I didn’t expect to pick apples, eat home-baked peach pie or find local watermelons on a trip to the desert in late September.
So when researching Utah national parks, I was intrigued with Fruita in Capitol Reef on the itinerary. Fruita is a 200-acre historic district described by Pulitzer Prize western author Wallace Stegner as a “sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs” that was settled by Mormons around the turn of the century. The settlement structures include a barn, blacksmith shop, school and homestead, which now serves as a pioneer demonstration site. Orchards invite park visitors to pick their own fruit, weigh it and pay on the honor system.
The pies, jams, salsas and other goodies sold there aren’t actually made from the fruit grown in the valley but sold to pay homage to Fruita’s heritage. We snagged a six-inch peach pie before they ran out and devoured it along with trail mix for lunch.
Earlier, our quickest route from Arches National Park to Capitol Reef took us through Green River on Interstate 70. The town had just celebrated Melon Days the weekend before. Since we were just passing through, we didn’t get a chance to taste or even thump the local melons, but the cantaloupe we had the next day was super sweet. Next time, I’ll sample more and see how well it fares with the Hope, Ark. and Saline, La watermelons I’m more familiar with. Post trip reading, I did pick up this tip from the owner of Dunham Farms, one of area’s leading producers, on how to pick a watermelon.
A ripe watermelon, when tapped, is supposed to have the same pitch as a B-flat, said Nancy Dunham.
How does a B-flat sound?
“Pat your stomach and listen carefully to that sound. Then pat the melon and see if the sound of the melon matches the sound of your stomach.”
The Red Canyon Trail paralleling scenic Route 12 on the outskirts of Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah provided the perfect morning ride. It took us an hour and a half to ride the gentle uphill trail from Thunder Mountain Trailhead (pictured) for about four miles to a point where it looked like we were going to have to walk our bikes uphill. The elevation grade was gradual—a change from the flat trails we are used to in Louisiana but no really steep hills. We were sluggish after five days traveling, but we also made frequent stops for picture taking (there are two stone archways along the highway), water drinking and simply saying “ahhhh” at the sun shining on those red rocks. Our efforts were rewarded with a 10-minute downhill coast.
Our hotel was a Quality Inn along U.S. Hwy 89 (rooms were divided into western groups—we were the stallions). It was outside Panguitch and away from Bryce Canyon entrance but just right for squeezing in this ride before visiting the national park.
(An interesting note. We only passed one other cycler along this late September Friday am ride. Light bicycle traffic also was the case earlier in the week along the Moab Canyon Ride in Utah. I was a bit concerned with safety as there was only one other car at our starting point parking lot, but there is a campground and visitor center for Dixie National Forest and lots of cars along the highway. The trail follows the road for the most part but dips into the forest out of road view. But it doesn’t appear there are a bunch of thugs in Utah looking for trouble.
I also was intrigued with the name Dixie National Forest. We were in Utah — miles from any state in the old Confederacy– to visit the national parks. I was vaguely familiar with them but not Dixie National Forest. My attention was captured when I saw a “DSU” bus in Arches National Park near Moab. In Mississippi, DSU is Delta State University but I noticed the color was red rather than Delta State’s green. I looked closer and saw Dixie State University and then we drove through the beautiful Dixie National Forest. As it turns out Brigham Young brought in settlers from the Deep South in an attempt to grow cotton there, thus the Dixie name. More research and I discovered Dixie State U. was recently refused inclusion in the University of Utah system because of its name and related affiliations – dorms named after plantations, “Confederate” yearbook. Google it.
I’ve peddled away from the bicycle story but I thought that was an interesting aside. It’s also a suggestion that if you see something intriguing along the trip, jot it down and research it at night or when you get back home. It extends the vacation experience!
It was a Southern Living article about five years back that first put me onto Ree Drummond, a.k.a. The Pioneer Woman. I began following her blog, watching her Food Network show and seriously planning a vacation to rural northeast Oklahoma where she lives.
I’ve probably made somewhere between 48 and 63 of her recipes and have absolutely loved all but one of them—pulled pork cooked in Dr. Pepper. Sorry, I grew up close to Memphis and know better ways to cook a pork shoulder.
Hubby also is a huge fan, and it was his idea to take a detour through Osage County, OK on a road trip out west to try to get a glimpse of what Pioneer Woman’s world “in the middle of nowhere” must be like.
Also, anyone following her blog knows she is renovating a building in downtown Pawhuska, Osage’s county seat, for her husband’s ranch offices and eventually, a retail store and deli. We had initially hoped that the store would be open by the time we got there but as time went on we knew the best we could hope for would be a peek inside at the construction progress .
Indeed, we did get to look inside and met with project manager A.J. Hamilton, who graciously pointed out some of The Building’s architectural features and sprinkled in some of Pawhuska’s history . Pawhuska is still the tribal headquarters for the Osage Indians, once some of the wealthiest people in the United States thanks to the early 1900s oil boom in Oklahoma. The First National Bank, diagonally across from The Building looks untouched from that era and we strolled across to the lobby as A.J. suggested.
After riding around town and stocking up the ice chest at the Pawhuska Hometown Foods (frequently seen on Ree’s TV show as the store that doesn’t have fresh basil), we headed toward Ponca City on Highway 60 and what did we see? The sign to “Drummond Ranch.” The Drummonds, including the extended family, have been listed on Internet sites as the 17th largest landowners in the United States. Since the gate was open, we headed up until we saw some horses led by a four-wheeler driven by one of the Drummond girls. Then, we thought we were a bit intrusive and turned around.
Looking forward to heading back to Pawhuska when The Building officially opens.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way