Vacation Blog Wrap Up

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Thank you for virtually going on our vacation with us. Blogging turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated, trying to blog on the fly using an iPad and iPhone with weak, and sometimes non-existent internet, but I am glad I did it.

Our country is a diverse place. What struck me most on our trip is the sheer size of America. You can drive for miles and miles and miles, sometimes without seeing much of anything, or at least anything that might be considered a tourist attraction. We are accustomed to cities and people. In the West the spaces are vast. The lack of trees or foliage make the earth and sky seem to meet and the land appears so much larger.

In the heartland there were fields and farms for mile after mile. So much food is being grown to feed our people and our vast appetites. As a friend of mine joked, “We will never run out of food as long as we are willing to eat cornflakes.” The grain belt is a place where towns are few and you are unsure who could possibly own so much land.

Travelers relate to each other and to the sights we are seeing. “Can I take a picture of you together?” is a question often asked by strangers, which leads to the next question of, “Where are you from?” and a conversation follows. We met people from everywhere; California, Vermont, Illinois, Texas and beyond. Also, there were many people from other countries who were touring our country. In the National Parks, probably half the tourists were international.

MyPhoto1505369825279.pngWe had figured on driving about 4,000 miles. We ended up driving 5600 miles. You don’t just drive to a place and stay put until you leave. You make side trips, driving around, and sightseeing after reaching a point-of-interest destination.

For the most part, the National Parks were as I remembered them from years ago. That is a good thing. They are successfully being preserved. I don’t know if someone cleans the roadsides at night or if people are more respectful of these special places and do not litter. The beauty of the land was sometimes almost overwhelming. It is hard to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or to watch Old Faithful erupt without feeling a sense of awe and a lump in your throat.

Things went wrong in spite of our best efforts to plan ahead. Most problems centered on weather, construction, lack of time, high prices and tiredness. We were very fortunate with weather and I can think of only one time when we actually missed doing something due to a rainstorm, although haze spoiled some of our picture taking. We saw plenty of construction, but had significant delays only once or twice.

I had not realized how physically draining travel would be. There was a lot of walking, and even riding in a car is tiring. Resting seems like a waste of time, but in the long run, you enjoy things more if you are not tired. Prices were shocking, about twice what was reasonable and ordinary. Hotels and restaurants know they are in a popular location and price gouging of tourists is not unusual. We only walked out of a restaurant once after seeing the menu.

You can’t see everything. You have to make choices and see what you can in the amount of time you have. This means sometimes skipping things you would like to see. Nevertheless, we saw enough, more than enough really. Besides, we now have a good excuse to go again to see things we missed. It was worth the time, energy, and money involved. Morris got to see places he had heard about for his whole life. I got to renew my memories of these places.

We stayed in motels and ate at restaurants, but there are cheaper ways to travel. Many people camp and cook their own food. I once had neighbors who traveled by sleeping in the back of their station wagon and cooking on a portable camp stove. They taught classes on budget travel. This is not for everyone, but if it is the only way you can go, do it.

Be adventurous. See the country. You will not regret it. Go!

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Petrified Forest National Park

IMG_5322In spite of being short of time due to the distance we had to drive, we wanted to see one last thing, the Petrified Forest. The Park covers about 230 square miles and includes areas of petrified wood, as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. It was on a loop that left the interstate and returned further down the road. I had been here before and as I recalled it, the petrified logs were right along the roadside. Well, either they moved or my memory was not as good as I thought. Considering how long ago it was, I suspect the later.

IMG_5318After we entered the park, we saw a Visitors’ Center.”Do you want to stop?” asked Morris.

“No, I know the story.” The logs are remnants of prehistoric forests.  Trees died and fell down, then they soaked up water and silica from volcanic ash and over time it crystallized into quartz. “I just want to see the petrified wood.” So, we drove on. But we didn’t see anything.

“We should have seen it by now.”

“Seen what?” asked Mo.

“The petrified forest. I think we should turn around and go back to the Visitors’ Center.”

