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Monday, May 27, 2013

Bryce Canyon National Park

There just aren't any words to describe Bryce Canyon National Park.  It isn't as huge as the Grand Canyon or as popular as Zion, but it surpasses them both in the sheer beauty of its rock formations.  The colors in the park are hypnotic:  reds, pinks, oranges, whites, greys, blues, greens, and many shades of those colors.

Today as a perfect day:  no clouds, high of 70F, very light breeze, no humidity.  We planned one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, which is known as the Peek-a-Boo Loop, but we added on segments of the Navajo Loop and a side leg to Sunrise Point along the rim.  The hike was about 6 miles of constant ups and downs, but it seemed much easier because of the wonderful conditions.

We started early, to avoid the crowds, and we hoped that the more strenuous hike we picked also would discourage most tourists from joining us.  This worked, by and large, and we didn't really run into large numbers of tourists until we were finishing the hike, where they poked down Navajo Loop Trail until they'd had enough.  Bryce was much less crowded than Zion overall, as well.

As often happens with us, we finished the visit with a salad and a beer in the lodge.  The lodge at Bryce was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, as were a number of other national park lodges that were developed in conjunction with the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The lodge is of the old style, all dark wood, and beautiful.

Learn more about the park at this Wikipedia page.

We spent over an hour considering which of our more than 100 photos to include in this blog, but the problem was that nearly all of them are really striking (due to the subjects, not the technique).  So instead of picking for you, we'll direct you to the Flickr album where we've posted all of them.


Red Canyon Romp

When we started our adventure around the country, the idea was to visit as many National Parks and National Monuments as possible.  What we didn't count on was discovering a huge number of national forests and state parks that could give the big guys a run for their money.  We stopped at one today.

Red Canyon is located in the Dixie National Forest.  We only discovered this park because we had to drive past it on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park.  We could barely keep our eyes on the road as we drove through the canyon.  The red color was so deep and the hoodoos were towering.  We promised ourselves that if we had time, we would definitely stop on the way back.  Fortunately, Bryce was not as crowded as Zion was, and we had plenty of time for a short hike in Red Canyon on the way back to camp from Bryce.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we found out that the Red Canyon has been called one of the “most photographed places in Utah.”  That's a big boast considering that Utah also has Zion, Bryce and Grand Staircase, but one thing Red Canyon has that the other parks don't is that it is free and right along a scenic highway.

We started out on the Pink Ledges Trail.  How could you resist a name like that?  Here is our first look at the Pink Ledges.

Then we crossed over to the hoodoo trail. Here is Kathy posing with a cuddly couple (hoodoos that is).

The trail then took us to Red Canyon, where hundreds of hoodoos watched as we passed by.

Here is Dave getting up close and personal with a rather alien looking fellow.

Ok, who can hate blue sky, puffy white clouds, brilliant red hoodoos and the perfect fir tree?

Now if you look real close at this rock, he's sitting on his throne overlooking the highway watching all the tourist buses pass on their way to Bryce and thanking his lucky stars that all those crazy people are not tramping all over his beautiful park.

Enough said. Just look at the pretty pictures.

We are taking a day off tomorrow.  We've hike our little tootsies off.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day

We can't think of anything that sums up our visit to Kodachrome Basin State Park better than Paul Simon's lyrics.  In 1949, the National Geographic Society came out to this part of Utah to test out the new Kodachrome film.  With permission of Kodak, they named the basin - Kodachrome.

And I'll see your true colors
shining through
I see your true colors
and that's why I love you
so don't be afraid to let them show
your true colors
true colors are beautiful
like a rainbow

Geologists believe Kodachrome Basin State Park was once similar to Yellowstone National Park with hot springs and geysers, which eventually filled up with sediment and solidified. Through time, the Entrada sandstone surrounding the solidified geysers eroded, leaving large sand pipes. Sixty-seven sand pipes ranging from two to 52 meters have been identified in the park.  Here is one of the more prominent pipes.

We were originally going to find a hike in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  We stopped at the GSENM Visitor Center in Cannonville and spoke to one of the volunteers.  She gave us several great suggestions for hikes in the Monument.  But, she also said if we only had one day in the area then we didn't want to miss Kodachrome Basin State Park.  So, we filed away all the Grand Staircase-Escalante trail maps for another day and headed to Kodachrome.

We opted for the Panorama Trail which contains several cool geologic features.  Here is Kathy demonstrating the raised hands of Estrada Sandstone.

