Exploring Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

imageimageIf you live in Utah you can, and should, explore the multitude of national parks, recreation areas, and monuments within just a few hour’s drive of Salt Lake City … and my favorite is Capitol Reef.

Located just three and a half scenic hours southeast of Salt Lake City with hotels, developed RV facilities, and first-come-first-served national park campsites Capitol Reef is the perfect weekend getaway March – May and October – November. Avoid the summer months where you’ll bake in the dessert heat and hike nose-to-tail with European tourists in their black knee socks and trekking poles.

Instead, pick an April Friday, reserve a hotel room in Torrey on Friday night, head out of town at 3:00, make good time, and enter the park just in time for a beautiful sunset hike. Then, grab a patio table for pizza, live music, a fabulous canyon sunset, and a beer at the Rim Rock Inn.

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Although the in-park campgrounds are some of the best around, they fill up quick and don’t accept reservations. Fortunately, just ten minutes outside the park is the tourist (in a quaint way) town of Torrey and the Red Sands Hotel where for $100-$150 per night you can have two queens, wifi, pool and jacuzzi, and a view of the red rocks while you enjoy the included breakfast (coffee, waffles, eggs, and cereal). Or, you can do it up right at the less conveniently located but more charming Lodge at Red River in Teasdale for $150 – $250 per night.

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Wherever you rest your head will be secondary to the easy and accessible hikes, scenic drives, board-walk petroglyph trails, canyon arches, and the Pioneer Register where pioneers from 1884 to 1962 recorded their passage through the Capitol Gorge.

Head out of town after a delicious brunch at Cafe Diablo, flip your radio to The Splendid Table and enjoy transmission while you can. Arrive home in time for two loads of  laundry and a quick prep for the week ahead.

It’s a vacation without the stress of planning.

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Purple Haze and Lackadaisical Labor Days

Once upon a time, labor day weekend, a full tank of gas, and a topless baby blue CJ7 were all it took to make me smile in that way that made my cheekbones hurt. I know I was that girl, but I don’t remember her much anymore.

I remember tucking my hair under a grimy knit ski cap, we’d crank up Rage Against the Machine, and three hours later a car full of young adult hormones and Natty Light would tumble out onto the desert floor of Utah’s Goblin Valley to spend a weekend playing the world’s best game of capture the flag.

We’d build a little tent city at the campground just outside the park and break off into couples and singles, set up a fire, drink, smoke, shoot, swear, and inevitably some girl would get drunk and puke, or cry, or both – and it was wonderful.

Those weekends seem a lifetime ago now, though I can still remember the perfume I was wearing: Realm, a musky amber scent laced with vanilla, sugar, and pheromones – a perfume that boy from once upon a time liked so much he couldn’t hug me without breathing in deeply and pulling me against him for another note. 

I can still create a fire with one match and a ziplock baggie full of dryer lint pulled from my mom’s laundry room on the way out of town. I can still make “magic cobbler” in a dirty dutch oven, and, I still have that road-worn CD he gave me for my seventeenth birthday … and memories, of Labor Day, once upon a time.