Cruising Hawaii

I’ve been looking at Hawaiian cruises for years. In 2003 we travelled to Oahu with our children for spring break and I’ve wanted to return ever since but I wanted to visit more islands than just Oahu. Hawaii is expensive and island hopping takes the price up quickly. I was looking at Hawaiian cruises in 2014 when I found a trip to a safari lodge in South Africa for less money so we went to South Africa instead. When a South African safari costs less than a Hawaiian cruise, you know it’s expensive. Read about it in my first blog posts in February 2014.

So, when my friend Lori and I happened to see a 7 night Norwegian cruise of the Hawaiian Islands on the internet for a mere $1299 per guest, we jumped on it. By the time fees and port charges were added, the total was $1445 each but that’s still way cheaper than I’ve ever  seen. And get this!!! The price included 2 additional nights at the Marriot Waikiki before the cruise and transportation to the cruise port. Incredible!

Norwegian is the only cruise line that stays overnight in ports in Hawaii. They spend a week just cruising the islands rather than sailing from the mainland to Hawaii like other cruise lines.  Then the other cruise lines spend just part of each day in a port of call and sail to the next port overnight. NCL’s itinerary especially appealed to us so we could explore each island a bit more than the typical cruise allows.

This was our itinerary:

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Always one to arrive well ahead of schedule to allow for unforseen delays, I wanted to arrive a day early for our stay in Honolulu. The rates at the Marriot were over $300 per night so I checked the Outrigger Wakiki where we stayed in 2005. As luck would have it, I found a rate for a partial ocean view for $212 so I booked it. We would have to change hotels after the first night but that wasn’t a deal breaker for us. The Marriot is just down the street so we’d walk our luggage over in the morning.

Finallly, we booked airfare at $777, not bad considering the distance from Iowa to Hawaii. Our flight arrived at 6:30 pm and after a taxi ride to the Outrigger Waikiki and a quick and efficient check-in, we settled into our room with this view.


Partial ocean view from the Outrigger Waikiki

This hotel was as welcoming and luxurious as I remembered. The rooms are beatifully decorated and they even provide a welcome insulated gift bag filled with goodies.


Our room at the Outrigger Waikiki


Bathroom at the Outrigger Waikiki

We were soon off in search of food. My pre-trip restaurant research revealed that some of the best food in Waikiki was actually to be found at Duke’s, the restaurant on-site at our hotel. That was easy.


Mai Tai at Duke’s


Our friends Lori and Rick at Duke’s


Duke’s patio seating


Jim and Laura relaxing at Duke’s


Palms at night on Waikiki

Drinks and food were both expensive, but that’s expected in Hawaii. After a day of travel with no meals served on our flights, our meal hit the spot.


I was thrilled to be back in Oahu. I’ll never forget our first visit and I loved it as much or more the second time around. Check back next week for more coverage of Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and so much more.


Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, Food, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” Great Sand Dunes National Park

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” proclaims the sign at Great Sand Dunes National Park  quoting an unnamed visitor. Indeed. That says it all, accurately and succinctly. The 30 square mile dunefield at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is unlike anything I’ve seen before.


Approaching Great Sand Dunes NP


Entrance to Great Sand Dunes NP


View of the visitor center, dunes to the left, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind


Mule deer along the road in the park

When I saw the dunes, two questions immediately came to mind: Where did all that sand come from? What keeps it there? The simple explanation is the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains to the west and around 440,000 years ago prevailing winds blew the sand from the San Luis Valley to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sand was trapped there forming the largest dunes in North America. Countervailing winds occasionally push back keeping the dunes in essentially the same position. In fact, a display in the visitor center of photos taken 138 years apart shows hardly any overall movement of the dunes. It’s actually more complicated and new research continues to change and refine our understanding. You can read a more in-depth explanation here.

You, like me, may have visited beaches where signs admonish the visitor to stay off the sand dunes. The delicate ecosystem is easily disrupted and the sand dunes erode more quickly when disturbed.  Due to this prior experience, I was surprised to have full access to hike and explore these dunes. What an amazing experience that was!

