Monday, September 18, 2017

The Great National Park Tour - Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks

To recap... In 2017 Charli and I needed to drive from Vancouver, Canada to Duluth, MN. However instead of driving the 1800 miles straight across the country the way a crow would, if crows could drive, we decided to take a little 1900 mile detour and stop at a few national parks along the way, because that's how we roll. And roll. And roll.

The first two legs of this amazing trek can be found here and here. After Zion we continued on to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon feels like you've stepped into a fairy tale. Everywhere you look enormous spires are bursting out of the ground to form natural castles. It is truly in-spiring.

Like most breathtaking landscapes, pictures don't do it justice. This is one of those places you have to experience in person. Bryce Canyon has many trail loops you can take that will lead you down to the valley below. You can hike 2, 5, 10 or 20 miles if you have the time and desire. This park is truly magical in every sense of the word and is worth every minute you can spend there.

Here's a few more shots, and if you're interested I can easily send like 1000 more. Just let me know.

Capitol Reef National Park

Just around the corner from Bryce Canyon is Capitol Reef National Park, which is named for a line of rock domes (the reef) that someone back in the national park naming days decided looked like a capitol building dome. This is the main dome you will see when you first enter the park.

Capitol Dome
And here's another one I grabbed from the Capitol Reef web site.

"There is nothing like a dome. Nothing, in this world."

But this place ain't just about domes. Capitol Reef is like a geological smorgasbord of landscapes.

At one point Charli and I hiked to the top of Chimney Rock to see the view. This place had a great Lion King vibe so I thought I would try to recreate that famous scene with Simba, but sadly he was all, "why does everybody always want to hold me up over dangerous cliffs?!!!" and wouldn't have anything to do with it.

A bonus feature of Capitol Reef are the old orchards that were planted by Mormon pioneers, which are now maintained by the National Park Service. Visitors can pick apples, peaches or pears for $2/lb. There is a scale in the field with a lock box to drop your money in, using the honor system of course.

One side note regarding our accommodations on this journey. Charli and I love to camp, and one of the things we discovered in the past was a little thing called "disbursed camping," which is how we camped for most of our trip. This is where you are allowed to camp for free outside of a national park boundary in areas owned by the Bureau of Land Management, otherwise known as BLM camping. This is a great way to find a really remote area adjacent to a popular park as opposed to trying to squeeze into the usually crowded camp sites within the park. For example, here was our home while we stayed at Capitol Reef.

In summary, we only scratched the surface of this stunning place. The park itself is over 100 sq/miles and has dozens of trails that would take days to hike. The main road through Capitol Reef offers only a glimpse of what the larger park has to offer, and we definitely intend to return again to spend a lot more time exploring it!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Great National Park Tour - Zion National Park

September 2017

When we decided to go to Zion National Park, everyone said the same things... "OMG, Zion is amazing!" "Zion is our favorite national park!" "You're gonna love Zion!"

So we rolled out of Crater Lake and set our GPS for Zion. We didn't know much about it so we did some research along the way. First we learned that Zion has a free shuttle bus service that takes you to eight stops along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This eliminates the need for cars and makes getting around the park super easy. These shuttles will drop you at a museum, lodge, scenic rock formation or a trail head. The next thing we learned is that there are a couple of "must see" attractions at Zion... Angels Landing, The Narrows and the Emerald Pools. Ok, these things sounded pretty cool and we were intrigued. And when we arrived at this camp site 14 hours later we knew we were in for a treat.

Camp site nestled in The Valley of Amazeballs
Angels Landing

The first thing we wanted to know was, what is Angels Landing? It sounded so peaceful and nice... like a puffy little place where cute little cherubs stop for a break whilst they strum on their golden harps. And then we saw these.


This was no angelic respite. This was one misplaced footstep away from certain death! You KNOW when the opening sentence on their main poster says, Since 2004, seven people have died falling from the cliffs on this route that this is not for the faint of heart, anyone with a fear of height, or anyone who is slightly clumsy. In other words... me.

So now we had a decision to make. Do we face our fears head on and accept the challenge, or run away like frightened little kittens. And then we thought, "well, what is the worst thing that can happen?" And then we said, "death." And then we started crying. But eventually we decided that if we just took our time and didn't do anything dumb, like try to navigate it in a slippery rainstorm for example, we would be fine. And we promised ourselves that if it got too scary or dangerous we would simply turn around and leave our dignity on the trail behind us maybe try it again some other time.

And so we forged ahead. And holy crap what an adventure it was. Pictures don't do this hike justice, but they're better than nothing, so here is just a tiny sample of the majestic beauty of this heavenly place.

As you climb the main trail, this is what surrounds you.

Eventually you will get to a natural "bridge" that is only a few feet wide and drops off hundreds of feet below on either side if you slip. As I crossed it I wanted to just close my eyes and hope for the best but quickly decided it was in my best interest to pay attention and take it slow.

Here's Charli starting her traverse across the bridge. I went first and turned around to take this pic. It's important to note that if not for the guide chain this would have been a non-starter for both of us.

After crossing the bridge, you are faced with the climb to the top of Angels Landing. Here is what it looks like as you approach. Pish-posh, that doesn't look so bad.

AND... here's what it looks like while you're ascending. Note that the lower side of this slope drops about 1200 feet. Also note that at this precise moment both of our hearts were pounding like jackhammers.

No chain, No gain
But eventually we made it to the top. Alive. And it was good.

