Category Archives: National Parks

Flying Along the Front Range

Along the Front Range, Colorado; May 22 – June 4, 2019

Our trip the past few weeks along the Front Range of the Rockies was a homecoming of sorts for us, as Estes Park was our first big vacation to the mountains as a married couple…some 29 years ago.  Diana had been to Denver with her Girl Scout troop as a teenager and I was there as a 6-year old with my mom, dad, and my sister Judy.  Back then, Dad was the sales manager for Schwayder Brothers in Detroit at their metal chair facility.  You may know Schwayder by the name of their product line: Samsonite.

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Issac Schwayder (right) and his four sons. Jesse Schwayder, second from the right, was my dad’s boss.  The company slogan was “The Samsonite – Strong Enough to Stand On”.

At that time, Schwayder was consolidating their operations to their headquarters in Denver, so we were on a scouting mission to see if that would be our new home.  Mom and Dad chose to remain in Michigan, as the pull of family won out over the Rockies…thus forcing Dad to find a new employer.  As much as I love Colorado, I’m very glad they chose to stay in southeast Michigan.  🙂

As mentioned in our last post, we had to change plans to stay at lower altitudes.  That took us south out of Page through Flagstaff, east on I-40 to Albuquerque and then north.

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While in Albuquerque, we picked up some Oboz waterproof low hikers from REI for our trip to the UK in the fall.  These beauties were field tested by our friends Linda and Steven on their 500 mile walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.  Accomplishing that without blisters is a pretty good testimonial for Oboz, which is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.  We then headed up towards Santa Fe, spending a couple of nights at the Black Mesa casino.  Again, we managed to hit a jackpot on the casino’s free play and walked out the door without spending a penny of our own.  We will take it!  We also paid a return visit to a little Venezuelan restaurant in Santa Fe called Santarepa Cafe.  We went out of our way to eat there again, as it is that good.  The owner is a sweet woman who comes to your table and genuinely inquires as to how you like your meal.

Scooting around the southern end of the Rockies, we headed up the east side and said farewell to New Mexico.

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In the process, our Colorado fifth wheel entered the State of Colorado for the first time!  We continued up to Colorado Springs to spend the better part of a week.  The first morning at the KOA, we noticed what we thought was an early riser playing music on his RV horn as he left the campground.  Nope…we were parked across from Fort Carson, which plays Revelry every morning at 6:30 AM and Taps at 10 PM.  We’re in the Army now!

Here is a spot I had visited with my family when I was a child; Garden of the Gods.  This land was given to the City of Colorado Springs by the children of late owner Charles Elliott Perkins in 1909 to use as a park.  The stipulation was that they could never charge an admission fee or allow ‘intoxicating liquors’, which they haven’t to this day.

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I distinctly remember Balance Rock as a 6 year old. 🙂

We also happened to be in town during the Air Force Academy graduation.  Our first tip-off to that was when we heard a jet approaching our car from behind, only to find out we had been buzzed by…

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…a B-2 Stealth bomber.  We also saw the Thunderbirds practicing. The next day was the graduation, so we set up our chairs in a field across I-25 from the academy.  When the cadets tossed their caps in the air, the Thunderbirds streaked across the field.

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There was a long delay after that first pass, and we noticed that there were no cars on the freeway.  Soon there was a procession of motorcycle police, followed by this:

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There goes the President!  Not too long after he had left, the show resumed.

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It sure is fun to see these planes…

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…especially with Pike’s Peak as a backdrop.

The other place Diana wanted to do visit was the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, which is located in town.

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She really was hoping to meet Scott Hamilton.  It wasn’t meant to be, but she did get to see his gold medal from Sarajevo.  There was even someone there that I appreciated…

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Frank Zamboni!  Those twirlies would fall flat on their faces if it weren’t for the superior talent of us Zamboni drivers.  🙂  All kidding aside, we both really enjoyed the museum.

From Colorado Springs, we headed up to Denver to meet friends and family.

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First stop was to our college friend Kirsten’s house for a wonderful meal.  Here we are with her mom and her husband Mike.  It sure was great catching up with them.  Mike is an excellent cook!

We also visited Diana’s cousin Abby, her husband Josh and daughter Tara.

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We forgot to get a photo, so Abby let me use this one.  Abby is Diana’s cousin Jerry’s daughter.  We loved getting to spend the afternoon with them in their beautiful home, especially the sidewalk chalk drawings that greeted us, along with Tara jumping for joy at the front door upon our arrival.  🙂

We also visited a place we long wanted to pay our respects at; the Columbine Memorial.

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Located in a Littleton city park adjacent to the school, this beautiful remembrance moved us.

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Since the thirteen students and staff were killed at this school in 1999, over 140 more have died in our learning institutions.  As the husband of a teacher, I worried about this constantly…as I knew the innocent students’ safety was first and foremost to Diana.  If you can, take the time to visit here.  There are moving tributes to each of the victims, along with snippets of thoughts from the survivors.

From Denver, we moved up to Fort Collins for a couple of days.  That was our lower altitude base to revisit Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.  Our last time there was 1990, and we were driving a regular cab Ford Ranger pickup pulling a very heavy Steury pop-up camper.  The number one hit on the radio that trip was Shenandoah’s Next to You, Next to Me.  One verse stood out in my memory:

“If the Good Lord’s willin’ when we’re old and gray
The kids are grown up and moved away
We’ll be rocking’ here side by side
With the BBQ chicken and the TV guide”

Fire up the grill, sweetie and I’ll grab the rockers.  🙂

This go around our mission was to see Bighorn sheep, something we hadn’t seen since our last time there.

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Mission accomplished!  We actually saw several of them.

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We also saw plenty of elk.  This guy was happy to show off his velvety new rack.

Our special treat was when we drove up Trail Ridge Road towards the Alpine Visitor Center.

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We got to Rainbow Curve, 10,500 feet up, and the road was closed due to snow at the top.  They were allowing visitors to walk up as far as they wanted, so we took advantage of it.

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It was an absolutely amazing treat.  We went up a half mile or so…over 11,000 feet, before returning.  Although out of breath, we did just fine!  Everyone was having a great time…

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…including this young pair.  I’ll bet the road being closed made their day.  🙂

Well, that wraps up our flight along the Front Range!  Next up, we head north to South Dakota to help some friends with a little project.  More on that in our next Saturday morning post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Adapting to the Altitude

May 15-21, 2019  –  Kaibab Plateau and Page, Arizona

One thing we had paid little heed to in planning our trip west was our ability to adapt to the altitude.  Our winters in Melbourne Beach, Florida are spent at a whopping 10 feet above sea level.  So when we arrived in Santa Fe a mere 8 days after leaving the Florida coast, we found that were struggling with the 7000 foot-plus altitude gain.  Diana woke up with a terrible headache, and we were both having a difficult time breathing.  Throughout the trip we were up and down the mountains, so we drank plenty of fluids and tried to follow the advice for adjusting to altitude.  Bryce Canyon was tough at 7700 feet, but we dropped to 3200 feet at Hurricane, Utah and were OK again.  Our next stop was Jacob Lake, just north of the Grand Canyon.

