Satisfying start to spring season
Boy, do I love March Madness — and in this case, I’m not talking about college basketball. I’m talking about the good fortune to enjoy a desert hike in south-central Utah one day and ski unbelievable late-season conditions in the Rocky Mountains a few days later.
My daughter was home from college on spring break last week, so we hightailed it to Utah for our annual hiking trip. We concentrated this year on the southern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, far away from the hordes seeking sunshine in Moab. Along with a brother-in-law of mine, we found a fabulous campsite staring directly east at the isolated and untamed Henry Mountains with Tarantula Mesa in the foreground. The Waterpocket Fold, a spiny ridge of sandstone that abruptly rises out of the vast desert, dominated the view to our west. Sandstone spires called hoodoos and slickrock mounds offered a little relief from a roaring wind that tormented us for most of the night of March 17 before blowing itself out and bowing to clear skies and calm conditions the rest of the week.
We picked an interesting-looking canyon that starts on Bureau of Land Management holdings and snakes its way into Capitol Reef for our first big hike on March 18. We were rewarded with short bursts through narrow slots where the sandstone pressed against our shoulders for 50 to 100 yards at a time before the canyon would open slightly to the skies above. We tested our resolve by scrambling up choke stones clogging the canyon and creating short dry falls.
The payday of the trip came on Thursday, when we tackled Upper Muley Twist Canyon in Capitol Reef, a hike that came highly recommended from a friend. The advice was dead-on, providing both a hike through a serpentine canyon and a scramble hundreds of feet above on the Waterpocket Fold. The red sandstone to our west demanded attention because it was riddled with arches that popped into view every so often. We agreed that it was one of our favorite hikes of all time.
Our vacation couldn’t have ended any better than slicing through the buttery snow at Aspen Mountain on Sunday. To be able to enjoy the best of the high desert and the Rocky Mountains in so short of a time is March Madness, indeed.
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Aspen is set to add to its Olympic heritage next month as three local athletes head to the Beijing Games. Halfpipe skiers Alex Ferreira and Hanna Faulhaber, as well as cross-country skier Hailey Swirbul, will head over soon, but before that a send-off party is set for Wednesday.