Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Wrap up

After Bullhead City we did our usual stop for a couple of weeks in the Phoenix area to tend to business (mostly doctors, but other stuff, too) and visit friends. We then headed to Tucson for our annual stint to work for the U.S. Forest Service at Sabino Canyon. The intent was to work there into April before heading out on another summer's adventure.

Like I said, that was the intent. However, when in the Phoenix and Tucson areas we usually check out the condo/townhouse situation to see if there are any lock-and-leave options that we could see ourselves living in for the winter. We usually look at a few each year but never find one that comes close to meeting our criteria. This time, we looked at one that caught our attention in Gold Canyon. We looked at it a second time the day before we drove to Tucson. Long story short, after deliberating we made an offer, came to an agreement and closed on the place on December 14. We will be spending the next couple of months moving in and getting it setup exactly the way we want it. 

We will continue to travel but now we have a home base for the winters where we can come back to our stuff. We hope that family and friends will come and visit and warm up. 

Now it is time for my annual travel wrap up. This was an unusually big year for travel. The Frozen Four in Tampa pointed us to the southeast. With that pivot point, a plan formulated to see a bunch of things as described throughout this blog. The emphasis, as usual, was on historic sites, national parks and state capitols. We drove the truck over 17,000 miles, towed the fifth wheel 8,500 miles, visited 36 national park locations (National monuments, historic sites, parks, etc.), toured 13 state capitols, visited a lot of friends and family and made it safely back to Arizona without any major problems. This was an extremely fulfilling year! 

Here is the route map with 2016 in green

Coming attractions - the plan for 2017 will be to travel north through California, Nevada, Oregon and into Washington. This will take a couple months. We'll spend a few months in Washington and then start moving south through Oregon, Idaho, and Utah before getting back "home" (been a while since we said that).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Death Valley National Park

Our next move was to an RV park in Bullhead City, AZ. This stop allowed us to rest and clean after a busy five weeks in Utah. We also took a few days to drive to Las Vegas to visit family and then go on over to Death Valley National Park

This national park is very large and has extreme differences in geologic features and ecosystems. It contains mountains with peaks as high as 11,000 feet and it has the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Our spontaneous visit happened to fall on a very windy day making some places intolerable to spend much time. There were also some closed roads keeping us from seeing some park sites such as Scotty's Castle. We entered the park at the far south end near Shoshone and drove all the way up the valley. It is definitely a drive like no other. 
Driving on Badwater Road. The day
started out overcast so it kept the
temperature down.

View along Badwater Road

View along Badwater Road

Badwater Basin - lowest point in
North America

Crusted salt at Badwater Basin

Devil's Golf Course - salty, rough ground
View along road near Furnace Creek

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Zion National Park

View from Angels Landing
Our next move was to Zion National Park to complete the Utah "Big Five" National Parks. This is a popular National Park even in the middle of October. We didn't have any problem with parking and beating the crowd by getting to the visitor center between 8 and 8:30 am.
View along Riverwalk to The Narrows
As with other parks, Zion is very pretty and has unique characteristics. In this case, these are very high, sheer cliffs of various colors. The main part of the park is Zion Canyon. You have to take a shuttle into the canyon but it is very efficient and there are a lot of stops where you can get off and on to enjoy the views. There are a number of hikes with varying difficulties to suit anyone. The iconic hikes are Angels Landing and The Narrows. Both of these are very busy so get going early. Read the conditions and difficulties of these hikes before attempting them.

Court of Patriarchs
There is a west part of the park called Kolob Canyons which we did not get to on this trip and there is an east side that we also didn't get to because we didn't want to deal with special tunnel permits for our dually truck. These areas have their own special features so keep them in mind if you make the trip and want to avoid the big crowds.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week here, punctuated by a number of good hikes.

View on trail to Observation Point

View from Observation Point

View behind History Museum

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bryce Canyon National Park

Queens Garden Trail
We've been full-timing in an RV for over six years. People often ask what our favorite place is that we've visited. It has gotten to a point where we've seen so many great places that it was impossible to pick one. Driving the Going-to-the-sun-road in Glacier National Park has held a steady place in the top three, if not the number one position. After spending two entire summers based near Yellowstone NP we have a huge appreciation for it so it is in the top three. I think that after spending the last few days hiking and driving in Bryce Canyon National Park, it has definitely captured a spot in the top three as well. I really want to emphasize hiking. This adds a dimension, a depth of appreciation, that cannot be experienced any other way.

Navajo Trail
Bryce Canyon National Park is great to view from the rim but to experience it from the trails is sensational. Now, I must say, we had clear skies and cool temperatures so we had perfect conditions. We hiked the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop trails one day and I hiked the Fairyland Loop Trail another day. The latter is 8 miles with a lot of uphill making it a tough hike but the beauty amazing.

Some hints: go in to the park early because it will fill up. Plus, that works out great for hiking while it is cool (it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit one morning for us). Have a plan - spend multiple days and have targeted things to see/do each day (I recommend this no matter where you go) so you can nab your parking spot and have fun.
View at Farview Point

Navajo Trail

Fairyland Canyon at Fairyland Point
On Fairyland Loop Trail

On Fairyland Loop Trail

View from Rim Trail, part of
Fairyland Loop Trail about 1.5
miles from Fairyland Point

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Cedar Breaks National Monument

View along Hwy 12 in Grand
Staircase-Escalante Natl Monument
Our next destination to spend some time was Bryce Canyon City, UT. It was an amazing drive from Torrey, UT (Capitol Reef NP) down UT-12 to Bryce Canyon City. This is one (of many) Scenic Byways in Utah. It goes over a high pass and across Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There is a lot of up and down, tight curves and amazing scenery along this narrow road. It requires a lot of fuel and a lot of nerve with a big RV.

