Dan and Hannah Hike in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

When I think of Bryce Canyon, I think of Wayne and Nancy.  Let me explain.

BC 1 Bryce sign

Living in the shadow of Arizona State University in the 1970s, Hannah and I were recently-weds when Wayne and Nancy came into our lives.  I was scuffling along as an elementary school teacher, looking to find my way – wondering if teaching was for me.  Hannah, too, was searching; she tried nursing school, but the paperwork and condescending doctors sank that ship.  Since tuition for us as in-state residents was $300 per semester at ASU back in the day, she, without much financial pain, gave the counseling program a shot.

Hitch ASU

In her studies, Hannah met Wayne, who was teaching a course in motivation for the Educational Psychology Department.  Hannah loved the class that fall semester; and then Hannah, being Hannah, invited Wayne and his wife Nancy to our house in Tempe for dinner.  We clicked and the magic began.

BC 1AA BC with no people

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point

Though six years later we moved from Arizona to raise our family in a small town on the coast of Maine, we have never lost our love of the West, its trails, its national parks, and its Nancy and Wayne.

In 1992 when our family of five traveled West, our four-cylinder Subaru wagon pulling a homemade trailer could barely climb the mountains of Wyoming, Utah, or Arizona.  That’s when Nancy and Wayne came to the rescue.  Near their home in Mesa, AZ, they found a mechanic who diagnosed the problem as a radiator working at 30% capacity on a vehicle that was never meant to tow a trailer of any size.  Later, leaving the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix Metro Area) at 1100’, they towed our trailer with their GMC Yukon to Heber at 8000’ in northern Arizona so we could roll downhill from there for home in Maine.

The following year, Nancy and Wayne arranged for their family of eight (soon to be nine) and ours of five to camp at the KOA (Kampground of America) in Panguitch, UT and hike in Bryce Canyon together.

Whenever we would fly to Arizona for a week, they would seamlessly add our five to their household, treating us as family.  BC 3A D and H in canyon

They are stunning folks; they think when we are together, what would make Hannah and Dan’s visit enjoyable?   And they love playing card and board games.   They are the ones who taught us Mormon Bridge; now the Family Rothermel’s favorite card game.

BC 5 D and H on rim trail

On this first Sunday in June, we return to Bryce Canyon National Park with memories of the Family Turley on our mind.  Years ago, both families hiked down the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop here in Bryce Canyon.

Turley Rothermel 1993 Bryce Canyon

Some of the hikers back in 1993 from left to right.  Nancy Turley, Hannah, Ty Turley, Cara Turley, Janis Turley, Hilary Turley, Will, and Molly

Today, the ranger at the visitor center at Bryce Canyon shows us that we can do that very same loop trail starting at Sunset Point, take the switchbacks to the canyon floor, and return up the cliff side to Sunrise Point.  Though just three miles in length, the trail at 8000’ elevation is a workout.

Being 945A, the ranger suggests we park our car at the lot across from the visitor center and take the shuttle.  Hannah sees the wisdom of such a move while all I see is waiting and more waiting.  Waiting to get the shuttle, waiting as we ride the shuttle all the way to the end of the park and then finally get back to Sunrise Point.  And that’s just the half of it.  Because we’d wait all again on our return.

BC 1 parking spot

The penultimate parking spot!

I hate waiting. I’d rather not go than wait.  Turning to Hannah, I and say, I’d like to take our chances of finding a parking spot by driving to Sunset Point.  No fan of waiting herself, she agrees.  Driving just three miles to the Sunset Point parking area at 10A, we enter to what appears to be a packed parking lot.  But… after circling just once, we find one of the last two sweet spots.  Faith, my loyal readers, faith.

BC D at QV

On the canyon floor heading to the Queen Victoria formations.  Not really a canyon, Bryce is an amphitheater of sandstone delight

Preparing to hike, I wonder how my left knee with its patellar tendinitis will hold up on this fourth hiking day in the last five.  Having stretched earlier, I take my Tylenol, pull on my compression sleeve, and give it a go.

BC 2 Navajo Trail descent

Descending the Navajo Trail

Descending through the red sandstone walls of the Navajo Trail, we are among the fit and unfit who think that this shorter 1.3-mile loop is something they can easily do.  It’s a fairly rapid descent of 600’ down and that same 600’ up!  The switchbacks do make for a family-friendly descent and, from time to time, the high walls shade us from the penetrating sun.

