Hello, yeah, it’s been a while.

28 Apr

Since April 6, 2020 to be precise. That was the last time we wrote to you and since then, wow how the world has changed. But we are back in the saddle, as it were, and have some great travel to tell you about today, and upcoming. So strap in!

We call this Gone’splorin’ because we love an adventure and it’s great to have you along. We have just returned from almost three weeks in the incredible National Parks of the great American southwest and in this post we’ll take you to five National Parks and three State Parks.

Our mode of travel was new to us but something we’d thought about for a long time. We rented a 21′ camper van. To practice living in such a space for three weeks, Marci and I hung out in our walk-in closet for a few days. Once we got the hang of it, we flew to Salt Lake City to pick up the RV.

Our home for three weeks. A 21′ Thor Telaro Campervan.

Death Valley, California

Our first stop from Salt Lake City was 560 miles away so we did it in two days. We spent our first night in St. George, Utah and it happened to be our anniversary so we had a lovely dinner at the Painted Pony, a truly fine restaurant, headed for our first RV campground and turned in for our first night.

We hit the road bright and early and arrived at Death Valley around mid day.

You may know that Death Valley is recorded as the hottest place on earth, with a record temperature of 134°! But we were there in early April and had temps in the 80°s. The size of Connecticut, Death Valley is BIG and there is a giant variety of terrain from mountains to desert to salt flats and even a (small) pond. The highlight for me was going to be the dunes. Ever since our trip to Oman in 2018 I have been fascinated with desert dunes, so our first campsite was a mile from the Mesquite Dunes which is where we hiked to for first sunset.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley, California

This was planned as a trip with lots of hiking and in each park we endeavored to do some wonderful hikes. We were not up for 8 mile hikes, but anything between 2 and 4 miles was good for us. We had both needed to buy new hiking boots before the trip and after independent research and trying on many pairs, we both ended up with the same make and model. Surprisingly, the Merrell Moab 3 gave us both a perfect fit although mine were W width. These boots performed flawlessly for the entirety of the trip.

The next day we walked out to the lowest point at 330 feet below sea level! These salt flats bake in the sun and yes, it tastes like salt.

Where did the salt come from? Well, Death Valley was underwater 300 million years ago and when the earth’s crust rose and the water evaporated, the salt was left behind.

Another crazy area of Death Valley that looks completely different…

Zabriskie Point at sunrise

After three days In Death Valley it was time to head east toward our first State Park, in Nevada.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Here we hit the beginning of the “red rocks” that would stay with us for the entire trip. While only about 15 miles long, Valley of fire is quite beautiful with a couple of really fun hikes.

And of course, the right color hiking pants.

Valley of Fire is also where we first encountered the narrow passages that are found in “slot canyons”.

We departed and headed for Kanab, Utah in search of our first real slot canyon. There’s a lot of geology to learn about but I won’t lay it on you here, only to say that slot canyons are the precursors to big canyons. Think about the Grand Canyon when it was very, very young and the Colorado River sliced downward before slicing wide. That is how something like this forms:

Peekaboo Canyon, Kanab, Utah

Once a year or so, during the monsoon season in August, flood water deluge this canyon eroding the sandstone walls and floor. You can see the lines in the walls as layers of sedimentary sandstone erodes at different rates. Its super cool.

Zion National Park

When people think of the great national parks, Zion is one that gets mentioned first. It’s famous, it’s beautiful and it’s crowded. So much so that cars are only permitted in a small area of the park. To see the park you use a shuttle system. At first I was not too happy about taking shuttles, but they are frequent, comfortable and, well, when in Rome… The main part of Zion is one big, long canyon with lots of hikes and scenic areas. We did two great hikes in Zion. The first, Emerald Pools, takes you up to a waterfall and you get so close that you should bring a bar of soap, and the other, up to and past Scout’s Lookout where the view is incredible. But first you’ll have to conquer Walter’s Wiggles.

This series of 20+ switchbacks follows another set of switchbacks that takes you high, high, high over Zion Canyon. Its a worthwhile struggle though because the reward is just beautiful.

High over Zion Canyon with the Virgin River meandering to the north.

At the end of a tough day, it’s nice to camp by the rushing river and light the campfire.

The next day in Zion we rented e-bikes instead of taking the shuttle. It’s a pretty popular thing to do and because the bikes can go where the cars can’t its wonderful and quiet to ride e-bikes in Zion. We highly recommend it.

Bryce Canyon National Park

If people mention Zion first, they say Bryce second. And while so far we’ve been pretty warm during the day with cool nights, by the time we’d climbed to over 8,000′ at Bryce Canyon, it was downright cold and there was still snow on the ground. In fact, much of Bryce was closed so we didn’t plan to spend as much time here. We got up for sunrise our first morning and Sunrise Point provided us just what we had hoped for!

Sunrise Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is famous for those stalagmite looking things called “hoodoos”. They’re everywhere and they look amazing. But its even more impressive when you get down into them as we did when we hiked the “Queen’s Garden”.

We really enjoyed hiking Bryce Canyon because it is so otherworldly.

