Panic to Perfection at the Grand Canyon

After completing our tour of the Mighty Five–the five national parks in Utah, it was time to move on and what better icing on the cake than a visit to Grand Canyon National Park? The North Rim was just 98 miles away, close enough not to be missed. Grand Canyon Village on the south rim, on the other hand, was 253 miles away. We decided against that option as we’ve been to the south rim several times in the past. We’d never been to the North Rim, however, so that became our next destination.

As I’ve mentioned before, finding lodging was sometimes a challenge and cell phone coverage was an even bigger challenge. When I finally got a signal, I called the Grand Canyon Lodge and just missed securing the last cabin inside the park by minutes. Kaibab Lodge, the closest accommodations outside the park, was fully booked as well. My next option was Jacob Lake, 45 miles north of the North Rim Visitor Center. On our way to the North Rim, we stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn and found they had only a couple of rooms still available. Since the place looked a little rustic to me, not in a charming way but more tired and worn, I asked to see a room. They refused to let me see one because they were still cleaning and it was before check-in time. So I asked if I booked the room and it wasn’t suitable whether they’d refund my money and they said no. All my suspicions were aroused but they had us over a barrel. There was literally nothing else for another 40 miles. We hoped for the best, booked the room sight unseen, and drove on to the North Rim.

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Check out the flip flops which are part of this story

We went directly to the visitor’s center.

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Jim, Grand Canyon NP

With breathtaking views, the visitor center is a comfortable place to enjoy the moment and relax awhile, both inside and out.

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Inside the North Rim Visitor Center

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North Rim Visitor Center patio with a view

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View from the North Rim Visitor Center

 

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Taking in the view from the North Rim Visitor Center

The trail to Bright Angel Point was only 1/2 mile round-trip so we thought we’d take a quick look. Jim asked if I wanted to go back to the car to put on my hiking boots but I didn’t want to waste the time so off I went in my flip flops. Big mistake! 

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Trail to Bright Angel Point

I saw our destination in the distance and captured it on the photo below. I cropped it so that you can see it better below that.

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Looking to Bright Angel point from the trail–see the people on top?

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Close-up of Bright Angel Point

The trail was wide and paved at first. The views were a little hazy but impressively magnificent.

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Jim in the shadows on the trail to Bright Angel Point

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Bright Angel Point Trail

As the trail narrowed, the drop-offs seemed to get closer and I felt very unsteady walking in my flip flops. Finally, I had a full-blown panic attack and was unable to take any more photos. I kept inching along the trail and Jim tried to talk me through it. When we reached drop offs on both sides of the trail with no railings, I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue but somehow I did. When we got to the final outcropping in the photo above, I stayed back by the tree. Of course, now I regret it and I especially regret  my lack of photos from Bright Angel Point. The lesson is: Wear your hiking boots!

After our hike to Bright Angel Point, safely back in the car (where I donned my hikers), we drove to Point Imperial, the highest elevation in the park at 8803 feet. Along the road, yellow aspens whispered and shimmered in the sunlight, displaying autumn splendor at its finest.

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Drive to Point Imperial

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Point Imperial

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View from Point Imperial

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Definitely a ‘thumbs up” view at Point Imperial

We returned to the visitor center in time to enjoy a romantic dinner outside on the patio while we watched the sunset. The food served on the patio is the same as the food in the restaurant but glass is not allowed outside so it’s packaged in styrofoam, not the best presentation but tasty nonetheless. Jim ordered the venison meatloaf which was delicious and I stuck with my usual salad.

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Ordering dinner

 

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Jim’s generous portion venison meatloaf and my salad.

 

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North Rim Visitor Center looking toward sunset

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Sunset over the Grand Canyon

 

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Grand Canyon sunset

Sunset did not end our experience at the North Rim. September 27, 2015, happened to be the night of a rare occurrence of a total lunar eclipse of a super full moon, and a blood moon at that.

My camera is really not suitable for photographing events like this but I did the best I could. We thought at first the clouds would prevent our sighting of the event but they passed.

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Clouds obscuring the moon

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Lunar eclipse of super blood moon

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Lunar eclipse of super blood moon

It was a perfect ending to an extraordinary day. But wait, we still had to drive 45 miles back to Jacob Lake and check into our hotel room. After braking six times for numerous deer bounding onto the roadway, our nerves were frayed by the time we arrived. We were grateful not to have to drive any farther and my hotel room standards were lowered by each deer sighting. Happily, our room was fine and I can recommend a stay if you can’t get lodging in the park.

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Jacob Lake Inn

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Jacob Lake Inn

 

Based on events from September 2015.