BC 2A bottom of navajo trail

Looking back up to Sunrise Point

At the bottom, we cross the canyon floor towards the Queen Victoria Loop, and eventually we see Sunrise Point high above us.  And then beneath my compression sleeve, I feel the first twinge in my left knee.  There is no shuttle service for aching hikers; I have little choice but to man up and climb to the rim.

BC 4C trail to sunrise point

Climbing the switchbacks to the rim at Sunrise Point, I am reminded of the August hailstorm (at 34F) eleven years ago that attacked us when we last hiked to Sunrise Point.  Today, the cloud cover keeps the temperatures in the low 80s, but it’s still a bitch of a climb.

Nearly to the rim, I realize I am feeling no pain at all; throwing caution to the wind, we decide to hike along the rim for a mile and a half to Inspiration Point.  In many places, there are no protecting fences, and any fall off the trail is sayonara.

BC 5 D and H on rim trail

Climbing from Sunset Point at 8000’ to Inspiration Point at 8500’ is relentless, but… the rich red in the rock formations makes every vista a moment for memorable photography.

Returning to the Sunset Point after three hours of hiking, over lunch, we toast Nancy and Wayne first, Bryce Canyon second.   We got to have our priorities.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Can map of five parks

Ever been to the middle of Nowhere?  We have …and are loving it.  After hiking at the Arches and Canyonlands, then playing pickleball in Moab, we come this early June Saturday to Capitol Reef National Park after 24 years away.

In 1993, Hannah and I traveled the American Mountain West with our three kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13) in our GMC Vandura; atop our van were five bikes and a Sears cargo carrier with tents, sleeping bags, and pads.  That one score and four years ago, we camped at Capitol Reef, picked plums from the tree at our campsite, and hiked a forgettable mountain trail of stone, guided by cairns (i.e. stacked rocks to direct hikers).

CR 2A Hickman Bridge

Hickman Natural Bridge

By my calculation, Capitol Reef is the least visited of Utah’s five national parks:  Zion is the rock star with its Angel Landing death-defying climb (71,000 visitors came over this past Memorial Day Weekend);

#2 and #3, no matter the order, are the every populaire Arches and Bryce Canyon;

Number 4 is Canyonlands, for it does get the spill over from nearby Arches, just 25 miles away).

The black sheep is the out-of-the-way Capitol Reef National Park, some 160 miles to the west of Moab, and 125 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon in the little town of Nowhere, Utah (i.e. Torrey).

CR 1AA D and H by river

Trail to the Hickman Bridge begins

The signature family hike at Capitol Reef is the Hickman Natural Bridge.  Arriving by 930A this first Saturday in June, we get the last of the 20 spots in the parking lot.  Never fear if you happen to sleep in; cars and RVs soon are parking on the main road, which is also common practice at busy venues in the Arches and Canyonlands, too.

CR 2B H on trail

The difference between a natural bridge and a natural arch is how they are created.  Arches are wind-blown creations while bridges are formed from flowing water.  With not a cloud in the sky, I lather up with my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen that my dermatologist says he uses, place my wide brimmed hiking hat from Georgia, and complete the ensemble with my Mr. Cool sunglasses.

CR 4B H tucked in rock

The rocky sandstone trail takes us along the roadside stream, but then we soon turn inland toward the mountains.  The one-mile trail to the Hickman Natural Bridge is well-marked and busy this morning, with many of us trying to beat the noonday sun.

CR 2 Hickman Bridge with D

Can you see the Hickman Bridge in the foreground?

Unfortunately, the natural bridge is tucked within the mountain so that there is no dramatic vista beyond to give the bridge depth and perspective.   Check out what I mean in the picture to the left.  The rock formations behind it make it difficult for the bridge to standout.  It’s not a difficult hike and we are back at the trailhead within the hour.

Turning at the Visitor Center, we take the Scenic Drive to the trailhead of Cassidy Arch; now 1030A, with 100F predicted.  For two tenths of a mile, we walk the Grand Wash.  Wash (i.e. dry riverbed) walking is like plodding along on a fire road in the forest.  No personality, just directness and tedium ; the wash trifecta of rockiness, sandiness, and stoniness make it difficult to catch a hiking rhythm.

CR 4C D at CA sign

But…very soon, we turn to the mountains and the lung-heaving switchbacks of the 1.5 mile Cassidy Arch Trail (named for Butch Cassidy who hid out in caves in the area).  The first part of the Cassidy Arch Trail is a tough rock climb, with some stone scrambling thrown in where we need both hands on the boulders to climb the mountainside.

