Salt Lake City and Antelope Island

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Our five days in the Salt Lake City area were full of non-stop fun, such as having our car serviced, doing laundry, going grocery shopping, returning Alan’s faulty ground pad and replacing it with a Therm-A-Rest, and dealing with gnawed-through electrical wires on our car.  Between all of the errands we were running now that we were in the first urban area we’d seen in quite some time, we also made time to visit Temple Square – checking out the Mormon Tabernacle, a Mormon history museum, and the outside of the Temple.  The highlight was visiting the family search center to do some research on my family’s history.  My father is knee-deep in researching our family’s history, but he hasn’t done that much research to date on one of my great-grandparents, who happened to be Mormon.  I had a great time working with a volunteer at the center to learn more about my great-grandparents and to pull old census records.  Even better, I learned that there are family search centers all over (check out familysearch.org for one near you), including one that is not all that far from my parents’ church.  Hopefully this will help my dad in his quest to continue compiling our family’s history.

The Mormon Temple

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

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In addition to checking out the city and surrounding areas, we also took a trip up to Park City, watched ski jumpers train at the Olympic Park, and camped on an island in the Great Salt Lake.

Antelope Island (we did see antelope!) is a largely undeveloped state park in the middle of the salty sea of northern Utah.  The sunsets were gorgeous and were reason to celebrate as it was the only time the temperature in the park was close to appealing.  I’m not sure if it’s always this hot in SLC in the summer, but the temperatures were pushing 100 just about every day.  Van and I did get our feet wet, but the smell and feeling of the slimey sand beneath our feet was less than attractive.  As much as I was tempted to float in water five times saltier than the ocean, I took a pass.  On the positive side, we only had to suffer through one night of our closest neighbors in the campground setting up an outdoor movie theater complete with spotlights for a midnight showing of a film that we thankfully couldn’t hear over the sounds of their 1970’s-era generator that had definitely seen better days, which powered the whole set-up.  But it was all worth it for the absolute best sunsets of our trip thus far.  Each night was a spectacle of deep oranges and reds shining across an almost perfectly still sea that appears to merge with, more than reflect, the land around it.

Two More Stops on the European Tour: Bryce and Zion National Parks

No, we didn’t hop a jet across to Europe.  No passport was needed to find ourselves surrounded by Europeans on holiday during our tour of the national parks in southern Utah.  While it’s common to see non-US visitors when visiting national parks, this was a whole different ballgame, especially in Arches and Bryce.  Many visitors seemed to be on an extended holiday, touring a circuit of parks in their rental RV or with their tents and kids in tow.  I completely understand why someone may be possessed to fly so far to see some of the US’s more remote parks.  Each of the parks we visited in southern Utah – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion, as well as our drive through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – was wacky and different and is the closest I’ll ever come to stepping foot on an alien planet.

Bryce Amphitheater

Bryce Amphitheater

Making our home base to visit Bryce and Zion in one of Bryce’s forested campgrounds, we felt like we’d escaped our alien abductors and returned to a more normal landscape, that is until we got our first glimpse of what makes Bryce so famous.  It was like a fairyland, Dr. Seuss’s version of Disneyworld, and a hot, dry Mars, all rolled into one.  In short, it was crazy beautiful!

Because we had several days in the park, we were able to check out all the different parts of the park and go on our longest hike yet with the little guy.  Just over eight miles down into the amphitheater and up and down and around the hoodoos, and up and down some more.   Huge props to Alan who carried the little guy on his back during the entire sunshiny hike.  Even more credit is due given the significant number of climbs and descents we had to do during those eight miles.  For those looking to replicate our fantastic hike, we hiked from the North Campground to the Rim Trail, along the Rim Trail to the Queens Garden Trail and down into the canyons, then around the Peekaboo Loop Trail (our favorite part) before heading  up and out of the canyons along the Navajo Trail, back to the Rim Trail, and onwards to our campsite.

