It was about a 9.5 hour drive from Winter Park, Colorado to Escalante, Utah where we would begin our 3-day backpacking trip. We were not concerned about making it all the way because we thought the first day hiking would be easy, so we remained flexible on timing. We also didn’t plan on where to stay that night, deciding to pick a location based on the progress we made.
It is odd going on a road trip during Covid. On one hand, you are in your car isolated from people. On the other hand, every stop means new opportunities for infection.
One rest area had a system set up so that everyone went in one door, they had all door open so that the only door you had to touch was to your stall, and then we all exited the other door. It felt good to see such innovation.
We still didn’t stop anywhere we didn’t have to, and made decent time.
As we approached Utah, towns were few and far between. We planned to camp that first night, and mid-day I began looking into camping spots around where I thought we would be.
Capital Reef National Park Campground in Torrey, Utah? That sounds fantastic – and was right on our way! The website said it was booked. But that couldn’t be true, right? It had 72 spots and was open year-round. This was October, in Utah, during Covid. Surely it was going to be empty, right? I thought maybe they were closed due to the pandemic, but called with no luck. I discovered that I could book about 4 weeks out, so maybe it was booked?
I looked into other campgrounds in the area. These were all closed for the season. Hmmm. What to do? We started to think we might need to find a hotel somewhere. But where? The towns we would pass between our current location and our destination all looked very small. But Torrey had a number, so we decided to look around.
On our way, as we got into Capital Reef National Park, we passed the campground. It was packed! Then we passed a trailhead – there were cars lined up and down the road. People everywhere. Oh no…what was going on? We are not fans of crowded areas, especially not with a pandemic.
As we arrived into town, we stopped at the first hotel – one I had found online and thought looked okay. I got out of the car and asked about a room. Booked.
What? Again we were dumbfounded. It was late enough that we didn’t want to leave town without knowing we could find a place to stay down the road. So we started checking at other local hotels.
We found one with two rooms. We took one! Paying a little more for a larger bed and a view of the red rocks.
The clerk didn’t have a mask on. At first I didn’t think anything of it…whole faces used to be normal after all. Then I started to wonder. Tired and desperate, I just kept my distance, handed over my credit card and signed where told.
Later, when we walked to a nearby restaurant and market, signs alerted us to the fact that we were in a ‘mask-optional’ location. Servers weren’t wearing masks, and neither was the market clerk. I suppose these are things one should consider looking into before traveling during a pandemic.
We drove into town and found a burger food truck. I had wanted a burger anyway, and despite a very long wait, our meal was fantastic! And we could stay outside and keep distance. Most tourists were masked, while locals less so.
As for all these people, the hotel clerk told me that September and October are their busiest times of year and they are regularly sold out during these months. This year, the international travelers all cancelled, but then Americans started booking in July and August as they planned closer-to-home vacations – just as we had done.
We had just about a 90 minute drive, and then it was time for hiking! Hopefully away from people, though we were worried given the crowds on the National Park trails. Hopefully they would not be travelling on the less-known, longer trails. It was also a Sunday and I thought…just maybe the crowds would calm down on Monday.