CR 4D H on sandstone trail

The trail is popular but certainly not crazy busy as was the trail to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park days ago.  Twenty-somethings and retirees are the ones we meet along the way.  The sandstone rocky trail requires us to pay attention to where we step.  Later we meet a ranger who hikes the trail by day being “boots on the ground” to be sure hikers are not in heat distress under such demanding conditions.

CR 4E D on stony trail with cairn

Cairns guiding the way to the Cassidy Arch

Just after halfway through our mile and a half assent, we see the Cassidy Arch in the distance.  At this point, we have done most of the 1000’ elevation gain of the hike, so there is less stress on my left knee and our breathing.  Thanks to Tylenol before we began hiking, regular stretching in our motel room, my compression sleeve, and serious icing afterward, I think little of my left knee.


Rappelling from the left at the Cassidy Arch

Within a half mile of the arch, we cross the sloping rock plateau where we are directed by the cairns that I remember from 24 years ago.  They are a godsend and direct us so we have just a bit of rock scrambling to get to the top of the ridge.

CR 5A D and H on CA

Atop Cassidy Arch

At the top, we spot college grads rappelling down from the top of the arch, and meet up with Janis, who turns out to be a fellow Wildcat (University of New Hampshire).  She offers, I’ll take your picture on top of the arch.  It’s not scary.  And right she is.  It’s a 25’ wide stretch above the Cassidy Arch, and turns out to be our favorite photo of the trip.

Descending 1000’ to the trailhead is tougher on the knees than going up, but we use a lot less energy on a cloudless day in central Utah.  We are so loving the out of the way-ed-ness of Capitol Reef and its potential as a hike for our grandsons, Owen and Max.  We look for them to add to the adventurous family legacy of their Mom as well as their Auntie Robyn and their Unkie (Will) here in Nowhere, Utah.

Dan and Hannah Pickle and Pick-up a Hitchhiker one June Friday in Utah

Hitch D and H with paddles

In addition to hiking the trails of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, Utah during this first week of June, Hannah and I also make it a priority to play pickleball when we travel.  Thanks to the United States of America Pickleball Association website, we can find pickleball venues all over the country.  Today we join Moab pickleballers for a morning of play.

Hitch pickleballers

Moab pickleballers

With pickleball paddles always packed in our suitcases, we are ready to play on the taped pickleball courts superimposed on the indoor basketball courts at the Center Street Gym here in downtown Moab.  Throughout the morning we whack the hard plastic pickleball with a school bus driver, a saddle and rope tree trimmer, an Iraqi expatriate, and the pro at the local golf course.

Hitch 80 mph sign

Pickleball satisfied, we leave by noon from Moab for Torrey, the Gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, 160 miles away.  Over our stretch of Interstate 70 in Utah, there is an 80-mph speed limit; I channel my inner Dale Earnhardt, junior for an afternoon!

Arriving at Capitol (with an O) Reef National Park Visitor Center, we pull in this mid-afternoon Friday to learn of two fine trails for our hiking Saturday (i.e. Hickman Natural Bridge Trail and the Cassidy Arch Trail – you guessed it; it was named for Butch).  Returning to our vehicle, an athletic woman, who we later learn is the mother of two college age young men, asks if I can give her a ride to her car.

Hitch thumb 2

Hitchhiking?   That’s a blast from the past.  As a college student who was a part of a generation that didn’t have cars in high school or college as many do now, I had a rich history in hitchhiking.   In the late 1960s, my brother Richard and I would hitchhike from our colleges (he Kenyon and me Wooster) in central Ohio to our Uncle Bill’s and Aunt Carolyn’s in Toledo on the Michigan/Ohio border.   We’d use a large sign that said, It’s Mom’s birthday.  It never failed – though it never was.

Hitch ASU

Transferring from Wooster to Arizona State University in 1969 to start my senior year, I wanted to check out the Tempe campus before my September enrollment as an elementary education major.  Getting a ride with my college roommate Mule (born Jim Francis) to his home in Idaho Falls, I then planned to hitchhike the 870+ miles south to Tempe.

My most memorable ride was very early Sunday morning when two cowboys, who had been drinking all night, picked me up.  Only once in the backseat did I realize their inebriation and my predicament.  I tried to tell them I was only going to the next town, but they were good ole boys and would hear nothing of it; in their happy state, they couldn’t do enough for me and took me an additional 80 miles.  As you can tell, I lived to tell this story.