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The sign on the front of the Jacob Lake Inn says it all.  We set up camp about 1/4 mile away, just shy of 8000 feet.  We figured we would go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next day, so we took the advice of the volunteer at the Kaibab National Forest Visitor Center and went to see the nearby Vermilion Cliffs overlook.

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Our jaws dropped at the vista before us!  The wide open House Rock Valley stretched out for miles.  Highway 89-A angled across it, beckoning us to explore it…so that’s exactly what we did.  We ended up driving all the way to Marble Canyon, stopping at Navajo Bridge to see if we could finally see a California Condor.

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From the old bridge (now a pedestrian crossing), we finally were able to see what we were looking for.  Since these birds were so close to extinction, wildlife experts have put wing tags and radio transmitters on them to identify and keep track of them.  This one is labeled as H9, and she was sitting underneath the new bridge. We stayed as long as we could watching two adults and a juvenile, then headed back to Jacob Lake before sunset.

The next morning, I woke with a headache that was as bad as any migraine I had ever experienced.  Diana immediately knew what was going on, as she had felt the same way in Santa Fe. We knew we needed to get to a lower elevation, so we made some quick changes and headed to Page, Arizona two days earlier than planned.  A mere 43 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and we drove away from it. We took the long route running through Kanab and Big Water, as this would allow us to see the the last of four visitor centers for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  As we traveled at the lower altitude, I began to feel better.

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On the way into the Big Water Visitor Center, Diana spotted this beautiful bull snake.  We were first introduced to these amazing reptiles by Ranger Mariah in 2017 at Prineville, Oregon.  It’s always good to see them, as they have a tendency to keep the rattlesnakes away.

Once at Page, we readjusted the remainder of our trip to include campsites at lower altitudes.  For us, the trigger seemed to be sleeping, as less oxygen is taken in then.  Once we had that taken care of, we were off to see the sights!  First place we wanted to see was the much talked about Horseshoe Bend.  We’ve had many friends who have ventured to this place, parked at the trailhead, walked to the edge of Marble Canyon and peered into the abyss at the 270 degree bend of the Colorado River.

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Things have changed this year.  The City of Page owns the land people were parking on, so they built a paved parking lot, complete with fee booths.  The lot is already being doubled in size to accommodate the huge crowds.

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Look closely: that’s a huge parade of visitors! The idea of so many people being so close to the edge of a sheer drop off wasn’t comforting to us, as all it takes is one person to bump into another and send them on a free fall.  We had heard that the National Park Service, who oversees the rim of the canyon as part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, had made some changes of their own this year…so we decided to take a look for ourselves.

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Here is that change…an accessible viewing platform with railing.  Works for us!  There are still plenty of places available to stand along the unguarded rim and snap an Instagram selfie.  Just note that people have died here are a result of venturing too close to the unguarded edge.  And what is it that all these people are looking at?

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It’s Horseshoe Bend!  Those little white things on the river are boats. Definitely an amazing sight that was worth seeing, but the massive amounts of people are a detriment to this place…us included.  We are glad we saw it for ourselves this one time, but we will respectfully leave this unique feature for others to discover in the future.

Our next stop was Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

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As we walked through the exhibits in the visitor center, we saw a display about seepage.  Unlike Hoover Dam which is anchored to granite,  Glen Canyon dam is anchored to Navajo sandstone.

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That green line is vegetation growing in the seams that the lake water is leaking through.  Several of them extend down the canyon on both sides.

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They’ve even had to put long bolts in the sandstone to keep it in place.  This is an ongoing process.  The more I read about this dam, the less I wanted to be around it.  Meanwhile, the water level continues to drop in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead (behind Hoover Dam), due to ongoing drought conditions. If the water behind this dam drops another 90 feet, it stops generating power.  If by some miracle the lake fills to capacity, there is a chance it might give way, as it nearly did in 1983 (read about it HERE).  There are many people who are proponents of filling Lake Mead first and just bypassing Glen Canyon Dam.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.  One thing is for sure: it won’t be status quo forever.  Mother Nature always has the last word.

Next thing up was a tour of Antelope Canyon.  We have a lot of friends who have toured the upper and lower sections of this beautiful place, so we were looking forward to going there.  The day of our reservations was windy and raining.  This tour requires sunlight to make it worthwhile, and thunderstorms are a no-no in a slot canyon.  We weren’t able to reschedule.

Oh my…so was Page a wash for us?  Absolutely not.  We found Big John’s Texas BBQ!  The place was far better than the two places we ate in Amarillo, so we visited there twice. 🙂  And with some time on our hands, we decided to take a little 150 mile one way day trip…

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…to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We figured that if we didn’t sleep there, we would be fine…and we were.  Our time was spent at the lodge and the nearby Bright Angel Point trail. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit many of the remote views off of the National Forest roads on that day, as many were still closed due to snow or winter damage.  We did, however, enjoy the meadows along Highway 67 on our trip in from Jacob Lake.  And our dinner at the Jacob Lake Inn was delicious! The Kaibab Plateau and North Rim deserve much more time.  Perhaps we will day trip from Kanab in the future, a much shorter distance than Page.

Speaking of that trip from Page, it had two awesome benefits.  We were able to traverse House Rock Valley again along the Vermilion Cliffs in both directions and…

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…we were able to visit our old friend H9 again.  This time, she was immediately below the pedestrian bridge deck, so I could photograph her much closer.  I keep my shutter on silent, as I learned in Oregon that the noise disturbs the wildlife.

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We even watched the juvenile fly a few times, which was a great thrill for us.  Adult condors have an outstanding 9-1/2 foot wingspan!

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As the sun set on the Vermilion Cliffs, we were happy that our visit to Northern Arizona ended so well.