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Mukuntuweap (Zion)

Because a rock slide blocked the east entrance, we entered Zion National Park (Mukuntuweap) from the south entrance adjacent to the town of Springdale, population 548. Parking, as I told you in my last post, is a huge issue. We first arrived in the afternoon and all lots inside the park were full and closed. We searched Springdale for street parking to no avail. We finally found a lot off the beaten path requiring a bit of a hike to even reach the shuttle into the park. That accomplished, we boarded the shuttle and rode the short distance to the park.

Once inside the park, the only way to see the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is on the free park shuttle. This service, initiated in 2000, reduces the traffic, parking issues, and pollution, and provides a measure of protection to the park.  We decided to ride to the last of the 8 stops, the Temple of Sinawava, so that we would see the entire scenic route from the bus before we got off at each stop on our way back to explore further.

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Jim riding the Zion Canyon Shuttle

The Riverside Walk, an easy 2.2 mile, partially paved trail, begins near the Temple of Sinawava bus stop. We enthusiastically joined the throng.

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View of the Virgin River from the Riverside Walk

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Respite along the Riverside Walk

The hanging gardens along Riverside Walk in the picture above and the video below are fed by trickling waterfalls. Watch the upper right corner of the brief video to see the trickling water.

At the end of the Riverside Walk, hardier hikers continued on to the Narrows, a strenuous trail over 9 miles long that is only accessible if the water is not too high. Signs everywhere in this park warn visitors to be aware of conditions, take care, and bring water.

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Swimming in the Virgin River at the end of Riverside Walk

 

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View of the Virgin River from the trail

 

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Jim at the beginning of the Narrows

On the return trip, I had an experience that is worth sharing. There are squirrels everywhere and they appear to be tame…probably from too many tourists feeding them. I had just seen a photo of a hand with a squirrel bite in the Zion National Park Map and Guide with the caption, “The squirrel bit me in less than a second” along with the  admonishment, “Wild animals can hurt you. Do not feed them.” Then I saw a child around middle school age trying to pet a seemingly tame squirrel while her mother watched! I couldn’t contain myself. I said, “Please don’t try to pet a wild animal that will probably bite you! Read the park guide and see what damage they can do.” They both just gave me that “mind your own business” look. I moved on, not wanting to see what happened next.  Please help keep wildlife wild.

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One of the many “tame” squirrels that frequent the area

The next stop was at Big Bend where I took this shot of the Organ and the Great White Throne.

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The Organ and the Great White Throne

Weeping Rock boasted more hanging gardens fed by trickling spring water.

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Weeping Rock

Friends who have met the challenge strongly recommended we hike to Angel’s Landing but as a recovering acrophobe, I thought that was pushing it. This 5.4-mile hike is billed by the national park as strenuous with “long drop offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit” (Zion National Park Map and Guide). I have no regrets about our decision.

Here are more spectacular views along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

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View along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

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Another view of the Great White Throne

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As we rode the shuttle bus back to the visitor center, the driver told us that the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway was cleared of the rock slide and reopened that day at 5 pm. (This road is normally open to vehicular traffic unlike the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.) We decided to get our car and drive this road through the long tunnel. That morning we had driven from the east entrance to the tunnel where the road was closed which I covered in my last post.

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Views along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

 

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

 

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

 

We readily identified the location of the rock slide by the debris remaining in the area and the orange cones still on the road.

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Where the rock slide was located on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

We drove through the 1.1-mile tunnel and then turned around and drove back. I especially wanted to see the gallery windows. I’ve been through many tunnels but I’ve never seen a window in one. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any photos out the windows because you can’t stop or slow down in the tunnel.

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Entrance to the 1.1-mile tunnel on Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway

 

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Light shining in through one of the gallery windows

When we decided against the hike to Angel’s Landing, we determined instead to hike the  Emerald Pools Trails early the following morning. The Lower and Upper Emerald Pools Trails combine an easy and a moderate trail totalling a little over 2 miles. We climbed  enough to the Upper Emerald Pools that I felt like I had hiked further than just 2 miles, however.

We arrived before the crowds and had no trouble finding a parking place. Zion is a very different place without the crowds. If you’re a morning person, as I am, get there early to experience the peaceful nature of Zion without the crush of people.

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Early morning at Zion NP

We saw few people along the trail as we started out.

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Trail to Emerald Pools along the Virgin River in the early morning

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Enjoying having the trail to the Emerald Pools to ourselves

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Jim on the trail

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Check out the cacti

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Beautiful trail view

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The climb gets steeper

When we arrived, I realized why they are named Emerald Pools. The reflection in the pools of the greenery surrounding them is indeed emerald.

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Emerald Pool

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Emerald Pool

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Emerald Pool

The waterfalls along the trail were especially impressive. I took several videos to better showcase them.