Hitch Tucson

While a student at Arizona State, with my dormmate, Rich Meyer, I hitchhiked the 120 miles from Tempe south to Tucson for Thanksgiving; as two Jersey boys, it was too expensive to fly home across the country for that November holiday weekend.   Picked up by two dudes and a young woman, we were summarily dumped off on an empty country road when they wanted money and realized we had none.  Hitchhiking from there took some time; while we waited, we were pelted with eggs from a passing car.  None of the rich Arizona hospitality we were hoping for.

Hitch knoxville

At the age of 23 in 1971, I hitchhiked for the last time, from Atlanta, Georgia to Knoxville, TN where I ended up in jail; that saga is chronicled in a six-part series on my blog.   Click here for this link.  https://over60hiker.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/dan-has-some-explaining-to-do-about-being-jailed-in-knoxville-part-1-of-6/

Hitch Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef National Park

My instincts with the young mom this afternoon at Capitol Reef are to say yes and I do.

With Hannah in full agreement, we learn that Rebecka and her family have parked their car at the Chimney Tree trailhead, then hiked the five-mile Spruce Creek trail through a foot of water in places to the visitor center.  Custom is is that hikers than hitchhike back to their car.

HItch Rebecka and Hannah

Arizona Women, Rebecka and Hannah

During our ten-minute drive to her car, Rebecka tells us that her 19-year-old son picked me out as one who would likely give her a ride.  I guess being mild-mannered and unassuming opens doors.  It turns out she is from Tempe, Arizona, the same Tempe where Hannah and I spent the first ten years of our married life.  And get this, she taught at both Holdemann School in Tempe and Nevitt Elementary in Phoenix where I taught.

In ten minutes, Rebecka seems like the cool mom we’d all like to have.  Full of life, setter of boundaries while still making life fun and adventurous for her two sons and husband.  Here is the email she sent the evening after we met.

Dan and Hannah,

Thanks again for taking me back to my car.  It was nice meeting you both.   I’m pretty sure you will be taking highway 12 to Bryce Canyon.  This road is very scenic!  There is a crazy spot in the road after Boulder heading towards Escalante, beautiful scenery but steep on both sides of the highway.  After that part heading down there is a 6-mile hike to a 126-foot waterfall.  The hike is easy and well worth it (lower calf creek falls).  We hiked in and out in approx. 2-2 1/2 hours.    https://utah.com/hiking/calf-creek-falls-lower

Continuing on this road towards Escalante, there is a hike called Zebra Canyon.  You can access this off of the road Hole in the Rock.  5.2 miles round trip. After second cattle guard (approx. 7.4 miles from main road) park on the right and take trail to the left.  Can be tricky to find this slot canyon, and when entering the slot canyon, you get wet up to your waist.  https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/escalante/zebratunnel

Hitch Bryce panarama

Bryce Canyon is one of my favorites!  Drive safe and have a fabulous trip! 



Though we took another road to Bryce Canyon, we now have a 126’ waterfall on our Utah bucket list.

Dixie and Scot, are you in?

Dan and Hannah Hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

With one full day of hiking under my belt without any left knee pain, I am giddy and ready to go for the gold in eastern Utah!  Prior to our hike, I’ll do my hammy stretches, take my Tylenol, and slip on my compression sleeve – a dream threesome of preparation.

Can map of five parks

Hannah and I have history with Canyonlands National Park.  In 1993, with our kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13), we drove cross country from Maine throughout the American West: putting up two tents each night (a tent for Hannah and me and one for the kids), we learned the inexpensive joy of hiking and Coleman stove cuisine.

Camping at Devils Garden Campground in the Arches National Park, we five took a side trip to Canyonlands National Park, hiked some forgettable mountainside of stone, and left without the Canyonlands making much of an impression on us.

Can 1 D and H at sign for Can

Let’s be real, we didn’t give Canyonlands a fair shake.  Today we are back to right that wrong; to make up for that dismissive disregard of this treasure of trails.

Can Currys

Think of the Canyonlands as the little brother Seth Curry, a successful pro in his own right for the Dallas Mavericks, but dwarfed by his two-time MVP, NBA champion rock star brother, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.   Though Canyonlands plays second fiddle, let me tell you, it’s a helluva stringed instrument on its own.  It is a national park on a modest scale, without the delays, long lines, and circus feel that comes with the Arches; its distinctive trails across stony landscapes rock the senses.  (You saw what I did there, right?)

