We drove into Torrey, took a left at The Intersection of Highway 12 and 24 and checked into Austin’s. The property is really pretty with nice large trees, a beautiful fenced pool/hot tub/patio area, scattered picnic tables, a few cabins and several outbuildings including the large store. We took advantage of the Laundromat and soaked in the hot tub while we waited. The pool made a nice bracing counterpoint when you began to get overheated. We switched the clothes from the washer to dryer and returned to the tub for a few more minutes. It was nice to have such pleasurable access to a laundromat mid-trip. It cut down on the luggage a bit. When the clothes were done, we went back to the room for a quick shower before dinner.
We were returning to Café Diablo – our last dinner there was in 2004. We arrived early so there was plenty of seating available. We chose to dine indoors and enjoyed seeing all the wacky coyote artwork again. We ordered a couple of Margaritas and some rattlesnake cakes. They arrived as a pair on a plate with two sauces; cilantro pesto and a chipotle sauce along with some savory slaw. The sauces and slaw were excellent but the snakecakes were kind of plain, and we couldn’t find any distinctive flavor we could have called “snake” - not that we’d have any idea anyway. I guess now we can say we’ve eaten rattlesnake…
Naturally I ordered the chipotle glazed ribs and Sharon was willing to give the turkey tenderloin with veggie masa a try. We ordered another round of margaritas and munched on the complimentary platter of grilled veggies after a warning to be careful of the jalapenos. We ignored the warning and polished it off - jalapenos and all. Just in time too since the entrees were coming right up. The ribs were good as expected although a little fattier than I remembered. Still, it is a large portion and there were plenty of wonderful morsels to be found.
Sharon enjoyed the turkey and vegetables…it was a choice cut that we’d not seen before. We thought we were finished but they don’t really ask you what you want for dessert at Café Diablo. They just bring a platter of samples to your table to torture you. They are all made in house so it is irresistible. We ended up ordering a pear tart made from Fruita pears and homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a slice of carrot cake to go. Yup… we’re pigs.
It was still light out when we left so we drove into the park and took a stroll along the boardwalk to see the petroglyphs. The sun was breaking out from behind a cloudbank as it was getting low in the sky and was reflecting warmly off the sandstone cliff across the road. There was even a faint rainbow.
It was a little too dim for pictures of the petroglyphs but we took some anyway. Mostly we enjoyed the cooling air and the play of light on the canyon as we stretched our legs after a wonderful meal. Once it got dark, we drove back to Austin’s and watched the tube for awhile. There was talk of a low pressure system headed into the northwest but no real idea about how it would impact our weather. The forecast was for a warm day tomorrow with afternoon thunderstorms flaring up. Same as every other day of the week so far. We went to sleep planning on spending the day hiking in Capitol Reef.
When we woke up on the Tuesday after Labor Day in Torrey, our plan was to spend the day hiking in Capitol Reef six miles down the road. We were in no hurry so I started making a nice strong pot of coffee to start the day. Sharon had picked up some freshly ground beans in Springdale at The Mean Bean, and this had become our morning routine. When it finished perking, I brought two steaming mugs back up to the room. We shared the carrot cake from Café Diablo with our coffee and watched the Weather Channel. We learned that there was a storm front moving in on Wednesday, and if it came far enough south, it could make travel on the 30+ miles of backroad to the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead impossible.
We reluctantly decided to change plans and attempt the Great Gallery hike today. From Torrey, it would take about two hours to the trailhead followed by about four hours to hike in and out of Horseshoe Canyon.
We showered and left as quickly as possible. Had we been following the original plan, we’d have made a much earlier start since we wouldn’t have been returning to Torrey but camping at Goblins State Park. Oh well. The Great Gallery hike was to be, for me, the highlight of our trip. We’d tried to go on our last trip, but a storm front had denied us the chance. I was determined to make it this time. We stopped at the Capitol Reef Visitor's Center long enough to learn that the rangers concurred with our opinion...go today...tomorrow may be a bad idea. It was almost 9am.
We hopped back into the Jeep and beat feet. We made good time since there was little traffic and the roads are mostly straight and flat. I had an eye on the sky as we rocketed north and east through Hanksville past the unique Hollow Mountain minimarket that is carved into the sandstone.
We passed a pickup hauling a large cabin cruiser and saw several others along the way. All these boats in the middle of the desert seems incongruous until you remember that you are on the main road between SLC and Bullfrog on Lake Powell. While the weather seemed fine now, if the pattern repeated today, thunderstorms would probably start bubbling up in the afternoon.
We made it to the turnoff to begin the 30 miles of dirt that would take us to the trailhead. We passed the sign warning that ‘the road will become impassable in a storm’ and proceeded as quickly as the road allowed. The 30 miles of dirt road was in pretty good shape since it had been recently graded to repair flood damaged areas that looked a week or so old. Good news/bad news.
After an hour on this dirt road, through scrub and across sand, we made it to the trailhead. As expected, there was no one else there and the logbook showed that only one couple had hiked in and out the day before. We loaded our packs with a couple of gallons of water, some trail mix, binocs and raincoats. Of course the camera gear was charged and ready in our hip packs as well.
We actually started the hike at about 11 AM, at least 2 hours later than we would have had we stuck to our original plan. While it was a lovely temperature at the moment, I knew that we’d be coming out during the hottest part of the day. They were predicting temps in the low 90s F.
The Great Gallery hike is 7.5 miles or so round trip. The trail starts by dropping 1.5 miles down to the canyon floor with an elevation drop of 900' or so. This part of the hike is like walking down uneven stairs until you get to the last half mile or so which is deep sand.
While this hike is a bit shorter than The Fairyland Loop we did at Bryce, it is so remote and you are so alone that you have a greater feeling of vulnerability. I reminded Sharon to be careful, since a twisted ankle would become a huge problem. I was really reminding myself though since I'm the one with the "trick" knee and a foot that was crushed in a tractor accident 25 years ago. I have to make sure I lead down with my right foot to avoid hyper extending the bad knee. About two-thirds of the way down, we went through a cattle baffle designed to keep stock out of the canyon which is a remote section of Canyonlands NP.
The final sandy stretch gives you a good view of the canyon below. It was a lovely green oasis with trees and grasses growing along the banks of the wash. From this vantage, the wash looked dark red as if damp.
We walked down the sandy trail to the wash, crossed the muddy stream bed and began to follow the trail by watching for the cairns that mark the way.