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The end of the trail crossing the Virgin River

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Back to the parking lot that was now full with cars circling like vultures waiting for our spot

After our hike to the Emerald Pools, we were ready to have a picnic lunch then hit the road for our next adventure even though there are lots more things to see and do in Zion National Park. We barely scratched the surface but we believe we got a pretty good overview and enjoyed a memorable experience.

 

Based on events from September 2015.

 

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Mukuntuweap aka Zion

Zion, our fifth national park visit in Utah, was last but certainly not least. It has a huge TADA factor. According to National Geographic, Zion is the 6th most visited national park in the US, drawing over 3.6 million visitors each year. I have no idea how many visited in September when we were there but it seemed like it may have been all 3.6 million.

Mukuntuweap National Monument was established in 1909 by President William Howard Taft. Mukuntuweap, meaning straight canyon, was the name given to this area by Southern Paiute inhabitants around 1100 AD. The early Mormon pioneers renamed the area Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order enlarging the monument and officially changing the name to Zion National Monument. The following year it became Utah’s first national park (National Park Service, 2016).

In an earlier post, I told you the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway into Zion from the east was closed because of a major rock fall on September 23. At breakfast in our hotel restaurant in Mt. Carmel on September 26, we learned it was still closed. Nonetheless, we drove to the East Entrance.

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We wanted to see what we could of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway up to the second tunnel where the road was closed. On the map below, I’ve marked the entrance and the closure in red to show how far we could drive into the park.

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Zion National Park brochure map (public domain)

With plenty of scenery and wildlife along the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, we didn’t mind the fact that we would eventually arrive at a dead-end.

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

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Scenes from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, Zion NP

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Bighorn sheep on the rocks along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy

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Another herd of Bighorn sheep

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First tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy in Zion NP

The most difficult section of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to construct was this 1.1-mile tunnel below. I was fascinated to learn that the first step was to blast holes into the cliff face which would later become gallery windows with incredible views from inside the tunnel. Once the windows were blasted, workers had access to the interior of the cliff where they could continue to blast and drill the tunnel. When the tunnel was dedicated on July 4, 1930, it was the longest of its kind in the U.S. (National Park Service, 2016).

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The 1.1-mile tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway where the road was closed

 

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Yet another herd of Bighorn sheep from the rear

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The Bighorn sheep were bold enough to cross the road right in front of us

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We watched 2 rams pursue this ewe a good long while and thought we’d see them lock horns but this guy apparently won out.

Once we saw everything on the east side of the closure, we drove back the way we came and then drove around to the south entrance at Springdale, about 120 extra miles. While Jim drove, I looked for lodging on my smartphone with spotty coverage at best. There were no rooms to be found in Springdale. The closest room I could find to the park was a Best Western in La Verkin, about 20 miles away. As it turned out, lodging is much more reasonably priced further from the park so we weren’t unhappy with our choice.

We arrived at the south entrance in the afternoon. Here’s a tip: Get there early. The parking is limited and the overflow is directed to park on the street or in lots in Springdale where there are shuttles to deliver visitors to the park. The shuttle goes down the main street only so if your parking is off on a side street like ours, you may have a bit of a hike to the shuttle. So get there early!

Next time I’ll share scenes and stories from our exploration of Zion from the South Entrance.

 

Based on events from September 2015.

 

References:

National Park Service. Zion National Park. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/zmchighway.htm

 

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I Found My Park Hiking the Hoodoos

Pun intended.

I think most visitors agree that Zion reigns supreme among the mighty five national parks in Utah. My pick, however, was Bryce Canyon. The unmatched beauty of the hoodoos called to me in a way that no other park has.

So, you ask, “What’s a hoodoo?” If another play on words wasn’t too lame, I’d say, “It just stands there and looks pretty. (If you missed both puns, leave a comment. I’ll explain.)

Imagine giant gothic sand castles made by dripping, drizzling, and sculpting wet sand into lumpy spires. Like this.

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Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon NP

These spectacular geologic formations weren’t really formed by adding sand but rather by weathering processes that removed the rock in interesting ways. Frost wedging occurs when water seeps into cracks, freezes and expands, making the cracks ever wider as the process continues. Additionally, acidic rainwater sculpts the limestone by dripping onto the rock and carrying off particles of it. The end-result of this weathering after eons is a hoodoo.

We first spotted hoodoos at the Mossy Cave Trail along Hwy 12 before we even knew we had entered Bryce Canyon National Park. We saw a parking area with hoodoos in the background and pulled over for a better look.

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Mossy Cave in Bryce Canyon NP

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Trail to Mossy Cave, Bryce Canyon

It’s an easy trail of no more than a mile roundtrip but the views are quite stunning.

