kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Zion National Park, Utah

This is the 7th and final installment of my Utah National Parks series. We concluded our two-week tour across southern Utah at spectacular Zion National Park.

Zion offers some incredible awe-inspiring vistas, no doubt about it. But I have to say it was my least favorite park for only one reason. People. Too many people. Oh, the crowds. I'm not kidding when I say Zion felt like a nature-based amusement park. There are rides -- cars are not permitted in most of the park, so visitors get around on buses. And there are lines to stand in -- for the buses, the rest rooms, at the visitor center. And assuming you enjoy hiking, there are LOTS of things to see and do, for all ages and skill levels.

Speaking of skill and stamina, here and there throughout our trip, Bob and the boys would want to tackle a hike a bit too strenuous for mom. And I was fine with that. At Zion, they hiked the steep Angels Landing Trail. Not suited for those with vertigo or a fear of heights! As hikers near the summit, they cling to these chains, lest they lose their balance and topple off the narrow rim.

They made it to the top!

While the guys hiked Angels Landing, I took my own pleasant lovely hike.

Look closely, you can see horses crossing the stream.

We had a bit of drama and excitement that day. Just as my guys ascended Angels Landing Peak, dark clouds moved in, and what started out as a beautiful sunny day soon became ominous.

I had finished my hike and got off a bus at the park museum when it started to sprinkle. A shower soon became a downpour with thunder and lightning. And my guys were on top of a mountain, out of cell phone range. Zion is known for being prone to flash flooding, so there was reason for concern.

Soon the buses stopped running due to flooding of some of the roadways in the park. Now even if the guys got safely off the mountain, there was no way to return to the campground. And I was stuck at the museum. This was my view.

All I could do was pray for their safety. Calm quiet creeks quickly turned into raging torrents like this.

Eventually, the buses resumed service and I hurried back to the campground and waited. After a time, my men returned, soaking wet and tired. We all piled into our tent, which fortunately did not leak, and while they napped, I thanked God for their safe-keeping.

The next day, Andrew and Bob set off on an excursion Andrew had been eagerly anticipating from the beginning -- hiking "the Narrows," or basically hiking a stream through a slot canyon. Not easy to slog through all that water, but they saw some cool sights. At times, the water was chest high. Bob wasn't taking photos during those parts.This hike can be particularly dangerous in a flash flood situation and can only be attempted on days when no rain is predicted.

Eric opted not to get wet and spent the day hiking with me. On dry land. We saw some beautiful sights, too.

So that concludes my series on our Utah National Park tour. It was by far our best family vacation to date. What has been your favorite family vacation?

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.