Next up:  We head east and north to visit relatives and friends along the Front Range of Colorado.  There was even a couple of unexpected surprises. Be sure to stay tuned for that in our next post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

The Path to Zion

Hurricane, UT – May 11 through 14, 2019

The path to Zion is described by Miriam-Webster as a journey to a spiritual place or nirvana, in reference to Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  Anyone who has ever been to Zion National Park in Utah can see what the Mormon pioneer Issac Behunin was thinking when he named the area.  It is one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen, rivaling Yosemite Valley in California and Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper, Alberta.  Our path to Zion took us on a southerly route into Arizona, as a late winter snowstorm had damaged the switchbacks on the Utah tunnel route on the east side of the park in March.  Our original plans to stay in Mt. Carmel were changed to a campground in Hurricane, Utah at that time.  The road has since been repaired, but our camping plans were set so we didn’t change them.  Our hidden bonus was that we would get to explore Pipe Spring National Monument along the way.

Pipe Spring is a gem of a park, in that it keeps a piece of history alive that would otherwise be forgotten.  It is here, along the vermilion cliffs that border Arizona Highway 389, that water flows from a hillside into an area that today seems to be otherwise devoid of moisture.  Once an area of verdant grasses and plentiful wildlife, this thin length of land lies between the Grand Canyon to the south and the cliffs to the north.  It is known as the Arizona Strip, as it is cut off from the rest of the state by the canyon.  With the arrival of the Mormon settlers the delicate balance that supported the grasslands was disrupted, as their cattle overgrazed the area and destroyed the soil.  When the Paiute Indians were kind enough to show the settlers the spring, the Mormons promptly built a fort over it to claim it for themselves.

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That stone fort still stands to this day.  The park service has done an excellent job in preserving the building and interpreting what happened here.

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The spring itself bubbles up underneath the floor beneath this organ and is channeled via pipe to the other side of the fort. This allowed for indoor plumbing and, as the water from the spring ran under the floor, it cooled the home.

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That pipe empties into this wooden trough in the basement of the building on the east side of the fort. This was a root cellar and had an area for making cheese. They had plenty of milk for making cheese, as the Mormons often paid their tithe with dairy cattle.

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From there, it empties into a pond outside the walls. Since a 1933 agreement, the water flow from the spring has been evenly divided among the National Park service, the tribe, and private cattlemen.

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Another point of interest to note are the telegraph poles and wires outside the fort.  Pipe Spring was the first telegraph office in Arizona.

Our visit, while short, provided a fascinating look into the struggles between the settlers and the native people.  This park is well worth spending a few hours to explore, if you are passing through on this route.  While the parking lot is large enough to support a couple of large RVs, consult a satellite view on Google Maps to decide for yourself whether or not to bring your RV there.

Once we reached Hurricane, we set up camp at WillowWind RV Park.  As Midwesterners, it was divine to see real grass and trees again!  They even allowed us to wash our vehicles, a rarity in this water-starved region.  The town itself received its unusual name when Erastus Snow, the leader of a group of Mormon surveyors, had the top blown off his buggy by a strong desert wind.  He declared the place to be named Hurricane Hill.  We found it to be a great town to use as a base camp for visiting Zion National Park.

Our first priority was hooking up with our friends, Nancy and Bill.

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We were introduced to this charming couple by David and Sharon when we were in Myrtle Beach last year, and we hit it off right away.  They offered to show us the east side of Zion in their Jeep, which meant we were going to see the tunnel after all!

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The road leading to the tunnel was beautiful.  The native name for this area is Mukuntuweap, meaning either straight canyon or straight up mountains, depending on the source.  William Howard Taft declared this to be Mukuntuweap National Monument, but the Mormons complained loudly and the acting National Park Service director at the time bowed to their pressure and changed it.  No matter which name is used, either one describes this place perfectly.

Once we passed through the mile long tunnel, we came to one of Zion’s unique features…

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…Checkerboard Mesa.  This sandstone hill is unusual in that it not only has its horizontal layering lines, but also has vertical cracks, believed to be caused by expansion and contraction.

After lunch, the four of us headed to the end of the canyon and hiked Riverside Walk, a trail that leads to the Narrows.  That last trail was closed, as the water level was too high in the Virgin River.

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Our mode of transportation to get there was the Zion Shuttle, a bus and trailer combination that is unlike any system we had seen at other parks.  It was fast, efficient and rarely over-crowded.  The tilted roof vents funneled the canyon air in, which kept us cool.  The secret to their system is that they don’t have to compete with other vehicles, as the parks roads are closed to traffic during most of the year.  There also is a lot of them, so there isn’t a long wait at the bus stop. Do take into account that we were there before Memorial Day; chances are that it is busier during the summer.

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Nancy pointed out this beautiful waterfall at the Temple of Sinewava.  This is an emphemeral waterfall, in that it only appears after a rainstorm.  The following day, it was gone.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Nancy and Bill; we will see you two down the road. 🙂  Thanks for the Jeep tour and the great day!

Our next day saw us arriving early…a key to getting a space in the Visitor Center parking lot.  From there, we used the shuttle to explore the rest of the stops in the canyon.

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This huge Fremont Cottonwood tree at the Zion Lodge is over a century old.  As big as it is, it pales in comparison to the height of the canyon walls.  From the lodge, we hiked across the river to Lower Emerald Pool.

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From the bridge, it is apparent how swift the river was running.  Due to trail damage, the trail didn’t go beyond Lower Emerald Pool.

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Still, the view from here was amazing.

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The trail continued behind the waterfall…

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…to the place where the rockfall occurred.  This isn’t Disney, folks.  Glad no one was on the trail when this happened!

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When we got back to the bridge, we had a bit of a traffic jam.  Still another example of the different ways to enjoy Zion.

Once back at the lodge, we headed up the Grotto Trail.

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This cabin was built in 1924 to house the park museum.  It now is housing for the artist-in-residence, and is the oldest building in Zion.

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The Grotto was also a good place to see wildlife, including this bluebird.

From there, we went to Weeping Rock, which is a formidable wall of dripping sandstone.  The thing that stood out at this location was not so much the wall itself, but the view of the canyon the trail afforded.

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This is one of the best overall views of the valley that doesn’t require a significant vertical hike.  Had it not been for others wanting to see this same view, we could’ve stood here all day long.  🙂

To round out our visit, we continued on to the shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinewava, a place we had visited the day before with Nancy and Bill.  Our reason for this visit was because we had heard there were California Condors frequenting the area.  You may recall that we had been trying to see them at the Grand Canyon.  While we did see some large birds soaring here, we determined them to be turkey vultures.  Will we ever see a condor? Obviously not here, but what we did notice was the traffic jam 900 feet up on the Angel’s Landing trail.

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At this point, the trail is only a few feet wide and it drops off the same distance on the other side.  Note that there isn’t a railing, only a chain to hang on to…and it is a two way trail.  Again, this isn’t Disney, folks….although this hike would definitely be considered to rival Space Mountain.

