Saturday, September 29, 2018

Zion National Park

Zion is one of our favorites with its distinctive rock formations. Like a lot of the other national parks it's become crazy busy. To visit the main part of Zion you have to park and take shuttles, understandable with all the crowds. Unfortunately the waits to get on a shuttle were 30 minutes plus. We had been to the areas that require a shuttle several times and we wanted to avoid the long wait and big crowds so we spent most of our time on the east side of the park. This area doesn't require shuttles, and is not as busy.

We saw an amazing number of desert bighorn sheep on this trip. We started with a beautiful hike up the Overlook Trail. When we first started out we saw a bighorn family and encountered more along the trail. They don't seem to be bothered the least little bit by humans.

The trail ended at a stunning overlook, just as advertised.

The trail was fairly easy, passing through some interesting areas.

The other hikes we took were off the beaten track and we didn't see many people, but did see more bighorn sheep. This herd was up on the rocks above the canyon we were hiking in. It was fun to watch them jumping from rock to rock - very surefooted. One thing that was concerning is that we could see and hear them coughing. I looked on the internet and found out that there is some type of bacterial pneumonia infecting some of the sheep. While it can't be treated and no sheep have been known to have died, the website did ask anyone who witnessed excessively coughing sheep to report it, so I did.

 We saw another large herd near the road.

On another day we saw this ram and what appeared to be his mate.

He was pushing her and trying to get her to move to another spot.  I guess he just gave up and walked away from her, then she took off on her own.

We did some other hiking outside of the park. We took a trail up to a small slot canyon called Red Hollow. It was a pretty easy hike to the entrance and through the first part of the canyon.

Once we got into the canyon there were several large boulders to climb over - fortunately someone had hauled in a pallet which provided some crude steps to help in getting over the first set of boulders. The second one pretty well stopped us. We're just not as young as we like to think we are.

We've enjoyed doing more hiking this summer and Zion is a great place for it. It takes a bit of planning to get away from the crowds but it can be done.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is right up there among our favorite national parks, so it's always worth another visit. It has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are tall, skinny rock towers that are formed by erosion. Photographs don't do them justice. The photo below is from an area called the amphitheater which has thousands of them.

We spent some time driving along the main park road, stopping at the overlooks and doing some short hikes. Stunning views abound.

We spent one morning hiking the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trails which were rated as one of the top ten hikes in the U.S. by National Geographic a few years ago. The Queen's Garden Trail winds its way down from the rim to Queens Garden at the bottom. The photo below shows the beginning of the hike as people begin the descent.

The trail winds through the hoodoos and has several arches to pass through.

The Queens Garden Trail ends at a rock formation that is remarkably similar to a statue of Queen Victoria wearing her crown and long dress. The statue is somewhere in England, I'm not sure of the exact spot.

At this point the trail joins the Navajo Loop. We hiked along the canyon floor, enjoying the sights, and got ready to do our 550 foot ascent. Fortunately the ascent has switchbacks but it's still a long way to the top.

Looking up, the people look like little ants.

The view looking down from about halfway up the switchbacks.

Almost to the top and still smiling.


The drive through the park ends at a viewpoint called Rainbow Point. We took a hike from there called the Bristlecone Trail. When we started the hike we noticed a few firefighters and their vehicles, but the trail wasn't closed. When got to Rainbow Point we could look out and see smoke.

We had been aware of increasing smoke in the area and knew there was a fire (actually 2) in the park but the fires hadn't affected us. As we continued along the trail we talked to some firefighters who were clearing brush. They told us that the policy was not to suppress the fires unless they approached structures or a public area. We continued along the trail, seeing more firefighters coming down, and when we got back to the parking lot the number of vehicles and personnel had greatly increased. The winds were quite strong and it was evident that the fire was spreading. We stopped at one of the overlooks and watched as the fire exploded.

We were never close enough to be in any danger, but the smoke was pretty thick that afternoon, even back at our RV park. As we understand it, the firefighters were protecting Rainbow Point. The parking lot has restrooms and a few other structures. We were told that there was a sprinkler system up there that would be used to keep the fire away. The latest update as of 9/24 is that 'The Riggs and Lonely fires are currently active along the park's southeastern boundary. These fires are being monitored while they perform their natural role in a fire-dependent ecosystem.' Several trails are still closed, but as of this weekend the road to Rainbow Point is open during the day.