After leaving Bryce it was time to head south toward Arizona. We aimed for two great spots just over the Utah border. The first was the famous Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River, just south of the Glen Canyon Dam that forms Lake Powell. It’s just off the road, a big tourist spot and we weren’t sure it was going to be good. But we arrived just before sunset and found our spot at the edge of a (very) scary drop-off. I don’t think we were disappointed, do you?

Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona

Our next stop was on the Tribal Lands of the Navajo Nation. It is perhaps the most famous of the slot canyons called Antelope Canyon. There was a lot that we learned about the Navajo, and native Americans in general during this trip. Throughout all of our travels, whether here in the US or around the world, we try to learn about the areas we visit. Learning about culture, history, and the local lore that gives a place its “place” is a very important part of why we travel. Even though our world is more and more connected, and there is a tendency to look from Starbucks to Starbucks, our world is made up of different places, with different people, and each has their unique story. Growing up in Boston, I do not recall learning much about indigenous Americans other than that they lived in teepees (which they didn’t) and had an affection of scalps (which was primarily as bounty paid by white settlers). During our time in the Navajo Tribals lands we learned much about the process of the colonization of the American West and the treaties, laws and agreements that still are holding them back. Suffice it to say that I was not treated to the whole story as a schoolboy.

Antelope Canyon

The canyon is 28 miles long in multiple sections. It is controlled by the Navajo nation and it is very heavily visited. You will read about Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Both are famous and crowded. If you have read this blog before, you know I am a photographer and so I wanted to try to get access to the canyon with time and without people. That was going to be a problem. You must go with a guide, on a tour, and the tours have 20 or more people. I was not happy.

Then I heard about Canyon X. What? It sounded like a bit of a scam. It was hard to get information about Canyon X and although it seemed like it was near Antelope Canyon on the map, I just couldn’t be sure. But Canyon X offered something called a “photographer’s tour” which allowed 3 hours in the canyon, with no more than 4 people. Hmmm. As it turns out, Canyon X is actually Antelope Canyon X and is at the beginning of the 28 mile Antelope Canyon complex. Eureka! We were guided through Canyon X by “Ethel”, a 50-something Navajo woman who was warm, welcoming and informative. I was pretty excited to have the time to take photographs in this beautiful slot canyon. Here’s one of my favorites.

Antelope Canyon X, Navajo Tribal Lands, Arizona

Monument Valley

The Navajo Nation consists of 27,000 square miles in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, and is the largest Native American reservation in the U.S.  From Antelope Canyon we headed roughly east util we reached Monument Valley. Made famous in old Hollywood westerns, here’s a photo from the 1939 movie “Stagecoach”.

The red rocks, the mesas and rock formations, all come together to make Monument Valley one of the most unique places on earth and we were excited to see it. We did an educational tour with Sean of Navajo Spirit Tours and saw and leaned about the cliff dwellings, how they were made, and how the early Anasazi lived. And then we toured the very well worn road through the valley.

Just above is how Monument Valley looked in 1939, here it is last week. If you listen closely, you can still hear the wagons.

I haven’t told you much about RV life. Truth be told, it got better as we went along and we got the rhythm of it. We did pamper ourselves every four nights or so by staying in a hotel room with water pressure and a big bed, but there’s a certain kind of romanticism about carrying everything with you and knowing you can go anywhere, anytime and be fully self-contained. We stayed in both organized RV resorts and bare bones areas. We cooked some, went out some and generally had a great time. At the end of the trip we both decided we’d do it again.

We were up at sunrise on our final morning n Monument Valley and took one more photograph before heading north.

East and West Mitten at sunrise, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribals Lands, Arizona

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

We were in the home stretch with two of the very best parks left. Arches and Canyonlands are both around Moab, Utah. It’s an outdoors-person’s paradise with everything from hiking and paddling to zip lining and skydiving and four wheeling. We intended to keep our feet on the ground and spent our days in these two parks getting in a few more hikes and starting to reflect on how much we enjoyed our trip.

“Double Arch”, Arches National Park, Utah
Holding up “Balance Rock”, Arches National Park, Utah
Overlooking the Green River, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

If you are still with me, please let us know by leaving a short comment in the section below. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of our National Parks trip. If you have any compunction about following in these footsteps, we’d encourage you to do it. As Marci says, “We have a beautiful country. Get out and see it.”

Thanks for reading, see you next time!


4 Responses to “Hello, yeah, it’s been a while.”

  1. Randy Isaacson April 28, 2023 at 11:32 am #

    Really enjoyable post. I’ve been to almost all the parks and your photos and comments “bring me back” and starts a thirst to get there again. Your story is fun and educational … can’t beat that except your great photos 👏

  2. Lynn Jackson April 28, 2023 at 3:19 pm #

    Makes me want to go back and do this trip all over again!

  3. Carol Schwender April 28, 2023 at 7:51 pm #

    What an adventure for you and Marci. Craig and I are so glad you had fun in the West. We do have a beautiful country, cherish it as you have done!

  4. Bruce May 1, 2023 at 10:44 am #

    awesome pictures

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