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This fellow observer was as interested at the spectacle far above as we were.  We had no plans to join in that fun, but we did view a friend’s outstanding video afterwards where they hiked Angel’s Landing in November a few years back.  In it, Jim had a GoPro mounted above his head looking downward that shows just how narrow this trail is…including the shuttle stop I took my photo from.  You can access their YouTube video by following this link: Vertigo Inducing Video of Angels Landing Hike in Zion National Park .  Again, this trail is not for someone with a fear of heights.  Jim and Barb picked a great time to do it, in that it wasn’t crowded that day.

Our path to Zion was worth the effort it took to get there, and we will make it a point to return to this amazing place someday. The place the Native Americans call Mukuntuweap is one of our favorite destinations on this trip.

Next up:  Our trip plans get shuffled, due to another run-in with altitude sickness.  More on that in our next post, so be sure to stay tuned for that.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Heading to Bryce Canyon

After establishing in Torrey that we weren’t going to be taking Route 12 to go to our next destination at Bryce Canyon, we selected a series of roads that ran west of the Grand Staircase instead.  The first north/south portion of this journey took us along Utah Route 62.

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This road runs a little over 40 miles down a wide valley until it joins up with US-89.  We literally saw only two other vehicles over that distance…both heading in the opposite direction.  I couldn’t help but think of the 1960’s TV series, The Big Valley as I motored along.  It was a scene that spoke to the vastness of this part of the country.  It was also noticed while we were planning this route that the Mormon pioneers laid out their towns in the same way.  Known as the Plat of Zion, each village uses a grid system with a north/south Main Street and an east/west Center Street.  The town of Loa is a prime example of this.

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The streets are wide and the blocks are large.  The streets use the same numbering system, based off of the ones in Salt Lake City, which begin at Temple Square.  For instance, E 200 S Street is the second street south of Center, on the east side of Main.  There are four 1-1/4 acre parcels within each block.  The original settlers would determine what parcel they would receive by lottery.  It made it pretty simple for us when navigating these communities, once we realized they were all laid out the same.

Once on US-89, we broke up the trip by stopping at the town of Circleville.  This little burg was the childhood home of the legendary bank robber and outlaw, Butch Cassidy.

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The log cabin he grew up in still stands along the highway.  There are several interpretive panels that tell a bit about him and his time on this small ranch.

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I found this video camera amusing, in that banks use these now to thwart robberies.  Maybe Butch would’ve had second thoughts on his career choice, had this monitor been here a century earlier.  🙂

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This was our view out the rear window of our fifth wheel in Circleville.  Utah certainly received its share of snow this past winter!

From there, we headed into the mountains to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Once set up at Bryce Canyon Pines RV Park, we made a quick trip to the Visitor Center to grab our Junior Ranger books.  We were alerted to the fact that they were difficult by Ranger Keith, with him quipping that they were PhD level.  He wasn’t kidding.  It was probably the second most difficult program, coming in just behind John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon.  Not wanting to wait any longer, we buzzed out to Sunrise Point for a peek at the hoodoos that this park is famous for.

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Photos of them would have to wait, as my camera trained on a herd of mule deer descending into the formations.  This trio leading the pack were alerted to something in their path.

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Turns out it was a line of horses and mules coming up the trail.  There was a bit of excitement when this lead horse spotted the deer, but the experienced rider quickly regained control of his stead.

That evening, we attended a program called Things That Go Bump in the Night, led by the same Ranger Keith who gave us out Junior Ranger books.  It was at that event where we met a longtime friend for the first time.  How is that possible?  We will tell you in a bit.  The program itself was fantastic, reminding us of the wonderful programs that Ranger Mariah would present while we worked with her in Prineville, Oregon.

The next day found us heading back into the park to see the hoodoos.

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What a gorgeous place!  Bryce is technically not a canyon, as it is not carved by a river. It is rather a series of amphitheaters that look east over the Colorado Plateau.  These formations are at the top of the Grand Staircase, which steps down all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

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Our visit that day saw a mixture of sun and clouds, with brief periods of snow.  Rainbow Point, the highest point on the Scenic Drive, tops out at 9115 feet.  I actually had issues with the altitude in this park, as I was finding it difficult to catch my breath.

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This massive anvil cloud rose near the town of Escalante in the distance.  We revisited there during our visit to Bryce to become Junior Rangers at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  It’s to be noted that we got their well before closing time this go-around.  🙂

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The stunning scenery at Bryce, such as Natural Bridge, produce an interesting phenomenon:

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The hoards of tourists witness most of it through a viewfinder.

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No one is immune to it…not even yours truly. 😉

As you can see in this last photo, there seems to be a bit more snow than in the previous Bryce images.  That is because we awoke one morning to the following scene:

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Yikes!  These sea-level Floridians aren’t used to dealing with this!  Knowing it would likely soon melt, we headed into the park to take in the view.

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The sprinkling of white on the top of each spire added depth to them, bringing definition to the scene before us.

Due to the strong winds, cold temperatures and snow that we had while we were there, our hiking was limited for this visit.  We did take one short and easy walk out to Mossy Cave, one of the wettest spots in the park.

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Yessir….its a cave with moss in it!

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Along the trail, this pretty waterfall appears to be the idyllic natural scene.   It is anything but.  Carved out by Mormon pioneers with picks and shovels over a century ago, this river is part of a canal known as the Tropic Ditch.  Since it was completed in 1892, the creek has provided the communities of Tropic and Cannonville a near steady flow of irrigation water.

Returning to our reference to a longtime friend that we mentioned earlier in the post.  At the evening program on Tuesday, we met Gaelyn from Geogypsy in person for the very first time.  We have followed each others blogs for a long time, with Diana discovering her journal in early 2014.  On Friday evening, we met for dinner.

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Gaelyn is a veteran NPS Ranger, having begun her career with the U.S. Department of Interior at Mount St. Helens in the mid 1990’s.  She is the person who inspired us to seek out the Junior Ranger programs at the parks we visit.  With our constant commenting back and forth on our blogs, our conversation over dinner was as natural as the outdoors we all three love so much.  It was truly a joy to finally get to meet her in person.

Oh, and that PhD Junior Ranger badge?

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We got ’em!  Definitely worth the effort.  🙂

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Bryce Canyon National Park is surely on our ‘return to’ list.  We thoroughly enjoyed our introduction to this scenic Utah beauty.

Next up:  we head southwest to the westernmost point of this trip, Zion National Park.  Along the way, we find a little gem of a park that most people pass by on their way there.  We also spend the day with friends we last connected with in South Carolina. Stay tuned for all of that in our next post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Best Plan B Ever”

Some days call for a switch to Plan B.

On May 4, we arrived in Torrey, Utah to rain and thunder.

