After leaving New Mexico, I planned on driving to Zion for Christmas, but found out that most of the park was closed just before Christmas, as the roads had flooded out due to the recent rains. So I drove up to Capitol Reef National Park. I had big plans for Capitol Reef, as it is a beautiful but forbidding environment, one of southern Utah's gems that include Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon and the aforementioned Capitol Reef. These are just the National Parks - southern Utah is loaded with coolness!
I arrived at Capitol Reef on Dec 23rd, and drove in to the campground. 2 of the 3 loops at the Fruita campground were closed. The third loop was, well, not very hammock friendly. Finding two trees that weren't 20 feet apart or right on the road was not possible. The campground is very open, laid out for motor homes more or less. I made it work for one late night crash, but I would not recommend staying at the Fruita campground in Capitol Reef. As a matter of fact, they have a rule that hammocks are only allowed during daylight hours and in a way that will not damage trees. I didn't get hassled, but I was the only one in the entire campground the night I stayed there, and maybe in the entire park the two nights I was there.
I woke up in the morning, and went to the visitor center. Very helpful, and I found out there were two primitive campgrounds, but only one of them was sometimes available to 2 wheel drive vehicles. Most of the park requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get around in. I bee-lined to Cedar Mesa campground on the south end of the park. It took me a long time to get there, as the road crosses several washes, and 2 of them in particular almost stopped me. I bounced around, bottomed out and nearly got stuck in the slippery clay roads to the campground. Any rain, and I would not have made it - the only other vehicle I saw while I was there was a four wheel drive that turned around at the first wash right as I drove up. But it was a great choice, especially over the commercial style campground at the main entrance. Lots of mature cedars to hang from, decent fire rings, and even a pit toilet. And nobody there, either! I will recommend if anyone goes to this campground to bring your own wood, and lots of it. They seriously frown on you gathering wood due to the sensitive nature of the environment. I had scabbed some free wood at the first campground and brought it down with me. After my fire-less trip to Bandelier, I was looking forward to a Christmas Eve campfire.
I spent the day sorting my gear and studying maps of the park. So many places to hike! Watched the sun go down, lit a campfire. And watched the frost settle. Heavy frost. It was amazing how much frost settled as soon as the sun went down. It was dark, frosty and quiet. The quietest night I have ever spent anywhere at anytime. Not a breath of wind, not a coyote howl, no vehicles, no birds, mice.......... You get the point. Spending Christmas Eve all alone, under mostly clear skies and a nearly full moon with no sounds at all was eerie. It was weird. And I don't recommend it for anyone who is prone to melancholy. It was a very long night before I finally slept. A comfortable night, as I was in my Blackbird with my Burro and my 3-season incubator, but it was one of those nights where you think a lot.
I woke up on Christmas Day to a coating of frost and a sun already up for several hours. I packed up, and headed all the way back to the main park to do some hiking. As I took the trail up to Hickman Natural Bridge for a warmup, the weather changed. Heavy clouds rolled in and a cold wind started howling through the canyons. By the time I returned to the car, the weather had dropped 15*, and so did my mood. I bailed. I got in my car, and just started driving. I needed to be around people.
I made it to Mystic Hot Springs, in Monroe, Utah. Spent the night soaking in the natural mineral water. The owner, Mike, was awesome. Very interested in hammocks, loves hanging in mayan hammocks in the summer. I explained the basics of hammock camping, gave him one of my spare hammocks, showed him some different styles of quilts and I think helped talked him into adding some hammock stands to the campground part of his venture. Nice people.
Left there and started driving. Dirt roads, back highways, Interstates, mountain roads - seen a lot of pavement. The weather has been following me everywhere I go; record lows, rain, snow, wind. Had a 3 day bout with food poisoning. In the past week, I've been through most of Utah, the entire state of Nevada, and now swung back all the way into Colorado. I haven't felt like hanging in any of the weather I've experienced or with any of the crud I've had over the past week, so I am going to head back to the midwest for a few weeks and take stock, help a few people out, get a little R&R, some snowshoeing, a massage or two and then figure out when to hit the road again. I need to repeat this trip when I can hang every night, and do a hike or two with at least one other person. I suppose it could be argued I could have hung every night now, but it sure would make it a lot more enjoyable knowing that you won't wake up EVERY morning to some new cruddy weather. Knowing you have a warm bed to go back to when your trip is over makes it easy; when you don't have that, it gives the traveling a little different feel.
It's been a great trip. And it isn't over yet.