Can 2D H tucked in rock

Hannah tucked away just off the trail

Arriving at the visitor center at Canyonlands, at 930A we meet a less than enthused ranger.  (Come on honey, fake it till you make it.  I get that you are probably recommending the same %#&*# hiking trails hour after hour, day after day; but choosing to be Debbie Downer? – how is that working for you?).   Despite her sullen demeanor, she does steer us to three of the park’s signature hikes.

Can 1A trail to Mesa Arch

Trail to Mesa Arch

By the way, Hannah buys post cards afterward and they ask her if she would like to round up her purchase to the next dollar as a donation to the park.  How cool is that!  So, a sweet $0.83 goes to support what Ken Burns calls our National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Can 1B Mesa Arch

Morning at Mesa Arch

Five miles down the park road, we find a spot at the modest Mesa Arch parking area for 18 cars.  At 945A, we have a short and sweet 0.5-mile loop hike out to the arch, bustling with families of preschoolers and foreign guests, often from Europe. At the start of the trail, we see a tube with Mesa Arch brochures for 50 cents each.  Come on, who has coins in this day and age!  Ah, but the park service is wise beyond its years.

First, no one has coins!   Second, the park is encouraging patrons to reach out to fellow hikers and treat one another by buying two brochures for a dollar, then giving one away!  Brilliant!  So, with my shiny greenback, I look for someone to approach the tube.  Within 60 seconds, three folks from North Carolina approach.  At this point, I swoop in and say, I have a dollar to pay for your brochure and ours.

Can 1C D by cairns at Mesa Arch

Cairn on the trail to Mesa Arch

And then they do the unexpected.  They don’t say, No, no; they don’t say, We couldn’t let you; they say, Thank you.  A simple thank you.  I love me some Tarheels.

The loop trail to Mesa Arch is well-marked with red stone edges bracketing the trail.  Since it is such a short trail, it draws hikers of all shapes and sizes.  It begins a trend of great, family-friendly hikes in Canyonlands National Park.

Check out the video.  


Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel

On the way to Upheaval #1

Jumping back into the car (we can be quite the enthusiastic couple, hence the jumping), we head to the second ranger recommendation; Upheaval Dome Trails #1 and #2, two miles of hiking over red rock trails and massive stone formations.  Guided by cairns (i.e., piled rocks directing hikers over stony landscapes), we look out over the Green River here in eastern Utah.

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel 2

On the way to Upheaval #2

Twenty minutes later on the trail, a woman says, Are you from New York?  Seeing my ever-present Ithaca College white shirt, I say, I married a New York girl and our son works at Ithaca College; to which she replies, I work for legal services in Binghamton (NY) and we have an office in Ithaca.

Can 2B D and H with Suzanne

Hannah, Dan, and Suzanne in front of the Upheaval Dome

Brighter than many assume, I put two and two together and make the connection that our niece Lauren (married to my brother Richard’s kid, Jon) works for legal services in Binghamton!  It turns out Suzanne has worked with Lauren for years.

Cue the Disney music of It’s a Small World After All…  The mini-moral of this story is pick your hiking gear appropriately to make the most of chance connections.  By the way, I make that sartorial choice of white when hiking because white stands out in pictures in the wilderness.

Can 3A H at Whale

Hannah in front of Whale Rock

Hike #3 is not a cranky ranger recommendation, but it’s a winner.  A mile down the road from Upheavals 1 and 2, we are taken by the massive Moby Dick stone monolith – the appropriately named Whale Rock.  Hiking a short mile round-trip up the spine of the massive stone behemoth, we have another family hike in a family-friendly park.

Can 4A D at Grandview point

Grandview Point before a storm

Weary in the early afternoon, we push on to hike #4, the Grand Dame of Canyonlands, the classic Grandview Point Overlook Trail.  With the gray/black storm clouds building across the canyon, Hannah and I have another red sandstone trail over stony outcroppings, guided by cairns.

Can 4B H on Grandview Trail

Overlooking the canyon on the Grandview Point Trail

With the storms moving our way, we wonder if we’ll make the mile out and the mile back before the deluge.  Check out this video from Grandview Point showing the enormity and isolation of this area.

Hiking along with Lady Luck today, we make it back to our rented Nissan Altima ten minutes before the rain has her way, this eastern Utah summer afternoon.