Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horsethief Campground outside Canyonlands National Park - Campground of the Week

It's too cold to even think about camping in northern Utah right now...in fact it's snowing in as I write this. So if you've got camping on your mind, you've got to be thinking southern Utah, where it'll be considerably warmer. It was actually perfect near Moab this past weekend, where Sonja and I spent a couple days working on landscape photography and squeezed in a little bit of climbing as well.

Saturday morning we woke up early to catch sunrise with our cameras at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. If you're interested in the details on how to photograph the iconic landmark, check out my article here on www.examiner.com. We arrived late Friday night, so we didn't want to drive all the way into the park, but wanted to be within striking distance Saturday morning for our date with the magic of sunrise. So we stayed at one of my favorite BLM sites in the Moab area, Horsethief Campground. You can also find this description with all the campgrounds in the state of Utah in my guidebook Moon Utah Camping.

Horsethief Campground Scenic rating: 7

This new campground is an excellent alternative to the limited camping options in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. The campground is a few miles from the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. The large campground sits on a plateau-like landscape with expansive views to the southwest of the 11,000-foot peaks of the Herny Mountains. Well-spaced sites with flat gravel tent pads sit in a pygmy forest of pinyon pine and juniper trees. On the downside, these small trees and the scrubby sagebrush dotting the campground provide little shelter from the sun or wind. In this desert environment that regularly sees temperatures above 100 degrees F, this lack of shade is a real concern. Three gravel loops named after different horse breeds lead to sites with good privacy.

Campsites, facilities: There are 60 sites for tents and large RVs. Picnic tables, barbeque grills, garbage service, and vault toilets are provided. There is no drinking water. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are not accepted. The fee is $12 per site. Open year-round.

Directions: From Moab, drive north on Hwy. 191 for nine miles and turn left onto Rte. 313 following signs to Canyonlands National Park. Continue 12 miles on Rte. 313 and turn right onto a gravel road signed Horsethief Campground. Continue 0.5 mile to Horsethief Campground.

GPS Coordinates: N 38 35.050' W 109 48.854'

Contact: BLM Moab Field Office, 435/259-2100

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway: the best scenic loop drive in the Wasatch

The scenic Sunday drive is an American Classic! Like Thanksgiving turkey, apple pie, or Super Bowl Sunday, the Sunday scenic drive is an American tradition. Americans have always been fond of their cars and there's no better way to enjoy your automobile than taking it for a cruise. No traffic, no pressure, no time limits. Just you, your car and the road, and the scenery, of course. Not all scenic drives are created equal however. One of the key components of an enjoyable scenic drive is that it needs to be close to home, yet far enough away that it feels new and exciting.

If you live along the Wasatch Front, there's not a prettier stretch of pavement for a weekend gettaway than the Alpine Loop connecting American Fork Canyon and Provo Canyon. The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway (State Route 92) can be approached via American Fork Canyon through the town of Alpine, or alternatively from Provo Canyon (US Highway 189). Either way you approach it, the Alpine Loop promises stunning vistas and brilliant fall scenery. The loop drive curles around Mt. Timpanogos, one of the most dramatic summits in the Wasatch Mountains. Along the way, get out and stretch the legs by checking out Timpanogos Cave National Monument in American Fork Canyon. If you're interested in extending your outing, consider hiking up to the cave system. This is the last weekend the cave is open for tours before it closes for the season. The three cavern cave system is accessed via a paved trail that gains over a 1,000 feet. The cave can only be visited with an official National Park Service tour. Tour tickets are available at the monument, the tour takes approximately 3 hours.

Provo Canyon's Bridal Veil Falls offers another beautiful opportunity to get out of the car along this drive. The narrow ribbon of falls cascades down a 600 foot high step-like limestone rock formation on the south side of the canyon. The falls can be viewed by pulling off the highway at the Bridal Veil Falls/Nunn's Park parking lot. A short walk up the Provo River Trail (0.5 miles) will lead to the base of the falls.

The Alpine Loop Drive is best done in the next few weeks. Early fall storms have cloaked the upper reaches of Mt. Timpanogos in a blanket of white (see the photo above), adding to its already dramatic appearence, but the road remains snow free. The road won't be open for long though, it closes for the winter season as soon as it's covered by snow.

Here's the view looking west down American Fork Canyon - Photo by Mike Matson

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