Capitol Reef & Grand Escalante, Utah

Capitol Reef

After visiting Canyonlands we continued our adventures driving west for 160km to Capitol Reef National Park. The road goes through a canyon alongside a river and the sandstone rock formations have more tones of yellow than red, as it was in Arches and Canyonland. It was a different kind of beauty with a nice river valley, more vegetation and a picturesque road that would unleash when you least expect gorgeous views, yellow trees and canyon valleys.

Our first stop was at Hickman Bridge, the trailhead for Capitol Reef’s famous arch view. It was a great hike, not long, perhaps a couple of hours but worth it. In fact, we found the arch somehow nicer than the arches we have seen at Arches NP.

Returning from the hike we stopped to check out the petroglyphs of the Hisatsinom indigenous people. The carvings, from between 300 and 1300 AD, represent stories and provide information about the indigenous social rituals, religion, and animals they hunted. The light colored formation at Capitol Reef made carving easier with basic tools and pictographs with various colored plants. These walls remain a live library that speaks about the American Indian heritage and past.

As we were preparing to leave Capitol Reef we came across a beautiful Unimog from Switzerland arriving at the park. It was a small short wheel based agile Mog. Perfect for traveling solo JP thought, yet perhaps too small for a couple. 

We took Utah’s famous Scenic Byway 12 towards Grand Escalante National Monument, crossing Boulder Mountain and Dixie National Forest, where we planned spending the night. JP had great expectations for Byway 12 and it did not let us down! It was spectacular, especially late afternoon when all colors were out and the wildlife is likely to come by near the road. We spotted a coyote running after caribou and plenty of deers. It was a chill out road cruise with beautiful nature.

When we reached the Red Canyon, as the name reveals the formations became of more intense red color. The red caused by the combination of iron and oxygen, and different shades result depending on the other elements present in the rock and their exposure over time to water and sun.

It was beautiful to see the contrast of the red with the yellow trees leaves. We were driving a narrow road on the ridge of the mountains, with hundreds of meter high cliffs on both sides. Seeing the height in both sides was frightening, but a unique experience. This was one of the most beautiful roads we ever drove through. We recommend to anyone when in Utah.

We called the night at a wild camping spot we found at the Head of the Rocks Overlook, after Escalante River. It was a primitive yet beautiful site accessible by a dirt road with amazing views. We had an excellent and quiet night.

Camping Spot next to Grand Escalante NM
Camping Spot next to Grand Escalante NM

Grand Escalante National Monument

We woke up early for a morning hike to the spectacular waterfalls of Lower Calf Creek at Grand Escalante National Monument. Our camping spot was close to the trailhead so we were ready to start our hike at 9am.

As soon we parked and got ready to start I heard somebody asking: “Are you from Sibiu?” JP was outside and answered, “Yeah”. They answered: “We are from Sibiu too” with a German accent, “We live in Germany, and saw your plates”. As I was listening inside the truck I figured they were Saxons that lived in Transylvania long ago. The Saxons populated Transylvania for hundreds of years until Ceausescu sent most of them back to Germany during the communist regime. The ones who were not expelled later tried to escape the dictatorship and absurd communist system. It was in the ’70s when Eri and Victoria escaped across the borders leaving their birth place in Transylvania for a better life in Germany.

As came into the conversation I soon had the confirmation they were born in the same city I was from. Funny enough we could still find some people in common, places and activities we shared. We knew the same streets, customs, mountain hikes and shared the same opinion about the communist oppression of a beautiful country. The conversion flew so we started to hike the trail together. I immediately clicked with Victoria and we walked and talked on the trail up about our experiences traveling, about Romania, about family, life in Germany and how their life developed after they left Romania.

I enjoyed every second of our time with Eri and Victoria. They reminded me of those quality Saxons, an ethnicity we have a lot of admiration for in Romania as they built one of the most beautiful settlements and fortified towns in Transylvania. Very skilled craftsmen and hard working people. They contributed positively to the development of our society. As a matter of fact, our current president, Klaus Iohannis is a Saxon. Iohannis started as a mayor of Sibiu, and is now the President of Romania. For many of us he is an example of integrity, hard work, determination, elegance and diplomacy.

We learned more about Eri and Victoria story, and how they built a whole new life in Germany. Their careers in education, the beautiful family the grew on strong values and principles which include the love and respect for nature. They expanded their horizons traveling around the world and taking a couple sabbatical breaks throughout their 40 years of marriage. They kept humble, simple, with a live passion for each other. Respectful, grounded, positive, constantly smiling and with a continuous thirst for knowledge and expeditions. It was quite inspiring to see a couple that really made it, building a family and a life keeping exploring the world and of course the harmony between each other.

It was a new lesson: Eri with 75, Victoria with 63, 40 years together and still treating each other kindly, as they just started dating: they kissed, hugged and called each other “darling” all the time 🙂

We reached the beautiful waterfall that was waiting for us at the end of the trail and admired the unique landscape of the canyons and the colors of the vegetation surrounding us.

The falls at Lower Calf Creek, Gran Escalante
The falls at Lower Calf Creek, Gran Escalante

On our way back we stopped in the recreational area of the trail head for lunch. JP volunteered to cook, and we gather the ingredients with what we had available. We took our Coleman petrol stove out and cooked sausages with fried rice and zucchini. It was simply delicious. We enjoyed the meal outside, talking, breathing fresh air, surrounded by so much positive energy.

Picnic with Viktoria & Eri at Grand Escalante
Picnic with Viktoria & Eri at Grand Escalante

As we were enjoying so much each other’s company we decided to depart the trailhead together to find a common camping spot to spend the night in the wild. We found a fairly flat wild spot in the middle of a national forest between Grand Escalante and Bryce. Eri and Victoria were kind enough to invite us for dinner in their camper. We prepared some appetizers, had some tea and continued chatting for hours. What a wonderful encounter, but most importantly: what a life lesson and example.

The following day we departed different ways. Eri and Victoria headed to explore Kodachrome as they had been in Bryce before. We left for Bryce, excited to check out the land of the hoodoos for the first time.

About the author: Ioana Marins

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