’t disturb each other. It was very cold that night and my plan to augment my summer weight underquilt by using my NeoAir pad did not work well. Still, I fared better than a couple with a tent across from me who gave up at 3:30am got into their car and ran the engine the rest of the night trying to stay warm!! I was very glad I packed my PHD down pullover and had my JrB Sierra Sniveller upgraded with 200g more down!
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Oct 6, 2003
Tuesday 6 Sept.

DSC05249 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Yellowstone terrain route2 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Driving around the western lower loop road it appeared that I was headed for a valley inhabited by a dragon, broils of steam rose from the forest ahead.

DSC05271 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Of course this is Yellowstone’s most famous thermal feature, Old Faithful. There is quite a complex built around the geyser and while I knew it was a tourist attraction I wasn’t prepared for just how developed it was. There are benches for spectator benches around the whole 120degree arc to the south of the geyser, approximate eruption times are posted in the visitor centre and the seating starts filling early.

IMG_0819 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The eruption itself was almost an anti-climax.


DSC05282 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

It looks impressive, but the lack of any significant sound seems strange. Over rated I reckon. There were many far more scenic thermal features further up the road.

IMG_0820 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Firehole river overlook, almost no one stops at this spot, they all make a beeline for Grand Prismatic Spring which is steaming in the distance. This too was a bit of a scrum by the time I got there, so I kept going up to Artists Paintpots, which was much quieter.

IMG_0823 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05391 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I managed to get a spot in the Madison Junction campground. Nowhere near as wooded as Grant Village. The ranger let me take a gamble by telling me a few sites that were still available, then let me go see which one I wanted. The gamble was that they might have been assigned to new arrivals before I could get back to the office!

One of the rangers told me that a bear had been seen in camp the previous day…running for the hills like its life depended on it! The bear management methods seem to be working to minimise human/bear conflict in the main camping areas. Food only needs to be stored in hard sided vehicles or the provided bear boxes. I was told repeatedly that Yellowstone does not have “Yosemite bears”, they don’t break into cars for food.

I didn’t see so much as bear sign any time on my trip, much less an actual bear. That was both a relief and a disappointment. The colder weather in Yellowstone had prompted the bears to move higher up the mountains to eat pine nuts, moths and search for den sites.

Wednesday 7 Sept

Morning on the Madison. :D

The elk hadn’t started their rut, so the cows were pretty laid back and I didn’t see any bulls at all.

DSC05404 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Madison to Curtis1 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I got back to Grand Prismatic spring at 10:00 and the main parking area was already jammed, but there were some spots further down the road. Sadly the overlook spot from which the best pictures have been taken has been suffering erosion and is closed while the park service builds a more durable trail and viewing platform. So the only views were low angle from the board walks. As I got up near the spring the wind really picked up, a real hat blower I thought, then I turned and saw the encrusted remains of about six caps and hats scattered across the downwind mineral crusts! If your hat blows off the board walk that’s it, you’ve lost it!

DSC05423 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
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DSC05437 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

That was it for Yellowstone. I headed south out of the park towards Jackson, past the Teton range. The combination of lighting and air quality meant that the mountains were not worth photographing until I could look northwest at them. Just a few weeks before I visited a large forest fire actually cut the road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone and the forest northwest side of Jackson Lake was still smoking. This and other fires were part of the reason for the haze in the air.

DSC05455b by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Curtis Canyon Campground was a good find. Seven miles North East of Jackson with views out over the National Elk Refuge.
DSC05464 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

No shortage of hanging options here.
DSC05496 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Thursday 8 September

Having seen the view in the afternoon, three of us from the camp went to watch the first light of dawn slowly march down the Tetons.

DSC05511 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Nice little herd of lady pronghorn on the National Elk Refuge flats.
DSC05539 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Spent the day fishing on the Snake River. It was an enjoyable day to float down the river and there was lots of bird life to be seen, and it was a particular thrill to see multiple ospreys and bald eagles working the stream. The fishing was a disappointment though after all my anticipation (really should learn not to do that, even when being guided down a what is described as a blue ribbon fishery). I certainly can’t fault my guide, he worked hard and was great company, but the fish were small and generally uncooperative. I heard that Snake River Cutthroat trout were something special, but if what I caught was as indicative of the size of fish as the guide suggested, I don't understand the attraction beyond the scenery.

