Sunday, 29 June 2014

Bryce Canyon National Park

Leaving Cedar City on Utah 14, the road immediately began to climb again. The gentle slope quickly became steeper, and less than five miles out of the town, we were crawling upwards at 20 mph. We had the rare pleasure of overtaking a truck on the steep road, albeit an old one pulling a trailer full of heavy aggregate.

Unlike many other states that we’ve visited, Utah seems to be almost entirely covered in Public Land. You can pull of the highway almost anywhere and find a beautiful landscape in which to walk, drive around or camp, with few fences or gates to restrict movement. Even areas not nominally called National Forests, Parks or Monuments are usually owned by a public body such as the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, and have free public access. It is extremely rare that we see a Private Property – No Trespassing sign in Utah, and so a few miles into the forested mountains flanking Utah 14, we pulled over went for a walk. We walked up a badly deteriorated dirt road through the pine forest, finding rivers and lakes along the way, and in our two hours in the wilderness the only other people we saw were a group of three guys out riding their dirt bikes together.

Back on the highway we continued east, until we reached the turnoff for the 148, a road which passes through the Cedar Breaks National Monument. At over 10,000 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks is noticeably cooler than the surrounding area, and we stopped to take a walk along the rim of the magnificent red rock amphitheatre in the heart of the park.

Not feeling up to a steep hike below the rim, we continued on our way, eventually joining Utah 12, headed west towards Bryce Canyon National Park. By the time we arrived near Bryce it was late in the day, and not wishing to waste our money on a campground in the park, we drove into the adjacent Dixie National Forest on East Fork Road, looking for a place to spend the night. On our map, we found an unnamed forest road which branched off East Fork Road and appeared to lead directly into the National Park, near to Bryce Canyon Lodge.

East Fork Road is a wide, well graded and well maintained gravel road. The road which we came off onto, headed east towards Bryce, was significantly less convenient. It was narrower and rockier than we would normally choose to drive down, but the convenience of having a free, forested camping spot, just outside the park, was too appealing to resist. We found a place to park, sheltered amongst the trees and with a well-used fire pit nearby. In the morning we drove further down the four mile road towards Bryce; thankfully the road did not deteriorate, and we reached the park boundary safely and in good time. Unfortunately, what our map, and the sign posts failed to mention was that there was a locked gate at the end of the road. We could see the Bryce Canyon National Park Road from the gate which we were stopped at, but with no bolt croppers to hand, we turned around, and drove the 25 miles back to the park entrance, going the long way round.

We spent two days at Bryce Canyon, and felt that we did not need any more time there. The red rock hoodoos are certainly picturesque, and the below the rim trails are like wandering through a fairy-tale, but there wasn’t sufficient variation to make us want to stay any longer.

When I was installing the gas system in Jim, to supply the cooker with fuel, I fitted a fill gauge to the regulator in the gas locker, with the intention that it would give me enough warning that we were low on gas so that I could find a replacement before we ran out. Periodically I would open the gas locker and check the gauge to make sure that there wouldn’t be any unforeseen disaster preventing me from enjoying my eggs, bacon and coffee the next morning. I was therefore understandably peeved, when mid-way through cooking dinner, we ran out of gas. I checked the gauge less than a week previously, and as it has done since we hit the road six months ago, it continued to read as full. With no gas left, the gauge did indeed read as empty, but what good a gauge which stays reading full for 6 months and then suddenly drops to empty in less than a week? I understand the difficulty in using the pressure to monitor the state of fill, when most of the gas is in liquid form in the bottle, but why bother even making and selling a gauge which works so badly? Does anyone know of a better way to check how much gas is left, without taking the bottle out and shaking/weighing it?

In truth I was pretty surprised that a 13kg propane bottle had given us six months’ worth of cooking. We have used the cooker every day, most of the time for making a tea or coffee in the morning, and to make a hot meal for dinner; I would have expected it to last less than half what it did. I was just annoyed that even with the addition of a fill gauge, we still ended up with half cooked prawns and a pot of undercooked rice. Thankfully before we left the UK, I had the foresight to buy a converter hose which would allow me to connect a US propane bottle to my UK/Euro regulator. It is not common that I successfully manage to plan for an event so far ahead, but I suppose I must have understood the complete ball ache I would have had, trying to make a converter whilst on the road, or getting a BSP threaded bottle refilled in a country that uses NPT thread.

As in the UK, the simplest way to get propane in America when you have run out, is to exchange your empty bottle for a full one through a major distributor. AmeriGas seems to be the largest supplier, and like Calor in the UK, you can exchange your empty bottle for a full one at almost all petrol (gas) stations, hardware stores, or even supermarkets. We have seen a multitude of propane bottles whilst travelling the US, and they clearly come in all shapes and sizes; however the choice from AmeriGas is far more limited. I would have liked to have gotten a bottle of similar capacity to the empty British Calor Gas bottle, but the AmeriGas bottles sold absolutely everywhere, only come in a 6.8 kg size. If I’d have bought an unbranded bottle of a different size, I’d have had to find a place to refill it when it was empty. No doubt getting a bottle refilled is possible, but certainly it would not be possible in every tiny town we pass through.

The morning after running out of gas we visited a gas station at the park entrance and bought a replacement bottle. Changing over from our British gas bottle was easy with the adapter that I’d bought with. I simply unscrewed the flexible hose from the regulator, replaced it with the hose with the US propane fitting, and screwed the fitting onto the connector of the AmeriGas bottle. I’ve had a Calor bottle for years, and probably have a small deposit tied up in it, but we do not have space to be lugging an empty propane bottle around with us and so we left it at Bryce. I don’t suppose a bottle with BSP threaded fittings is much use to any Americans, but there’s an empty 13kg UK propane bottle sitting at the registration hut of the Sunset Campground at Bryce Canyon if anyone wants it.

With a hot coffee and a breakfast of eggs and bacons inside us, we once again got back on the road, continuing east on Utah 12, towards the north side of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park.

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