Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

After visiting Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Escalante, we thought we'd seen just about every kind of rock formation one could possibly see in southern Utah. But nothing could have prepared us for what awaited at Bryce Canyon National Park.

At Bryce Canyon, it is all about the hoodoos, also called fairy chimneys or earth pyramids. Honestly, we could not stop taking photos, we were so mesmerized by this unique landscape. For this post, it's best to let the pictures tell the story.

They call this formation Thor's Hammer

We descended down, down these switchbacks to the bottom of the canyon. Getting back out wasn't as hard as I expected.

They call this the Queen's Garden because it looks like Queen Victoria. It does, huh!

Other highlights at Bryce included cooler temps due to a higher elevation, amazing star gazing, the Milky Way in full view, and actual showers -- not something you find at most national parks.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

In part 5 of my 7-part series on our Utah National Park vacation, I take you to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This website calls this destination a "big empty playground for off-roaders, canyoneers, and regular old hikers." It is the size of the state of Delaware within the state of Utah, yet it was another one of those places I'd never heard of until this trip. We added this gem to our itinerary because Andrew wanted to experience hiking in slot canyons.

So we hired this off-road jeep driver to drive us an hour each way down a bumpy dirt road to the area with slot canyons with names like Spooky and Peek-a-Boo.

Long story short, we got a bit lost for awhile, and we didn't have time to see all we wanted to see, but overall, it was a fun day.

It's was pretty muddy in spots.

This was a hard part.

Also nearby, we found Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. I had never seen petrified wood before, and had always assumed it was just wood that had turned into rock. But in fact, petrified wood is incredibly colorful -- red, orange, purple, yellow -- like unpolished gemstones. I was fascinated.

Next stop, Bryce Canyon, where we all took more photos than at any other park. Stay tuned and you'll see why!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Capitol Reef National Park

Part 4 in my 7-part series on our trip to Utah's National Parks.

Capital Reef National Park proved to be one of our trip's most unexpected pleasures. It doesn't have the wildly-popular reputation or following of parks such as Bryce Canyon or Zion. In fact, I'd never heard of this park prior to planning our vacation. But Eric had done some research on Utah's national parks and found it. From what he read, it sounded "pretty" and it had "orchards where we could pick our own fruit." So yeah, we added it to our itinerary.

National Parks are notorious for having hard-to-get campsites, unless you make reservations a year in advance. So we got up very early and left Moab and drove the couple hours to Capital Reef. It was one of those drives where you go and go and hardly see another vehicle. In other words, it is in the middle of nowhere! I suspect the remoteness of Capitol Reef is one reason it is less popular.

But we can tell you, it is worth the trip! Terrific hiking and scenic beauty. AND -- a true perk for an introvert like myself -- no crowds! The campground had plenty of grassy sites open. There were no crowds at the Visitors Center. We hiked trails without seeing a single other person. There were no lines for anything. Well, maybe a short line in the small gift shop that sold homemade fruit pies!

Our brand new tent.

We followed this dirt road down, down to Capitol Gorge Trail. Beautiful!

Indeed, there were many orchards with all kinds of fruit. And it is true -- guests can pick to their hearts content. Sadly, we were there between apricots and apples. Nothing was ripe to pick.

Hickman Bridge

Another thing we loved about this park was the ranger hikes and the evening ranger programs at an amphitheater next to the campground. It was all very personable.

Sunset over Capitol Reef. Serious drama!

And we saw this incredible rainbow. It touched the ground on both ends.

We had only planned to spend one night at Capital Reef, but we were so enchanted, we spent a second night. As we were leaving the park, I stopped in the rest room, looked in the mirror, and my shirt read, "boog si efil." So true!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Canyonlands National Park

This is the third in our seven-part series of our summer trip to Utah's National Parks.

The interesting thing about Canyonlands is that it is divided into two separate sections -- Needles and Island in the Sky. On the map, they are geographically together, but a vast wilderness accessible only by serious backpacking divides them into two unique parks. I recommend a day to explore each.

We visited the Needles area first. Just prior to the park entrance, we found Newspaper Rock, an excellent example of ancient petroglyphs.

Once in the park, we were fascinated by these curious rock formations. We thought they looked like mushrooms.

This is why they call this part of Canyonlands "The Needles." You can see these from the park, but they are very far away. Hence the blurry photo. You can only see them up close by backpacking in over several days.

The clouds and weather were very dramatic that day. Actually, most days of our trip.

We came to one overlook and I got out of the car. I didn't close my door because I knew we wouldn't be long. And it was hot. Well, this crow and his buddy wasted no time entering the car and pulling everything out of the little garbage bag. They hit the jackpot when they found an apple core, which they dragged out of the car and ate.

The next day, we drove to Island in the Sky, which is the more popular area of the park and certainly the more scenic. On the way, we stopped at Dead Horse Point State Park. We were there fairly early in the morning and enjoyed the sunrise. Spectacular!

Supposedly, this park is where they filmed the final scene in the movie Thelma and Louise, when they drove the car off the cliff.

Then on to Island in the Sky. They call it that because it sits atop a high mesa, and truly is like an island in the sky. The scenery rivals the Grand Canyon.

Another cool arch.

Andrew planning his next shot. He's a good photographer.

Here we are high atop Elephant Rock. It's hard to get a perspective in the photo, but it was actually somewhat precarious. That is why we are sitting instead of standing!

I encourage you to click on the links for WAY better photos.

Next stop -- Capitol Reef National Park! One of our favorites.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Arches National Park

This is the second in a seven-part series on the national parks of southern Utah.

We left Mesa Verde and came to Arches National Park. We arrived late in the day, checked into our accommodations for the next four days (a tiny one-room cabin at Archview RV Resort, not far from the park), and ventured into nearby Moab to find some dinner. Moab is an interesting small town, very touristy. We were so busy exploring Arches and Canyonlands, we didn't have time to enjoy the town, but there were lots of restaurants to choose from and they were all delightful.

Andrew, Eric, and Bob at Pasta Jay's Italian Restaurant, Moab, UT

The next morning, we awoke bright and early and headed to the park. Our first hike was to the popular Delicate Arch. Upfront disclaimer -- photographs greatly diminish the majesty of a place like Arches National Park. The only way to truly grasp the grandeur is to see the place in person. Highly recommended!

Delicate Arch

We saw many fascinating rock formations like this (below), massive monoliths of sandstone rock, weathered by water and wind and eons of time . . . 

 . . . and unbelievable structures like this Balanced Rock . . . 

 . . . but at this park, the arch formations steal the show. One of my favorites was this Double Arch.

Look closely at the people scrambling over the rocks in the foreground, like ants. Gives you a perspective on the humongous size of these rocks.

They call these arches The Spectacles. They look like eyes.

The next morning, the guys hiked a strenuous 10-mile trail called Devil's Garden. (I enjoyed a quiet morning at the campground.) Andrew took these photos. They had a great time and were exhausted when they got back.

A high narrow ridge, with steep drop-offs on either side.

Like a window to the heavens.

One evening, we hiked through this dry creek bed. The setting sun adds drama to the beauty.

The sun setting through a small arch.

We were just getting started, so we didn't know it at the time, but Arches was high on all our lists of favorite parks.