Category Archives: Utah
(This is part 2 in my 2008 vacation blog. You can read part 1, about the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, here.)
Dirt roads. You never know what you’re getting into when you see a dirt road marked on a map. They can be a rutted trail where even a 4WD only lurches along at barely 10 mph, or a wide, raised, recently-graded throughway where you can sail along at 40 mph or faster. Until you travel ’em, it’s just a tossup which one you’ll get.
So, when I knew we’d have to travel 16 miles down a dirt road in order to get to our cabin in southwestern Utah, adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park, I was a little nervous. Not so much because I’m scared of dirt roads; on the contrary; I love ’em, even the bumpy ones. But, as this cabin was the access road for our excursions into Bryce Canyon, I didn’t want it to take us an hour to traverse it each time, in and out. But, when we turned south off of Utah 12 onto South Fork Road/Forest Road #087, my hopes increased. Indeed, it’s a very smooth road throughout the length of it that we travelled.
I found out, while we were there, that it’s an “official” Scenic Backway, which is why (I guess) it’s so nicely maintained.
It’s also an exceptionally beautiful road to travel. On the northern end of it, it’s a little dry, since the East Fork of the Sevier River is dammed to make the Tropic Reservoir, but it’s still forested with pines, with glimpses of Utah red rock on the hills bordering the road.
As you continue south, the elevation rises just a bit, and the terrain changes quite dramatically to lush meadows divided by a wandering creek, forested all around, with hills on each side. Each mile we travelled south, my heart just continued to rise in my chest. It was better than I’d hoped for. But, then… I’m from the desert, and all you have to do is fill a landscape with a few green hills and a meandering stream, and I’m highly contented. I realize, though, not everyone favors such views. In fact, if you live somewhere green, and you’re blase about pastoral valley scenes, you may just want to stop reading right now.
It became a bit misty as we drove, however, that just intensified the greens. The road travelled by a mostly-dry creekbed for seven or eight miles. Then, we reached Tropic Reservoir, whose dam was the reason for the creek having no water in it. Tropic Reservoir was bigger and more lovely than I’d imagined. Once we passed it, there was water in the creek. (I’m still not sure if it was the East Fork of the Sevier River, or East Fork Creek.) All along East Fork Road, we passed (and were passed by) numerous trucks, RVs and ATVs, and passed a good number of camps along the way. (And quite a few flyfishermen in waders, standing in the creek.) It didn’t feel crowded — just fairly well-used. I’m not an RV’er nor an ATV’er, but I could see how appealing it might be to gather the wagons with family and friends and camp out in such a valley for a weekend or longer.
Finally, our destination, Podunk Guard Station, came into view:
And, here’s the little drive up to the cabin:
The creek is rather tucked away in the brush, but, obviously, the boys were drawn to it immediately. That’s Grant and Wes down by the creek, with Ethan coming down the road.
It wasn’t very wide nor deep, but during our four nights there, Martin and the boys (and even Audrey, a bit) spent a LOT of time fishing. Ultimately, they only caught four keepers — Brook Trout, all — but they caught an additional 15 or 20 little guys that they threw back. Both Ethan and Grant had caught fish on previous trips, but this was Wesley’s first time catching any on his own. He caught one, assisted by Martin, then later, caught one entirely by himself. Of the 250+ pics we took this trip, not ONE did we get of the boys with their fish. Oh, well.
Here’s the creek, which flowed through the front “yard” of the cabin:
The cabin didn’t really seem all that small. It had a large-ish living area that contained the kitchen and futon/couch. There was a table with four chairs, and a fold-down table/pantry/thingie to provide more table space, and one additional chair. We pulled up a camp chair to seat everyone for meals.
It also had a bedroom with two sets of bunks, where the boys slept.