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Once the storm headed east, we received our traditional rainbow after a family member arrives in heaven.  This tradition began in 1980 with my aunt requesting one from my grandfather and has continued without fail ever since. Thank you for the sign, Uncle Bob!

The next day, after a stop in the visitor center at Capitol Reef National Park, we headed into the preserve to do some exploring.

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Our starting point was located in the former Mormon settlement of Fruita.  In that community, there is a pull-off along Utah 24 that has some amazing petroglyphs.  A boardwalk leads along the rock wall they are carved into.  We spent a good half hour viewing these drawings, attempting to decipher what they meant.  While we were there, a large group of Italian tourists stopped, all marveling in their own language at what they were seeing.  After returning to the parking lot, we saw that they had not been traveling on a tour bus.  Quite to the contrary…

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…they were exploring in a line-up of Class C motorhomes.  They sure seemed to be having a great time.  🙂

Our next stop was to Gifford House, just south of the visitor center.

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This is a former farmhouse that now doubles as a museum and store.  Diana purchased one of their small pies, and I got some homemade ice cream and a couple of gluten free cookies.  Delicious!

Capitol Reef’s claim to fame is the 100 mile long “waterpocket fold” that runs from Thousand Lake Mountain south to Lake Powell.  The fold is basically a fault in which the uplifted rock traps pockets of water behind it. The long, slender park is filled with hikes through slot canyons and over sandstone ridges.  We drove the 8 mile paved Scenic Drive, looking over possible hikes as we went.  At the end, a dirt road to Pleasant Creek continued onward.  This route was recommended to us by one of the rangers at the visitor center.

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It was at that point that the weather turned against us, as looming dark clouds rolled over the mountains.  Again, the rain fell and the thunder rolled.  The last thing we wanted to do was hike on ridges or slot canyons, or be driving on a road that followed a wash when a storm was imminent.  We scooted back to Torrey without delay.

On our way back, we came up with a Plan B, which was a 65 mile drive to Escalante along Utah Scenic Byway 12.  I had previously discussed this route with our friend Jodee, who recommended it as a beautiful drive, just not in an RV.  Definitely a great road to explore in the Escape.  We grabbed a cup of java in Torrey at Castlerock Coffee, where the barista confirmed we were about to take one of America’s most scenic highways.  Off we went!

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Climbing 3000 feet out of Torrey, the road was gorgeous.  We encountered rain which quickly turned to snow.  We drove on, hoping the other side of the mountain was sunny and dry…

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…which it was!  We were greeted with a completely different viewpoint than we had been seeing on the roads within Capitol Reef, as we were now far above the ridges.

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Deep canyons were carved through the desert floor below us.

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Domes of sandstone rose in the distance.  What would time and erosion turn these sentinels into over the next millennia?  Whatever they would become, the scenes would most likely be equally as grand as what we were currently witnessing.

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At each viewpoint, we continued to be amazed at the beauty of the landscape before our eyes.

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While we did see one ‘brave’ RVer in a 40 foot motorhome towing a car on this route, sections such as this confirmed Jodee’s recommendation to leave the fifth wheel in Torrey.  🙂  One wrong move would’ve sent us tumbling a thousand feet down either side.

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It was at this vista that we met a gentleman from Palm Bay, Florida, just across the Indian River from our winter home of Melbourne Beach.  He was also thrilled with what he was seeing.  When we told him that this was our Plan B for the day, he came up with the quote of the trip:  “Best Plan B ever!  We parted ways with him and his brother, maybe catching him and his 1960 jet black Chevy at a car show next winter.  🙂

We got to Escalante, just as the visitor center at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was closing.  We ran inside to a weary ranger waving her hands at us, yelling “WE ARE CLOSED!”  I told her we only needed two Junior Ranger books, as we knew we would be visiting again from the other direction when we were at Bryce Canyon.  A gentleman working alongside her gave us the books.  As we headed out the now-locked door, one of the other visitors laughed and said, “That was the nicest question they had all day…’Can we just have our Junior Ranger books?’ ”  Our apologies to the ranger…we’ve been there and we appreciate your efforts.

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Heading back north, we could see the clouds still looming over Torrey and Capitol Reef.

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Climbing to the top of the mountain pass, we took one last look across the amazing landscape before descending down the other side.

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As we drove along, we passed several mule deer, who were quite comfortable with us stopping next to them along the roadway.

So while we weren’t able to explore Capitol Reef the way we wanted to, our trip along Utah Scenic Byway 12 definitely lived up to the man from Palm Bay’s description:

“Best Plan B ever!

Next up: We head south to Bryce Canyon to meet up with a longtime friend for the very first time.  Seriously! 🙂  Stay tuned for that and more as we continue our journey around the American southwest.  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Arches and Canyonlands

Surrounding the town of Moab, Utah are two very different national parks: Arches and Canyonlands.  The former concentrates on formations that soar above the park visitors and the latter focuses on an expansive area that is carved out below them.  After working our way north from the Grand Canyon, we were looking forward to seeing these two geologic gems.

Pulling into Moab, the first thing we noticed was how busy the town was.  This community not only supports the two national parks, but also the surrounding public lands that are enjoyed by the off-road and mountain biking communities.  Despite the congestion, the city worked well for us while we were there.

Our first full day found us in Arches National Park.

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This preserve is known not only for its soaring spans of rock, but also its towering sandstone formations, such as this one named Park Avenue.  Not quite New York City, but we could see where they were coming from when they named it.  🙂

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The groupings of rock each took on their own personalities. This one is referred to as Three Gossips. I pictured this chatty trio as being from Ancient Egypt.

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Some, like the 120-plus foot tall Balanced Rock, had us wondering when they might topple over…especially with them being made of sandstone.

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Diana decided to see if she could steady this one for a few seconds.  🙂  Eventually it will come tumbling down, as her arms were getting tired.

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These two beauties are called North and South Window.  

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While we were talking with another couple about how beautiful the park was, this whirlwind spun up within North Window.

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Behind us was another formation referred to as Turret Arch.  We hiked over to check it out.

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From there, we walked over to Double Arch.  The water stains on the rock are evident from the previous evenings rains.

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The amazing snowpack on the ever-present La Sal Mountains provided an interesting contrast to the red rocks and green sage of the desert.

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We also hiked to the upper viewpoint for Delicate Arch, leaving the three mile trail to the formation for a future visit.  Note that people in the photo are plumb; the entire landscape slopes upwards at 6 degrees.  If this was our RV, we’d be hauling out the leveling blocks, for sure.

Our final spot for the day was a trek out to Landscape Arch.