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Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon NP

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Mossy Cave Waterfall, Bryce Canyon NP

After this outstanding introduction, we were definitely excited to see more. Unfortunately, no rooms were available inside the park at Bryce Canyon Lodge. We checked into  Ruby’s Inn Best Western, a historic and somewhat campy hotel that claims to be the closest lodging to the park entrance, then headed back to Bryce for more captivating views.

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Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

Luckily we were in the park at sunset which was spectacular.

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Sunset at Bryce Canyon

 

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Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP

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Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP

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Sunset at Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon NP

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Moon over Bryce Canyon NP

We returned early in the morning for sunrise which was beyond spectacular.

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Sky at sunrise over Bryce Canyon

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Sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP

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Sunrise at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon NP

With two incomparable experiences now behind us, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail.  We planned to visit Queen Victoria Hoodoo then turn around and come back up the same way.

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Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon NP

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Queens Garden Trail

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Hiking the hoodoos

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Hiking the Hoodoos on Queens Garden Trail

Queen Victoria Hoodoo really did look like the British queen to us. On the photo below, look at the top of the hoodoo. It’s a side view of the portly queen holding her hands in front of her and a crown on her head. Do you see it?

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Queen Victoria Hoodoo

Once our mission was accomplished to reach the bottom of the canyon and hike to Queen Victoria Hoodoo, it struck us as premature to immediately hike back up the trail. Why not enjoy the bottom of the canyon with the flat trail and shady respite? We decided to hike the combined Queens Garden and the Navajo Trail route which is only 3 miles but the climb of 580 feet at an elevation in excess of 8000 feet was plenty strenuous for us.

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Hiking the Hoodoos at the bottom of Bryce Canyon

We saw signs at the trailhead and along the trail warning hikers about loose rock and rock slides with admonishment to wear appropriate foot gear. Then we would see girls on the trail in their flipflops.

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Trailhead warning

 

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Cautionary sign along the trail

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Hiking the Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon NP

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Wall Street section of Navajo Trail

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Looking down the Navajo Trail from the trail above

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Look closely to see the people behind us climbing the trail on switchbacks below

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Back at the top on the Rim Trail of Bryce Canyon NP

The park offers a “Hiking the Hoodoos!” challenge to encourage visitors to be active in the park. You must hike at least 3 miles and have photos or rubbings from the benchmark survey markers. I took a photo of one of the markers below.

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While we didn’t participate in the program, we are proud to proclaim we met the challenge and I found my park hiking the hoodoos.

 

Based on events in September 2015.

 

Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Find Your Park at Capitol Reef

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Entrance to Capitol Reef

I love the national park slogan, “Find Your Park.” When we planned to visit Capitol Reef, my first thought was, “Find your park back story about the name.” The national park website told me Capitol comes from the white sandstone dome in the photo below that early settlers believed looked like the U.S. Capitol. (It’s the pointy one, third from the left.) Reef refers to the ridge formed by the Waterpocket Fold, a hundred mile long geological wrinkle in the earth found here. Thus Capitol Reef. And now you know.

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Capitol Dome

We stopped first at Behunin Cabin, a 215 square foot one-room cabin built by Mormon pioneer Elijah Cutler Behunin in 1883. The family moved to Fruita after just a year due to repeated flooding that destroyed their crops. I don’t know how many Behunins lived here but they eventually numbered 15 so it was undoubtedly crowded.

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Behunin Cabin

Elijah Behunin donated land for a school in 1896 where his oldest daughter served as the school’s first teacher at the age of 12. Kids must have been smarter then. Classes continued in this building until 1941.

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Fruita Schoolhouse

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Inside Fruita Schoolhouse

Our hike to Hickman Bridge was one of the most memorable of our trip. (Remember from my earlier post, a geological bridge is like an arch with water under it.) On the trail, we met a couple from Iowa who told us they had encountered a huge boulder in the middle of the road in Zion National Park from a rock slide early that morning. This would effectively close the road until it could be removed and the road repaired. So in addition to a wrinkle in the earth, there was now a wrinkle in our plan. Ah, well, we had Bryce Canyon to see first so we crossed our fingers that the road to Zion would be reopened before we got there. Thankfully, no one was injured because this couple arrived on the scene literally minutes after the event.

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Trail to Hickman Bridge

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Trail to Hickman Bridge along the Fremont River

 

We met another couple at Hickman Bridge, two young men from Washington, DC. One of them was with National Geographic and the other worked for a non-profit. We hit it off immediately and when Jim told them about my travel blog, we had a great travel discussion and even exchanged business cards. Then I tripped over my own feet and punctured my bum on a tree root sticking out of the ground and they had to help me up. I’m sure the memory is burned into their minds forever and I still have the scar to remind me of the experience.

