Sunday, May 25, 2014

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park was partially named because of the similarity of one of its domes to our nation's capitol dome. It has a variety of rock formations that are part of what is called the Waterpocket Fold, a huge warping of rock created 65 million years ago that stretches across south-central Utah.
The park has evidence of its use by humans, beginning with indigenous peoples. There are a series of hieroglyphics preserved on some of the rock walls. I think they look like spacemen.

There is also a preserved Mormon ranch in the park that shows the working life of the settlers. The orchards in the park still produce apples, peaches, cherries, and apricots that are available for picking and eating.

The road through the park follows the Fremont River, which was flowing pretty fast this time of year. The nearly impassable ridges are called reefs, giving this park the other part of its name. The formation in the picture below is called The Castle and the multi-hued cliffs leading up to it show the difficulties that would be encountered when attempting to traverse this landscape.

There are a variety of rock formations and colors.

We liked this rock formation which reminded us of a either a giant toad or Jabba the Hut from Star Wars.

The other thing that's interesting about Capitol Reef is its claim to having the clearest air in the lower 48 states. The average summer visual range is 145 miles. However, scientists are identifying more air pollution from local sources as well as southern California and southern Arizona that is diminishing views on all parts of the Colorado Plateau. Sad, and something that needs to be addressed not just for this area but for the health of the planet.

Utah Highway 12, National Scenic Byway

We saw some pretty mind boggling panoramas on our drive from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capital Reef National Park. We took UT-12, which is an All-American Road within the National Scenic Byways designated by the Federal Highway Administration. A list of all the byways and a map showing where they are can be found at   There are 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads. More can be learned on the following Wiki site

We travel many Scenic Byways and All-American roads in our attempt to see as much of North America as we can. UT-12 has to be up there with the very best of them.

UT 12 runs along the Northern border of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Father Escalante was a Spanish Priest who explored this area around 1776 when it was still part of Mexico (all of Texas, California, Nevada and Utah and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico were part of Mexico until a treaty was signed in 1848 after the Mexican – American War).The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, at 1.7 million acres, dominates any map of southern Utah.

The Grand Staircase is a geological formation that includes multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons as well as world-class paleontological sites. The land rises in broad, tilted terraces which give it its name, the Grand Staircase. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: Vermilion, White, Gray, Pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth's history in a dramatic geologic library. This is a high, rugged and remote region, where bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs run for distances, defying human perspective.

 In 2000, the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument became the first unit of BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System. It covers more area than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, making it the largest unit of the National Conservation Lands system. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service

Human interaction has always been limited in this area due to great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states.  It was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.

More information can be found in the following links

Our route from Bryce to Torrey, Utah, where we stayed to visit Capitol Reef National Park. It was 114 miles on National Scenic Byway Highway 12.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is known for its distinctive geological structures called hoodoos. The high elevation of Bryce combined with its climate creates the weathering of cliffs and rocks that create the hoodoos. Unlike in many places where flowing water shapes the rocks, at Bryce it is the snow and ice-melt as water seeps into fractures in the rocks that does the shaping. This is called frost-wedging. The cliffs are eroded into narrow walls and the frost-wedging causes cracks that create windows and arches. As the windows and arches grow, the tops eventually collapse, leaving a column. Rain further sculpts these spires and they become hoodoos.

It creates a spectacular fairyland.

Brian and I have been to Bryce before but we didn't do any hiking. One of the things we have always wanted to do is hike the trails that go down below the rim of Bryce. There is a combination of two hiking trails, Queen's Garden and Navajo Loop, that has been named the World's Best Three Mile Hike. It was rated moderately strenuous so we figured we could do it. The total elevation drop is 600 feet. 

We began the Queen's Garden Trail at Sunrise Point and wound our way down through some spectacular rock formations.

When we arrived at the Queen's Garden signpost, we could see where the name came from. The sign..

and the rock formation

We then hooked into the Navajo Loop which flattened out a bit at this point.

We began a gradual ascent through some more spectacular scenery

 until we came to the last big push, the switchbacks. 

We went at our own pace and had a great hike. Time to buy some hiking boots, we decided, and do some more hiking.

Bryce is one of our favorite national parks and we hope to keep returning to discover more of all that it has to offer. And, I have to share my favorite story about Bryce, which was named for Ebenezer Bryce whose family chose to live in the canyon. Bryce grazed his cattle inside what are now park borders, and reputedly thought that the amphitheaters were a "helluva place to lose a cow".

From Kanab, Utah to Bryce Canyon was 76 miles. We stayed about two miles from the entrance to the park.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Grand Circle

The Grand Circle is a beautiful, vast region located in the Southwestern United States. Many of the areas we are exploring now and have explored previously are part of the Grand Circle. It is one of our favorite areas in the United States.

The Grand Circle encompasses portions of five states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. It contains America's largest concentration of national parks and monuments, many of which are connected by spectacular designated Scenic Byways. Some of America’s most diverse scenery can be found within the Grand Circle.

