So this is now my second National Park trip with Kayla. For her, the first year of high school is right around the corner. So with less than two weeks before the school year begins, we embark on an action-packed intense 11-day adventure out west. When it’s all finished we will have visited 7 National Parks (as highlighted in the 21 second video below) and several other notable sights found along the way.
After the flight landed in Las Vegas we obtained our rental car and drove directly north to Great Basin National Park. On the way to this very remote location, we made a pit stop for some camping supplies and dinner. There wasn’t much open in this tiny town, but we did find a small restaurant that made tremendous sandwiches. You can tell in the picture below that they were met with Kayla’s approval.
We departed from this town with a quarter tank of gas. I thought we’d definitely see something on the way to fill up. Nothing appeared for the the next 200 miles. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this secluded part of central-eastern Nevada! I pulled into our campsite at Great Basin riding on fumes and sweating it out the final half hour of the drive. In the pitch black darkness I sat there that evening wondering what in the world I was going to do to find gas for the car. According to the GPS, the closest station was over 100 miles away. This heavy concern weighted on my heart as I went to sleep.
When I woke up I departed for a prayer walk around the campground and engaged a local in conversation. To my delight he informed me of a tiny Sinclair gas station just down at the end of the road. Praise God! This station was so small, it didn’t have an attendant on duty nor did it even make the GPS listings for available gas stations! In the two pictures below you can see me leaving the campsite with an empty tank (left) and feeling very relieved as I filled up the a thirsty car at Sinclair (right).
Great Basin National Park
The park derives its name from the Great Basin, the dry and mountainous region between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains. The basin is nestled in the shadow of the prestigious Wheeler Peak (13,063) and is home to ancient bristlecone pines, glacial moraines, the smell of sagebrush, the darkest night skies, Lehman Caves and one of the the most solitude regions the lower 48 has to offer. Forget trying to get a signal here – it’s the “white spot” on all those cellular maps!
We did two nice hikes the first day we were at Greta Basin.
The first was the Alpine Lakes Loop rail. This 3-mile hike takes you past two lakes (Stella and Teresa) with great views of the terrain. The views of Wheeler Peak we stunning.
The second was the Osceola Ditch Trail. This is a short hike works it way through White and Douglas Fir trees. Along the way you encounter the remnants of an 18-mile long channel build by gold miners to transport water in the 1880’s. In the picture below you can see Kayla holding up one the ancient and aged wooden beams.
Great Basin also is the home of Lehman Caves. For a few extra dollars, tours are led below the ground to explore this beautiful marble cave ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn and over 300 rare shield formations.
Before the cave was protected by the park society, people would abuse the area sometimes leaving their mark behind from the soot of a candle held close to the ceiling. In one such incident, the name “J. Smith” was written (pictured on the far right below) . Kayla and I thought that was funny. “Was mommy here?”
So we exit the cave excited about the astronomy ranger program scheduled to begin in a couple hours. We’re told the dark skies far away from any light pollution make for tremendous planet and star gazing. The Lord had other plans. The rain was already falling, and it fell for most of the evening. In the pictures below (left to right) you can see the storm clouds, my look of bewildered contemplation (and disappointment?) and Kayla spending the night in the car to stay dry.
A brief video of our time at Great Basin.
Time to dry out the camping gear!
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks located in southwest Utah is similar to Bryce, only a little (and I stress “a little”) less attractive. The increased erosion here produced less definition and shorter heights of the hoodoos. We stopped off and visited about 4-5 “amphitheaters” by car and then continued on our way to the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park
Since I did the south rim the last time I was here with Natalie 2 years ago, I thought Kayla and I would tackle the north rim this year. The plan was to leave in the afternoon and hike about 7 miles to Cottonwood Campground. We would spend the night at Cottonwood and the hike 7 miles to the Colorado River. After visiting the Phantom Ranch and laying low in the Bright Angel Creek during the intense heat of the early afternoon, we’d make the returning 7 mile hike back to Cottonwood. Spend the night at Cottonwood and then hike the final 7 miles back up to the north rim the following day. The permit was in hand. The gear was assembled. We arrived at the Grand Canyon right on schedule.
Everything was looking good as you can see in the two pictures below and then I felt horrible. I was really sick, way too much under the weather to even think about attempting this hike. I thought it was best to cancel the trip and see what tomorrow holds. This was definitely a low point of the trip for me. I was disappointed and really felt bad for Kayla too.
