With an early start, we were able to appreciate the effect of the sun’s low angle on the landscape, and the contrast of deep shadows and brightly-lit rock faces as it rose in the sky. We also saw ice at the edges of streams and snow in the bush as the highway rose to higher altitudes. A couple of times, we passed farmers’ fields crusted in white ice where the irrigation systems had been running before the sun got warm enough to melt it. We smiled as we passed a lone horse, standing next to the crusty field, wondering how he was supposed to get a drink in these conditions.
Highway 12 meandered up and down through high plains, deep valleys and mountain passes, switching back in serpentine patterns as it climbed and descended. Every time we came to a blind curve or hilltop, it was like waiting for a surprise to reveal itself. Gradually, as we turned around the bend, a whole new array of rock formations came into view, or, at the top of the hill, a vast landscape of peaceful valleys, rolling hills, rocky monuments and purple mountains far in the distance, dazzled us once again.
We pulled over multiple times to drink in the beauty all around. Each spot was unique, and I began to think I was going to end up taking a photo of every rock in Utah at the rate I was going! But they were all so amazing!
The variety of the ter-rain we cov-ered today was incre-dible. High plains farm-lands. Pine-forested mountains. Rock-bor-dered gor-ges. Flat, red-sanded desert. Desolate, grey moonscapes. It was as if we were turning the pages of a life-sized picture book every few miles, where nothing resembled what had come before.
On the plain, Val spotted a jackrabbit on the shoulder of the highway. I didn’t manage to see it, but seconds later, there were three of them, and then five more, all caught unawares by our arrival, and bouncing madly into the tall grass.
Then, in the pine-forested mountain section, I saw a deer. Then we saw six or eight of them by the road. We’d never seen so many together, and Val was able to pull over so I could snap a picture. The deer eyed me apprehensively but stayed put for a time before deciding they’d best move on – long enough for a couple of good shots. (We’d seen a herd of eight or ten elk between Bryce Canyon and our RV park a couple of days ago, too, which I forgot to mention. Quite a sight.)
It was at the crossroads of Highway 12 and Highway 24 that we saw a roadside eatery and stopped for lunch. By this time it was warm enough for us to eat at the outdoor table in the sun. What a treat.
Not long afterward, we saw the sign for Capitol Reef State Park, another protected territory full of rocky castles and turrets, striped mesas and slot canyons, all served up right along the highway, free of charge. Amazing.