This was my first fish, and most were this size.

IMG_0846 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Got one bigger and was told that this was a good sized fish for the river.
IMG_0853 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Sunsets were not quite so good as the sun rise, but only because of where I was standing. Ideally I should have been 45miles north to get the sunset fully behind the mountains.
IMG_0855 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Friday 9 September

I have struggled to find words to describe how I feel about finding stuff like this. I keep coming back to “MORONS” and “Can’t shoot groups ….”. I love the idea of having enough freedom to have guns and go out and shoot, but this seems like an abuse of that freedom. The trail up the canyon curved around behind this sign (over to the green tree in the background). I am sure that some locals thing that visitors are a bit dense, but potentially using them as a backstop seems over harsh.

DSC05551 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I spent much of Friday wandering around looking at Jackson, trying to find gifts for the folks at home. This is the main square with its famous arches made from elk antlers.

DSC05565 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I was told that in Jackson, the billionaires are pushing out the millionaires. I don't know about that, but it was an odd mix of a town with very high end jewelry stores, art galleries and places to buy expensive Western style clothes or fur coats along with more usual stores catering to campers and fishermen, and tourists wanting to buy tat to show where they have been ;) One store of particular note is New West Knife Works. I had a long browse and chat with the guy there. They make a whole range of kitchen knives from S35VN with G10 handles as well as some hunting knives and hand forged tomahawks. Be sure to look closely at this picture of their store. Clearly the Health And Safety goblin has been banished from Jackson :D

DSC05567 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Dunno which is better, the tomahawk target next to the main street, that you throw across the side road, or that one of the electrical cables runs behind the target's backing board. Clearly it all works fine!

I was told that I might find a place to camp along the gravel road that runs next to Granite Creek, 22 miles south of Jackson and east of Hoback Junction off Highway 191/189.

Curtis to Granite1 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The two official sites on the highway were not suitable for hammocks and were not all that scenic for my money. I kept going along Granite Creek Road since the first few turn-offs didn’t look such good spots to hang and the scenery seemed to get better the further I went. There were weird signs talking about “Pool opening hours” which made no sense to me as I rattled along this gravel road going back into the mountains. Eventually found that there was a whole official campsite almost as far as the road went which was a gem of a place. Superb hanging, great scenery, wildlife, fishing, facilities…and the answer to the pool mystery.

Looking up and across the valley from the campsite with thick willow flats to the fore.
DSC05575 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There were beaver ponds down stream from the camp which I was told contained good trout. There were certainly trout in the creek itself. Also a mother moose and her two grown calves used the willows and often bedded around the camp. A pair of bald eagles fished the beaver ponds and the place was thick with mule deer.

That night the moon was very bright, but so were the stars!

DSC05596 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Saturday 10 September

Sunrise illuminates the peaks behind the camp. Just enough light to show what a good hanging spot this is.
DSC05600 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Chatting to a lovely couple who had been coming to this spot for 30 years, we were interrupted by one of the young moose.

IMG_0866 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
IMG_0867 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

We think mum had probably told him it was time to make his way in the world.

I had purchased a Wyoming fishing license and wanted to make use of it, so after trying the creek with only a little success, I followed the advice received in the tackle shop in Jackson to go try the Green River at Warren Bridge, accessing the river via BLM tracks.

Granite - Grn Rvr by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I had thought that I would camp next to the Green River, after all, it was in the direction I wanted to be going and I was sure that trees grow by rivers. LOL.

IMG_0870 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The river was down in a little valley in which there were no trees, and when you got out of the valley it was clear that there probably wasn’t a tree for at least five miles in any direction!

IMG_0871 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

So it was back to Granite Creek for another night. Which was no bad thing, since I had been offered Dutch oven roasted bison with vegies and camp baked cheese cake by the moose encounter couple! Those folk put my camp cooking to shame in a big way!

Sunday 11 September

Hoped to see the other moose the following morning, and did, but they were way off well beyond the start of the trees on the far side of the valley. I did get so see the bald eagle pair, but my little camera has no zoom to speak of, so no photos.
DSC05669 HDR by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Everyone kept talking about the hot springs, so the next morning I went to have a look. Amazing!!!

DSC05673 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There is an honest to God swimming pool filled with hot spring water. The pool retaining wall is on the right of shot.

