Flat in Utah

After snow and Capitol Reef, our stop in Panguitch was to visit nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. As noted in our atlas, Bryce Canyon should really be called ‘Hoo Doo Plateau’, because the park is famous for its hoo doos and not a canyon at all. The park is fairly small in size and has a great scenic drive that covers almost the entire thing. We stayed in a hotel again here because of the forecast – cold! However it wasn’t too cold to hike, and our day ended up being pretty much perfect.

Hoo doos in Bryce Canyon

We did a hike called Queen’s Garden which looped down into some amazing hoo doo formations and then caught another trail called the Navajo Loop to make a nice round trip. The hoo doos here don’t look like the ones in Drumheller, because these ones are shaped by rain, snow, and ice (Drumheller’s hoo doos are shaped by wind). Compared to the harsh and hard-looking red rock at Arches, the rock formations here were a lighter red with bands of orange, yellow, and white, and looked sandy and soft (for a rock). Our hike passed a through an awesome garden of cairns that visitors have built, a large wall aptly named ‘Wall Street’, and a crazy switchback trail that led us back to the rim of the natural ampitheatre. Very spectacular!

A doorway carved in the hoo doos along Queen’s Garden Trail

Giant tree at Wall Street

After Bryce we headed to another of Utah’s treasures – Zion National Park. This park is probably the most visited of the three (Bryce, Arches, Zion), with so many visitors that during the busy season you are not allowed to bring a private vehicle into the park but instead ride a park shuttle along the scenic drive. Prior to the implementation of the shuttle the park welcome about 5,000 cars a day at peak, and only had 450 parking spots! That is insane. Luckily by visiting in the fall we avoided both the crowds and the shuttle, and were able to drive the park at our own pace in our own car. Because of the temperature and forecast for rain we spent another night in a hotel, this time in nearby Hurricane. By the next night the weather had cleared enough that we camped in the park.

The Virgin River which runs through Zion National Park

It was still pretty cold while we were exploring the park so unfortunately we didn’t do the Angel’s Landing hike which is said to be the best in the park and on the list of the best in America. However, we did do some smaller hikes including a couple to viewpoints and two to some neat waterfalls that you can walk behind. We also drove through the park’s famous 1 mile tunnel that was built in the 1920s and literally goes right through a mountain.

The fall colours in Zion were beautiful

After our night of camping we contemplated attacking Angel’s Landing but then realized we had a flat tire! Luckily the 4Runner is prepared for such emergencies and we spent the morning taking down the spare, jacking up the car, and (after a lot of grunt work) removing the flat tire and getting the spare on. We took the tire to a shop in town hoping that it could be patched, but unfortunately it’s not fixable. This is the first car trouble we’ve run into so I’d say we’re still pretty lucky.

After leaving Zion we drove to Arizona, towards the Grand Canyon. Although we’ve heard the North Rim is awesome, we headed to the South Rim because the campgrounds and visitors centre at the North Rim are closed for the winter. We didn’t make it to the Canyon yet, but had a nice drive through Arizona, and saw an amazingly large dam.

The Glen Canyon Dam

We eventually made it to Flagstaff, which is further south than the Grand Canyon, but much cheaper. It ended up being a great idea to stay at a hotel, as a crazy snowstorm happened overnight with a low around 12 F. Look how much snow got on the car!

We should make it to the Grand Canyon tomorrow though!

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Desert Snow

Snow on cacti – who knew?

Did you know it snows in the desert? I guess I never really thought about it, but now I’ve seen it first hand. Last night the temperature dropped down to the 20s (F) brrr! Although my new sleeping bag kept me warm, we decided that another night in the low 20s or colder was not for us, so we checked into a hotel in Panguitch, UT.

Prior to arriving here, we spent two nights at Canyonlands National Park, in the Needles District. The campground spots were really nice because they backed right up against a little cliff area, just like our awesome spot in Chaco Canyon. While in the park we did a couple of hikes and also did a little off-roading. Apparently off-roading is pretty big in Utah, and we’ve done a couple more routes in our travels.

Morning skyline in Canyonlands

Another shot of Canyonlands at dawn

Another breathtaking viewpoint on a Canyonlands hike

After Canyonlands we spent four nights in the Moab area, one at a BLM (Bureau of Land Management – public land) camp and three in Arches National Park. We weren’t able to stay at Arches the first night because it was all booked up. The park, although fairly small, welcomes over 1 million visitors a year from all over the world. Although it got a little chilly during our stay, visiting in the fall was great because the crowds were minimal. We hiked every day and saw all sorts of cool rock formations, including the famous arches after which the park is named.