“Turn around where?” asked Mo as the road was narrow. Finally, we came to a pull-off and were able to turn around.

When we got back to the Visitors’ Center, I saw the problem immediately. Logs and pieces of logs were strewn about on hills behind the building. There was a paved path winding around through the fields of wood. And steps, there were many steps involved. We got out of the car and walked around on the path taking pictures. It was extremely hot, about 95 degrees. Finally, I decided I didn’t need a picture of every single log. They were pretty much the same.

IMG_5339Later, we went on and found other areas with logs. Then we came to an area with brightly colored rock formations in red and blue. It was a gorgeous section of the Painted Desert. I’ve see red rock before and knew it was due to iron, but the blue? It was as blue as the sky. It really did look painted. I found out later that the red is oxidized iron and magnesium. The blue occurs when there is water that interferes with the oxidization process. Okay… but it still looks like someone painted it to me.

We then came to a canyon with an unusual color of red. It was too much to pass up. We stopped and made more pictures. Now we were very much behind schedule. My head is still full of petrified wood and painted desert images. Yes, I need to come back when I can spend more time — preferably when the weather is cooler.

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The Grand Canyon

IMG_5300.JPGWe saved the best for last and spent a day at the nation’s second most popular National Park, The Grand Canyon. Everyone has seen pictures of the magnificent canyon carved by the Colorado River. It is truly one of Mother Nature’s works of art and there are not enough superlatives to adequately describe it. Geological processes formed the rugged landscape over billions of years through shifting of teutonic plates, uplifting of layers of sedimentary rock, and erosion of softer rock layers to form cliffs, buttes, and pinnacles.

Coming from the north, we entered the park through the east entrance, which is used less than the south entrance near I-40. The road from the east into Canyon Village is closed to commercial vehicles and only private vehicles are allowed. There were small jeep tours, but the large bus loads of tourists were absent.

IMG_5272.JPGThe first view of the canyon was where the historic rock watchtower is located, great for picture-taking. After that we stopped at other well-known viewpoints. Unfortunately, the sky clouded up making the canyon dark and difficult to photograph. The areas in the sun were lit up and better for viewing and photos.

When we reached Canyon Village, we had to decide whether to call it a day or figure out the shuttle system to visit the popular west side. Mo said, “When will we get another chance to do it?”

There are two shuttle lines. The blue line circles through the village to the various lodges, shops, campgrounds, and whatever. You ride that and transfer to the red line, which is the only shuttle service allowed in the popular scenic trail area.

The shuttle bus drivers were friendly and knowledgeable and helped people get to where they wanted to go. The village was far larger than I expected with numerous buildings. There were suprisingly large numbers of international tourists on tours.

IMG_5286.JPGMost people were casual sightseeing tourists. There is a ‘rim trail’ that can be hiked and bicycles can be rented. Tours, helicopters, and all manner of tourist services are available. The views at Mohave Point and Hermits Rest were especially spectacular. The clouds had cleared away and the pink and purple hues of the canyon were evident.

The trouble with going somewhere like this is you want to come back. The Grand Canyon is one of earth’s most powerful and inspiring landscapes. I am already making my list of the things I missed that I want to do next time.

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Bryce Canyon

IMG_5190Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite National Parks due to its distinctive beauty. We were staying at a hotel near Zion National Park and decided to take a day and drive to Bryce since they are fairly close together. Bryce is more remote than Zion and, hence, less visited. This means you are able to drive your own vehicle to the different scenic outlooks instead of parking and taking a shuttle bus.

Although they are in the same area in Utah, the two parks are completely different. Bryce is famous for the largest collection of hoodoos anywhere. Instead of the red rocks seen in Zion, the rock formations are a bright golden orange. Erosion has carved the sandstone into towers of rock that, to me, resemble the drip castles children make from sand — on a much larger scale, of course. The spires have taken unusual shapes, sometimes leaving large rocks that appear to be balanced on top of smaller ones.

IMG_5184The roads are at the top of the canyon and you look down over the vast scenic vista. Different outlooks provide views from different vantage points and provide a different perspective of the canyon in each place. I wanted to see them all, so we drove to the very end of the canyon views road making all the stops.