The cabin is reservable, and rents for $30 a night (plus a one-time booking fee of $9). It was built in the 1920s, and had a bit of updating done recently: new panelling throughout, and nice, new, crank windows. One bummer is that the wood stove was completely non-functional. It’s my guess that it is too heavy or wide to take out of the cabin, so they just leave it in there, filling up space in the corner of the kitchen. I stored my cookpans in it, and used the top to put our ice chest upon. It also had a sink — with a spigot, but no running water — and a stove, powered by propane. One internal propane light in the kitchen, as well. No electricity. I can do without electricity, but water would have been nice. It’s my guess that the water used to be piped from the creek, but it’s now unsafe to use because of the cows which roam around the property. So, we had to make the eight-mile daily trip to a spring by Tropic Reservoir to fill up our five gallons or so that we used daily. My only serious problem with the cabin, though, was that the pilot lights on the stove wouldn’t stay lit — two on the cooktop, and one in the oven. That meant that we had to go outside and turn off the propane after each time we used the stove (then go through the hassle of re-lighting all the pilot lights for the next meal), or else propane would seep into the cabin. And, of course, we turned it off every time we left the cabin, and at night… but the bummer about that was that we couldn’t use the propane-powered kitchen light, then, either. Good thing we brought two Coleman lanterns.
No running water means no showers, of course. We’ve discovered that while showers are nice in the woods, we’re not dependent upon them. However, if we would have stayed a day or two longer, we would have taken advantage of the pay showers at both Bryce Canyon and nearby Red Canyon campground.
One exceptionally nice feature of staying in a place so small, and elevated on a hill, was that while I was indoors doing dishes, or preparing a meal, I could look out of own window and see “the boys” all fishing down at the creek, and look out the opposite window at Audrey, who liked to play on the little hill behind the cabin, picking wildflowers and displacing rocks.
The window on the left was over the sink, looking down towards the creek. On the far left of the pic is the permanent outhouse. Outhouses are not my fave, but if they’re necessary, at least it’s nice when they’re well-maintained, as this one was. (Oh, and the quaint brick chimney? That’s for the non-functional woodstove.)
The property to the cabin was surrounded by an old wood fence. I thought there must be 20 acres that the cabin was sitting on… my husband thought, five, tops. I called the ranger station after we got home, just to see if they knew how many acres it was. The ranger said, “Well, I don’t imagine it’s more than five.” Well, it’s a BIG five — from the road, including the creek, up the hill, and a wooded section past the cabin. The fence usually did a good job keeping out the cows, who are best viewed (and smelled) from some distance… One night we did come ‘home’ and there were three deer in our yard, sipping from the creek.
Here are Ethan and Audrey, comin’ round the corner:
Off the back porch was a concrete area with a picnic table, charcoal grill and firepit. We never did use the picnic table, as all our lunches were eaten while we were at Bryce Canyon NP, and during all our dinners it was dark and/or raining. In fact, it rained all four days we were there, but not steadily, and it didn’t decrease our enjoyment of being there. Finally, the last night was clear, and though Martin had a blazing headache and had to lay down early, the boys and I lit a big fire in the firepit and roasted marshmallows. It’s just not a vacation without roasted marshmallows.
When not fishing, the boys spent a lot of time outside, of course, either down by the creek, or up by the cabin, gathering “spears,” which they sharpened on a handy “whetstone” they found. We also explored the “forest” on the property. On one venture, I gathered a wildflower bouquet with 17 different kinds of flowers.
Here’s the back porch area:
At 8600′ elevation, the days we spent there, in late July, were in the 70s or low 80s. It never felt warm enough to play in the creek, so we just used it to toss in pebbles, and to fish. Nights dipped down into the 50s, but it seemed snug in the cabin, and we slept with the windows open. As I mentioned earlier, it rained most days, but it never was a downpour, and it seemed like the rain would blow in, then blow out an hour or so later. And, never was it rainy enough, nor cold enough that we had to stay indoors.
