Zion National Park

Zion (1)We spent the day at Zion National Park, another popular Utah park, most notable for its large and deep canyon that runs the length of the park.  We spent most of our time there; hiking a few trails and admiring its scenery.

The park provides free shuttle service to the sights and trailheads along the narrow canyon floor, to support a larger number of visitors than would be possible otherwise, which was a nice change for Wm since he didn’t have to drive.

Water features more prominently here than in the other parks we’ve seen thus far.  “Weeping Rock” is an alcove in a massive porous sandstone cliff that seeps water from rains 2000 years prior, giving life to a variety of flowers and mosses.  Near the northern narrows of the canyon, the “Temple of Sinawava” features a spectacular waterfall that feeds the Virgin river, as well as rare desert swampland.  While hiking there we spotted two rare wild turkeys, and even captured a photo of one in flight!
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The following day we had a great time visiting Wm’s sisters and their families, who live in nearby Toquerville, before making the long drive to our next park!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce (2)Bryce Canyon is a strong contender for our favorite National Park so far, and we don’t think we’re alone.  No where else on Earth do rocks play and dance in as dense a concentration.  We spent 2 days exploring its wonderful sights!

Our first day was unfortunately met with overcast weather, but the second day’s clear skies more than made-up for it.  We spent the night camping inside the park.  Despite high-winds and an overnight low of 26-degrees, we stayed nice and warm inside of our tent.

Most of the park can be seen from viewpoints along the main road, but the the adventurous will be well-served by embarking on the somewhat strenuous hike to the canyon floor that’s branded as “the best 3-mile hike in the world!” Strong words, but it certainly does not disappoint!  The journey takes you from the top of the canyon down through “The Queen’s Garden”, a beautiful display of “hoodoos” that gives you a taste of things to come.  From there the trail leads deeper through the canyon, through firs and multi-colored dunes, until climbing back to the rim via steep yet rewarding switchbacks, that offer amazing views of different towering hoodoos at every turn.
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As for wildlife, we encountered two new varieties in this park: a young pronghorn and a field full of prairie dogs. We also made good friends with a very extroverted chipmunk that was skilled at charming snacks out of passing hikers:
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Capitol Reef National Park

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Another lesser-known National Park, Capitol Reef is a collection of dramatically colored canyons in south-eastern Utah.  It is named after a particular section of canyon where Navajo sandstone domes resemble the tops of capitol buildings, and the sheer cliffs form an impassable barrier often known as a “reef”.

We began our adventure by visiting historic Gifford Farmhouse, where we purchased a variety of jams for the sandwiches we like to eat during lunchtime hikes.  We then drove up a pair of canyons, marveling at the different textures and extremely high walls.  More than 100 years ago, Mormon pioneers made their way through the deep canyons, and left their names chiseled into the stone there.  A few of them settled into the nearby valley carved by the Fremont river, and created an oasis of fruit-trees that still survive today, and provide a lush green contrast to the surrounding red rock walls.  Some of those walls still bear the settlers names, as well as Anasazi petroglyphs from those that came before.
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It was while driving to the oasis that we finally saw our first true bluebird (not all blue birds are bluebirds, of course), and managed to get a photo of him craning his neck:
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After a surprisingly squirrel-free lunch in the oasis’s park, we hiked 2 miles to a natural landbridge high in a neighboring canyon.  Along the way we saw a few friendly lizards and interesting stone formations, before returning to the Fremont river where we cooled our heels and Lisa stubbed her toe.
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As we were leaving the park, we encountered a large number of deer nibbling grass in an orchard of fruit trees:
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Down-Day

After 3 weeks of non-stop travel, we’re spending today doing absolutely nothing! 🙂

We’re currently holed-up in a hotel near our next National Park, in a remote town with no phone service but plenty of WiFi.

Arches National Park – Day 3: The Fiery Furnace

We returned to Arches today for the Ranger-led hike into one of the park’s most captivating features: “The Fiery Furnace”, a dense collection of “fin” and “spire” rock formations off-limits to the general public.  (An elderly couple at Mesa Verde highly recommended the hike to us, but due to a waiting-list we were unable to take it until today.)

The Furnace is located near the center of the park, just across “Salt Valley”: a stunning display of colorful soil and rock.

Our Ranger was quite the character: an aged, hunched, gnomish fellow you’d expect to see doing tax accounting rather than guiding hikers through rocky terrain.  He led us slowly over many boulders and fissures with a sure-footed goat-like stagger, occasionally stopping to rest his folded-arms on a respectable pot-belly before bestowing wisdom of the surrounds in a manner more comedic and questioning than informational.  He would then beckon us onward to “continue our quest to find the parking lot”…

The hike itself was moderately strenuous, with 3 miles of climbing over rocks, scooting down slopes, and squeezing through crevices, the sum of which was quite a rewarding adventure!  After several minutes of exertion we would find ourselves rewarded with a unique chamber or surprising viewpoint, which must be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate.  The experience was definitely worth the extra day it cost us. 🙂
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Canyonlands National Park and Moab Car Culture

Canyonlands (5) Last night, we finally tested-out our camping gear at a beautiful campsite along the Colorado river!  While it was a little chilly, we slept warm & cozy under our many blankets and REI sleeping pads (highly recommended!)  This is what we woke-up to this morning:
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After a breakfast at Moab’s local “Jailhouse Cafe”, we made the short drive to Canyonlands National Park.  Unfortunately the weather at the park was cold and overcast, but we still had a nice time attending a Ranger’s presentation on the geology of the park and taking a few short hikes to fascinating viewpoints like “Upheaval Canyon”, where geologists still aren’t sure what caused the giant crater-like formation. 

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The park is split into 3 distinct parts, separated by the confluence of both Colorado and Green rivers, but given how inaccessible the other two parts were and how many more parks we want to see, this was one of our shorter park days.  We spent the late afternoon back in Moab, where large crowds of people were gathering for the weekend’s car-enthusiast activities.  Wm shot over a hundred photos alongside chaotic Main Street, the only highway in town, where restored classic cars cruised alongside 18-wheelers:
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We then returned to our campsite where we burned-up the last of our firewood and slept like logs.

Arches National Park

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We just spent two wonderful days at Arches National Park, which contains over 2000 natural rock arches: the greatest concentration in the USA.  Upon entering the park, newcomers are immediately struck by the size and intense red hue of the surrounding mesa cliffs.  The landscape itself is awash with color: orange, red, yellow, green, and even blue, thanks to a high quantity of copper in the soil.

Having arrived in the afternoon, our first day was a short one, but no-less memorable thanks to a dramatic thunderstorm that appeared just as quickly as it departed, leaving a magical quality to the normally dry desert air.
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We returned early the next day to explore more of the park, much of which is viewable by car, and short walks from roadside turnouts.
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We thoroughly enjoyed the 3-mile hike up a massive slickrock slope to the park’s iconic “Delicate Arch”, a stunning, must-see formation and other-worldly place to eat lunch.  We’re actually in these arch photos, but look like ants next to its gigantic size!
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A later hike, about 2 miles in length, had us viewing more arches, as well as “Landscape Arch”: a 306-foot wide tendril of stone that could fall to earth at any moment. We saw video in the Parks’ Visitor Center of a 45-ton chunk of this arch falling-off, which made standing near or under any of the arches frightening.
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The park was a little more crowded than we’d been exposed to thus-far,  given the popularity of the park coupled with both “free national park week” and nearby town Moab’s upcoming desert racing events.  We were without bandwidth, so this is being posted a little late.