View along Hwy 12 in Grand 
Staircase-Escalante Natl Monument
We were in need of an oil change so we used our first day based in this location to drive to Cedar City. That worked out well because we could also go to a real grocery store and go to Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way back. This monument is another NPS location on the Colorado Plateau that shows the colorful cross-sections of the earth rock layers. The monument elevation is over 10,000 feet so it was quite cold on an October day.

Here are a few pictures from Cedar Breaks National Monument.

View near Visitor Center

View on trail to Spectra Point

View on trail to Spectra Point

View from Sunset View Overlook

View from Chessman Ridge Overlook

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Capitol Reef National Park

From Moab we moved to Torrey, UT so that we could visit Capitol Reef National Park. This is another beautiful park on the Colorado Plateau. The name comes from a combination of a large white
Capitol Dome

Hickman Bridge
dome shaped like the nation's "capitol" and the "reef" of rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like an ocean reef. The stunning colors of the rock cliffs, the arches and natural bridges, and the many domes throughout the park make driving and hiking in the park a pure delight. There are few roads in this park but there are great hikes to enjoy the splendor. If you are going to do just one hike, do the Hickman Bridge Trail.

In addition to the geologic history (read about it by following the link above), there is also human history in the park. There are
Who else thinks there may have been
aliens visit earth as documented in
petroglyphs dating back a thousand years and more recently, in the
1880s, Mormon settlers established a community along the Fremont River called Fruita. Fruit trees still grow in the area today.

View on Hickman Bridge Trail

View on Hickman Bridge Trail

View along Scenic Drive

View along Scenic Drive
View from Chimney Rock Trail

Friday, September 30, 2016

Moab, UT area

We did more exploring around Moab. We drove out another scenic byway, Hwy 279 which goes west along the Colorado River in a canyon, to see some rock art (petroglyphs) and to take a hike. This rock art is right along the road so there is no effort to see them.
Rock Art right along Hwy 279

Rock Art right along Hwy 279

We hiked to a nice view of Corona and Bow Tie Arches. It is posted as a 1.5 mile hike to Corona Arch but we stopped after a mile where we had a clear view. This was a very pretty hike.

Bow Tie Arch (left) and Corona
Arch (right)
We went back to town and drove along the other side of the river on Kane Creek Blvd to see more rock art. About 5 miles from town there is a big square boulder along the road with rock art all the way around it. One side in particular is really neat with some very unique drawings. The "birthing" and sandal tracks are pretty unusual. This was worth the time to see.

Note: there is a visitor information center in town on the corner of US 191 and Center street. We used their list of rock art with descriptions and detailed directions.

Huge bolder with rock art

Closer pic of rock art. Left side
shows feet first birthing

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Canyonlands National Park / Arches National Park

The next stopping point on our journey was Moab, UT. We arrived to a couple days of ugly weather
View along Highway 128

View along Highway 128
View along Highway 128
so it was a good thing we scheduled over a week to see the area. As the weather started to break up, we drove 25 miles up the Highway 128, a National Scenic Byway. It is definitely a pretty drive and iconic for the Colorado Plateau.

Canyonlands NP - view along
the Grand View Point trail
The main attractions for the Moab area are the two National Parks. We visited Canyonlands National Park first because we thought that it may be a little less crowded on the weekend. This is the largest of the Utah National Parks and it has three main areas with access points many miles apart. We went to the most accessible unit - the Island in the Sky. It gets its name because this park unit is on top of a huge mesa. The Green and Colorado Rivers have carved the canyons on each side of the mesa and they merge at the southern end of the mesa. The main attractions are the view points into the canyons. We spent a day driving to each overlook, hiking on paths to more vistas, and taking a lot of pictures. The picture taking was a battle against clouds because when you can see for up to a hundred miles, cloud shadows cause all sorts of depth perception issues. The highlight of the day was the view from the end of the trail that starts at the Grand View Point Overlook (not to mention the views along the walk). Spectacular.
Canyonlands NP - view along the
Grand View Point trail

Canyonlands NP - view at the end
of the Grand View Point trail
We next went into Arches National Park early on a Sunday morning. By 10:30 it was so crowded at every pull out that we decided to leave (if you don't have to, don't go on a weekend). We had spent enough time to see some sights and to develop a strategy when we came back the next day. Monday was much more manageable from a crowd perspective. We had a beautiful, perfectly clear day in the park. We stopped at the view points that we hadn't done the day before and did the hikes necessary to see the rest of the easily accessible arches. This park is spectacular. It isn't just about "arches". It is also about one amazing, colorful rock formation after another. There is a lot of amazing stuff to see but the absolute highlight was the Devils Garden hike all the way to Dark Angel doing all of the side trails to the various arches. Of all the hikes I've ever done (lots) this might just be the most spectacular 7 mile hike ever!
Arches National Park

Arches National Park - Double Arch

Arches NP - South & North Windows
Many would also say Dead Horse Point State Park is a must see, but really, it's basically an extension of Canyonlands National Park so if you are limited on time and don't want to pay another entrance fee, skip it.

Arches NP - Partition Arch
Pictures can never capture the amazing sites like these national parks. The beauty is just too huge and amazing. They do at least give an idea. Here are some more. Note: I don't enhance my pictures with software. These are the actual colors captured by the camera.

Arches NP - Navajo Arch

Arches NP - view along Devils
Garden trail near Double O Arch

Arches NP - Double O Arch

Arches NP - Trail to Double O Arch

Arches NP - trail above Landscape Arch

Arches NP - Landscape Arch