Road Trips

Trippin’ & Splorin’ Through Utah: 3 Days, 570 Miles, and Maybe a Dinosaur Bone

Adventures in the fluid travel zone


Author Paige Wiren at the Fish Lake Highway rock formations.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t a dinosaur bone. But if it is…road trip jackpot.

There are essentials to a road trip: route, vehicle, cooler, music. But the road accommodates idiosyncratic interpretations of travel.

I like to research and plan a destination framework, then fill in the gaps with how the spirit moves me. If you plan enough seasonal adventures, one of them will work when you need to scratch the road trip itch.

Boulder Mountain was on the summer 2017 list. With a highest peak topping 11,000 feet, a mid-July mountain excursion seemed an appropriate response to the blazing cityscape conditions. The lakes and creeks were only a planned respite from the main destination, though, which was greater Capitol Reef.

Called Sally. Sally gave me Frank’s number. Frank said, “Yeah, there are these really cool rock formations on the Fish Lake Highway.” Frank gave me Torrey resident, John’s, number. John pointed me to a creekside camp spot and a 3-lake hike. Sally told me about some pictographs in Torrey. And I wanted to go back and photograph a bone-looking protrusion I’d noticed on a spring camp trip.

Wildcat Ranger Station Ranger Patty

Boulder Mountain. Wildcat Ranger Station. The station is honey-pine historic, but the bonus experience is talking with seasonal hosts Patty and Chuck. Patty is on-point with trail detail. About the area bears she says, “Just don’t hike with beef jerky hanging out of your back pocket.” Chuck tells me about a stand of bristlecone pine down the road.

Car picks up the Moab community radio. Find Pleasant Creek camp spot as Jerry Garcia sings “Morning Dew.” Hike. On the backtrack, meet Sarah, smile is as big as the full moon.
Next morning, dip in creek. Heading out, I see Sarah’s friend playing a six-string travel guitar. “Hey! I got my autoharp. Wanna play a few songs?” Patrick tells me about a Caineville organic cafe and goat farm. Randy runs the place, he says.

Cruise down and check out the venerable bristlecone pine. Climb the North Loop Road to Blind Lake trailhead. Hike the serene loop as a storm threatens. Range cattle sing the sundown song.

Need to bump up the road trip feeling.

Head back to Pleasant Creek. In between songs yesterday, Patrick mentioned a nearby baby woodpecker in an aspen. Sure enough, fledgling’s occupying an undersized hole. Witness feeding and coaxing. Nothing else on the agenda.

The legitimate road trip freedom feeling kicks in on the winding two-lane down the mountain. Windows full-open as the air temp rises, reggae on the radio. Who doesn’t need this?

Twenty-plus miles east of the Capitol Reef, there’s no missing the Mesa Farm Cafe in Caineville. Megan’s learning organic farming. Randy’s there, and both the vibe and the food connect to the heart. Desert-grown greens, brick oven-baked bread and goat cheese for sale.

It’s 102 when I drop into the Fremont River flats. A sandy walking boulevard leads me to…what? I’ve been here before, camping, and the petrified blackness sticking out of the soft sand soil hill has me intrigued. Photograph the finding.

Torrey pictographs

Two more stops: Torrey pictographs and Fish Lake rock formations. The ‘who-knows-what-they-mean?’ pictographs are south of the Teasdale Road. If the rocks could talk, we’d have more of a conversation. And if the rocks on Fish Lake Highway could talk, we might understand why mid-20th century shepherds stacked the local stones in artistic arrangements on the hills two miles in on Highway 26.

The I-15 valley stretch north is a laborious, but necessary return route. Whatever happened in the city over the weekend, I did not miss. For me, trippin’ and ‘splorin’ make it feel like summertime.
Oh, and I’m pretty sure it is a dinosaur bone.

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