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Looking at this 290 foot long span, we think the people who named it should have called it Delicate Arch.  It appears ready to fall at any time.  As a matter of fact, visitors in 1991 witnessed a 60 foot chunk fall off, after which the trail underneath was permanently closed.  Two more chunks fell off in 1995, so plan to see this beauty soon…before its too late!

Our second day in Moab saw us heading out to Canyonlands National Park.  This place was enormous! Below is a photo of the Green River.

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Within this same chasm the Green River flows into the Colorado River, heading south to Lake Powell and eventually the Grand Canyon.  Almost like a canyon within a canyon, it was difficult to imagine how a set of rivers could have formed this.

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Many of the spires below us were similar to the towers we viewed the day before at Arches.

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With the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop, the cataract took on an otherworldly appearance.

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One of our hikes while we were there was to Upheaval Dome. Geologists aren’t sure of it’s origin, thinking that it was possibly caused by a meteor strike.  The upward folds in the rimrock point to that possibility.

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We also hiked to Mesa Arch, which sits right on the edge of the canyon.

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Inching up closer, the drop off becomes quite evident.  Don’t worry, I was safely back on solid ground, extending my camera out for this shot.  🙂

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We also earned our Junior Ranger badges for both parks while we were at Canyonlands.  It was a great day!

Our final day in Moab started out with us doing laundry and grocery shopping, as we had no idea the level of services in the towns ahead.  Once that was completed, we headed back to Arches.

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Here we are at the beginning of the trail to Sand Dune Arch.

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Appropriately named, the floor beneath this span is all soft sand.  In fact, one family brought their beach toys.  Tempting as it was, it was not us. 😉

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From there, we took a 1.3 mile round trip hike to Broken Arch, which rounded out our time in this beautiful area.

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As the sun began to set on the fins of sandstone in the northern portion of the park, we said farewell to this area.  We promise to return in the future.

Next up: we move further into Utah to explore more of this beautiful state.  Our weather forced us to execute Plan B, and what a wonderful surprise that was!  Stay tuned to find out more on that adventure.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

Grand Canyon – Southern Style

Some places are so grand, they require two separate locations to access them from.  Such is the case with Grand Canyon National Park, with its North and South Rim units.  Even then, the canyon extends well beyond the park boundaries into Native American lands for a total of 277 miles in length.  In this post, we will detail our visit to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim unit.

Diana was at the park in her youth, and I flew over it once on our way to Las Vegas.  From 32,000 feet, it looks a bit flat.  That was not the case this time.

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We were awestuck as we walked up to the rim for our first glimpse.  The words I was trying to use to describe it would not come out of my mouth.  They certainly were not needed, as Diana was feeling every bit the same as I was.

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The depth and enormity of what we were seeing was breathtaking.  We were not alone in feeling that way.  People from all over the world were there to take in the enormous vistas.  No matter what language they were speaking, their excitement was being expressed with the same excited tone.  🙂

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It is difficult to comprehend that this grandest of canyons was carved by a river.

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The clouds moving overhead made for a constantly changing scene, as their shadows moved across the canyon floor.

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At the eastern end of the park, Desert View Watchtower marks the beginning of the uplift that the Colorado river had to carve through to create the cataract.

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California Condors are known to frequent the area, as are turkey vultures.  It was difficult to identify which of the two this bird was, but it was fun to watch it take advantage of the updrafts and soar through the sky.

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In all, we walked more than 5 miles along the south rim; sometimes alone and other times with people we had just met.  We had never seen so many people from so many cultures who were just really glad to be in a particular place.

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No matter the viewpoint, the scenery before us was outstanding!

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Some people scrambled beyond the barriers for a closer view.  This activity isn’t recommended, and has actually turned deadly on more than one occasion already this year.  Hopefully these kids made it back safely.  Even behind the railings, we found ourselves staying back a step.  That’s a long way down!

At this point, I want to recognize the recent passing of Diana’s Uncle Bob.

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Uncle Bob was always a pure joy to be around.  Any story that he delivered usually had us in stitches.  He was a huge supporter of us being on the road and he loved to hear about our travels, telling us how much he’d liked to have done what we are doing.

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Well, this one is for you, Bob.  You would love it here. Hop up in the front of my new Ford and enjoy the ride.  It is going to be Grand!

Next up:  We head on up to Utah to explore the many parks in that state.  There is quite a bit that we plan to explore, so be sure to stay tuned.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

There Really IS an Arizona

A number of years ago, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.  As we walked into the lobby, my country music-loving sweetheart heard the guest artist Jamie O’Neal performing her country hit There is no Arizona.  Diana was giddy, to say the least, to hear a country artist performing in the shrine to artists like Lennon, Dylan, the Rolling Stones and so on.  As we waited in line for tickets to the museum, the lyrics and melody filled the atrium:

There is no Arizona

No Painted Desert, no Sedona…

Well, after what we’ve seen over the course of this last week, we beg to differ, Jamie. 🙂

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From the moment we arrived in Springerville, Arizona for a one night stopover, we knew it was going to be a great week.  Looking back east from a fairly nice sunset revealed this surreal moon rise.

We continued on to Petrified Forest National Park where we spent a few nights.  We scored a nice campsite at the Crystal Forest Museum just south of the park that gave us 30 amp electric for only $10 a night.

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At first glance, the old cars with the flat tires in the parking lot gave us pause.  We found out they parked them there a long time ago to make the place look busy.  I guess its time to either update the cars or at least air up the tires.  🙂

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Petrified Forest was outstanding.  The southern end of the park was filled with logs that had been turned to stone after being buried for millions of years.

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This particular one was huge!  There is a photo in the visitor center with Albert Einstein and his wife standing next to it.

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Although the outside of the tree looks like bark, that is actually stone.

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Halfway through the park, we came to Blue Mesa.  Taking the trail, we hiked down into an area that appeared very much like the painted hills we saw in Oregon a few years ago.  Not quite blue, but very interesting to look at!

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At the north end of the park is the Painted Desert Inn.  This is a restored Civilian Conservation Corps era building that is very interesting to tour.

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Behind it is…you guessed it…the Painted Desert!  Guess Jamie O’Neal was wrong about that one!  Wow…it was absolutely beautiful.  It seemed like it went on forever.

From Petrified Forest, we moved on to Meteor Crater.

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This giant hole in the ground was caused by a 150 foot long meteorite that hit here 50,000 years ago.  It was estimated to have been travelling at 26,000 miles an hour.  Pretty impressive, to say the least.  Equally as impressive was the interactive visitor center.  This entire facility is privately owned, and kudos to the owners for offering a prime visitor experience.

While at the adjoining Meteor Crater RV Park, we drove back into Winslow to visit one of Rock and Roll’s other shrines…

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…the corner, from the Eagle’s song Take it Easy.