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Hickman Bridge

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Hickman Bridge

 

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Hickman Bridge

The Fruita Orchard within the park is open to the public with 3100 fruit and nut trees that produce at various times of the year. We happened to be there at apple harvest but other seasons include cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts. You can pick and eat whatever is posted as ready for harvest at the time. If you want to take produce with you, you weigh it and leave payment in the metal box. The apples were $1 per pound.

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Fruita Orchard

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Fruita Orchard

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Jim using the apple picker at Fruita Orchard

The Fremont Petroglyphs, inscribed by early Puebloans and named for the Fremont River, decorate the red sandstone in many areas throughout the park. They are prominently displayed, however, directly off the highway along a pleasant walking trail.

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Fremont Petroglyphs

The Castle, visible from the highway, is another well-known landmark within the park.

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The Castle at Capitol Reef NP

As we exited Capitol Reef National Park, we took the scenic drive down Utah State Route 12 on our way to Bryce Canyon. When we stopped for gas and groceries in Escalante, Utah, I asked at the grocery store about buying wine. They directed me to the state liquor store which we finally found after much searching in Escalante Outfitter’s. According to their website they offer “tours, food, gear, cabins, and camping.” While not advertised, they also sell alcohol in a small closet at the back of the store caged in by chicken wire.

Once we procured the wine, we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park where I would indeed, find my park.

 

Based on events from September 2015.

 

 

 

Categories: History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Needles, Butler Wash, and Natural Bridges

We planned to miss the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park because the road to the entrance was an additional 50 miles off the highway. Then a ranger told us about an alternative called Needles Overlook that was only 22 miles off the main road. That fit our schedule better so we decided to have a look. I think there was one other vehicle the entire time we were there. This gem is definitely a well kept secret. We hiked to Needles Overlook and Indian Creek Viewpoint which were both easy walks with stunning rewards.

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Jim on the trail to Needles Overlook

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View from Needles Overlook

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View from Indian Creek Viewpoint

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Colorado River Overlook

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Me on the trail where the soil surface and hard surface meet

Just west of Blanding on Utah SR 95 we stopped for a one mile roundtrip hike to Butler Wash Ruins, cliff dwellings of the Anasazi dating from 1200 AD. The trail begins on gravel but quickly becomes slickrock so be careful and mind the cairns to stay on the trail. Much of the trail is uphill going to the ruins which makes the return more pleasant.

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Jim on the trail to Butler Wash Ruins

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Jim climbing the trail to to Butler Wash Ruins

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Butler Wash Ruins where Anasazi lived in cliff dwellings

Our final stop for the day before dinner and a hotel, was at Natural Bridges National Monument. Fortunately, we still had enough energy to tackle the bridges because it was intense. Or so we thought until we encountered an 80 something year old woman who went to the bottom of all three bridges…making us look like hiker pikers.

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Natural Bridges National Monument

If you read my earlier post about Arches, your first thought may be, “What’s the difference between an arch and a bridge?”  A bridge crosses some kind of water at one time or another whereas an arch does not . Both are formed by erosion, however.

Your second question may be, “What’s the difference between a national monument and a national park?” A monument preserves a significant natural resource and a park protects a variety of resources within a significant area. Bridges National Monument, the first national monument in Utah, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to preserve the three natural bridges found here.

The trail to Sipapu is billed as a strenuous hike. Elevations ranging from 5500 to 6500 feet provided an additional element.  The trail began with stairs and as I climbed down, I told myself, “I have to climb back up at the end of the hike so keep a little in the tank for later.”

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Stairs at Sipapu Bridge trailhead

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Jim and more stairs on Sipapu Trail

We encountered a class that was listening to a lecture as we hiked to Sipapu Bridge. I wondered if they were resting on the way back.

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Sipapu Trail

When we saw the views after some fairly rigorous hiking, we decided not to go all the way to the bottom.

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Sipapu Bridge

The second bridge was Kachina and we decided right away not to go to the bottom since the view from the overlook was superb. If you can’t tell where the bridge is on the photo below, the green trees in the center of the photo are below the bridge.

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Kachina Bridge

Finally, we hiked to Owachomo Bridge. We did go all the way to the bottom of this one.

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Hiking to Owachomo Bridge 

 

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 Owachomo Bridge

 

 

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Selfie with Owachomo Bridge behind us

 

 

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Beneath Owachomo Bridge

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Owachomo Bridge above us

Whether you’re a hiker or not, this is a great place to spend some time. There’s a driving loop with stops and views of each bridge along the way and you can hike all or a portion of the trails with overlooks, too.

We planned to tour Capitol Reef National Park the following morning and wanted to spend the night near the eastern entrance. The drive on SR 95 was impressive.