Since our sleeping reservation for the night was 7 miles into the Canyon, we needed to make other arrangements. I called a lodging place down the road known as the Kiabab Lodge. The facilitates were small huts subdivided into 4 units that could each be rented. I tried to get some sleep but was fairly unsuccessful. Kayla spend much of the early evening outside the cabin reading her book. Later we walked to the restaurant on campus and grabbed a bite to eat. I ordered possibly the worst bowl of onion soup imaginable. I drank a bunch of tea and returned to the room (pictured below) and tried to get some sleep for the night.
In the morning I was feeling a lot better. Thank you, Lord! Though we couldn’t salvage our trip to the bottom and I surly wasn’t confident I’d be up for that either, I wanted Kayla to at least experience the inner canyon before we moved on. We loaded the car, took a final picture (see below) and drove the short distance back to the north rim.
We started down the trail. The goal was to make it to the first rest stop, the Supai Tunnel, a nice 1.7 mile hike. Not sure what changed, but suddenly I was feeling great. I looked at Kayla and said, “Let’s go for it!” She thought I was half kidding and half crazy. The goal would be Cottonwood Campground (which is basically the bottom of the canyon – another 5 miles) and then back up (another 7 miles). It’s what the park services advises against! Among the hard core crazies it’s called the dreaded “turn and burn!” Kayla, though with some apprehension, was game.
I remember being about half way down and a group of hikers was making their way out of the canyon. There looked horrible from the fatigue and unquestionably didn’t appear to be having a good time. When I told one young African-American man our intentions he responded with the clearest of warnings. I’ll never forget his response as he looked me straight in the eyes: “Don’t do it, man!” We kept marching on.
The slideshow below shows our hike to Cottonwood.
Made it to the bottom!
Hey, I paid good money for this campsite. Might as well utilize it for a couple of minutes!
The slideshow below shows our returning trip to the rim – about 4,200 feet in elevation change!
It was a killer, but we made it! Man did that pizza taste good!
Here is a music video showing highlights from our North Rim Grand Canyon hike. These clips do a good job to really capture the essence of what we experienced from the beauty to the humor to the fatigue to the fun to the exhilaration.
Pipe Springs National Monument
This facility was purchased and set aside in 1923 to commemorate the way of life in southern Utah between the native Indians and the Mormon pioneers. The water of the Pipe Spring was invaluable for life in the desert. After the Mormons discovered the spring, it was raided by the Indians during the Black Hawk War. Eventually the Mormons built a protective fort over the springs which can still be seen and visited today.
Kayla and I participated in the ranger tour that took people through this “living museum.”
More tuna fish. What did you expect for lunch?
Weird rock formations alongside the road.
Horseshoe Bend is a unique part where the Colorado River in Page Arizona does almost a 360 degree bend. The water is actually going around a peninsula, but to the eye at the observation point, the center stone actually looks like an island. After about a mile walk from the parking lot you are there; but don’t go too close to the edge! That cliff is straight down…a long way down!
Navajo National Monument
Here is where the prehistoric Puebloan Ancestors built Tsegi Phase villages within the natural sandstone alcoves of the canyons. These villages, which date from AD 1250 to 1300, amaze visitors with their original architectural elements.
In the pictures below (from the left) you can see the village in the alcove far beyond Kayla’s right shoulder. In the middle is a close-up of some structures within the village. And on the right is me squeezing uncomfortably inside a small hut display outside the visitor center. These were really little people!
As we entered Utah we stopped for a picture in front of the welcome sign and took in the sights of Monument Valley.
Also worth noting was another low-point of our trip shortly after these pictures were taken. Just a bit up the street we noticed a a few men assisting a horse on the side of the road. The horse got his leg caught in a cattle grate and then fell over tragically snapping the bone. I worked with the men for a while and were we able to dislodge the large animal as one man’s wife held his head and tried to bring him comfort. The horse was free. The vet was on the way. We knew the end result. We got in the car and sadly moved on.
We arrived in Moab Utah late in the evening. We checked into our campsite and had a good night of sleep. Archview Resort was a nice place to stay. Though most of the tent sites were small, the management placed us in “the old tepee” site which was spacious and removed from all the other campers. It was close to the bathrooms and the pool. We really liked it here!
Arches National Park
My only visit to Arches was back in 1995. That year I spent most of the time in Canyonlands (literally across the street) and quickly passed through Arches on my way into Colorado. The park is located on the Colorado River about 4 miles north of the town of Moab, Utah. What makes Arches unique, as the name implies, is the over 2,000 categorized natural sandstone arches.
Pictures below of “Double Arch” and “Balanced Rock.”
Kayla was happy to have at least one “normal” meal!
Pictures below of “Wall Street” and “The Windows.”
