Today we webn to the Grand Canyon! I've been looking forward to this one. Because of our trip route, we went to the North Rim, which only gets about 10% of the visitors the South Rim does. The views were still pretty great, and it was nice after the crowd at Zion, although there were still a good number of people around. We got there nice and early, and had breakfast at the Grand Canyon Lodge, which was beautiful. We hiked the short but lovely Bright Angel Trail, did the (not-so) scenic drive to a far viewpoint, then drove back to the Lodge where I did some plein air painting and Tim sunbathed on the veranda. You can't quite wrap your mind around the scale of how wide it is- up to 18 miles across in some spots. Finished the day with another hike through the forest and around the rim, and headed back to the campsite. On to Death Valley tomorrow- bring on the heat!
Friday we went to Zion NP, our last park in Utah. Also, the first park in Utah where we had truly great weather- high 60s, sunny, and dry. And Zion is so green! So much greener down in the valley of the park, maybe because we were up on the rim for many of the others.
We went on the river walk, which was really pleasant, if crowded. We had been hoping to hike the Narrows through the river, but they had had so much rainfall that it was closed to hikers because of the high, fast waters. We saw a few waterfalls, even got to hike up behind one at the lower Emerald pool.
Thursday Tim and I went to Bryce Canyon. It had been unseasonably cold the whole time we've been in Utah (20-30 degrees colder than normal) but this was the coldest day yet. We were told the scenic route through Escalante was worth the extra few miles, and it might have been, if we could see through the snowstorm. It did clear up by the time we got to an overlook, and we got a great view of Escalante from above, and atop the Devil's Backbone, and it was clear and sunny when we got to Bryce. We had a nice few hours where it was quite pleasant, and we hiked around a bit. It wasn't windy at all, which made it feel warmer than some other days in the 50s. Tim bought a patch showing this last particular formation, with a raven on it. When we found the formation, we also found the raven. He was quite sociable.
In the afternoon, however, the snow came back and visibility really dropped over the canyon, so we headed to our campsite.
I also wanted to post a few more photos of scenery and desert flowers that I couldn't before, because of slow wifi.
A couple days of crappy wifi have gotten me a little behind in uploading pictures. Tuesday we went to Arches National Park. We saw tons of arches, including Double Arch, Delicate Arch, and Landscape Arch, among others. We probably hiked at least 8 miles that day, and I was feeling a little sore and grumpy by the last arch. We also saw tons of blooming flowers- I guess all the rain really made the flowers come out in force today. That was a nice upside, all the rain we've been having seems to have made the desert very happy.
Wednesday we went to Capitol Reef NP. This park had some cool rock layers, and the cliffs were lots of different colors than we had been seeing, but there wasn't a lot of the park we could see without going off-roading in the backcountry. There were some old Mormon settlements, some appeared to still be in use. Tim did take us on a dirt road to see a little bit further into the park, and was very happy his car could keep up with all the jeeps and lifted trucks. We stayed at a cabin so we could plug in the car at the campground, but have a larger indoor space to stay out of the rain. The campground had a BBQ hut on site, so of course we had to skip the camp meals another night. It was pretty great, but Dinosaur is still the favorite.
Monday we said goodbye to Colorado and hello to Utah. Immediately I was struck by the colors, so many more colors than I expected. You know you'll see a lot of reds, oranges, and browns out west, but I was struck by all the greens, purples, blues, and yellows. No place we've been so far has made me want so much to paint it. But we've been too busy to pause, and the places with the best views tend to also be the coldest and windiest.
We spent the day at Canyonlands NP, the Island in the Sky section. It really has some amazing canyons and overlooks. We tried to get a campsite in the park, but it was full by mid-morning, so we booked two nights at the Lazy Lizard hostel in Moab (Tim's first hostel stay!) We had dinner at the Moab Brewery, which was delicious. We were hoping to try the Impossible burger, but they were all out. Arches NP is right nearby, and our next stop.
Photos don't do the scale of this place justice. We arrived around noon today, after climbing the sand dunes early this morning. We had to drive through a mountain pass blizzard, which made me nervous, but Tim is a gentleman and drove slowly and carefully for me.