What's in a name

One of my favorite stories is about how Bryce Canyon got its name. Sometime in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s Ebenezer Bryce moved into the Paria Valley, just east of the present day national park. One day while searching for his cattle Ebenezer, a pioneer rancher, stumbled onto the main amphitheater of Bryce Canyon. You’d think that he would have something dramatic to say about what he saw on this occasion, but his only comment on record was “It’s one hell of a place to lose a cow.” People were more practical about life in the days of Ebenezer Bryce and scenery was likely far less important than scratching out a living in an arid and higher elevation climate. Soon the word must have spread about the canyon and locals began calling the place Bryce’s Canyon.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Living the Dream

When we meet new people they often say 'Oh, you're living the dream'. Brian's standard response is 'Yes, but sometimes the dream's a nightmare'. While we're by no means in a nightmare scenario we have had a bit of a glitch. While camped near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I noticed a drip under the back of the Bus. Brian crawled under, found out it was coolant, and said 'this is not good'. Turns out we had a serious radiator leak and couldn't drive the Bus. Fortunately our FMCA Roadside Assistance covered the tow, which wasn't cheap.

As long as we were already set up and had paid for a couple of days we decided to stay where we were and spend some time on the North Rim. More about that later.

When we were ready to leave a lowboy was sent up from Kanab, UT. The tow driver was experienced and Brian was also familiar with the process. The Bus was loaded up without a problem and delivered to Little's Diesel Repair in Kanab. At least the drive down to Kanab provided us with some great views - too bad the Bus was being towed backwards and couldn't enjoy them as well.

Unfortunately we need a new radiator, not cheap or easy to get. It looks like we'll be here at least another week. The good news is that we're in a really gorgeous area of the country, have a 50 amp electric hookup, water, free wifi, TV, and access to a pump-out truck.

The town of Kanab is a base for people going to Zion, Bryce, the Grand Canyon North Rim, Page for the slot canyons, and so many other things in southern Utah. There are some great restaurants, stores with the necessities and so on. We have some ideas of things to do while here - things could be worse.

We've been so busy that I haven't blogged about our time at Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, or the North Rim. Looks like I've got time now so will try to get some posts and pictures
published in the next few days.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is located very close to Moab, Utah. This was our third visit and it was just as inspiring as the first time. This year we made a point of doing more hiking. We didn't do the best planning on our first hike as it was pretty hot but still mostly doable. We hiked down a trail called The Park Avenue Trail, one of the first major attractions within the park. It's a one-mile trail that follows the bottom of a canyon at the feet of some of the park’s gigantic and well-known monoliths.

It was too hot to hike the entire trail but we did our best. Brian is dwarfed by the huge rocks and we were both feeling the heat at this point.

We continued on in the car and explored some of the well-known spots that were fairly close to the road, such as Balancing Rock

The Three Gossips with Sheep Rock on the lower right

Turret Arch

and Delicate Arch, the arch that is on the Utah license plate. I took the photo of Delicate Arch with my telephoto lens. The hike to reach the arch itself is a steep 3 mile hike over rock, not something we thought we should do. It's rated as strenuous, and the Park Rangers even had a tent set up at the trailhead to check with people before they attempted the hike, a good idea on sunny days with temperatures in the 90s. Maybe in our younger days when our hips and knees were working a little better ...

There's an area of Arches called Devils Garden which is one of the premier spots in the park. We hadn't hiked any of the trails in Devils Garden in previous years so it was on our bucket list for this trip. After experiencing the heat and crowds on the first day we got smart, got up early, and did most of our hiking while it was relatively cool and not too crowded.

We went to the furthest arch, Landscape Arch, first. It's the longest of the natural arches in the park and has one of the world's longest stone spans. It stretches 306 feet, just slight longer than a football field and is only about 11 feet thick at its center.  In 1991 a 60-foot-long slab of rock fell from the bottom of the arch. There were hikers in the area who heard cracking sounds and were able to flee as a 60 foot long rock slab peeled away from the right side of the arch. When the dust settled there were 180 tons of fresh debris under the rock. It's believed that unseasonably heavy rains the prior ten days caused water to seep into the sandstone pores and the weight finally caused the arch to lose its struggle with gravity. Today there are concerns that the passage of time will cause the arch to weaken further so hikers aren't allowed under the arch anymore. 

After leaving Landscape Arch and heading back to the trailhead, there were some shorter trails to other interesting arches. We hiked to Tunnel Arch

and Pine Tree Arch where everyone (us included) was having their picture taken.

It was a very enjoyable couple of days. We love this area of southern Utah and will continue on our journey to some of our favorite places.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ouray Colorado

Ouray (YOUray) is awesome. It is located in the San Juan Mountains, where many of the mountain peaks are over 14,000 feet.

We have driven through Ouray before but this was our first time staying here - unfortunately we could only get a spot for 3 days. I think we'll be back. We had a great view from our RV space, somewhat hazy the first few days due to smoke from the terrible California fires.