This was without a doubt the best hike we did at Arches. After walking uphill for about a mile and a half (pictured below) you enter an natural amphitheater with the most famous and most gorgeous (in my humble opinion) arch in the park. It’s even featured on the Utah licence plates (as it pictured later in this post). Its name is “Delicate Arch.” We had a great time here just taking pictures and hanging out with the other visitors from all over the world. We stayed until the sunset and then return to the car via headlights in the dark (pictured below).
A picture of Kayla and I under “Delicate Arch.”
The sunrise is dramatic when it hits the sandstone cliffs!
The two pictures below were taken at our campground.
Since we had some extended time in Moab, we spent one of the days driving east into Colorado to visit both Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Colorado National Monument.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
According to Wikipedia, “The park contains 12 miles of the 48-mile long canyon of the Gunnison River. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The canyon’s name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day, according to ‘The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.’ In the book, Vandenbusche states, ‘Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.'”
We spent a couple of hours at this rocky park. After taking in some sights from the canyon rim, we drove the long and very windy road (here come the headaches) to the river’s edge.
Colorado National Monument
Located near the city of Grand Junction Colorado, not far from the Utah border, “The Monument” as it is fondly known, is filled with spectacular canyons and a vast array of wildlife. The featured attraction is “Monument Canyon” which runs the width of the park and includes rock formations such as Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, and Coke Ovens.
Can’t beat $5 footlongs!
Back to Arches!
People will argue that the following trail competes with the “Delicate Arch” hike as the best hike in the park. You begin in the parking lot and start off on a relatively simple trail for about 1.5 miles. You first spectacle is “Landscape Arch.” “Landscape Arch” is considered the longest natural arch in the world measuring in at 290 feet. After you pass “Landscape Arch” the trail gets interesting. If you choose to continue, you’ll be forced to walk along narrow “fins” and scramble over several sections of rocks. Though the trail is maintained by the park service, it is considered “primitive” and it is easy to lose your way. You are rewarded for your efforts when you reach “Double O Arch.” The trail loops around for several miles, but we simply returned to our car by backtracking on our former path. This is a great hike!
The entirety of this trail is pictured in the slideshow below.
The pool at the campground wasn’t very big and it was rarely used by others, but for us it was a refreshing oasis. What a refreshing treat it was to cool off in the mid-afternoon heat after hiking most of the day in the scorching desert!
Canyonlands National Park
Not far from Arches and across the street from our campground was Canyonlands National Park. I camped here 19 years ago and it was good to be back. Our time was limited so we hit some of the popular tourist stops that were easily accessible by car and watched a great sunset seated on a cliff all by ourselves.
Ice cream in the tepee near our campsite in Moab!
Collision between Kayla’s right shoulder and the side mirror resulting in a partially lost Subway sandwich!
Bryce Canyon National Park
We had only one night reserved at Bryce National Park. Since Kayla had never been here before, I definitely wanted her to see a few of the amphitheaters from above. However, my mind was set on hiking in one of the amphitheaters and viewing the hoodoos from the bottom up. This was actually the activity we were planning on two years ago before Natalie shut down with the stomach flu. I was glad to experience this journey that’s been on my bucket list for two long years! We had a beautiful day to experience what is called one of the best hikes in the world on the “Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail.” We were not disappointed!
The slideshow below can only partially reveal the greatness of this hike!
Hike Bryce! We did!
Nice sunset and sunrise at Bryce.
Warm weather in the evening and freezing in the morning!
Zion National Park
With our flight leaving early the next morning, we arrived in Zion around lunchtime. Our time was limited and our minds were set on one hike, “The Narrows.” Two years earlier Natalie and I wanted to do this trail, yet we were prevented due to the high water conditions. The park ranger at the visitor’s center said we were permitted, but with rain on the way, the slot canyon was not the most ideal place to be. She could persuade us otherwise. We’d only walk far enough into the canyon where we’d still be able to evacuate safely. We loaded our day packs and hoped on the shuttle headed for the “Temple of Sinawava,” the trail-head were the “The Narrows” begin.
After a short hike, we’re now getting ready to enter “The Narrows!”
Basically you walk up the Virgin River switching from bank to bank. Eventually you run out of ground and need to continue in the water alone. The depth of the water increases as the canyon width decreases. Hundred foot walls surround you on both sides in scenic beauty. As you move past the entrance, the crowds dissipate and you’re on your own in this tranquil paradise.
Here’s a slideshow showing some highlights from this incredible hike!
Either I’m amazing with wild animals or he thought my finger was dinner!
I leave you with a brief video showing some highlights of our wonderful adventures in the National Parks of Southern Utah.