Next up on our road trip was heading to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. While parks like Bryce Canyon and attractions like Antelope Canyon have mass appeal, some of the other national parks in Utah are just as spectacular, but can often be overlooked. Prior to our trip, a friend had told us that we HAD to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in Staircase, and that it was one of her all time favorite hikes! So we made sure to include this hike on our trip, and picked out a nearby campground to stay at the night before. However, to our dismay, the campground we had chosen (which had first come, first serve sites) was completely full, and our backup was also totally packed! We did not expect this during the slow season on a week night, so we were a bit stumped about what to do next! So we stopped at one of the very few shops we had seen along the drive to ask if they knew any other local camping spots.Well, as luck would have it, this inconspicuous mini-mart was hiding a handful of sandy camp sites out back!! So although our bathroom would be a wooden outhouse attached to a gas station, we had a home for the night! We happily pitched our tent, surrounded by tall rocky mountains and short trees (and a conveniently located general store right behind us!!)
It had been a few nights since we’d cooked dinner ourselves, so we decided to make a big vegetable and sausage fry up. We also cracked into our Trader Joe’s snacks, and had white beer and rye crackers with pumpkin butter as we chopped and fried!
We had a lot of veggies to go through, so we made sautéed zucchini with tomatoes, balsamic, salt, and pepper.And a big pan of peppers, onions, and sausages! Cooking is pretty enjoyable when your stove top is also bench where you can chill and drink beer ;)After dinner, the sun started to set, and a chill crept into our camp site. As weren’t allowed to have a fire, we decided to go for a drive and find a cafe where we could have a nightcap.Hi little moon!This adventure lead to the best meal of our trip! We found Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm on Google Maps while searching for a restaurant within driving distance, and this spot was only a 10 minutes from our impromptu campground. So we hopped in the car and swung by, and were surprised to find the parking lot packed and a wait that queued out the door! We were in the middle of nowhere, in Boulder, Utah (a remote town with a population of 225 people!) and seemingly 30% of the town’s population had gathered at Hell’s Backbone Grill! We decided that with all of the hype, we HAD to wait for a table, so we cozied into a chair in the lobby, and started looking through the restaurant owners’ cookbook, which had been left open on a table next to us. We thumbed through recipes and stories of the farm, immediately enthralled with the restaurant’s ethos and amazingly delicious looking food! Then and there we decided that this was not only a cocktail expedition – it would also be a second dinner excursion! After about 20 minutes we were seated at a cozy table, which was candlelit and surrounded by gords.And while I still got that spicy margarita I was craving, we also ordered goat cheese fondue and homemade lamb meatballs . . . . which were served with a big basket of warm biscuits.All of my photos from dinner came out incredibly dark, but ohh my god, if you go to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, you HAVE to go to Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm! Super second dinner worthy in my books!The next morning, we were pretty cold, so Kai cooked us eggs while I drank hot cocoa in the heated car. Tough life, I know ;) We then packed up camp (which we could do in 10 minutes flat by this point!) and drove to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Lower Calf Creek gets its name as it served as a natural calf pen more than 100 years ago. Part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s charm is that it only became a protected area 20 years ago under the Clinton administration. The area is some of the most remote in the country – it was the last to be mapped in the contiguous United States. Sadly, the US’s current administration cut the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half, meaning that much of this land is no longer protected. Having experienced this part of the country first hand, I can say that it is incredibly breathtaking, filled with arches, canyons, and hoodoos, and should be enjoyed in a respectful manner, regardless of what our current administration decrees. The trailhead Lower Calf Creek Trails is located at the Calf Creek Campground on Highway 12, 11 miles south of the town of Boulder (where we had our dreamy second dinner the night before!) The hike is 6 miles round trip, and is described as moderately difficult. That said, Kai and found the trail fairly flat and the hike to be quite easy. This was probably also down to fantastic fall weather and great conditions on the trail (no other hikers around, a well marked path, an early start so the sun wasn’t too intense, and my favorite hiking buddy!) We loved watching the terrain change on this trail. At the trailhead, we snagged a leaflet that provided information on the various plants, mountains, and landmarks along the path. So Kai and I stopped every 15 minutes or so, at which point Kai would proudly read out details about the greenery and milestones we passed.It was literally the perfect fall day! Before long, we could see our final destination off in the distance!We hiked through the woods, and right up to a beautiful sandy beach that sits in front of the falls. Kai and I took some portraits and ate the lunch we had packed by the falls, getting sprayed by mist that flew from the falls! Luckily, as we were just about to leave, another couple came along who were kind enough to take our photo!With the sun now high in the sky, we started the hike back to our car. Not as nearly as exciting as hiking to a waterfall!But equally beautiful!After our hike, we wanted a coffee, so we again consulted our friend Google, who told us that Kiva Koffeehouse was about five minutes from the trailhead.Kiva Koffeehouse was spectacular for many reasons – firstly, the cafe was perched on the edge of a tall mountain with amazing views. Secondly, the greenery (above) around the coffee house was fragrant and a colorful sight to behold! And finally, the scones were to. die. for!