The first few miles of the hike were on a popular trail.  The views were beautiful, but we were never alone.  Once we headed further down into the canyon, we were able to escape the crowds and see the most incredible views.  Around each corner we’d keep exclaiming that these were the best views yet, until we turned the next corner and repeated ourselves, and on and on.  Walking down amongst the hoodoos was something I’ll never forget.  There was something magical about being down there.  It was almost unbelievable that a landscape like this even exists – I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t dreaming and that the earth is full of wondrous surprises.  After seeing this, there is probably nothing I wouldn’t believe that the earth could dream up.  It’s true, unicorns live in Crested Butte and fairies live in Bryce.

Given the heat in neighboring Zion National Park (despite their proximity, Bryce is at a much higher altitude than Zion, making the weather much more tolerable for camping), we decided to head to Zion for a day trip and continue camping at Bryce.  For many reasons, this was definitely the right decision.  Zion is absolutely beautiful and it seems as if everyone has already caught on to this fact.  The place was a zoo!  Even with most of the park outlawing cars and requiring that you take a shuttle, each hike we did was not all that dissimilar to being at the mall on a Saturday afternoon.  And it was hot.  It was beautiful, but it was hardly a wilderness experience.  I’m sure that if you embarked on some of the longer or more challenging hikes, you’d find some semblance of solitude (or at least it’d feel like a mall on a Tuesday evening instead of Saturday afternoon), but given that the temperatures were above 100 degrees much of the day and we’d been hiking every single day for the past week, we did not attempt any of the more strenuous hikes.  This would be a great place to come in the off-season, but one day was plenty for us during the heat and crowds of the summer.  All that being said, I’d love to return when Van is a bit older and take on the Narrows trail, a sixteen-mile long trail through a slot canyon, at least 60% of which involves walking, wading, or swimming through water.

The strangest part for me was that I had been to Zion once before during the summer of 1991.  This was absolutely nothing like I remembered.  It’s almost as if I’d been somewhere else and convinced myself that it was Zion.  It was very strange returning somewhere I know that I’ve been and where I hold, what I thought were, pretty clear memories of what I had seen.  It felt as if I were peering through a looking-glass much of the day, and it re-emphasized the importance of journaling and photographing the many places that we see during this journey.

Views on our Drive into Zion

Views on our Drive into Zion

Quintessential Zion

Quintessential Zion

 

Making Lemons out of Lemonade: Capitol Reef National Park

Flash floods in Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah closed down the main scenic road in the park and changed our plans to hike through slot canyons.  Instead, we cooled off in the campground sprinkler and again in afternoon thunderstorms.  Though we did check out some areas of the park, we were never able to visit the more well-known portions of the park since the road remained closed to allow crews to remove debris that was funneled through the canyons and deposited onto the road.  No matter; we enjoyed the opportunity to relax after a week full of hiking in the hot sun in Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Arches.

Mud!

Mud!

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Our Site in Capitol Reef

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Cleaning Off

Think I Need to Wash My Hands?

Taking a Quick Walk Between Rainshowers

Taking a Quick Walk Between Rainshowers

This Way!  (We hear this seventeen thousand times a day.)

This Way! (We hear this seventeen thousand times a day.)

Heat, Sun, and Beautiful Rocks: Arches National Park

Arches was hot, beautiful and hot.  We debated even heading to this area during July, but decided to give it a go, strategically choosing to camp at a higher elevation and therefore a lower (thank goodness) temperature.  I would have loved to have spent more time in Arches, but one long day hiking under the blazing sun was enough for me.  I was actually shocked we were able to fit so much exploration in to our long day in Arches, and my desperate cravings for damp shade during the several days after our visit just served to highlight that point.

Since we knew that the longest hike we’d be doing was to the famous Delicate Arch (seen a Utah license plate lately?), we zipped right to the trailhead to try to beat the mid-day heat.  It was a beautiful, albeit crowded, hike, but the payoff at the end was well worth the crowds.  The arch is stunning, and seeing a zillion and one photos of it before ever setting foot in the park did not diminish its beauty one bit.  Standing (and then laying) under it was even cooler!

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Just writing about Arches is making me feel hot, so I leave you with some photos from our day in the sun while I try to locate some ice water.

Images from our hike to Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is one of many.  Here are a few other images of our exploration in the park.