For those who want to venture into the canyon and see the hoodoos from the bottom up, there are steep hiking trails. I never cease to be amazed by the casual observers who venture off into a hot dessert environment in flip-flops, without water or protection from the sun. I decided that the steep, dusty paths were not what an old woman needed to do, and did my viewing from the top. The adventurous may enjoy outdoor sports activities. Sight seeing itself is adventure enough for me.

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Zion National Park

IMG_5228Our next stop on the agenda was Zion National Park in southwest Utah. It is the fifth most visited National Park, the tour guide told us.  We arrived to find the streets of Springdale, the town closest to the park, lined with parked cars in every nook and cranny and the place was crawling with young people in hiking boots and back packs.

Fortunately, we had a hotel reservation and were able to avoid the $20 fee parking lots were charging. The overcrowding in the small canyon town is horrendous and has caused private vehicles to not be allowed on Zion’s most scenic drive. We could observe steep red cliffs all around us, impressive as much for their size as their beauty. The National Park Service and city have coordinated a shuttle system to allow people to visit and view the major scenic areas of the park.

IMG_5170.JPGOn the first day we drove through a part of the park where vehicles were allowed. Even though it was not considered the most scenic part of the park, it was still quiet beautiful and had humongous red rock formations around every curve and mile long tunnel dug through solid rock. Cars were also crammed into every possible parking space in that area.

Today we toured the scenic area accessible only by shuttle. The tour was narrated and explained the services and history and gave information about the park. It also provided access to the trailheads of Zion’s many hiking trails. Rock formations have names like “The Watchman,” “The Great White Throne,” and names of Biblical characters. We are not outdoors sports people; however, the trails are popular with hikers and the steep rock walls are favorites with rock climbers. The river flowing through the area is as small as the creek near my home, but the erosion it created is magnificent and awe inspiring.

IMG_5221If you are young enough to hike and enjoy outdoor recreation, you will love the area.  Go visit it now while you are able. Trail difficulty varies from easy to almost impossible. If you are my age, you will still enjoy the scenery, but you will hate the inconvenience, unbearable desert heat, and crowds. Zion is a primary example of a National Park being overwhelmed by its own popularity. It is worth seeing once, but if you want to vacation in a place not ruined by tourism and price gouging, I suggest you plan on keeping your visit as brief as possible.

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Cedar Breaks National Monument

IMG_5155Cedar Breaks National Monument is a located in the state of Utah near Cedar City. Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater, stretching across 3 miles, with a depth of over 2,000 feet.

This is a small but interesting place. It somewhat reminds me of a mini Bryce Canyon, and I overheard someone else say this too. It is difficult to get there and further off I-15 than I realized. We made the mistake of trying to get there in what turned out to be the back way via Parowan. The road involved hair raising turns and curves. I asked the Park Ranger when we finally arrived if there was another way out. He advised us to go through Cedar City. We did on the way back and it was a much easier drive.

The canyon is georgeous to behold, of course. Mo was a bit ticked off at me for wanting to go there with roads that were so perilous and under construction to boot, but when we finally arrived and he saw how beautiful it is, he got over it. There is a campground there and some hiking trails as well as scenic overlooks. Since we are not camping people, we stayed a short time and moved on. As with so many of these national treasures, there is never enough time.

Leaving the overlook area, we encountered the largest herd of sheep I have ever seen with part of the flock wandering across the road and stopping traffic. I tried to take a picture, but they were pretty fast for sheep. I told Mo, “I hope we don’t fall asleep,” and tried not to count sheep as they crossed the road.

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The Not-So-Great Salt Lake

IMG_5153The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere and a well known geologic feature in Utah. It is best seen from a State Park called Antelope Island. In brochures it said not to call it a “Dead Sea” as it plays an important part in the ecosystem. I will take their word for it. It is not an attractive or a pretty lake. It is surrounded by ugly salt marshes.