DSC05675 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The overspill comes out a sluice and forms a little stream that joins up with the main creek. The stream looks normal, but the water, even 10m below the sluice is still as hot as what comes out of the tap at home. Wish I had known before I had my usual freezing cold morning wash!

Sunday was a big driving day, down to Flaming Gorge and the Green River, just inside Utah.

Granite to Flaming by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Passing where I had turned off for the Green River the day before, the land quickly became even more desolate.
DSC05680 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

IMG_0880 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

As I drove south towards Utah, a great band of cloud appeared and by the time I was getting near Flaming Gorge, the lighting was pretty poor for taking pictures. It’s a good road to drive, especially if you are interested in geology or pre-history. They have road side signs telling you the age of the rocks and what lived there when they were being laid down. You cut through a lot of history in a short time!

The Flaming Gorge reservoir itself is pretty spectacular.
DSC05702 HDR by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I needed to be near Dutch John, so had a choice of three campsites. Picked Skull Creek, which has nice enough pitches, but no water when I was there. Also, after the beautiful, clean, spacious toilets at Green Mountain, Curtis Canyon and Granite Creek, the outhouses at Skull Creek were pretty poor. Got there too late to take pictures, and left too early too. I was the only person on the whole campground, so kept having nosy deer creeping up on my through the night!
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Oct 6, 2003
Monday 12 September

Float fished the Green River, section A, from the dam to the first take-out point with Spinnerfall guides. Was a beautiful day, but the fishing was not good. We only boated two fish and although this was a nice one, it wasn’t what I had travelled all that way for. No fault of the guide, he worked his butt off and we got on really well, but in his words, the river had been fished hard for six months and the best that could be said was that it had been consistently inconsistent for weeks. There were lots of fish in the river, just not eating anything. Didn’t see one rise all day and didn’t see anyone else doing better.

IMG_0888 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
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IMG_0901 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Camped at Mustang Ridge, back on the North side of the reservoir. The place was virtually empty, there seemed to only be about six sites in use! Very alien feel to the place, all juniper and pinion pine with sand and sandstone between.

The place was alive with wildlife though. This chap was about 3-feet long and was just sunning on the road surface next to camp.
DSC05728 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I was just through the trees from the water and saw jackrabbits and mule deer down there in the evening while attempting to catch the bass that the river guide claimed inhabited the bay.
This is the smallest bass I have ever caught…apart from the other four just like him that evening! Nothing bigger showed interest. Skunked again.

IMG_0914 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Speaking of skunks, in the middle of the night I was awakened to a very strong smell of skunk. Not being all that with it I thought someone must have hit one on the highway and the wind had changed. In the morning of course I realised I was way too far from the highway for that to have been the cause, and since there was no longer any smell I have to conclude that Monsieur Stripes had walked under my hammock in the night!

Tuesday 13 September

DSC05737 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
Tried my luck again in the lake in the morning, no more success, but saw even more wildlife. In addition all the previous evening’s actors there were about 20 vultures, seven wild turkey and a juvenile bald eagle!

Generally just a beautiful place to sit and look out. The campsite is in the trees opposite.
DSC05744 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I had always wondered how the Native Americans made bows from juniper, given the size bushes I was familiar with from the UK and Sweden. Not any more. Juniper tree on the Green River. So big I couldn’t have reached around the trunk.
DSC05770 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

In the afternoon clouds rolled in, then rain, then lightening. Went back to Skull Creek Campground because it was $10 cheaper than Mustang Ridge, and was in the direction I needed to go the next day. Stopped raining long enough to set up camp, get dinner and have a really nice chat to the mountain biking IT engineer pet portrait painter on the next pitch. There were a couple of other pitches occupied too.

Wednesday 14 September

At about 3am a series of thunderstorms rolled in from the south west. Since I was up on a ridge and there were a lot of big Ponderosa pines around I thought it might be prudent to sit it out in my car. Not the best decision. Had to sit in the driver seat and one storm followed another. Hadn’t put rocks on all the tarp pegs and two had pulled out of the sandy soil. Luckily the hammock and quilts didn’t get wet, although wading socks and boots that I had hoped would dry overnight were wetter than ever.