Beautiful Vistas in Arches National Park

 

Obnoxious Neighbors but Great Views: Canyonlands

Traveling can transport you, physically and mentally, but it can’t help you outrun unpleasant neighbors or bad weather.  They’ll wind up following you almost anywhere.  Late-night loud music, fresh dog poo just outside our tent, yelling children (and their parents), a screaming fight, and an ancient loud generator complete with spotlights and a surround sound movie experience at midnight.  These are a few of the experiences we’ve been treated to over the past four and a half months while we’ve been camping.  The vast majority of our neighbors have been fantastic, but we’ve had six that have left us thankful that we’re not their permanent neighbors.  Unfortunately, we encountered two of these six neighbors during our visit to Canyonlands National Park.   Putting aside the two nights in a row of camping next to or near families that do not communicate except by shouting, and doing so constantly, be it 10pm or 5am, we seriously enjoyed Canyonlands.

Our camping options in Canyonlands were limited, so we crossed our fingers and drove the forty miles from the nearest town to the twelve-spot campground hoping for a miracle.  Two sites left!  Hallelujah!  This was easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve camped thus far.  Sure there was absolutely no water (you have to pack it all in), but the views were incredible.  It seemed like you could see forever in just about every direction from atop the mesa, and just a short walk down the road took us to one of the best views in the park, Green River Overlook.  The only downside to our stay (aside from the less than neighborly neighbors) was the nightly ritual of counting seconds between lightning and thunder.  The storms were beautiful to watch, but they were intense, and were frighteningly close at times.   Although we should have been following the 30/30 rule (seek safe shelter – in our case, the car – when there are 30 seconds or less between lightning and the resulting thunder and stay in the shelter until 30 minutes elapse with no thunder ), we wound up following the 15/30 rule (don’t try this at home, kids).  This kept us out of the car for 2 of the 3 nights, but we did spend several hours in the car during our second night of camping when the strikes were much too close to our campground.

Our Campsite in Willow Flat Campground

Our Campsite in Willow Flat Campground

Rainstorms on the Horizon

Rainstorms on the Horizon

Despite all my whining, Canyonlands wound up being one of our favorite places that we visited on this trip.  Because it doesn’t have the name recognition that many of the other Utah parks have (Arches, Bryce, Zion, to name the big three), it doesn’t have the crowds.  There are four sections to the park, two of which require a 4-wheel drive vehicle; however, we only visited one section of the park, the Island in the Sky District.  We’re already talking about going back when Van is older and bringing a 4-wheel drive with us, not only so we can visit the other sections, but so that we can drive right down into the canyons and backpack and camp along the river.  Talk about a great wilderness experience!

But, I digress.  Even without the 4-wheel drive, we were able to get out and hike to some great spots in the park.  We also dutifully pulled into each of the scenic lookout spots that we could, joining the other visitors (almost all European, many in their rented RVs with California or Nevada plates) to gasp at the incredible vistas full of far-off mesas, rock monuments, and cracks in the earth that were full of lush greenery and running water.  It was in Canyonlands (and not nearby Arches) where we hiked to our first arch, Mesa Arch, and even climbed atop the somewhat narrow arch for the fun of it!  Most amazingly, Van sat through an entire ranger program on the geology of the park.  We often have to skip these because there’s no way he’ll sit through a whole program without howling at some point.  But this one was outside, so we figured we could make a quick escape if necessary.  No escape needed!

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

Me and Van at Mesa Arch

Me and Van at Mesa Arch

My favorite of our hikes was the Upheaval Dome hike.  It was a short two-mile hike (roundtrip), mostly on slickrock, to the edge of the dome.   While scientists don’t agree on how it was formed, they speculate it was either because of a meteorite or because of a salt dome, essentially a salt bubble caused by pressure over millions of years.

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

On the Trail to Upheaval Dome

On the Trail to Upheaval Dome

The Fam at Upheaval Dome

The Fam at Upheaval Dome

With more time and a four-wheel drive vehicle, we might still be in Canyonlands!  If you’re ever in Southeastern Utah or planning a trip to Moab or Arches, you should definitely make time to visit this park.