It only took about a mile and half to reach the view point.  Way out in the distance is Bryce Canyon National Park.

There were so many spires and hoodos it was difficult to determine who was blog worthy.  However, when I saw Gandalf standing there, I knew I found the one.

After the Panorama View, we headed to the Cool Cave.  It was definitely cool - not only because of how the erosion shaped it, but because it was shaded and at least 30 degrees color than the desert basin.

The cave walls have been worn smooth by the water rushing in from above.  The water brings with it some calcium carbonate that dries very white on the salmon colored sandstone.

There were a number of holes in the ceiling that you peek through and catch a peep at the spires above.

The six mile trail circled the basin passing a number of different cliffs.  Here is Dave lending scale to the immense basin.

Here is another cool pipe perched on top of the sandstone.  The white limestone conglomerate glows white in the sun.

Another stop along the trail was the Secret Passage.  While not a cave, it provide another respite from the heat of the desert.

Here's Dave getting up close and personal with a little hoodo.  If you look close at the end of his hand, you will see a print in the sandstone.  The surface is so porous, that folks have come by and touched it leaving an impression of their fingers.  Over time, as each tourist passed, the impression became larger. (And, yes, Kathy did put her hand inside the impression - David did not.)

Some of the more impressive pipes were given individual names.  Here is Ballerina Spire.  We're sure we could have come up with a more appropriate name, but then it would not be fit for families hiking in the park.

Every hike should end with a little wild life.  Here is Betsy munching on some grass by the side of the road, gazing at us as we drove out of the park.

Hey, what were you expecting a coyote, bobcat or mountain lion?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Zion National Park

Our RV park is in Panguitch, Utah, which is near four national parks or monuments.  Since we're only here for five days, this has required us to spend just one day in each of these spectacular parks.

Today we visited Zion National Park.  It's a dramatic series of mountains and rock formations aligned along a canyon formed by the Virgin River in southwest Utah.  Geologically, Zion and the other three parks near us - Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon and Escalante - is near the northwest corner of the Colorado Plateau, which has been the source of formation of many of our country's most spectacular scenery.  Grand Canyon is at the southwest corner.  Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument are at the southeast corner.

One word on the "dark side of Zion" is in order.  Today was the first day of the Memorial Day holiday.  Zion is one of the nation's most popular national parks.  As a consequence, we had more tourists to contend with than we could handle.  The trails were crowded, to the point that it wasn't very pleasant to constantly have to dodge oblivious sight-seers who were convinced they were the only people on the trail.  We arrived at the visitor center at 10:00 am, and by then the visitor center parking lot was completely full.  Furthermore, the park is not very well signed for drivers, so available parking was not well identified or managed.  Luckily, we had a backup parking strategy, which we employed, and were able to walk a half mile or so to the visitor center from where we parked the truck.

Having got past the most annoying part of the visit, we concentrated on our plans to see the scenery.  While exploration of the backcountry of Zion would take many days or weeks, one day was enough to see all of the "front country" sights.  After stopping at the visitor center, we started at the north end of the canyon and worked our way south back toward the visitor center.

At the north end, the canyon narrows to a virtual slot canyon.  A 2-mile paved trail is available to reach the narrowest parts of the canyon, but beyond that a hiker needs to be prepared to wade the stream in order to get back further into the canyon, but if prepared, a hiker can penetrate another 9 miles upstream.  We weren't prepared, nor did we have time for such a long hike, so we contented ourselves with reaching the end of the paved trail.  Many other tourists did the same thing.  Here are some of them enjoying the spectacular views:

South of the narrows is a location called "Weeping Rock," which is where water seeps naturally from overhanging slate ledges after having seeped through sandstone from the plateau above.  Once the water seeps out, it runs down the rock face in some places, falls over ledges in others, but in each case fosters growth of a nearly tropical lushness and variety of plants.  Here are some clinging to the rock wall:

After Weeping Rock, we stopped at The Grotto to begin a 5 mile hike up the Kayenta Trail to see the Upper, Middle and Lower Emerald Pools.  As we climbed up from the valley floor, we could see the Virgin River winding southward through Zion Canyon:

The Upper Emerald Pool was a shady, cool, green respite from the sunny, arid climb.  Here is a photo of Kathy and 100 of her closest friends enjoying the pool:

The view up the sheer sandstone walls from the Upper Emerald Pool is striking in itself:

Descending from the Upper Emerald Pool, we had to hike under an overhanging rock ledge.  The scale of this ledge is apparent from the small size of the hikers in the photo below:

Our hike finished at the Virgin River, just across from Zion Lodge, which was built in 1924 and designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who also designed structures at Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon.  As we crossed over Virgin River on the bridge, we could see down the canyon --

-- and up the canyon, both views being equally breathtaking.