Rain stopped long enough to break camp but the clouds were really low on the drive to Vernal. Long drive down to Torrey in South West Utah, 265 miles and about five hours.

Skull to Sunglow by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Stopped at Sunglow Campground near Bicknell. Well named as the evening light hits the red sandstone at the back of the site.
DSC05818 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I cooked dinner and dried gear with the intention of going to find a motel room in Torrey. I was due to meet someone at Fremont River Guides, Torrey at 7am the following morning and liked the idea of being close by, a shower, and a good night’s rest after the previous night’s discomforts. No such luck. All the hotels and motels in Torrey were full. Other people were being turned away and driving off east and west looking for places to stay. I high tailed it back to Sunglow and was able to bag one of the last sites which happened to allow a slightly inconvenient hammock hang. If my suspension had failed I would probably have brained myself on the corner of the picnic table.

Thursday 15 September

It was dang cold over night. My back froze, and it was only at about 4:30am that I figured out that augmenting my light under-quilt with my Gen1 Thermarest NeoAir was to blame. The square ends of the pad pushed the quilt away so that the head end slipped around and wasn’t even under the hammock and the foot end had a big gap for the wind to get in.

Took a ride up on to Boulder Mountain with my guide to fish for rainbow and tiger trout using belly boats. Never used one of those before and it was very funny getting the hang of it. Sadly the two pictures of me in my boat aren't good enough to post!

DSC05840 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05842 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There was ice in the puddles by the lake and frost on the ground. Even with the borrowed waders I don’t think my feet have ever been so cold. Fishing wasn’t bad, got eight assorted trout, but nothing much more than 1lb and all but one were deep. It was a lovely day though, especially with the Aspen starting to turn gold for autumn.

The guy running the guide service reckoned that they knew some places to stay that were a bit off the grid and that they could take care of me that night. It didn’t work out though. The guide suggested a place which turned out to be full, as did everywhere in town again. Wound up sleeping in the passenger seat of the car in a layby off near Mill Meadow Reservoir. Met a nice couple who shared their campfire and there was a decent toilet there for visitors, but the passenger seat of a Kia Sportage isn’t really a comfortable bed!

Friday 16 September

It was cold again over night. The condensation on the inside of the car windows was frozen, but sleeping in the car was a lot warmer than I had been in the hammock the night before.

Went off looking for some stream fishing in one of the rivers flowing out of the irrigation reservoirs. They had a dry summer but these little tail race type streams had good flow and on that day, willing trout, albeit small ones. The tiger trout were something new for me.

IMG_0974 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There were quite a lot of other fishermen though, five others within the accessible 540m below the dam. When I left at lunchtime three left just ahead of me and four new guys turned up to try their luck.

Fremont-Cptl Reef by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Headed over to the other side of Torrey to have a look at Capital Reef. As usual I was late! At least it meant that the lighting on the red sandstone was really good!

DSC05876 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC05877 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The road south from Fruita eventually peters out, but I didn't get that far. About eight miles down, the tarmac of Scenic Drive turns to gravel and a track branches east into Capital Gorge. Not sure its somewhere I would want to take my car, but there were people in there with regular 2wd cars, although they were acting awful careful!

DSC05885 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There were some places where it was almost like the walls closed over the top of the trail. The wind carves the sandstone walls into some incredible shapes that have to be seen to be believed.

DSC05888 by Last Scratch, on Flickr


I had meant to camp at Single Tree campground, which despite the name was meant to be okay for hanging, but I wasn't paying attention...too busy looking at the view as I climbed up on to the shoulder of Boulder Mountain..and missed it by miles!

DSC05920 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

So went to Pleasant Creek instead and can't imagine that anywhere could be better for a hammock hanging campter. Beautiful spot!
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Oct 6, 2003
Saturday 17 September

IMG_0989 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
IMG_0992 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I have wanted to visit Bryce Canyon for years, ever since I had a picture of it as computer wallpaper some twenty years ago, so setting off to visit in person was quite exciting.

Pleasant crk - Bryce by Last Scratch, on Flickr

As with many things I saw while driving, The Hogsback on Highway 12, on the way to Escalante, was an fantastic bonus. Amazing what travelling with ignorance can do!