All in all, other than the water issue, we found Podunk Guard Station to be absolutely ideal, both as a destination in itself, and for its proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park. (As the crow flies, Bryce is actually less than a mile east of the Podunk property, but one has to drive the 16 miles down East Fork Road/FR#087 and then two miles east down Hwy 12 into the national park itself. We did find a back road that took us to the property line of Bryce Canyon NP, but the road ended in a barbed-wire fence.)
So, if you’re not a high-maintenance kind of family, and you’re looking for cheap and scenic digs, Podunk is the way to go. Think of it as camping without having to pack the tent, and with a LOT more space and privacy. With many campgrounds now more than $20/night, and most other cabins WAY more than $30/night, Podunk is a steal. Even with my researching, penny-pinching ways, I was hard-pressed to find any place else where I can easily fit my family of 6 for four nights for $129. That’s less than ONE night in a cabin at the Grand Canyon North Rim.
Two more pics. Here’s the view off the back porch:
And here’s our family, right before we reluctantly left:
Since I’m such an explorer at heart, I never want to go to the same place twice. However, I hope we can return to Podunk, maybe even next year!
I always get very excited about summer vacation plans. I simply love the planning, the anticipating, the deciding… My husband, not so much. He’s a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guy, or at a minimum, make plans a few weeks ahead of time. However, this absolutely doesn’t work for a family of six, especially one that has only one income and needs to be frugal. And, when, honestly, I’m the one that does most of the prep-work for the trip, I need more than three weeks’ notice.
Our frugality is different from each other’s, too. Martin would pretty much rather spend absolutely no money year-round, and then splurge on special occasions, which makes them shorter and more infrequent. (Like, don’t buy any clothes, live in the same stuff you’ve been wearing for 10+ years, then buy me a $80 shirt.) I would rather spend virtually no money year-round, and still be frugal on special occasions, which make them able to be more frequent, and longer. (Like, buy clothes infrequently, and when I do, get them from the clearance racks, spending $4 or $5 for a shirt.) But, we’ve pulled out a compromise with which we’re both happy for this year’s trip.
I started crafting some tentative ideas TWO summers ago, actually, when I was planning our trip to Colorado to visit Martin’s parents (who have since moved back to Arizona), and I stumbled upon National Forest Service cabins. I was in awe. “A cabin for $25??? I don’t care that it has no amenities. I’m in.” Actually, I’m partial to tent camping, both because it’s cheap, the kids adore it, and we’re out in the midst of nature. But Martin, who bears the brunt of the work whilst on the trip, has had enough of setting up, tearing down, packing and re-packing the back of the Suburban. He wants to actually relax. And, we’ve tried camping with friends a couple of times, and that does lighten the load, but then you have the mixed blessing of sharing your time with another family or two, and trying to coordinate everyone’s plans, meals, expectations, needs, kids, etc., which really doesn’t make for much of a relaxing, “getting away from it all” kind of time. So, I’ll have to put off my dream of camping Limekiln State Park in California for yet another year. Or two. Or whenever he feels like camping again.
So, tent-camping-preferences aside, the various National Forest Service cabins are really a great idea. Many of them are former Ranger cabins, built in the early 1900s, when transportation and communication were much less reliable, and the far-flung ranger stations weren’t enough to effectively administrate all that needed to happen within a National Forest. Most of them are in the absolute middle of nowhere, which suits our whole family just fine. Most are not slick accomodations; they’re camping cabins. What I mean by “camping cabins” is that they’re rustic, usually without electricity and running water. For posh folk, that might sound a bit scary, but when you’ve tent-camped for years and years, any kind of stable shelter is a luxury. And, the vast majority of them are under $50/night. Given that many tent sites are now $20+, spending $30 for an actual cabin doesn’t seem like that much of a leap.