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Its my girl, my lord, by a flatbed Ford, taking a good long look at me!

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We also checked out the La Posada Hotel.  We had a fabulous lunch in the hotel’s Turquoise Room.

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The lobby was pretty, but the ‘death art’ on the walls was a bit much.  Turns out the hotel owner is the artist.

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I did my best to plunk out Hotel California….

From there, we moved west to Flagstaff for a few days.  The town got its name when some men stripped the branches and bark from a Ponderosa pine tree in 1876 and flew an American flag from it.

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We visited two parks in the area while we were there.  The first was Sunset Crater National Monument.  This cinder cone is part of a chain of volcanic features that dot the area. IMG_1086 (2)

This feature was called a squeeze up, which occurred when the molten rock was squeezed out of the earth like Play Dough.  As it cooled, it sagged under its own weight.

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We also visited Walnut Canyon National Monument.  This park features a trail, seen above, that descends into the canyon.

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Once down there, the path winds past several ancient cliff dwellings.  It was interesting to see the protection the overhanging rock offered.

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From the rim, there was a nice view of Humphrey’s Peak and it’s neighbors.  Humphrey’s is the tallest peak in Arizona.

On our final full day in Flagstaff, we headed south to meet fellow blogger Ingrid from Live Laugh RV. We have followed her blog since 2014.  She has a similar camera to mine, and she offered to drive up from Phoenix to meet us and give me a few camera tips.  We met in…

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…Sedona!  Again, we’ve proven Ms. O’Neal wrong.  🙂

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While Ingrid and I were shooting photos of the scenery, Diana was shooting photos of us.  🙂

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Here we were taking photos of the cairns near Budda Beach.

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I managed to focus on this fly sunning itself on top of one of the cairns.

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I learned a lot about my new camera, thanks to Ingrid.  Hopefully that translates to better photos in the future!  It sure was a pleasure to finally get to meet her in person.  🙂

And Sedona?  It was beyond words.  We were amazed at every bend in the road.  We are happy to report that there IS a Sedona, a Painted Desert and most importantly, an Arizona.  All are beautiful and a pleasure to explore.

Next up:  The Grand Canyon South Rim!  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Shipwrecks and Lifesaving on the Manitou Passage

One of the consistent statements we hear from visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is that Lake Michigan’s Manitou Passage looks like the Caribbean.  When the sun shines on these crystal clear waters, the deep blue and turquoise colors are breathtaking.

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Peaceful scenes such as the 1000 foot freighter American Spirit steaming past the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse in the distance are common here in Leelanau County.  Looking at this, it’s difficult to imagine the fury the lake can unleash…often within a matter of minutes.  Many a mariner has been caught unaware in these waters, and their ships have been wrecked near these shores.

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This chart shows the ideal route that ships aim for as a dotted line.  By going this direction a vessel can shave 60 miles off of their trip between Mackinac and Chicago, as opposed to going west of the islands.  This archipelago can also act as protection from strong westerly winds.  During a fierce gale in 1913, the steamer Illinois found refuge in South Manitou Island’s crescent-shaped harbor by nosing into the beach and keeping the engines running forward for 50 continuous hours.  It was at that point that the wind subsided enough for a crewman to go ashore and secure the ship to a large tree, so they could power down the ship.

Back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there weren’t any decent roads in northern Michigan and the lakes were considered a highway.  It wasn’t unusual for 100 vessels to be in the Manitou Passage on a given day, as it was also a major fueling station.  Wood was the fuel of choice back then for steamships, and these shores had plenty of it.  All of that traffic, combined with the occasional storm, brought about many shipwrecks. Over 100 vessels were known to have run aground, with many of them being refloated and saved.

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Over 50 were left in place to be dismantled by the power of Lake Michigan’s waves.

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One such ship was the Walter L. Frost, which ran aground along South Manitou Island’s shore in 1903.  It wasn’t too many years until nothing remained above the lake’s surface.

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In 1960, the Liberian freighter Francisco Morazan grounded on South Manitou Island after losing power, running over the subsurface remains of the Frost (blue arrow) in the process.

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Today, the remains of the Morazan are a visible reminder of just how brutal this lake can be to a ship….

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…and a flyover will reveal many of the other wrecks in the passage.

We had an excellent example of the moodiness of Lake Michigan this past week.

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This is a photo of the 620 foot long Mississagi, heading south through the fog towards Muskegon on Thursday.

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On the ship’s return northward on Friday, it was met with 50 + MPH gusts coming from the northwest.  As a reference, this photo was taken on the east side of the Manitou Islands, so the ship was not experiencing the high waves that were occurring out in the open lake on the west side.

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But look what the captain did once he was past Leland and North Manitou Island.  With the full brunt of the gale hitting them broadside, he choose to turn the bow northwestward and head across the lake to calmer waters along the Upper Peninsula shore.  Once there, he turned northeastward and headed towards the Straits of Mackinac.  As he passed Mackinac Island, he witnessed the only shipping casualty of that day’s storm. The tug and barge Defiance/Ashtabula had run aground.  Once the gale subsided, that ship was able to be freed from the clay bottom with little damage.  The storm was strong enough to not only close the Mackinac Bridge to high profile vehicles but also the Soo Locks.  That rarely happens.

Nowadays, rescues are performed by the Coast Guard with helicopters and enclosed motor lifeboats.  Back when the Illinois sought shelter in South Manitou Harbor in 1913, the U.S. Life Saving Service (USLSS) had other equipment at their disposal.

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For the wrecks that were farther than 500 yards from shore, the USLSS would use an open surfboat to rescue stranded sailors.  The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station performed 5% of their rescues in this manner.  But since most wrecks occurred along the shore, a beach apparatus was employed to bring the crew to safety.

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That consisted of several lines, a breeches buoy, and a cannon (called a Lyle Gun) to fire the initial line over the ship.  The breeches buoy was nothing more than a pair of pants (britches) attached to a life ring.  What this apparatus amounted to was similar to a modern day zip line.

Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we perform a daily demonstration (summer months only) of the beach apparatus using young volunteers from the audience as surfmen.  This program is called Heroes of the Storm.

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Here is Captain Diana with her crew, Raggedy Ann and Andy, calling for help from her stranded ship.  A simulated Lyle Gun fires a projectile with a line out to the ship, which allows the captain to drag out the heavier rescue lines.

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Here is Captain Jim on another occasion sending Ann towards the shore in the breeches buoy.

A special treat occurs on Thursdays, right after the Heroes program.  That is the day an actual Lyle Gun is fired.  This cannon is the only gun invented by the U.S. Army to save lives instead of take them.