IMG_0994 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Bryce is worth seeing, but it is a serious tourist destination, and as found with all the full hotels, mid September is high season in Southern Utah. I got there around 3pm and had to drive right the way to Rainbow Point, the far end of the Bryce road, in order to find anywhere I could park. There were hardly any children in the crowds, and I think that the foreign tourists (non-native Engish speakers) out numbered the Americans. I haven't seen so many French since I was in Paris. There were Dutch, Swedes, Spaniards, Germans, Russians, bus loads of Italians, double bus loads of French and triple bus loads of Chinese.

Not hard to see why it is popular though.

DSC05978 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06028 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

To compete with such masses, I stayed late and decided to see the sun set, and the moon rise. I had checked out Red Canyon campground some 10 miles west of the Bryce junction before entering the park and it was full, same as the two campgrounds within the park. However there were some gravel forest roads that looked promising outside the park.

The sinking sun had cast nearly all of the amphitheater into shadow by 7:00pm, but moonrise was not for hours yet, so I decided to go for a walk down Navajo Loop.

DSC06078 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The trail started with some very steep hairpins and vertiginous cliffs, at the bottom of which grew some huge and persistent Ponderosa pines.

DSC06092 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There were a few other people, mostly coming up out of the canyon and at 7:30pm when we found a signpost showing 0.6 miles back to the rim, or 1.4miles for the Queen's Garden trail, everyone else took the short route while I went on the longer one. Pretty soon I couldn't hear anything but my own footsteps and the crickets. A rare thing to get such peace at a tourist mecca on a sunny Saturday!

DSC06116 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06119 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

It was truly dark by the time I climbed out at Sunrise Point, but I still had time to get some dinner going before the moon rose, huge and very orange. Sadly my RX100 wasn't quite up to taking the awesome pictures that the situation called for.

DSC06123 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

For the first time on the trip I was able to see the Milky Way, albeit somewhat faintly.

DSC06124 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I shouldn't have been all that surprised, but the quiet forestry road I found had become quite busy with parked up RVs, and campers of various kinds, but there were enough spaces that I could find a place to hang. I wasn't planning to be there long. I wanted to catch the sunrise at Bryce.
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A bemused & bewildered
Jan 5, 2013
SE Wales
Great trip, nice report and wonderful pictures; I felt as if I was there! Thanks for taking the time to post this, excellent stuff.


Anyone for sailing?
Mar 5, 2008
~Hemel Hempstead~
As others have said... that was a great road trip through some stunning scenery.

Thanks for all the hard work you're putting in sharing it with us :)


Oct 6, 2003
Cheers chaps. I think my eye balls are going square with all the time I have been looking at screens. I have four more days' worth to put up. Just fighting with assembling the last few videos and the last few photos. Some of the best pictures are still to come. ;)


Oct 6, 2003
Sunday 18 September
DSC06216 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so the sun simply popped up above the far Eastern horizon without any great light show sunrise. One moment all the scenery was dimly lit, then it was dimly lit with an extremely strong back-light! LOL. Well, not every sunrise can look like a post card.

In my itinerary I had marked in one day to drive down to Bryce from Torrey, and one day to see around Bryce, but by 9:00 I felt I had seen all of Bryce that I wanted to see and still had the rest of the day ahead of me. It's not all that far to Zion, and I had been told that Cedar Breaks was worth a look...

Bryce-Cedar terrain by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Visiting Zion was not a good idea and was about the lowest point in the trip. There was a huge traffic queue at the east entrance, lots of inconsiderate people wanting to chat with the ranger rather than getting a move on. Then there was another huge queue to get through the mile long tunnel because it was cut before the advent of RVs the size of tour busses and could only accommodate such vehicles down the centre of the road way. Ad-hoc traffic control consisted of a ranger at each end of the tunnel with a stop sign and a walkie talkie. Time spent stationary in traffic, one-hour. I don't think that it being Sunday made it worse, just high season with a lot of tourists.

The scenery was great in the period between sitting in traffic, but stopping to admire it was difficult and never relaxed. If it were possible to do the drive in the off-season, if such a thing exists, that would be worth doing.

DSC06223 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Reached the junction for Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and there was nowhere to park, everything was full and signs directed visitors to Springdale, 2.5miles down the road. The only parking I found there was a dusty lot for $15 a day and the prospect of riding on a series of sardine tin shuttle busses. Having descended about 4000ft from Bryce, the temperature had risen to 89F and I realised that the view of a crowded Narrows would not be adequate compensation for the cost and discomfort of getting there. So I kept driving!

