Life Elevated

More Utah adventures in Bryce Canyon
July 5 – 14, 2018

These are the things they don’t tell you about Utah: it’s dry and dusty and windy and most of all the elevations are killer! I should have known something was up when the tagline on all the tourist brochures read Utah, Life Elevated, but I was too distracted by the spectacular pictures of the red rock vistas. 🙂

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Even with the high elevations you don’t get a break from the heat, many of our days were spent in the 90s and even 100s. The only saving grace is that it cools off at night. I didn’t realize how the heat combines with the elevation to totally wipe out your energy. You would think that since we’ve been at over 5000’ for the last month I’d be somewhat acclimated, but apparently not since my heart rate shot up and I was breathing hard with every little bit of exertion. Of course Bryce sits at 8000 feet so we had climbed even higher. Let’s blame it on that. 

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We were worried this would be another very crowded national park campground, especially since it was a holiday week. So we got up super early for the drive from Escalante and ended up arriving too early. We found a good site at 9am, but by noon most of the other campers had left and we could have had our pick.

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That’s ok we enjoyed watching the park police pull folks over (I presume for speeding) and some sort of propane leak scare involving the fire department in the day-use parking lot below us. And we were just a short walk from the visitor’s center, shuttle bus, and right on the bike path which we rode up to the lodge one afternoon.

We saw the old service station that used to serve the park before private businesses set up shop just outside the park.

The lodge and cabins had cool log cabin architecture.

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One evening we went to the rim to watch the fading light play across the hoodoos.

Nearly every hike in Bryce starts with a descent into the canyon, a bunch of little hills and the promise of a steep climb back up at the end. That combined with the elevation factor meant our hikes here required a lot more stops and a slower pace plus a day off to recuperate. Still we managed to get out quite a bit.

For our first foray, I decided to avoid the steep climb with a hike along the rim. This gave us a good overview of the canyon that we’d later explore. We started by boarding the free park shuttle near the campground and riding to it’s furthest stop, Inspiration Point. From there it was about a 2.5 mile, mostly downhill trek back with every little turn giving a different view of the canyon. Because you can see so far and with the way the light falls on the hoodoos, sometimes it’s hard to have any depth perception when looking into the canyon. 

Next up was the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop Trail, our most ambitious hike at 5 miles with 1500’ of elevation gain. We had everything packed and ready the night before so we could get an early start to avoid the parking crowds and beat the heat. We started with the steep downhill through the Wall Street area and into the canyon.

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Those are the steep switchbacks which later in the day will be filled with ant-like people marching up and down.

Then the Peekaboo Loop took us up close with some of the hoodoos. It was a lot of up and down and since it is also used by the horse tours, parts were pretty smelly.

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On this hike we earned our “I Hiked the Hoodoos” status by collecting selfies with various markers in the canyon.

The last leg came back up past Thor’s Hammer.

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It was a trek, but well-worth it!

Over the weekend we took the 18 mile drive to Rainbow Point. Since most folks stay in the Bryce Amphitheater area which is accessible via the shuttle, this drive further into Bryce Canyon is less crowded. I had read somewhere to drive all the way to the end and then stop at the viewpoints on the way back. This turned out to be good advice since the pullouts were then on the right hand side and easier to enter and exit. Also by the time we finished at Rainbow Point the parking lot was overfilled. Be sure to visit both the Rainbow and Yovimpa viewpoints while you’re parked there. Many folks missed the second as it isn’t well marked. 

We originally paid for a week at our campsite, but decided to extend a few more days and take one more hike into the canyon. The views were just too amazing to miss. This time we did the Queen’s-Navajo Loop. It started with a gentler descent into the canyon ending up at a hoodoo named for it’s resemblance to Queen Victoria.

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Then instead of heading back the way we came we figured we’d go up the Navajo trail through Wall Street since it had looked so cool the day we hiked down it. We were glad to be finished up by early afternoon as thunderstorms moved in. 

The views here never grow old. Every time we ventured to the rim, we were in awe.

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And so we spent our entire stay in the park even though there are many other things to see in the area. Guess we’ll just save those other places for next time. 

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Another spectacular Utah park!

Escalante

Late June-early July 2018

We left Capitol Reef on our two year “on the road” anniversary. Driving through the amazing views seemed a fitting way to celebrate.

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One last look at this amazing red rock.

Our route took us down Scenic Highway 12, one of 31 “All-American Roads” according to the brochure I picked up at the visitor’s center in Torrey. The pamphlet alerted us to all the scenic pullouts along the way including mile markers so we had plenty of time to slow down. Nice to have advance warning when you’re towing 9000 pounds!  Continue reading “Escalante”

To Utah!

Mid-July 2018

When we left on this adventure, at the very top of our list were the Utah parks. Two years later we’ve finally made it to our first one and I have to admit I’m having a hard time writing this post because we have so many awesome pictures, yet they don’t quite capture the wonder of Capitol Reef.

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Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser known Utah parks. It straddles the highway so most folks just drive through on their way from Zion and Bryce up to Arches and Canyonlands but boy are they missing out. With it’s campground set among the orchards and the spectacular geology all around, Capitol Reef is an amazing park! It may well turn out to be my favorite in Utah, but I guess I should reserve judgement until I’ve seen the other four. 🙂  Continue reading “To Utah!”