We spent our time hiking and looking at mountains, cliffs, waterfalls and rivers. One hike took us to the bottom of Box Canyon to see the falls which plunge 285 feet. The water is low due to the drought, but still seemed to be going through at a pretty good clip. In the photo below, water is cascading down a chute just above the outlet at the bottom.

Much of this area was mined for many years. Old mining equipment can be seen behind Brian.

The Million Dollar Highway, listed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world, stretches for about 25 miles and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray. It's also one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It goes over Red Mountain Pass, named for the mountains it passes through.

We (Brian) drove the Million Dollar Highway several years ago with the Bus towing our car. While it could be a bit hairy at times, it was doable as long as we took our time. We came into Ouray this year from another direction so decided to take the car back on part of the route. We were able to stop and enjoy more of the scenery.
The origin of the name Million Dollar Highway, built primarily by Otto Mears, is disputed. There are several legends including that it cost a million dollars a mile to build in the 1920s, or that its fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore. Who knows.
This was once an area rich in ore containing silver and gold. The remains of the Yankee Girl mine are part of the Idarado Mine. Evidently there was such a rich vein of silver that the ore was sent straight to the smelter. Mine tailings, a trestle, and buildings are still visible. As we understand it, there is a major clean-up operation going on.

It's possible to drive through the old Yankee Girl town. I'm guessing it was one of those company towns where everyone depended on the company for everything, probably never getting out of debt to the company - 'I owe my soul to the company store.'

It also seems that this is the Jeep and ATV/UTV capital of the world. We've never seen so many of them in one place. It makes sense, though, because there are a multitude of trails through the mountains and mines. Pretty cool - maybe next time we'll rent a Jeep.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Finally Made It to Colorado

On the day we left Fountain Hills the high temp was supposed to be 114. Needless to say we were happy to escape. In the weeks before we left our routine had changed to adapt to the higher temps, getting up around 5 AM so we could do our walk before it got too hot. We stuck to the routine while getting the Bus ready to go, and pulled out around 7:30 AM. Pretty early for us.

We've been in Dolores, Colorado for the last week. It's a small town in southwest Colorado, west of Durango and quite close to Mesa Verde National Park, the Anasazi Heritage Center, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument. They are all part of a large area where Native Americans, eventually known as the ancestral Pueblo people, made their dwellings and villages.

Hovenweep National Monument

Although no one has lived in them for over 700 years, the towers and cliff dwellings are still impressive. It's really interesting to see how well they were built, especially some of the taller towers.

There are cliff dwellings as well, evidence that a sizeable population lived in this canyon at one time. The eroded Boulder House can be seen in the photo below, under the curved overhanging rock.

Lowry Pueblo, Canyons of the Ancients

This pueblo was interesting for a couple of reasons. It's 2 stories tall, has over 40 rooms, and several kivas. Kivas are a large chambers, usually wholly or partly underground, that were used for religious ceremonies and other purposes. The main structure at Lowry is protected by a metal roof, and we were able to go in and look at several of the rooms. We think the walls in the photo above are probably part of the upper story and the main level is still partially underground. The architecture was influenced by Chaco Canyon, about 100 miles south.

Anasazi Heritage Center and Museum

This place was fascinating and really well worth a stop. There are displays showing the history and the methods modern archaeologists use to excavate and preserve artifacts. Many of the displays are interactive. There is a reconstructed pit house, which was basically an underground house that the ancients lived in before they began building pueblos. It really gave us a sense of what the people and their lives were like so many years ago. Very impressive and highly recommended as an introduction to this area. I didn't take any photos but the link below has some good ones.

Anasazi Museum Photos

Mesa Verde National Park

This was our second visit to Mesa Verde. The first time we went we did the more popular side of the park where the most famous ruins are located. We took the the ranger guided tour of the Cliff Palace, which is Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling, and took the Chapin Mesa loop road that went by many of the sites. Since this area attracts so many tourists at this time of year we decided to go over to Wetherill Mesa on the quieter side of the park.

Image result for mesa verde step house

We hiked down to  the Step House and were able to climb around and get a good look at things. It's amazing how the park service has managed to preserve so many of these sites while still allowing people to get up close and personal.

As we hiked back out of the canyon we could see many overhangs and other formations across from us.

In the photo of the rocks below I see what looks like a face. Above it, evidence of one of the many fires that have happened in Mesa Verde can be seen. Lots of black and dead trees, but vegetation starting to grow. 

 We also saw this little guy on our hike out - one of the more colorful lizards we've seen.

We really enjoy learning more about the history and culture of this area. We have explored many of the ruins in Mexico that have both architectural and cultural similarities. It's obvious that there were well established trade routes developed by the ancient Pueblans hundreds of years ago with people to the south and west.

We've finished our learning and exploring in this area for now and will be moving on to another small Colorado mountain town, Ouray.