The following map shows the general area of the Grand Circle. Clicking on it will zoom it in a bit - the first link in the list below has a larger version of the map.

The national parks in the Grand Circle include Arches National Park (UT), Black Canyon of the Gunnison (CO), Bryce Canyon (UT), Canyonlands (UT), Capitol Reef (UT), Chaco Culture Center (NM), Grand Canyon (AZ), Great Basin (NV), Mesa Verde (CO), Pecos Nat'l Historical Park (NM), Petrified Forest (AZ), and Zion (UT).

There are also national monuments, 29 Scenic Byways and a number of state parks. For more information and maps, click on the following links

Also in the Grand Circle are a few more of our favorite places that are located on the Navajo Reservation. These include Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley. The following link has a map of these places and has further information.

Zion National Park

Zion is Utah's first national park and also its most heavily used park. Its most prominent feature is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, following the course of the Virgin River. The entire landscape is a fascinating combination of multi-colored rocks and cliffs that chronicle its development over millions of years.

We entered Zion on the east side, where many of the rocks look like mud that has flowed and then hardened with lines running every which way. The formation above is called Checkerboard and has a series of lines or grooves running in both horizontal and vertical directions which is very unusual.
After driving through this surreal landscape we came to the Zion Tunnel which is slightly over one mile long and took three years to complete. At the time that the tunnel was dedicated, on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel of its type in the United States. It cuts through solid rock and is an impressive accomplishment.

When we exited the tunnel we saw a different landscape with taller formations and more of the red Navajo sandstone. There are many places in the rocks, such as the one above, where we could see the beginning of arches. The cliffs are spectacular, rising to dizzying heights.

In order to lessen the impact of visitors, Zion has a shuttle bus system that goes up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It is free and provides access to some of the park's most beautiful views and trails. We began by taking the shuttle to the top of the canyon and took the Riverside Walk which is a little over a mile each way. Along the trail we saw some 'weeping walls' where water was seeping out and down the rocks. There was a variety of vegetation on the walls, including several types of flowers including the Golden Columbine and Orange Columbine.

We arrived at the end of the walk in a place called the Narrows. It's possible to hike up the Narrows but approximately 60% of the walk is in the water. Kind of cold for this time of year. There is no trail because the route is the Virgin River. It's a hike that requires good planning and the proper equipment to get to the gorge itself, which is a mile up the river.

After getting back on the shuttle there were another nine stops on the way back to the Visitor Center. Each stop provided different views and hiking options, and the ride itself was pretty spectacular. We could easily spend more time exploring Zion and hopefully will return.

While touring Zion we stayed in Kanab, Utah. Our route from Flagstaff to Kanab was 210 miles. We went past Lees Ferry where the rafts going down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon launch. We also went through Jacobs Lake where to road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon begins.

It's 42 miles from Kanab to the Zion Visitor Center.

The Grand Canyon, South Rim

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon is both inspiring and overwhelming. It was carved by the Colorado River and is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep.

I looked back at my records and we were both surprised to find that we hadn't been to the South Rim since June, 2006, when we began our RV adventure. The highlight of that trip was our helicopter tour of the canyon which still ranks right  up there as one of our top experiences.

We drove up from Flagstaff and did a bit of walking on the Rim Walk, a paved path that is accessed near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, and one of the few places we could walk with Tilly.

Tilly was quite fascinated with the overly friendly squirrels, as were many of the tourists.
The park was more crowded than we had expected for this time of year and there were people everywhere. In some spots we had to take turns to see some of the sights.

The picture above shows a rock that's balanced between to tower rocks - hard to figure out how it got there.

It was an enjoyable day and we're glad we made a return visit. This time we drove over to the Desert View Visitor Center, an area we hadn't previously explored.

We went to the North Rim several years ago and we both agree that we prefer it to the South Rim. Since the North Rim is only open a few months of the year and is more difficult to get to there are fewer people and different views of the canyon. When we drove by the entrance to the North Rim on May 14 the road was closed so we didn't stop, only to find out that it opened the next day. Oh, well.

It's all spectacular no matter what the viewpoint.

We stayed in Flagstaff while we were visiting the Grand Canyon. Our route from Fountain Hills to Flagstaff, AZ  was 170 miles. The map shows a loop that we didn't take - the actual route is the thinner blue line. Just an example of not blindly following the GPS.

The loop we did from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon and back, 183 miles round trip.

Friday, May 2, 2014


We returned to Fountain Hills at the end of March and as usual when we're here we've been busy. We have been occupied with projects and maintenance on both the Bus and car, doctor's appointments, a few projects on the house, and just catching up with things in general. It's been a beautiful spring and we have enjoyed our morning walks around the fountain, spending time with friends, including some of our RV friends who were passing through, and just relaxing when possible. There hasn't been much to blog about so I've been taking a break. However, we haven't lost our gypsy spirit and are getting ready to hit the road again. This year we plan to spend the majority of our time in the western United States and we're looking forward to some more adventures.