Hiking in Arches

Broken Arch – One of the over 2,500 arches at Arches National Park

Cairns (or myrads as Gean likes to call them for some reason) mark the route on slickrock

After an especially cold night (which left snow on the ground!) we left Arches and headed south to Capitol Reef National Park. The park lies in a canyon that was settled by Mormons in the early 1990s, and inhabited by Fremont Indians (who left awesome petroglyphs), prior to that. The Mormon settlement established was named Fruta, because of the orchards planted in the canyon. The orchards still exist, and during flirt season, park visitors can pick and eat as much as they’d like. The campground here was not great, but it was crawling with mule deer which was pretty neat. There was also a nice scenic drive that went into a couple canyons that we did.

Gean at a great viewpoint at Capitol Reef

Getting gas at sunset in the nearby town of Torrey

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New Mexico Parks

After seeing some of New Mexico’s big cities we headed out to the high desert to enjoy the sights. We spent two nights in Bandelier National Monument, two nights in Orilla Verde, and two nights at Chaco Canyon.

One of many roadside viewpoints in New Mexico

Bandelier recently experienced a massive forest fire followed by a flash flood. This left major parts of the park closed, including the visitors centre, which had flooded. Fortunately, the campground was still open so we were able to spend a couple of nights. From our campsite we hiked down to the main part of the park and saw some of the ancient cave dwellings which are still in amazing shape considering they are a couple thousand years old. One portion even had paint still on the wall, in a cool geometric pattern.

Hanging out at the campsite

Inside one of the cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

After Bandelier we made a quick stop in Los Alamos, a town that didn’t officially exist until the mid ’50s. The town was hidden because this is where the atomic bomb was invented, and where nuclear research is ongoing. Before entering the town you have to go through a checkpoint, but they just wave you through. There is a museum in town sponsored by the lab that gives the history and science of the a-bomb. We checked it out, but it was very pro dropping the bombs on Japan (clearly it had to be), which I do not agree with.

The next stop was the town of Taos and the Orilla Verde Recreation Area. Our campsite here was high up on a cliff and included it’s own little adobe-style picnic shelter. The big attraction in this area is Pueblo de Taos, a Native American settlement that has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and still does not have electricity or plumbing. The town was cool, but very weird and I’m not sure I really understood it. It cost us $5 each (student price) to enter, and another $6 to bring our camera in. Once inside, we discovered that most of the ‘houses’ in the town are now shops, and only about 20 people still live there. Although there is no electricity, there are propane lights and camp stoves for cooking. I think the whole place would be better suited as an outdoor museum (like Fort Edmonton or Heritage Park), instead of being forced into a ‘living’ museum. It seems like the town is being forced to stay the way it was (or close to how it was) for the sake of tourists. It was odd, but worth seeing I suppose.

The church at Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo
Originally the buildings did not have doors or windows, and residents entered via a ladder that went into a hole in the roof (you can see one leftover ladder sort of in the middle). The ladders were pulled up at night for protection, and the hole in the roof tripled as a smoke vent and skylight.

Inside one of the shops in Taos Pueblo

A doorway into one of the many shops in Taos Pueblo

Another awesome thing we discovered in Taos was some hot springs. They were pretty hidden and we only knew about them from the photo trip Gean did in the area in 2008. Luckily we asked our campground host for more detailed directions, otherwise there is no way we would have found them. There were two sort of pools on the edge of the river and they were nice and hot. Ahh…

Next up was Chaco Canyon, another Puebloan Indian site. The Chacoans inhabited the area for several hundred years from about the 800s to 1200s. The area was a cultural and economic centre that had really unique architecture and planning. The buildings here were built out on the plains in large ‘D’ shapes, with the buildings along the straight edge and a large plaza on the curve. The Kivas here (large circular ceremonial rooms built in the ground so the entrance was on the roof) were really amazing, mainly because of the sheer number of them. There were also a lot of petroglyphs here, which I have come to be a big fan of. High up on the cliff walls, the petroglyphs were of ‘beings’, various animals, and lots of spirals. We also saw some pictographs (petroglyphs are carved, pictographs are painted on), of a hand, star and moon, which are said to be a record of a supernova (star exploding) in the early 1000s.

Walls, windows, and doors in one of the settlements in Chaco Canyon. Most buildings were two to three stories tall, and many also had basements. The higher floors have collapsed, leaving only tall walls behind.

Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon

Another ruin in Chaco Canyon

Our awesome campsite in Chaco Canyon

It’s amazing the things that remain thousands of years later. We like to think that we are very superior as modern humans, but it’ll be interesting to see what actually remains of our society thousands of years from now.