Craters of the Moon

early June 2018

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There you are driving through Idaho’s hills and green fields with snow capped peaks in the distance and then suddenly you end up in this strange land.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument has been on our list since the start of this adventure. Since it wasn’t too far off our route to Utah we decided to spend a few days there.

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One day a group of vintage cars drove through the park.

Boy did we luck out. Without knowing it we hit prime wildflower bloom. The Monkeyflower’s entire life cycle (sprout, bloom, seed, wither and die) takes only 3 weeks and we were here for the bloom! Those tiny, pink flowers added a beautiful contrast to the dark volcanic rock.

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Monkeyflowers in bloom!

This place is really strange, especially for being in the middle of Idaho. It feels more like Hawaii, and in fact all the signs explaining the different types of rock had pictures of lava from Hawaii. Mostly this place reminded us of the lava flow we visited in New Mexico, Valley of Fires, especially on our first night when we walked from the campground to the Trail of Lava. 

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The next day we drove to the wilderness trail parking area. There were two trails, one to the tree molds which are impressions of trees laying flat in the lava. The other trail said it went to Lava Trees, described as an upright version. I thought this sounded interesting so off we went. The trail started out through some awesome lava rocks, then came into more of a meadow with small cinders, almost like lava rock gravel. The wildflowers seem to love these areas.

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Bitteroot blooms

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Finally we saw the sign for the lava trees. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was cool. The lava surrounded the tree and as the tree burned the steam cooled the lava enough to harden it into an impression of the tree leaving tree shaped voids. 

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On our last day we drove the short loop again, this time stopping at several other areas. We skipped the very popular Inferno Cone where lots of visitor’s were hiking up the barren cone and instead stopped at the nearby Spatter Cones area.

After a quick look into the spatter cones we hiked up the steep trail to Big Crater. We had been joking that there were no craters at Craters of the Moon, but after the short steep climb we found the craters! And great views around as well.

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It’s a hike that wasn’t really at the top of the ranger recommendations, but was definitely worth it! Our last stop on the loop was Devil’s Orchard, another great area to view wildflowers.

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Overall Craters of the Moon was a great stop with much more variety in the lava formations than we had seen at Valley of Fires, plus the wildflowers were gorgeous!

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This rock next to our campsite was my favorite. It seemed to have been frozen mid-eruption.

 

 

2 More National Parks!

November 2017

After a road weary fall, we decided to head to the Texas coast. We loved our stay there last year for Thanksgiving and two weeks at the National Seashore sounded like just the break we needed. We also wanted to check out some RV casitas we’ve been researching as an option for a winter base. Plus, there was a week of nice weather in the forecast. This meant we could hit up two more national parks, Guadelupe and Carlsbad, that we haven’t been able to visit because of their high elevation.

We arrived at Guadelupe Mountains National Park on November 3rd. The RV camping is basically spots in the parking lot so nothing special, but it put us right in the middle of the views. Guadelupe is a “desert meets mountains” sort of place so you have yucca and cactus alongside juniper and pine.

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You can see our shiny trailer parked in the “camping” area.

This parking lot was also the major trailhead so we saw a lot of backpackers getting their permits and heading out for multi-night treks. As the weather turned chillier and stormier over the weekend we were glad to be snug in our trailer!

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Lucky for us we picked a beautiful morning to hike to Devil’s Hall. Being in the desert we’ve missed out on fall colors so it was a treat to see so much beautiful color on the trees along the way.

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Before you get to Devil’s Hall You have to navigate the Devil’s Staircase.

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I’m about half way up it here. It was even trickier coming back down.  🙂 The hall is a narrow passage between two cliffs of layered stone. It was pretty cool.

The color was just as amazing on our way back.

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We also visited a couple of sights in the park. There are ruins of a Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Stop, the highest on the route at 5,534 feet. Butterfield was the first transcontinental mail service. The coaches ran round the clock, covering the 2800 miles in 25 days or less. The stations were important to provide food and fresh horses.

We walked around the Frijole Ranch. The buildings weren’t open the day we were there, but we peered in the windows. The red building was once the schoolhouse. They also had an amazing spring-fed irrigation system that watered an orchard.

Guadelupe and Carlsbad are about 45 miles apart so we could have driven to the caverns, but we opted to move our trailer to a boondocking spot closer to the park.

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By now you should know that caves are not really my thing, but I have to say Carlsbad blew me away. I had researched the options and found you could hike through the Natural Opening and down into the cave at your own pace. It didn’t look like there were any tight spaces so I thought I’d be fine and I was.

Turns out I was too enthralled by all the cool cave formations to feel claustrophobic, plus the rooms are huge!

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Every turn brought another amazing view.

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Often times it felt like we were on the set of Star Trek landing on a distant planet.

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After walking the paved trail from the Natural Entrance, you end up 800 feet below the surface in the Big Room, which has a 1.25 mile loop trail.

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This room is gigantic, the size of 14 football fields, and filled with formations.

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By the end we were on overload and happy to take the elevator back up 38 floors to the surface.

If you only visit one cave in your lifetime, this is the one. What an amazing journey into a strange underground world. Even though I’m not a cave person I loved it. Although I do think I’ve now fulfilled all my cave needs for a lifetime. 🙂

Well that brings our grand total to 15 National Parks!