When I started planning this summer’s trip in earnest, back in January, I was hoping to get up to Yellowstone National Park. ~sigh~ That’s a no-go. Dear Hubby doesn’t want to drive that far. So, a great compromise is that we’re going to stay close to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. I went there twice as a kid, and have great memories of its otherworldly landscape. It’s also above 8,000′ in elevation, making for a nice, cool trip. It also has a great selection of easy and moderate hikes, which are good for the kids. AND, I found a NFS cabin, at only $30/night, only about 15 miles away from the park. The cabin itself isn’t a thing of beauty, but its location is ideal. The East Fork of the Sevier River (which, to my understanding, is a glorified stream, but that’s OK) flows right through the property, and out-of-state fishing licenses in Utah are really reasonable ($32 for 7 days, only needed if you’re age 14+). And, it’s a very easy drive to Bryce Canyon NP. Excellent!
Inspired by the trip I took last May to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with my mom, aunt, uncle, and four kids, Martin also wants to see the Grand Canyon. He’s 41, and though he’s a native of Arizona, he’s only been to the Canyon once, and that was when he was a teen. He’s never been to the North Rim. So, going there again is fine with me! You could go every year to the Grand Canyon, and it wouldn’t be too often. However, I knew that the North Rim cabins up there book very quickly, and are typically booked 6+ months in advance. (That’s another reason I started planning in January.) However, I didn’t have the needed release of funds to book in January. So, when I called about a reservation early this morning, I was told that there were only single-nights spotted here and there throughout the summer, with no 2+ consecutive nights available until the end of August! That was very disappointing. We wanted to go sooner, and I’d really rather not have our vacation while I’m 7 months pregnant. So, I talked it over with Martin, and while not ideal, we decided to go ahead and book a single night, hoping for a date in early-mid July. I called again, and as I was talking to the lady on the phone, two nights, mid-week, towards the end of July popped up available on her screen! I said, “I’ll take them!” The reservation is for the nice Western Cabins that are made out of real limestone and full timber, each with their own porch with two bent-wood rocking chairs, all just steps away from the Rim. I actually was hoping for a Pioneer Cabin, which, while not quite as attractive, nor as close to the Rim, have more beds. I felt badly, because on the phone (the new management company has no internet reservations), I had to reserve it as 2 adults and 3 kids. Kids are free, but as there are only 2 queen beds in the cabin, they management company has a policy of a max of five people in each. However, when we stayed in May, we reserved the TEENSY Frontier Cabin, which has one single and one double bed, and the lady at the reservation desk when we reserved in person, said we could squeeze in as many people as we could! I hate feeling even a tad dishonest. If it weren’t for my experiences up there last May, I don’t think I would have reserved our family of six as a family of five.
I posted this backwards; we’re going to start our trip at the Grand Canyon, then go up to Bryce Canyon (which is only about a 3 hour drive). On our way back, since Bryce-to-Phoenix would be a reeeeeeealllly long day, we’re going to stop in Flagstaff. I found… wait for it… another National Forest Service Cabin about halfway between Flagstaff and Williams. It’s pricier, at $100/night, and we’re only going to stay one night. But, it has electricity, and plumbing, including hot water and showers. It also has space for 8 people, and a horse corral, so we’re hoping that Martin’s dad & stepmom (and their horses) can join us. After we overnight, we’re hoping to take the Grand Canyon Railway train up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, mostly for the fun of riding on a train. Tickets for our whole family would be a whopping $270 for coach, but Martin’s aunt works for the railway, so we’re pretty certain we can get some sort of discount, hopefully even travel for free. The train is a turnaround day trip, travelling 65 miles up to the Canyon in 2 hrs and 15 minutes, then having about a 2 1/2 hr layover at the Canyon, and travelling back.
In all, it’ll be 7 nights, 8 days. Woo-hoo!
(If anyone wants help finding your own NFS cabin in your neck of the woods — or close to it — let me know. I still have the itch to plan, and I’d love to help you plan your own trip!! Also, they can be rather difficult to find, but I know the way!)