To access the dunes, we first had to cross Medano Creek, which was virtually dry in September.


Nearly dry Medano Creek bed


Jim crossing the dry Medano Creek bed

Compare my photos to the ones with water in the park brochure here.  In springtime, when the water is flowing, the creek is another favorite feature of the park.

Walking across the flat creek bed was easy with the sand packed down, but the hike became more difficult as the sand got looser and the incline steeper. The highest dune is over 750 feet tall (228 meters) and the elevation at the visitor center is 8170 feet (2490 meters) so the air is thinner here, too.


Great Sand Dunes


Great Sand Dunes


The Sangre de Cristo Mountains


We’re going to climb THAT?


Jim hiking the ridge




Are we there yet?

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Jim’s enthusiasm is still evident


I’m ready for a rest

On the photo above, note the kids on the ridge behind me. They’re sand boarding down the slope. Rentals are available nearby for sandboards and sand sleds.  The surface of the sand in summer can reach 150 degrees so this is better attempted  early or late in the day or in spring or fall. Watch my short video of these kids sandboarding here.


View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes National Park was the last stop on the Epic Road Trip of 2015. After two weeks on the road traveling 4300 miles (6900 km) visiting 12 national parks and monuments as well as 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, various state parks and other points of interest, it was time to head home. Until the next time.

Based on events of September 2015.

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

Hiking to History at Mesa Verde

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was the farthest point from home on our epic western road trip of September 2015. As we turned back toward home, Colorado offered us a couple additional sites we hadn’t visited before. We thought we’d check out the “four corners” where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. At the risk of sounding super cheap,  when we heard the entrance fee was $5 per person, we decided to pass. It just had the feel of a tourist trap.

On the other hand, Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is no tourist trap. This amazing park contains nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) from 550 AD until the late 1200s.


Entrance to Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is located in a valley at the foot of a winding road up to the mesa. Stop here first to plan your visit and purchase tour tickets.


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

The approximately 21-mile drive up to Chapin Mesa delighted us with breathtaking views.


View from the park road into Mesa Verde NP


View from park road into Mesa Verde NP

Five dwellings were open to the public in 2015; Spruce Tree House and Far View allowed self-guided tours but Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House required tickets for ranger-led guided tours. In September, Cliff Palace and Long House were already closed for the season but fortunately for us, Balcony House, the “most adventurous cliff dwelling tour” (Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide) was still open. We paid the $4 per person ticket price and scheduled our tour for the following morning. In 2016, only four dwellings remain open to the public. Spruce Tree House closed because of safety issues related to falling rock and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. How lucky for us to see this cliff dwelling before it closed.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. The trail is short but steep, changing elevation by 100 feet in a quarter mile.


Trail to Spruce Tree House


View of Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

We saw only a fraction of the 120 rooms and 8 kivas at Spruce Tree House. A kiva is a chamber below ground that in modern day pueblos was used for religious, social, or ceremonial purposes. Because the Ancestral Pueblo people had no writing system, we can’t know for certain but archeologists believe the purpose was the same in prehistoric times.


Kiva in Spruce Tree House


Jim climbing down the ladder to a kiva in Spruce Tree House


Inside a kiva at Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

As I said, Cliff Palace was closed for the season when we arrived. The largest and most well-known cliff dwelling in North America, Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 21 kivas and was inhabited by around 120 people. Fortunately for us, we could view it from a distance and photograph it even though we couldn’t tour it.


Cliff Palace

Our ranger-guided tour of Balcony House the next morning was as much about the journey as the destination. The strenuous hike included steep stairs, three ladders, and a tunnel.


Getting ready for the hike to Balcony House


Our park ranger briefs us


Trail to Balcony House


One of the ladders on the trail to Balcony House


My hips aren’t as wide as Jim’s shoulders and it was a snug fit for me going through the tunnel.


We both made it without getting stuck!


Bringing up the rear, quite literally.