There is a herd of bison there if you want to see bison. In my opinion, there are better places to see them. We piddled around driving desolate roads wasting time that we could spend better elsewhere. I did not want to go on the steep road to the top of a high rocky peak to get a better view. As far as I was concerned, I had seen enough.

The road goes around the entire island if you like driving in hot, desolate places and sight-seeing where there is nothing to see. There is a beach if you like swimming in salty water, and you can camp there if you like being sweaty and don’t mind brine flies. I was happy to cross back over the long causeway and get the heck out of that place.

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Grand Teton National Park

IMG_5117Today we drove from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City. On the way, we saw the Grand Tetons, some of the most beautiful mountains in the U.S. Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park. The ancient rocky mountains rise straight from the ground without foothills. The road is through a valley that runs along the side of the mountain range. The views are truly spectacular.

There were numerous pull offs for picture taking, with each one offering a slightly different view. The tops of the mountains were covered with snow, even in summer. The Snake River winds through the park and Jenny Lake reflects the mountains. Many people were there to enjoy the various recreational opportunities such a place offers: bicycling, hiking, camping, boating and, of course, photography. Several Visitors’ Centers were more like museums than Vistors’ Centers.

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The National Park is actually a combination of two parks. At first only the mountains and lakes were protected. Later the valley lands providing the spectacular views became a National Monument. Finally. In 1950, the two were combined.

Mo went crazy making pictures. I knew he would like the view. Unfortunately, it was a hazy day, but the pictures actually came out better than I expected. It is one of those places where it is impossible to make a bad picture unless you forget to take the lens cover off. We didn’t spend nearly enough time to do it justice, but were late arriving at our destination due to the amount of time we did spend.

It the kind of place that you can never get enough of and always want to return to see more.

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Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

IMG_5090We found an interesting place while at Yellowstone. It was called “Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.” This is not the kind of place where I would normally go, but it was recommended by “US News and World Report” as one of the top nine places to see at Yellowstone, so I put it on my list.

When we arrived, I found it was a non-profit wildlife rescue and education center. They care for animals who have been orphaned or became a threat to people due to gaining access to human food. Often such animals are killed because they left the wild and went into a neighborhood where bird feeders and garbage made an easy meal.

The Discovery Center had created a natural habitat as much as possible. Animals were on exhibit only for a brief period and only one bear at time was available to view. We saw Sam who is a Grizzly from Alaska. He came to the rescue center as an orphaned cub, and now weighs 1,000 pounds.

IMG_5081There were also wolves and bird raptors that had broken wings and could not fly enough to forage for food. In addition to live animals, the center has a variety of programs to educate people about wildlife preservation. We found that wolves had become extinct in Yellowstone, but were reintroduced and have had a positive effect on the environment and are helping control species that were becoming over-populated.

We were able to see animals there that are difficult to observe at Yellowstone. They are currently expanding to rescue more bears that would be euthanized as well as adding an area for reptiles.

The Discovery Center is funded by tax-deductible donations and entry admissions. Learn more at http://www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org

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Old Faithful

IMG_5107Today was our last day at Yellowstone. It is sad to leave such an amazing place, but life goes on. We have seen so many geysers that they are beginning to all look the same. We decided to spend our last day back at the most famous landmark in Yellowstone, Old Faithful. We did not spend a lot of time there before as there was so much to see elsewhere.

I wanted to walk the trail through the Upper Geyser Basin. This is the thermal basin where Old Faithful is located. As we walked towards the back of Old Faithful, it erupted in a beautiful fountain very close by. What a wonderful way to end our visit.

We walked as many of the trails in the area as I could. I had no idea how much area they covered. About 150 geysers and thermal pools are located in the immediate area. I lost track of the names of individual displays. Some were small bubbling pools, which we dubbed “baby geysers in training.”

Many tourists are seeing things they have never seen before. Wild critters, geysers, hot springs, rushing streams, mountains, it is all here. You could spend weeks, months, here seeing new things. We watched Old Faithful for one last time. We scarcely scratched the surface, but I am satisfied that we did as much as we could in the time we had and I’m ready to pack up and go.

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