We stopped at Zion Lodge to have a small meal and a beer and to cool down from our hike.  Many park visitors had found the shade of the large trees on the front lawn of the lodge and were using it to maximum advantage:

Having finished our main hike, we continued down the canyon on the park shuttle, and stopped to view the Court of the Patriarchs, which is a formation of three sandstone cliffs named by Mormon visitors for the biblical patriarchs (left to right) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jacob is the white cliff behind the smaller red Moroni Cliff on the right):

We ended our visit with a 2 mile walk down the Pa'rus Trail, which runs along the banks of the Virgin River.  The word "pa'rus" means "bubbling, tumbling water," and that is exactly what we encountered as we strolled the trail.  Here are views up and down the bubbling tumbling water:

After about 8 hours in the park, we headed home, only to be stopped in our tracks by a mountain sheep calmly munching grass along the roadside, ignoring all the visitors and their vehicles as we passed.

Arriving back at the RV 11 hours after we had left this morning, we felt we had gotten to know Zion National Park well, and we think we know what backcountry trails we would like to explore if we visit again.  Except next time it will not be on a holiday and will be without all the other tourists!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cedar Breaks - A Snowy Encounter

Hi Blog.  We decided to drive to Cedar Breaks National Monument today.  It is the closest park to us, and we needed to be home early this afternoon to Skype with Matt, Weina and Williams. We are all looking forward to our trip to New York next week, but we have a few parks to explore first.

We'd never heard of Cedar Breaks before, so we were not sure what to expect.  Our campground had a brochure and the picture on the front looked amazing.  Shaped like a hugh coliseum, the amphitheater is over 2,000 feet deep and over three miles in diameter. The huge bowl is filled with bright orange, pink and purple spires, columns, arches and canyons.  We don't want to bore you with all the really cool stuff we learned about Cedar Breaks, but if you are interested, you can check out the brochure, Cedar Breaks Geology.

Great White had quite a workout today driving up from Panguitch, which is at 6,600 feet, to the scenic drive, at over 10,500 feet. Kathy also had a workout, since anything over 10,000 feet in elevation leaves her a bit breathless.  We looked for an easy hike to help us acclimatize, and we found a trail guide online and decided to hike the two mile Alpine Pond Nature Trail.  What we didn't count on was the fact at this elevation, there was still snow on the trail!

While the snow was not covering the entire area, it did seem to like to drift and pile up right along the trail.  Luckily, another hiker had preceded us on the trail, so we didn't have as much trail-finding and trail-breaking as we might have had.

One of the highlights of the hike is the spring fed Alpine Pond.  The water really is that strange color green shown below.  One end of the pond was still frozen.

The pond made a perfect spot to stop for lunch.  Here's Dave chowing down on his hummus and green chili spread sandwich on whole wheat - yum!

After lunch, we soldiered on, climbing over snow piles on our way to the view of Cedar Breaks.  Our efforts were not in vain.  The space is so expansive and the colors are so vivid.

It is not the Grand Canyon, but it was plenty far enough down to the bottom that Kathy couldn't look over the edge.

We were originally going to hike over to the Chessmen Ridge Overlook, but post-holing through snow drifts was taking its toll on Kathy.  We made the hike an out-and-back rather than a loop.  We then just drove over to the scenic overlook.  Yep, the elevation was 10,467 feet (that's 3,190 meters for my British friends).

It is impossible to capture the entire amphitheater in one photos, so here is the view to the south.

And this is the view to the north.

And I couldn't resist adding this little guy.  The little white block of limestone is perched on top of a little spire of red sandstone.

On the way back to Panguitch, we stopped at Panguitch Lake.  Once a natural lake, it was damed and expanded to become a reservoir.  This mountain lake is stocked with three different types of trout - rainbow, cutthroat and tiger.

Across the road from the lake is a fishing camp complete with country store and cafe.  We poked our heads in and found the beer cooler.  It didn't take long before we had a couple cold ones popped open and were enjoying the view from the porch.  We were entertained by a couple of hummingbirds enjoying the feeders the owners set out.

The ride back down to Panguitch gave us a chance to view the immense valley we are located in.  We can't wait to go visit the other parks.

Chat at you later!