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Driving north on SR 95, Utah

Reception on my smart phone was very spotty in this area but I did find a room at the Rodeway Inn in Caineville. I also read there were no restaurants in Caineville so to prevent a restaurant search while hangry, it would be prudent to eat before our arrival. I think there were two or three eateries in Hanksville and we chose Blondie’s, a family owned burger joint. The extended family all seemed to be in attendance and our food was cooked while we waited–nothing fancy but tasty, nonetheless.

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Blondie’s in Hanksville, Utah

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Burger at Blondie’s

We easily found the Rodeway in Caineville, Utah, population 20, because it was the only building in this unincorporated town. The hotel was basic and overpriced including a gluten loaded breakfast of cereal and donuts. But it was the only option this side of Capitol Reef and our evening view was priceless.

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View from the Rodeway Inn in Cainville, Utah

Check back next week for our tour of Capitol Reef National Park and prepare to be amazed. We were.

 

Based on events from September 2015.

Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Exploring Canyonlands and More

With a surfeit of red rock buttes, mesas, and canyons around Arches National Park and Moab, Utah, you may be tempted to skip Canyonlands National Park. Resist that urge. It’s actually the largest of the four national parks in Utah and the entrance to the Island in the Sky section of the park is just 35 miles from Moab. Four hundred thousand visitors come here each year but we didn’t fight hordes of tourists at the scenic overlooks or on the trails. The day we visited in late September, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Utah State Route 313, Dead Horse Scenic Byway, to Canyonlands is an enjoyable drive with hairpin curves and splendid views including the Merrimac and Monitor Buttes, named for   Civil War ironclads.

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Merrimac and Monitor Buttes from Hwy 313  

We stopped for photos and the rest area came in handy, too. Get used to pit toilets, however, because flush toilets were few and far between. This photo also illustrates why Jim is not often in charge of our camera.

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Rest stop on Hwy 313 outside Canyonlands National Park

Our first stop inside Canyonlands was at the visitor center which is always the best place to get your bearings and a good introduction. We always make it a point to see the video program for background information and ask friendly rangers any questions we have.

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Nearby Shafer Canyon Overlook provided the first of many magnificient views.

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Shafer Canyon Overlook panorama, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Then we embarked on a moderately difficult hike out to Upheaval Dome. Watch out for the slickrock (smooth, polished rock that can be slippery) and some steep dropoffs along the way. Where the path is not readily apparent, you will see cairns (stacked stones) to mark the trail. I would have gotten lost several times without the cairns.

 

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Trail to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

 

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Cairns marking the trail to Upheaval Dome

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Trail to Unheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

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Jim climbing the trail to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

When we reached the overlook, we struck up a conversation with a young woman who told us she was an aerial acrobat. Her goal was to have her picture taken doing a bridge at the edge of the abyss. I felt very brave standing further from the edge for my photo.

 

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Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

 

 

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Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP

 

On the hike back from Upheaval Dome, Jim spotted this desert horned lizard, a prime example of apatetic coloration.

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Desert Horned Lizard

After a light lunch at the picnic facilities when we returned from our hike, we drove on to Green River Overlook and finally to Grand View Point Overlook. The amazing, awe-inspiring views prompted me to remark that I believed Canyonlands was every bit as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, just on a smaller scale. More on that later when I post about our stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Lunch at Canyonlands NP

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Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP

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Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP

 

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Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP

 

 

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Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP

After seeing so much, we were tempted to skip Dead Horse Point State Park on our way back to Moab. This is one of those not-to-be-missed sights so stop there to avoid future regret. The entrance fee is only $10. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of this park before our visit but judging by the number of tour buses lined up, I’m in the minority. It’s definitely part of the tour circuit and you’ll understand why when you see it. The legend behind the name of the park is that wild mustangs were corraled on the point and for whatever reason, they were left without water and perished within sight of the Colorado River which they couldn’t access. The white rock in the canyon that looks like a horse is symbolic of the story.

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Dead Horse Point panorama, Utah

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I circled the symbolic horse on this photo. Can you see it?

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The dead horse enlarged. If you still can’t see it, cock your head to the left a bit.

The other claim to fame of this canyon is the final scene in Thelma and Louise was filmed here. The car containing the dummies of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis went much farther than anticipated, landed in the Colorado River, and required a crane to remove it. But guides will tell you all signs of the movie set were removed. “Leave no trace.”

This very full day had one more treat in store for us. The Moab area has a Rock Art Auto Tour with many examples of Indian petroglyphs and pictographs. Pictographs are painted or drawn on the rock and petroglyphs are scratched or engraved into the rock. Our tour on Utah Scenic Byway 279 included examples of petroglyphs.

 

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Utah Scenic Byway 279 along the Colorado River

 

 

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Native American Petroglyphs along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah

 

 

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Petroglyph Rock Art on the rock wall along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah

 

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Petroglyph Rock Art along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah

 

 

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Wildflowers along Utah Scenic Byway 279

We found lodging in Moab that evening by calling early in the day for a reservation. Dinner consisting of BBQ and scrumptious sweet potatoes at the Blu Pig capped off another perfect day in Utah.