We arrived around noon, and started the drive around the South Rim. We skipped the short hikes that were available, as we didn't think any would give us as spectacular views as we got from the overlooks. Plus, it ranged from about 30-55 degrees, rain, snow, and bright sun, back and forth within the few hours we were there. This canyon is so deep in places, I couldn't even fit the entire depth of it in my camera's frame. These photos sadly do not give you the right depth and sense of scale.
We're sleeping at the KOA campground in town tonight, and on to Mesa Verde tomorrow.
We arrived at Great Sand Dunes NP Friday morning after another beautiful drive through an amazing valley surrounded by mountains. We could see the dunes from quite a distance as things started to flatten out. We arrived at the visitors center, took a quite nature hike through the woods, and went off to tackle the dunes. You have to wade through a wide shallow river bed to get to the dune field, which was freezing as it was only about 60 degrees out, although sunny. The wind, however, was a problem, with gusts up to 40mph sandblasting us with every step. We got to the base of the dunes and decided to turn around, and try tackling them again the next morning when the winds calmed down. We had a nice long lunch, a few drinks, and dessert at a local restaurant, and just relaxed and did laundry that afternoon at the campsite. We spent most of the time in the car to stay out of the wind, and planned out our next couple of days.
Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early and hurried to the dune field at 6am. It was about 34 degrees out by the time we got there, and there was ice along the edges of the creek. The wind, however, was only about 8-10mph, so we decided to bundle up and go for it. It was a struggle just getting through the creek, which was running fast this morning. Once we dried off, we set out for the tallest nearby ridge. We warmed up as we got moving, but it was tough going. Imagine how hard it is to walk along the beach, now turn that into a mountain. We got to the top of the ridge in sight, and were breathing hard although still a little chilly. It was much higher than it looks in the picture. We decided that the view was good enough from there, and headed back down. Down was much easier, but since you're not working hard it was a lot colder. I was really not looking forward to getting back across the creek, but we did, and immediately sat in the car to warm up. And then it was about 8am, and time to head to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Thursday Tim and I decided to drive around the Rockies a bit more in the morning, taking some roads we hadnt gotten to the day before, and watching for wildlife. We startled a black bear, and saw lots of elk.
We drove to Colorado Springs for lunch and charging, then drove to Pike's Peak- which I think is one of the highest points you can get to by car in the US, at 14115 feet above sea level. We wanted to ride the shuttle all the way to the top, but were informed the shuttle wasn't running yet for the season. Our only option was a terrifying slow drive up the snaking road, much of it without guard rails. It was worth the views, although it was freezing at the top. We made it!
Later that afternoon we had some time, so we stopped at Garden of the Gods, a local park with cool sandstone formations. We didn't plan to stay long, but ended up accidentally taking a trail that led us back to our parking spot- the long way that climbed up into the hills and gave us great views of the park from above. A happy accident.
We had had several long days, a few without showers, so we decided to take it easy that night and stay in a motel at our next charging stop- Poncha Lodge at Poncha Springs. We took Route 50 to get there, which cut through the Rockies, and which Tim said was his favorite road to drive to date. It was absolutely gorgeous as we passed through a slowly widening valley through the mountains, alongside a small river. Poncha Lodge was charming (and had hot showers!) and we ended up staying for breakfast at the little food trailer next door- another great decision. "Trailer Tots" smothered in gravy, bacon, egg and cheese was a good start to the day for our drive to Great Sand Dunes.
Wednesday we drive quite a ways, and got to the Rocky Mountains around noon. This park is massive, it seems like there is a ton to do in the park and in the town of Estes. We were afraid we were a little too early in the season to see much, since some of the scenic drives were still closed, but you can see amazing views from anywhere- all you have to do is turn around again. We hiked to Beaver Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. The trails were still deep in snow, but hard packed so you didn't sink in. It was a tough 3.6mi round trip, and we climbed to over 10,000 feet in elevation. The views were just amazing, definitely worth it. We were pretty beat by the end of that hike, so we drove around some more, and then settled into our campsite (inside the park this time, and lovely, although no showers) for the evening. I kept getting carsick on the mountainy roads so Tim was a wonderful husband to drive into town and pick up some dramamine for me :) What a great road trip partner!