Deserts and Canyons and Arches…Oh My!

Deserts and Canyons and Arches…Oh My!

America The Beautiful….The appropriately named National Park pass we purchased for $80 which has paid for itself 3 times over already.  We love the National Parks and experiencing as many as we can on this journey is a goal we are trying diligently and joyously to fulfill.  The campgrounds, the visitor centers, the rangers, the educational programs, the wildlife and the hiking trails all contribute to  the overall beauty which  in turn feeds the soul with such profound feelings and emotions, sometimes difficult to put into words….but here goes.

Grand Canyon….POWERFUL

This boundless view is capable of literally taking your breath away. Whether you’re a first time visitor or a return visitor (of 20 years, as are Bri and I), it takes more than a few moments to process its greatness. From the colorful layers of the earth, to the deep chiseled rock carved by The Colorado River, you literally feel as if you’re staring into a painting.Grand Canyon

We stayed 4 nights in the park campground at south rim.  And, although it is considered the “touristy” region, our experience was what we made it…spectacular .  We hiked several trails to various look out points, sometimes alongside mules and sometimes alongside unprepared tourists. This was the first time any of us did what we referred to as a” backwards hike” where the ascent was on the return route.  It was a slight challenge at first, but we were well equipped with the necessary supplies, mainly enough water, to prove the trek gratifying.  I’m not so sure the woman caked with face makeup, wearing flip-flops, one hand clutched to her Gucci bag, the other to a frappacino, felt the same way.  We also biked around a portion of the rim, attended a ranger led talk on The California Condor (a rare bird with a 9 1/2 foot wing span-which, unfortunately we did not see),  witnessed a small, intimate wedding, admired a very peaceful sunset and  had a beautiful elk visit our campsite for coffee one morning.

Grand CanyonColorado RiverG.C. sunset

Bryce Canyon……MAGICAL

Truly a fantastical backdrop of unique rock formations  everywhere you look.  Called “hoodoos”, these structures were formed by thousands of years of water and ice erosion. Boasting vibrant colors of red, orange and white, I initially had to remove my sunglasses to see if my eyes were deceiving me!Bryce

We stayed 2 nights in the park, again “backwards hiking” and walking the rim to the popular vistas. The names of some of the formations are quite fitting. “Fairyland”, “The Queens Garden”  and “Thor’s Hammer” were some of our favorites. After the first day, both River and Mercy, with a tinge of guilt in their voices, confessed to liking this canyon a little bit more than The Grand. We were also fortunate enough to have to stop for a herd of pronghorn, which aren’t often seen in the park.

BryceBryceBryce

Zion…….SPIRITUAL

Comprised of some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world and receiving its lifeblood from the ever flowing Virgin River, the scenery here is striking.Zion

We entered the park on the east side, coming through the 1.1 mile sandstone carved Mount Carmel Tunnel. In hindsight, we should have come in on the west side as some problems did arise. Our trailer just fit the size restrictions and we had to obtain a tunnel permit ($15, which our pass did not cover), and as with all oversize rigs, we had to wait for rangers to stop traffic and let us through. Despite losing our trailer tire rim and hubcap somewhere in the tunnel, we were still able to enjoy the stunning views exiting the tunnel and descending down the long, steep and winding mountain.  Until……..roughly 2/3 of the way down, the trailer brake controller started flashing these bright red letters….OL OL OL.  Then, that smell of burning rubber and Bri realizing that our braking powers had all but fled. Luckily, there was a pullout and after parking it  for a while to let the brakes cool (and to recover from a near heart attack) we realized we had enough power in the truck brakes to crawl the rest of the way down and into the campground.  Upon leaving the park, our brakes started working again. But, after inspection, we did require a new $800 brake job.

We stayed here 4 or 5 nights as the inherent change of landscape and the presence of flowing water refreshed us physically and mentally after having spent weeks in  hot, dry, and dusty deserts. The desert in Zion is different as it harbors more than one environment and the ability to witness the  diversity in one place was a respite.  The fact that many of the trails had water of some form or another (Emerald pools, weeping rock , and of course the river) made for five happy campers. (Daisy also got some swim time in). Witnessing the sun cast it’s effervescent glow upon the majestic cliffs in the late afternoon was something to look forward to each day we were there.

Zion tunnelVirgin RiverZion

Arches……..INSPIRATIONAL

Sculptured rock scenery consisting of towering spires, pinnacles, balanced rock, windows, natural bridges, and of course, arches, makes for some gorgeous photographic opportunities.  Although you can see a lot of the park by car, the foot trails and short hikes give you  more of a sense of the size, scale and density of the rocks.Delicate Arch

We stayed 5 nights just outside the park at a great campground in Moab along The Colorado. We did most of the park in just one day, hiking out to Delicate Arch, which is THE famous arch, the one seen on the State of Utah’s license plate.  A relatively easy but hot hike in which the payoff of seeing the enormity of  it in addition to having our photo taken underneath it was gratifying. I’m not so sure  it was like that for the young 20 something year old couple hiking out there with nothing but 2 bottles of Mountain Dew. I seriously thought we were going to have to forfeit all of our water when I saw the girl could only go approximately 8-10 steps before having to stop , sit down and catch her breath.  She claimed she was getting over a sickness.  Bri and Riv explained to her boyfriend that they should be carrying water and not a dehydrating, caffeinated, sugary drinks. I believe they made it back okay.  

Landscape Arch was our next hike.  After watching the park video, we learned that a portion of the arch broke off in 1992, witnessed and caught on film by some hikers. Today, you can see the pieces that broke off and as you look up.  It’s hard to fathom that the thinnest part of the arch is only 6 feet thick. Who knows how long it will be before the entire arch crumbles. I’m just glad it didn’t happen in our presence. Knowing me, I would’ve stayed to catch it on film and sold it to National Geographic or The Discovery Channel…..for the soul reason of prolonging our trip.   Mercy received her first Junior Ranger badge here and now she is hooked on the program.