Best decision of the day!

Thirteen miles west of Springdale, in the little town of Virgin is a turning for Kolob Terrace Road, which skirts the west edge of Zion Park and snakes its way 53 miles up and across the plateau from which the Zion canyon was carved before dropping to Cedar City. It climbs from 3600ft in Virgin to 9440ft as it rounds Cedar Mountain and the temperature dropped more than 10degF as a result.

View from Lava Point, with the cliffs of Zion Canyon in the distance.
DSC06238 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The road soon turned to gravel, but there was hardly anyone up there.

DSC06262 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The oaks and aspens were changing colours, this was the first time I really got to see the change.
DSC06267 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The land isn’t wild, there are people and farms up there and rounding a bend I encountered an unexpected sheep drive. I was happy to follow and film, but the riders were keen to make a hole for me to pass by.


Around another corner you get a great view reaching across 40 miles of the Escalante Desert.

IMG_1022 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Quick refuel in Cedar City, then a slog back up to make up all the altitude lost, and then some. Cedar Breaks rim at 10,400ft, like a smaller and less crowded version of Bryce!

DSC06295 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

After a short drive up to the peak of Brian Head
DSC06299 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

It was time to think about somewhere to camp. Didn’t fancy Cedar Breaks official campground, so found a quiet spot to turn off along Highway 143 in the Dixie National Forest. Cooked dinner about half a mile from where I would sleep, partly in deference to possible bears, but largely because I liked the view better!

View from camping spot.
DSC06304 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

View from dinner spot!
DSC06316 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Monday 19 September

Long drive from the high plateau of Dixie National Forest across to eastern Utah, Canyonlands and Arches parks.

Cedarbrk - Arches1 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The drive wasn’t as desolate as I expected and I don’t reckon it was as barren as parts of Wyoming, until after Green River.

I arrived at Canyonlands Park around 3pm, by which time all the (limited) camping sites within the park were full, but I was planning on camping down by the Colorado River anyway, so I wasn’t worried. It was busy, but nothing like the crowds at Bryce and Zion.

DSC06371 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Really awesome landscape. Most of the tourists stay up on the top, where the easy roads and visitor centre are located, but there are miles of dirt roads for intrepid folk with real 4x4 vehicles. This would be a great place to visit if that is your thing.

DSC06375 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06392 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06393 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

It can even make tourists look intrepid!

DSC06407 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Since this was going to be my last chance to see a really good sunset I chose to stay out, rather than be sensible and go looking for a campsite while it was light.

DSC06438 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The sun disappeared, the sky darkened, and deciding that the show was over, I headed back to my car. Half way there, on the wrong side of my hill, I turned around and found that I my departure had been premature. ARRGH.

DSC06470 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Good stars out there too.

DSC06489 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Found an empty pitch at Horsethief Campground, but nowhere to hang. I foolishly thought that there might be something better down by the river south of Arches. I had read about Oak Grove on one of the Hammock forums. Dumb choice. They were all full. Ended up driving 13 miles (33 from Horsethief) just to end up sleeping in the car again in a layby.

Tuesday 20 September

The blue sky had gone, which made for poor photos, but cooler weather than it would have been with sun.

I wasn’t going to visit Arches, but I was there, I had a pass that would get me in with no extra cost, so what the heck. The road in was fairly cool, snaking its way up the cliff, but I think I had become over saturated with the landscape. As someone else said…”oh look, another rock formation…”.

DSC06502 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06512 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Arches was a lot busier and by the time I got around to Delicate Arch, the famous one shown in all the pictures, it was crawling with visitors. Between that, the dismal lighting and knowing that it was getting on in the day and I had 235 miles to go and a Cabelas to visit, I didn’t bother making the 3 miles round trip to photograph the iconic arch.

Arches to Maroon Bells by Last Scratch, on Flickr

It was a good decision. Or I should have spent less time in the Grand Junction Cabelas! I managed to escape the store without spending much money, just some unusual eatable stuff to share with the folk at work back home. It might have been different if it had been the start of the trip.