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An 18-pound projectile, similar to the one I am holding here, is loaded into the Lyle gun.  A 200-yard long shot line is tied to the end of it.  That is fired out into Sleeping Bear Bay each week.  Once the line is hauled back in, it is hung along the station’s picket fence to dry.  Once dried out, it is the park volunteer’s job to ‘fake’ the line into what is called the faking box.

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Here is Diana winding the rope around the faking box pegs.

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And here we are with 200 yards of faked rope.  There is a lid that is put over this afterwards. Once at the beach, the whole thing is turned over and the rope is slid off the pegs and into the lid.  Hopefully it doesn’t tangle when they fire the gun!  Let’s find out in this slo-mo video.  This took place the day we faked the rope:

Lyle Gun video: CLICK HERE

So there you have it.  That brought a smile to our faces!

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Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

The Finest Hours

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back” 

Unofficial Coast Guard motto

 

September 8, 2018

A few months back, you may recall that we stopped into the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station while we were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore.  One of the reasons for that visit was to see how a tour of a maritime museum is conducted.  Our tour guide, a National Park Service volunteer named David, inspired us with his ability to portray what life in the U.S. Life Saving Service was like.  While we were there, he gave us a tip to go see a famous Coast Guard boat that was docked in Rock Harbor, some 30 miles to the south.  It was the subject of a movie called The Finest Hours.

This turned out to be a case where history stared us right in the face and we didn’t catch it.

The next day, we set off to explore Cape Cod’s elbow, first visiting Chatham, and then Rock Harbor.  At Chatham, we parked in front of the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. This complex overlooks the Chatham Bars, a series of sandbars that extend out into the ocean.

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We were a bit more focused on this shack constructed along the shore, but we did note how far out the waves were breaking on the ever-changing sand bars.  Shortly after taking this photo, a driving rain came in off of the ocean, so we failed to photograph the station and lighthouse.  Instead, we headed up to Rock Harbor to see the boat that David had mentioned.  Once at the dock, we were greeted by this sign:

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Still not familiar with the story or the film The Finest Hours, we descended to the lower dock to examine the boat.

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Obviously well restored and impressive to look at, the CG-36500 was tied up with little explanation to it’s storied past, short of the fact that it was a gold medal boat that had saved 32 men.  Not knowing much about Coast Guard history, we focused on how impeccable this boat was and not much else.

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The fittings on the craft were impressive.  Still, we were somewhat more interested in the U.S. Life Saving Service on this trip than the Coast Guard, so this small beauty’s story didn’t fully grab our attention.  We left the dock with the intention to see the movie and to research the boat’s story.  One thing led to another, and that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to our boat museum in the former Glen Haven Canning Company building at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   When we started our stint as volunteers here at the beginning of August, it was hard not to notice the largest boat in the museum as being similar to the CG-36500 we saw in Massachusetts back in May.

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Turns out it was not only similar, but built from the same blueprint.  Our boat, the CG-36527, had been stationed at Duluth, Minnesota.

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Both crafts, along with the 128 sister TRS 36-foot motor lifeboats, were built by hand at the Curtis Bay Yard in Maryland.

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Not being in the water, it appeared much larger than it’s fleetmate out on Cape Cod.  The boat is self-bailing, self-righting, 10 tons and its motor will run upside down.  Solid as a stone and virtually unsinkable.  It is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

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The ‘pudding’ bumper on the front is a work of art.  Visitors comment that it resembles a mustache.

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Standing on an easel by the front of the craft, this poster is displayed.

There’s that movie we failed to see…

So we watched the movie, then read the book of the same title.  The story goes like this:  A ferocious winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod in February of 1952 caught two World War II era tankers in its grip.  Both ships split in two between their bows and sterns.  The Fort Mercer was able to get a distress call off, and the Coast Guard sent most of their boats to assist in rescuing that ship’s crew.  The Pendleton wasn’t able to get an SOS off before it broke up, and it wasn’t until they were noticed on radar that the Chatham stationmaster Daniel Cluff went into action.  He ordered Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber to gather three other men and head out in the CG-36500 to see if there were any survivors.  Doing so meant they had to cross the dangerous Chatham Bars that we mentioned earlier.  Those sandbars have been known to rip boats to pieces in mild seas, and the waves that afternoon were upwards of 60 feet high!  Most of the locals considered it impossible.

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.”

Crossing the bar meant timing the waves, gunning the throttle on the upside and switching to full reverse throttle down the backside…so as to keep from driving the bow into the sand.  The ship’s compass was ripped loose and lost overboard almost immediately and the windshield was shattered.  Miraculously, they made it past the bars, but they were now running purely on Webber’s knowledge of the currents and the winds.  They somehow found the stern of the Pendleton, which was still afloat.  On deck were 33 men, anxious to get off.  (It was discovered later that the bow section had partially sank, killing the captain and crew that were in it.)

Remember, the CG-36500 is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

Suddenly, a Jacob’s ladder was thrown over Pendleton’s stern and the men started down.  Webber brought the little lifeboat in close to get each man, backing away in between to keep from smashing into the tanker’s side.  Men were packed into the survivor’s cabin and onto every available space on deck.  The only man that didn’t make it was Tiny Myers, the ship’s 300 pound cook.  He fell into the sea and a wave threw the lifeboat into him, killing him.  Once everyone was on board, Webber pointed the CG-36500 back towards shore, hoping to beach it somewhere.  The tide had risen and they were able to cross the bars rather quickly.  As luck would have it, they ended up at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and were able to come directly into the dock with their soaked and freezing survivors.

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All four crew members were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts.  They tested CG-36500’s limits, which in turn performed beyond its intended purpose for them.  The mission is considered to be the Coast Guard’s greatest small boat rescue ever.  The craft continued to serve until it was decommissioned in 1968.  It was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore with the intention that it would be displayed in a museum.  Funds never materialized, and the boat was left to rot in a storage yard, totally exposed to the elements.  The Orleans Historical Society acquired it in 1981 and restored it to the operational beauty it is today.

PENDLETON RESCUE (FOR RELEASE)

In 2002, the crew was reassembled for the 50th anniversary of the rescue, and they were able to take the CG-36500 out for a tour of the harbor with Webber at the helm..  That would have been a sight to see. Clockwise from the front:  Andy Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, Charles Bridges (Pendleton crewmember who later joined the Coast Guard), Ervin Maske and Bernie Webber.

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If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop in Rock Harbor and view this wonderful piece of history.  Maybe rent the movie or read the book. Or if you find one of the 15 or so remaining 36 footers that grace our nation’s maritime museums, take a moment to imagine that night in 1952 when the Coast Guard witnessed their finest hours.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!