ArchesLandsccape ArchArches

We have left the desert and are currently in Colorado. I do believe that the kids have a renewed sense of adventure after seeing such lush, green landscape in this state.  Or, it may have something to do with the fact that school is out and summer has been bringing more families to the campgrounds, which in itself is…..DELIGHTFUL!

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The Calm of the Whirlwind

The Calm of the Whirlwind

Texas has been an interesting place for sure. The day we pulled into the state, at the beginning of February it was close to 80 degrees. Since then it has dropped to almost freezing and then risen back up at least three times. As I write this it’s 75 and I’m sitting at our camp sight near the bank of Lake Austin. This is the third place we’ve stayed at since arriving in Texas (fourth if you count the one night we boon docked outside the Renaissance Festival) and this one is packed to the gills!

First place was McKinney Falls State Park which was a welcome stop after so many nights of boon docking and traveling so much. We decided to bite the bullet and plunk down the cash to stay for two weeks. Let me say that getting to park it for a couple weeks brought a great sense of security and relaxation. That’s not to say that moving around a lot is SOOO stressful, but it does come with the drawback of wondering if the place you’ve decided to “land for the night” (I really love that expression and the visual it conjures, so you will hear me use it again) is 100% safe. That being said, is anywhere 100% safe? …Exactly.

But anyway, it was nice to plant it for a while and look up an old friend who we hadn’t seen since we got married. We picked up right where we left off as if the past sixteen or so years were sixteen days. On the other side we hooked up with some new friends who we hadn’t actually ever physically met (the wonders of the internet folks!) and found ourselves in the company of this great family who we are glad to call real friends now!

Due to the two week maximum stay rule at most state and national parks, we had to split the homey McKinney State Park for… Hobo Camp!! That’s right!! YEA, HOBO CAMP!!! Eventually, after we’d been there for a few hours one of the guys came over and told me everybody in Texas carries a gun. Then asked if I’m packin’. Being the streetwise cat that I am, I grinned and said nothing… then began to consider the pros and cons of this particular stopover. Considering the fact that I would be leaving for a job install in North Carolina in a couple days, I obviously wasn’t too keen on leaving everybody in the quaint gun-toting community known as Hobo Camp. However, the price was right and Tan continually assured me that she could fend off any toothless, pistol wavin’ and a’winkin’, beer guzzlin’, hobo camper.

With the friendly, genuine, good-hardheartedness of the proprietor, Hobo Camp became a cool little place that we counted ourselves lucky to have stumbled upon. I could sense that he was a standup guy who I felt would keep my family safe while on his property. He conveyed to us the history of the immediate area and regaled us with more than a few stories of ghost sightings that have occurred right there in the camp. Picture “Uncle Jesse” from The Dukes of Hazzard giving history lessons and telling ghost stories around the fire pit and there you have a good picture of Hobo Camp.

I’m going to take this opportunity to address the idea of our multiple references in this and other postings to The Dukes Of Hazzard TV show. I loved The Dukes Of Hazzard and being in the south/south west, we have run into more than a few characters who could have been… well, characters on that show. This is in no way a dis or swipe at any of these folks we’ve come across. Most have been kind, helpful people who have been more than willing to offer some friendly advice or assistance, and have been perfect examples of what we refer to as “southern hospitality”.

Austin kept us quite busy with some volunteer work we did for The Ronald McDonald House at the Live Strong Marathon, touring the set of “The Lying Game” at Austin Studios,  (courtesy of the previously mentioned old friend), conducting interviews and  being treated like royalty for a day at The Sherwood Forest Faire, scooping ice cream at Threadgills for the “Roky Erickson Ice Cream Social” during South By Southwest (SXSW), and Tan actually winning us a pair of wristbands for SXSW on the local radio station! She willed it all week long and we finally won on the second to last day of the contest (caller#9!!). You should have heard her shouting in jubilation on the radio as the DJ had to ask her to calm down!

Due to Tan’s picking up some work for SXSW and our desire to be a little closer to downtown Austin for the festival, with a little sadness we bid Hobo camp farewell and headed to Emma Long Campground. This is a place that Tan and I had stayed at twenty years ago with my sister and her husband. For the most part the place looked the same… long, winding road to get in, bathhouse where it was before, an open field with a cliff face behind it, and… a lake buzzing with speed boats and other water craft? We looked at each other and I said “Do you remember a body of water here twenty years ago?” Tan didn’t either, so she contacted my sister. She didn’t either. Clearly the lake is not a new addition and according to the locals it has always been there. How we missed it twenty years ago I’m not really sure because the place really isn’t that big! What a pleasant surprise to say the least!

Initially it was nice and quiet with a few campers, but after a few days the place became packed. We quickly discovered that this week was spring break for the local schools so folks were taking advantage of the local (waterfront!) camping. Our scenic little oasis suddenly became a bustling tent/RV community complete with loud people, loose dogs, kids cutting through our campsite (who Mercy set straight), and no privacy. Eventually things did thin out again but never back to the way when we first got there.

Our last week was a crazy time of running around enjoying the musical offerings of SXSW and spending some time with our new found friends. While in town we enjoyed the sounds of quite a few bands like The Soft White Sixties, Peelander-Z, Maus Haus, and of course the incredible Guy Forsyth (who you MUST check out) who we got to see twice! It was a difficult (as always) bidding Austin farewell, but after six comfortable, yet busy weeks it was time to hit the road again.

More to come from Texas…