My target destination was the Maroon Bells area. I didn’t know much about it except that it was often mentioned in the Hammock Forums as a good place to camp, very scenic with good hanging options. I should have done more research! There are vehicle restrictions on the access road, which I dodged by getting there so late. There is a charge for access, which my Parks Pass covered. The campsites were all full. Camping in the back country is allowed only at designated sites or within 0.25 miles of Crater lake which is 1.5 miles of rough trail up from the parking area, and if you are taking food or anything scented, bear barrels are required. There was no winning but I was damned if I was going to sleep in the car for my last night of camping in the US, so at 7pm I ate a cold tin of chilli by my car, dumped all my food and wash kit, and set off for the trail in the deepening gloom. Rain was forecast for 9pm.

I met a couple of nice young women in a similar position who were shouldering their packs as I passed and we all set off together. Head torches had to be broken out well before we were close enough to Crater lake to start looking for a camp site. Got everything set up before he accurately forecast weather arrived but the wind really funnelled down the valley, despite the trees’ shelter.

Wednesday 21 September

The morning was a bit special. The aspens were in full autumn colour and the clouds over the jagged peaks were very atmospheric.

DSC06526 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06534 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

DSC06563 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The trail was a lot easier with day light!

DSC06540 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

We had a look around at Crater Lake, took a bunch of pictures of the mountains splashed in in electric yellow and headed back to the car park.

DSC06543 TM by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Maroon Lake is very pretty, but the easy access means that it is busy! Did kind of ruin the sense of wilderness when there were OAPs wobbling around in jeans and plimsoles.

IMG_1054 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Found this wonderful sign on our way out.

IMG_1045 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

“Welcome to our beautiful land…prepare to die!”

I chose the route towards Denver purely based upon the map showing it as the most direct.
Maroon Bells - IdahoSpr by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Once again there was a surprise treat in store. Independence Pass, just west of Mt. Elbert wasn’t anything I knew about.


DSC06577 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Standing beside Twin Lakes I realised that my trip was just about over, that I had had my last night of camping and that In 24 hours I would be getting ready to fly home.

DSC06596 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The drive to Idaho Springs, where I was booked into a motel, passed through Leadville. I didn’t really think much of it in the planning stage, and with rain coming in it didn’t look all that interesting as I approached it, but I think it would have been an interesting stop. The town centre was certainly colourful.

GOPR0317 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Leaving Leadville there was another colourful sight. There was just the right rain and sun that it appeared to race along side the highway.
DSC06610 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

The weather back on Interstate 70 ran the gamut from rain to sun and although the views were impressive for highway scenery the weight of traffic, jams and waiting at Johnson Tunnel and knowing the trip was almost over dampened my appreciation for them.
GOPR0338 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
GOPR0343 by Last Scratch, on Flickr
GOPR0347 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

Columbine Inn in Idaho Springs was a pretty good place to spend the night and get myself packed and organised.

Thursday 22nd September

No more photos.

Drove into Golden, spent almost all my remaining US Dollars in the Spyderco Factory Store ;) and imposed upon the good will of the outdoors lovers that I met when I arrived by unloading upon them all the valuable, useful or merely useable stuff that I couldn’t take with me! Bear spray to 9litres of bottled water! That really helped me out with a logistical head ache.

I dropped in on Kifaru again, got to pore over packs and pockets with the aim to educate myself should I get the chance to buy another of their packs.

Cleaned the inside of the car and washed as much of the dust out as I could. Those gravel roads threw super fine dust into all sorts of places!

Dumped everything else that wasn’t worth giving away and couldn’t come with me in a series of supermarket trash bins and headed for the airport.

GOPR0355 by Last Scratch, on Flickr

I had hoped that this trip would satisfy my desire to visit the West, that I would be able to settle back and think, “Been there, seen it, don’t need to go again.” All that has happned though is to realise just how little I saw and how much more I would like to see. Dang! Need to plan another trip!!
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Oct 19, 2008
South Coast
An interesting account of your travels with some excellent photos. I know it took a lot of work and time to compile for our benefit, thank you. I really enjoyed reading it.. goodjob

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
McBride, BC
What a ride! From end to end. Thank you.
There's so much color in the geology.

I suggest that you consider travelling in a big loop again but move north.
The climate changes, it's a lot wetter and so the veg is really different.
Possibly Washington, British Columbia south of HWY 16 and east to Jasper and Banff.
Coastal ferry travel, too.


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