Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Eve in Cathedral Valley Campground, Utah

                                   “Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1999.”
                                                                             --- Prince (1982)
Do you remember New Year’s Eve 1999 and the predictions of worldwide cataclysm?  Do you remember where you were on that momentous evening a dozen years ago?  Journey back in time with me as I recall ringing in the new millennium on this memorable outing...
If you were looking for a place to get away from it all on December 31, 1999 you couldn't find a better spot than Cathedral Valley campground in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah—accessible over miles of rough dirt roads.
Tim and I rolled into the campground on that frosty afternoon and set up camp, taking in views of snow-capped peaks to the west and of 500 foot tall sandstone monoliths in the valley to the north. 

Our Cathedral Valley campsite.
        We walked to Cathedral Valley overlook to snap sunset pictures and were rewarded with clearing skies and end-of-the-day golden light casting shadows in a valley of orange, red and gold cathedrals. 

Cathedral Valley—aglow in the late afternoon light.

         As the sun dipped below Thousand Lake Mountains Tim built a roaring campfire and heated our beef stew dinner on the coleman stove. 
By 7:00 p.m. we had taken seats by the fire and huddled under wool blankets to ward off the falling temperatures.  No other hardy souls ventured into the campground; we’ll be celebrating the final night of the 1990’s in solitude.

Lengthening shadows in the valley.
         Shortly after 7:00 we were treated to the sounds of coyotes yipping and howling, and chukars clucking and calling.  After this wildlife serenade all was quiet save for the crackling of our campfire.  The deathly quiet of this remote desert is so intense as to be almost deafening.
At 9:00 p.m. we noticed two lights in the valley, about 10 miles away.  The lights flickered, then disappeared—leaving us alone again and wondering if there are others camped in this vast desert tonight?

Sitting by the campfire before dark;
only seven hours to go until midnight!

         10:00 p.m. and time to turn on our battery operated radio and tune in to the clear channel AM station from San Francisco, broadcasting live from Times Square in New York.  We listened to the countdown to midnight and the ball drop on Times Square, then clicked the radio off—enjoying the silence of the desert for the next two hours until our private New Year’s celebration.
A few minutes before midnight Tim poured icy sparkling grape juice into two naturally chilled crystal stemware glasses.  When Tim’s watch hit 12:00 we toasted the New Year/Century/Millennium under a clear star-filled sky.   We then crawled into the tent, climbed into down sleeping bags, and cuddled under two down comforters.  


January 1, 2000
It’s the dawn of the 21st century!  We woke to beautiful blue skies to the north, dark stormy skies to the south and a light dusting of snow on the ground. 
Our first meal of the new year was a delicious one—scrambled eggs, bacon, onions, potatoes, and corn muffins.  Nothing compares with breakfast outdoors after a night in the tent.  After breakfast we cleaned up, packed the tent and, and stood on top of the picnic table to change our clothes, invigorated by the 25 degree air.
We left our campsite and continued on the loop road down and through Cathedral Valley.

Parked by the Temple of the Sun.
Our red Ford F-150 is still with us, hauling us
and our camping gear to the ends of the earth for over 14 years.

        After driving 20 miles across the valley floor we encountered a group of 10-12 year-old children and a few adults, all dressed in 1800’s clothing and wearing wool overcoats.  Two large handcarts stood next to the group, piled high with 19th century camping gear.
The group was reenacting a pioneer handcart expedition, a journey their ancestors had taken many years ago.  The lights we saw in the distance last night must have been the coal oil lanterns used to light the way on their arduous trek. 
We nodded to the group and continued on, safe in the knowledge that we weren’t all alone in the universe after all.  But if those doomsday predictions had come true and world-wide chaos had ensued, I doubt we would have noticed—out here among the Temples of the Sun and Moon.

How did you party when it was 1999—did you spend New Year's Eve in a special place, or attend an unusual celebration?  
If you’re interested in visiting nature’s cathedrals in Capitol Reef National Park, visit this website:  http://www.utah.com/nationalparks/capitol_reef/cathedral_valley.htm
Have you ever seen or heard a chukar?  You can read more about chukars here:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chukar/sounds/ac

Happy New Year 2000 and -----
Happy New Year to all in 2012!


  1. Wonderful story, and terrific photos as always!

    As to my personal recollection of New Year's Eve 1999, there was some partying, but mostly I was concerned/curious to see if the "fixes" I put in place for my corporate database would withstand the dreaded Y2K threat! Everything worked out okay, and so the real celebrating began on the night of 01-Jan-2000! :))


  2. Happy New Year, Rita,

    Wow - what an amazing experience to have encountered a 19th century reenactment at the dawn of the 21st century! Plus, all those beautiful sandstone monuments. Thank you for sharing all of these gorgeous photos. My millennium experience, sitting around watching the Times Square ball drop on TV, certainly can't compare to the wonders of Cathedral Valley!

  3. That is very cool! Beautiful monuments, I'd much rather be out there than sitting in a living room watching the ball drop! Awesome :)