Catching my breath and taking a photo


Jim nears the top

The destination was well-worth the effort, however. This cliff dwelling consists of 38 rooms and 2 kivas. Our ranger knowledgeably shared information about the site and the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.


Balcony House


Balcony House



Kiva at Balcony House


A room with a view at Balcony House

Because Long House was closed for the season, we decided not to drive the 12 miles over to Wetherill Mesa where it’s located. We did, however, hike the Far View area. The Far View sites are farming communities on top of the mesa rather than cliff dwellings.

National parks in the United States preserve and protect historical and cultural sites like Mesa Verde as well as our amazing and abundant natural resources. For a couple history nerds like us, Mesa Verde was a place to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. As a result, we are better educated about and appreciative of the time and place of these early people.

Based on events of September 2015.


Categories: History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


Check out the flip flops which are part of this story

We went directly to the visitor’s center.


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.


Inside the North Rim Visitor Center


North Rim Visitor Center patio with a view


View from the North Rim Visitor Center



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! 


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.


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.


Jim in the shadows on the trail to Bright Angel Point


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.


Drive to Point Imperial


Point Imperial


View from Point Imperial


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.


Ordering dinner



Jim’s generous portion venison meatloaf and my salad.



North Rim Visitor Center looking toward sunset


Sunset over the Grand Canyon



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.


Clouds obscuring the moon


Lunar eclipse of super blood moon


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.


Jacob Lake Inn


Jacob Lake Inn


Based on events from September 2015.

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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.


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.


View of the Virgin River from the Riverside Walk


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.


Swimming in the Virgin River at the end of Riverside Walk



View of the Virgin River from the trail



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.


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.


The Organ and the Great White Throne

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


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.





View along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive


Another view of the Great White Throne


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.


Views along Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway



Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway



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.


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.


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



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.


Early morning at Zion NP

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


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


Enjoying having the trail to the Emerald Pools to ourselves


Jim on the trail


Check out the cacti


Beautiful trail view


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.


Emerald Pool


Emerald Pool


Emerald Pool

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


The end of the trail crossing the Virgin River


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.


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.


Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway


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


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


Another herd of Bighorn sheep


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).


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



Yet another herd of Bighorn sheep from the rear


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


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.



National Park Service. Zion National Park. (2016). Retrieved from


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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.


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.


Mossy Cave in Bryce Canyon NP


Trail to Mossy Cave, Bryce Canyon

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


Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon NP


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.


Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

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


Sunset at Bryce Canyon



Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset at Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon NP


Moon over Bryce Canyon NP

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


Sky at sunrise over Bryce Canyon


Sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP


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.


Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Queens Garden Trail


Hiking the hoodoos


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?


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.


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.


Trailhead warning



Cautionary sign along the trail


Hiking the Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Wall Street section of Navajo Trail


Looking down the Navajo Trail from the trail above


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Fruita Schoolhouse


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.


Trail to Hickman Bridge


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.


Hickman Bridge


Hickman Bridge



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.


Fruita Orchard


Fruita Orchard


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.


Fremont Petroglyphs

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


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.


Jim on the trail to Needles Overlook


View from Needles Overlook


View from Indian Creek Viewpoint


Colorado River Overlook


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.


Jim on the trail to Butler Wash Ruins


Jim climbing the trail to to Butler Wash Ruins


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.


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.”


Stairs at Sipapu Bridge trailhead


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.


Sipapu Trail

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


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.


Kachina Bridge

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


Hiking to Owachomo Bridge 



 Owachomo Bridge




Selfie with Owachomo Bridge behind us




Beneath Owachomo Bridge


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.


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.


Blondie’s in Hanksville, Utah


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



Trail to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP



Cairns marking the trail to Upheaval Dome


Trail to Unheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP


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.



Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP




Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands NP


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


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.


Lunch at Canyonlands NP


Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP


Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP



Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP




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.


Dead Horse Point panorama, Utah


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


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.



Utah Scenic Byway 279 along the Colorado River




Native American Petroglyphs along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah




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



Petroglyph Rock Art along Scenic Byway 279 in Utah




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

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