SO... after spending about 15 minutes at the summit, we started to notice that those clouds behind us were getting darker, and moving towards us! This meant one thing. GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!

And because the only way down was the way we came up, we literally had to make the same heart-stopping journey in reverse. But then the unthinkable happened. First the lightning in the distance.

"Honey I love you. We're going to die. Do the kids know where our insurance papers are?"

And no sooner did we put our first step onto the slanty ledge from hell when sure enough... rain!

And not just a sprinkle, but "the heavens opened up" kind of downpour. SO much rain in fact came down that the canyon walls erupted into waterfalls. And no, I'm not exaggerating.

Fortunately we didn't slip to an untimely death and become another statistic on the Angels Landing welcome poster. Sure it was scary, but it was also the single most exhilarating thing either of us have ever done in our lives. And because of that, I would do it again in a chest-pounding heartbeat.

On a nice dry day.

The Narrows

The Narrows is one of those things that on the surface doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. "So here's the deal see... you put on 'water shoes' and walk up a muddy river against a strong current with a bottom full of large rocks for about 5 miles. Oh and you have to find a big stick somewhere to keep your balance otherwise you'll fall on your face. Either that or buy one in our gift shop for 10 bucks. Then, after about 3 hours you'll get to a place that's really pretty so you can tell everyone you did it later on." 

However... sensible or not, we were NOT going to be denied.

And there was a touch of irony to the fact that the very day after a huge rainfall we would decide to take a hike up a river that had multiple warnings to NOT hike up the river after a rainfall because of potential flash flooding. Ok, irony might not be the right word. What's the word I'm looking for... oh yeah, stupidity.

But the day was beautiful and the river looked fine. And besides, gobs of other people were making the pilgrimage so we made a similar decision to the one from Angels Landing. If it got too hard or dangerous we would simply turn around. Or, if a flash flood hits we would get a free fast ride back down. Bonus!

So hike up the river we did. And it was tough, and it was wet and it was beautiful! But most of all, it was really, really fun. We hooked up with some other people and chatted our way upstream, had a nice lunch at "Wall Street" (the unofficial destination of the hike) and soaked up the sun. And our shoes.

Here's a few pics of this adventure.

Getting started

The river

Heading into "Wall Street"


A slight obstacle

My trusty staff... ready for the next guy


The next day we hiked the Emerald Pools loop and it too was amazing, but I don't seem to have any pictures for some reason. I guess I ran out of film. But here's one I stole from the internet so you can see what a magical place this is as well.

The fact is, pretty much everything about Zion is magical and ridiculously beautiful, and now I am officially that guy. You know, the one who will tell you "OMG, Zion is amazing!" "Zion is our favorite national park!" "You're gonna love Zion!"

Because it's true.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Great National Park Tour - Part 1

September 2017

As I mentioned in the last post, while in the midst of our 3-year house sitting adventure, one of life's unexpected curveballs was thrown our way. Yes, the time had come for us to take a break from house sitting and help take care of my mom. BUT, before we moved into my boyhood bedroom still decorated with teen posters, we had to finish up our last house sit in North Vancouver, BC and drive back to MN. The way we saw it we could either blast our way across the states and get home in four days, or take our time and hit up some national parks along the route. And since we had family that could help take care of mom, we chose option 2.

Our rough plan was simple... drive from Vancouver to Duluth and visit as many national parks as possible along the way. The only rule we had was that there was to be no rules. Well one... we wanted to keep the trip under four weeks, but other than that we would simply go where the wind blew us and spend as much time at each place as we wanted. There would be no "schedule," no reserved hotels and no worries. Just hit the road and enjoy the ride.

Wait... you said no hotel reservations. Where did you sleep? Good question, fictitious reader! Because we carry a full set of camping gear, our goal was to stay at as many campgrounds as possible... which, by the way, we did about 95% of the trip.

And so we began our 23-day journey across the United States, experiencing some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet. We had an amazing time and were fortunate to be able to capture a few pictures of it along the way. Ok, maybe more like thousands. But since I can't put thousands of pictures on this blog I decided instead to pick a few dozen of my favorites and post them over 5 or 6 posts. Enjoy!

(click on any picture to enlarge)

Day 1 - Vancouver, BC. We've been here several times before and hiked many of the trails in the area, but we've never seen it by water... until now.

Day 2 - Tofino, BC. Whenever we ask someone from Vancouver where we should visit, we ALWAYS hear that should NOT miss Tofino. And they are right. It's a truly beautiful place.

Day 3 - Victoria, BC. What's a trip through British Columbia without stopping at the capital?

Day 4 - Port Angeles, WA. Just because we were traveling doesn't mean we didn't have to work. Here's an example of one of the glamorous ways we get it done. At our campsite picnic shelter along the way.

Day 5 - Portland, OR. One of the benefits of house sitting is that you make friends along the way. We met two of our very best friends in Portland while house sitting for them and taking care of their beautiful great dane Duke a few years ago.

Sadly, Duke passed away last year, but we were honored to share the special moment with Nancy and Marty on the day they sprinkled his ashes on their property.

Rest in peace you big lovable boy
Day 6 - Crater Lake, OR. The first of the national parks we stopped at. Most of the area around this park was on fire, but we were very lucky that the wind gave us a break one of the days we were there. In the evening when the wind shifted back toward the park you couldn't even see the lake because of the smoke.