 

Based on events in September 2015.

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Arches, Arches, and More Arches

We didn’t see nearly all of the more than 2000 arches in Arches National Park, but we saw many. Arches National Park has the largest concentration of arches anywhere in the world so this is the place to visit if you want to see these spectacular red rock formations carved by erosion. We also saw pinnacles, balanced rocks, and spires as well as fins and monoliths.

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Entrance to Arches National Park

With over one million visitors each year, I was hopeful the crowds would thin somewhat in time for our visit in late September. To allow maximum flexibility to spend as much or as little time as we wanted in each place, we didn’t reserve lodging in advance. When we had difficulty finding lodging for the night in and around Moab, I asked a local about tourist traffic in September. She told me that they have two busy seasons, summer and tour bus season, that is, September. So if you want to be sure of a place to stay, make reservations in advance. We had to drive 48 miles to Green River for a room.

I understand why this area is so popular. Arches National Park is a treasure to be sure. But nearby there’s also Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point, and Indian pictographs which I’ll cover in future posts.  There are plenty of opportunities for adventure, too, including biking, four wheeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, river rafting, and more. In fact, Moab, Utah calls itself the adventure capital of the U.S.

Arches NP is very accessible. If you have physical limitations, you can see a lot from your auto in as little as 2 hours. But pull over only in the designated parking areas; no stopping is allowed on the roadway. There are also many short and easy walking trails. And for hardier hikers, there are longer, more rugged trails. The visitor guide contains a map showing the trails with a description and the length of each. We stopped at a majority of the viewpoints along the roadway and hiked a number of the shorter trails.

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Panorama view of the Three Gossips and Park Avenue rock formations near the entrance to the park

The Three Gossips looked like the three wise men to me and I still want to call them that but you decide for yourself.

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Three Gossips

Park Avenue is so named because early visitors believed these monoliths resembled the buildings in a big city. What do you think?

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Park Avenue, Arches NP

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Balanced Rock, Arches NP

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North Window and South Window at Arches NP

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Jim sitting in North Window checking his shoe

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Turret Arch

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North Window, Arches NP

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South Window, Arches NP

Along this same trail, you can see the Parade of Elephants. It does look like a rear view of the herd, doesn’t it? By the way, did you know a herd of elephants is truly called a parade?

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Parade of Elephants, Arches NP

Then there are the petrified sand dunes which are composed of sand that has been cemented into rock and later uncovered by erosion.

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Petrified sand dunes

The most iconic arch is undoubtedly Delicate Arch. It is so revered it’s even featured on Utah license plates. My photo was from a distance and not as impressive as the 65-foot tall arch deserves.

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Delicate Arch, Arches NP

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North Window and Turret Arch in the distance

I think my favorite area was Sand Dune Arch at the north end of the park. We especially enjoyed the trail through a slot canyon to get to the arch.

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Trail to Sand Dune Canyon through a slot canyon

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Trail to Sand Dune Arch

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Trail to Sand Dune Arch through a slot canyon

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Trail to Sand Dune Arch

We waited with a small group of other tourists while a couple who were just married at Sand Dune Arch took their wedding photos before we could take pictures. They mentioned that somehow between the parking lot and this arch, the wedding ring had been lost. All of us looked for it but with all that sand, it was hopeless. If you ever visit, keep your eyes peeled.

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Sand Dune Arch, Arches NP

This glorious nature reserve amazed and inspired us. I definitely understand why it’s one of the most popular national parks in the United States. Arches National Park set a high bar for the other four national parks in Utah.

 

Based on events in September 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Colorado National Monument and More

Although the distance through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake is just 48 miles, it took us the better part of the day. When we exited the park at Grand Lake we continued on two-lane roads until we returned to Interstate 70 at Silverthorne, then drove 263 miles further to Grand Junction, Colorado for the night. The total miles logged for the day was just over 300 but we saw plenty of scenic beauty at a fairly leisurely pace.

Dinner at the Ale House was a real treat for Jim featuring elk and a treat for me featuring outdoor seating plus fish tacos and sweet potato fries. The place was busy– a good sign– and the food was well-presented and tasty.

We were up and out of our hotel early the following morning and made straight for the east entrance to Colorado National Monument. Rim Rock Drive is a 23-mile paved road through the park from Grand Junction in the east to Fruita at the west entrance with many stops along the way to enjoy majestic awe-inspiring canyon views.