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Cities of New Mexico

Camping soon made way for a couple hotels in the cities of New Mexico. First was Roswell. I really wanted to go to Roswell, not so much for the aliens, but for the TV series Roswell, which was about aliens (attractive teenage ones). I was a huge fan of the show when it was first on and I recently started re-watching it. For the record, it’s still amazing. Roswell the town however, ended up being pretty terrible. I was expecting touristy-kitsch. What I got was a sad, quiet, and dead town. There didn’t seem to be anything going on. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant which was actually pretty good and spent the night at a pretty crappy hotel. The next morning we checked out the International UFO Research Center/Museum. It was like a homemade, backyard science project. The place was super informal, with pegboard walls covered in photocopies and print outs from the Internet. The best part by far was the two squished penny machines, followed by a couple pretty sweet alien dioramas. The information was dated and nothing new. I supposed I’m still glad I went (to the museum and the town), but don’t think I ever need to go back!

Awesome alien autopsy diorama

These props were used in a movie, and then donated to the museum, and were probably some of the most legit things in the museum

ohhhh… the truth is out there

The next stop was Albuquerque. We got a Living Social deal for a Bed & Breakfast which ended up being awesome. The deal was $80 for a night, which is pretty good. It ended up being an even better deal once we received all the perks including snacks upon arrival (cookies and muffins), happy hour drinks (wine, olives, cheese and crackers), freshly baked amazing breakfast (homemade granola, breakfast quiche/pizza, biscuits, sausage (for Gean) and the most amazing blueberry scones I’ve ever eaten), and to finish it all off, some fruit and cheese for the road, and a bag of the homemade granola for later. We had so much food we skipped one dinner and one lunch. Oh, and the room was great! This is the place we stayed at: Mauger Estate Bed & Breakfast

The colours in New Mexico are awesome. Many homes are still a light tan/brown adobe, and to compensate for this sort of bland palate, people paint their doors and windowframes in bright turquoise. Even the highways are bright, as shown above.

We didn’t spend our entire time in Albuquerque at our B&B (although I may have liked to). Instead we walked around both the downtown and old town areas. A section of historic Route 66 runs through downtown, which we walked along. One of the coolest things I saw here was the KiMo Theatre, which was built in the 1920s in the very unique ‘Pueblo Deco’ style, which blends Art Deco and Southwestern/Native American styles. Very cool. Old town was filled with little shops in an old fashioned adobe buildings.

We’ve come across many parking lots with this type of manual payment. I think they’re hilarious!

Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico came next. All we really did here was walk around the old town area, checking out some of the shops and churches. The Loretto Chapel is here, which is famous for its staircase. The spiral staircase has no central pillar, which is somewhat of a carpentry anomaly. The chapel was modeled on one in Italy, which includes a spiral staircase. Unfortunately, there was no one in the area at the time who could build a similar staircase. The story is that the Sisters of the chapel prayed, and soon after a man appeared who built the staircase, and then left, without taking any pay. Some say this man was Saint Joseph, patron Saint of Carpenters, they very man who the Sisters prayed to. Along with lacking a central pillar, the staircase was also apparently built without any nails. Very cool.

Beautiful shapes in Sant Fe

Funny photo ops in old town

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Dear Friends, Dear Caves

After a couple nights in Austin we headed out to the wilderness to do some camping. Our first stop was Enchanted Rock with our friends. Unfortunately, the campground at the park was full since it was the weekend and the forecast was good. Luckily we found another campground nearby and quickly settled in. The next morning we headed back to the park and set out to find some rock climbing. After a bit of a hike we made it to a spot our friends had visited before, and the quickly got to work setting up a route. I didn’t do any climbing because the routes were a little above my skill level, but it was a lot of fun to watch!

Kim on the rock with Seth belaying below

Seth topping out

This kind of climbing takes a lot of equipment!

The next day we got back on the road and headed north. We stopped just short of the New Mexico border, at Guadalupe National Park. The park is in a random little bunch of mountains and the view of the stars was amazing. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures from the park since it was too dark by the time we got there, but you can see some pictures here.

We finally made it to New Mexico the next day, and quickly stopped at another park – Carlsbad Caverns. The caverns here are among the largest in North America. We walked the so-called ‘natural trail’ into the caves, about 750 feet below. The caves had the most amazing formations which had equally awesome names like “Witch’s Finger”, “Rock of Ages”, and “Fairyland”.

Stalagmites (ground), Stalactites (ceiling) and Columns in the Big Room.

WOW!

Looking towards the natural entrance to the cave

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