Immediately inside the east entrance, we stopped to hike a portion of historic Serpent’s Trail, dubbed the crookedest road in the world when it was completed in 1921. With 16 switchbacks, it was part of the main road until it was replaced in 1950 by Rim Rock Drive. Today it’s strictly a hiking trail, but I bet in its day the drive struck fear in many a heart.

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Hiking Serpent’s Trail, Colorado National Monument

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View from Serpent’s Trail

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View from Serpent’s Trail

We encountered few vehicles on Rim Rock Drive and even fewer people on the trails. If you seek a spiritual experience without human interruption or just want to get “far from the madding crowd,” this place is for you. Each scenic overlook and trail offered inspiring views of red rock canyons, towering rock formations, and contrasting colorful vegetation that soothed and fed the soul.

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Parking at Red Canyon Overlook

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View from Red Canyon Overlook

 

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Panorama View of Ute Canyon

 

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View from Artist’s Point

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Independence Monument

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Window Rock

A herd of about 40 desert bighorn sheep live within the confines of Colorado National Monument. Seeing them is a rare experience because they avoid human contact. We were surprised and gratified to spot this group on the side of the road. Jim believes they didn’t hear the Prius because the electric engine was engaged so the vehicle was silent.

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Desert bighorn sheep on Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument

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Desert Bighorn sheep

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Autumn Aster wildflowers in Colorado National Monument

As we left Colorado National Monument, we had a conversation with a ranger that changed our entire trip through Utah. The result was a sublime experience. She suggested we get off I-70 and take Utah State Route 128 on the east side of Arches National Park rather than SR 191 on the west side of the park. That began our adventure along the back roads of Utah that were far more scenic and interesting than the interstate highways. We didn’t take another freeway until we reached Kansas on our way back to Iowa.

Jim was doubtful when we first exited I70 and saw this. He feared I’d misguided him but we were indeed on the right road.

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I assured him we had taken the correct road and we soon saw the Colorado River.

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The Colorado River along Utah SR 128

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Utah SR 128

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Driving SR 128 in Utah

Many of the old western movies from the 40’s and 50’s used these canyonlands as a film location. SR 128’s designation as the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway is definitely deserved.

Based on events of September 2015.

 

Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rocky Mountain High

Our 10th national park in the United States was created on January 26, 1915, when President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Rocky Mountain National Park Act. While the Utah national parks were our planned destination, how could we possibly miss Rocky Mountain National Park when it was on the way and it was their 100th anniversary? Well, we couldn’t.

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Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the world’s longest ranges, the Rocky Mountains extend more than 3000 miles from Alaska to New Mexico and some of the highest peaks in the United States are found in this range.  Rocky Mountain National Park comprises just 415 square miles of this remarkable range but it is one of the most visited national parks in the country and contains some of the most spectacular scenery. RMNP is the highest national park in the U.S. with elevations from 7860 to 14,259 feet and 77 peaks above 12,000 feet. Thus, the popular slogan “Rocky Mountain high” refers to the elevation, not the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

Entering the park from Estes Park, we followed Trail Ridge Road, the “highway to the sky.” I was immediately entranced by the fall color.  I especially love autumn and the aspens expressed it beautifully with a nimiety of yellow. Seeing them, we understood how Aspenglen Campground got its name. I took way too many photos but here’s just one. You get the idea.

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Aspens in full fall color

And here’s one looking back at Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in the U.S.

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Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

We decided not to hike any of the 350 miles of trails in the park but we stopped often to take photos of the breathtaking views.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

When we reached the tundra, we were above 11,000 feet in elevation and the temperature dipped to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Our car, like our bodies, had to work harder at the higher elevation with less oxygen. Thankfully, the electric motor on the Prius came to the rescue as we climbed and we were surprised that our gas mileage didn’t suffer.

One-third of RMNP is alpine tundra, a harsh, windy biome where only the hardiest plants and wildlife survive. It’s a fragile environment that is easily damaged and requires care and management to ensure its survival.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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Donning the jackets for windy cool temps in the tundra

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Tundra is a delicate and vulnerable biome

Then we headed to a lower elevation at 10,759 feet and stopped at Milner Pass where the Continental Divide passes through.

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The Continental Divide at Milner Pass

We stopped for a throw together picnic lunch on the west side of the park at one of the many picnic areas. What better way to enjoy our surroundings than to spend some time feeding our bodies and souls simultaneously?

 

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Picnic lunch featuring baby carrots, cherry tomatoes from our garden, grapes, and bananas

 

As we neared the end of our drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, we were treated to yet one more delight, Shadow Mountain Lake, in the southwest corner of the park. This man-made reservoir is a major recreation area, allowing boating, fishing, jetskiing, camping, hiking, and other activities with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

 

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Shadow Mountain Lake

 

If you have a day, a week, or more, a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is worth your time. Check it out.

 

Based on events of September 2015.

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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