And Yet More Canyons

Leaving the big one: the Grand Canyon, we headed north east to see two other scenic red sandstone canyons. First Bryce Canyon, famed for it’s picturesque hoodoos on the canyon floor. The red sandstone has eroded away over millions of years to make otherworldly shaped pillars.

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The Native American legend is that they are badly behaved animals turned to stone in action. You can see why, the shapes are almost Tolkienesque or like creatures the White Witch has turned to stone in the Narnia books. After a late afternoon preview from the rim of the canyon, the following day we headed off down a steep winding track to the bottom of the canyon to hike among the hoodoos. Billed as one of the world’s best day hikes (I’m not sure by who, maybe just the Bryce visitor centre), it certainly didn’t disappoint. Steve and I held tightly to a girl each as we negotiated the gravel track, frequently stopping for 360 degree views of these incredible structures.

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After a couple of hours on the trail it was time to head upward back to the canyon rim, an ascent of about 300m. The trail entered a very narrow gorge between two sets of hoodoos and then wound its way upwards in multilevel switchbacks. The light in that small space was a marvellous almost iridescent orange.

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Schooling that afternoon was yet again supplemented by the fabulous “Junior Ranger” booklets that are available at each National Park. Alisha had to apply her mathematical skills to what she learnt about dendrochronology (tree ring dating) and Lucy is getting a dab hand at animal identification and the rock cycle. This great programme have been a huge hit with everyone (the girls and myself as parent/teacher alike) with the girls earning badges from each park after completing a booklet, going to a Ranger talk, being quizzed by a Ranger about what they have learnt and then eventually taking an oath to protect the park and the world. The Rangers always take a lot of time to ask the children questions about what they have learnt and encourage them to find out more.

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We then headed off in the truck to see the whole canyon from various viewpoints scattered around the rim. It was a cold night on the campground that night, dropping to zero degrees. Yet again we were very thankful for the truck.

Driving to Zion National Park the following day we had to drive through a mile long tunnel through a massive sandstone rock. It was built in the 1920’s before vehicles were as large as they are now. We had to pay an additional fee for them to stop the two way traffic so we could drive down the middle of the narrow road in the tunnel. Both Steve and I kept a anxious eye out on the top corners of the truck. Unexpectedly the park was heaving with people as it is too hot in the summer for people to visit, so there was no space to camp. We hopped aboard the mandatory shuttle to view the beautiful red sandstone canyon. The real jewel of a walk in this park is the hike through the freezing Virgin River through the narrowest part of the canyon. Unfortunately it is not advised for children as most of the hike is wading through the river with possible bits of swimming, the start looked fantastic though. We took ourselves off for some of the more usual type of hiking under the striking red canyon walls.

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The following day as we dropped 2000m heading south west the temperature rose. The scenery became more desert like and we looked for an interesting place to camp. We found a national recreation park on Lake Mead and pulled in for the afternoon and night. We couldn’t understand why this beautiful very well equipped campsite that only cost $10 was almost completely empty. When we went to the lake we understood. The water level was so low in the reservoir that people couldn’t launch their boats. It was like a ghost town with a lodge, 3 campgrounds, petrol station and massive marina all closed up until the water level rose again.

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After more than 60 nights in the truck we are now having a little break in a hotel for some R&R, can you guess where?

John Wayne and a Great Big Canyon

As we headed to Monument Valley we drove down a road that we had seen before because the view epitomised the very idea of an American road trip and has appeared in films and posters.

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We spent 2 nights at Monument Valley, one night at the established campground and one night closer to the valley with great views but no facilities. The scenery was amazing with spectacular buttes, mesas and spires. This was the area the John Wayne films were made and his memorabilia was everywhere. The track around the valley was rough and only suitable for 4wd with RVs not been allowed. Nevertheless we took the truck into the valley. The truck coped well but with all the shaking we were worried about our contents so only drove part of the track.

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In any event the best views were from the visitor centre.

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We were also lucky to be there at full moon which only added to the spectacular vista.

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From Monument Valley we drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s true you can not see the Canyon until you are almost on the lip and then it just appears. An amazing vast Canyon with the river over a mile below you.

We did the traditional scenic drive stopping at all the viewpoints. The photos do not do it justice.

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The next day we decided it was time for a good hike and all managed to complete the spectacular 13km crater rim hike. A new walking record for Alisha and Lucy. As the hike is one way we were grateful for the shuttle bus back to the campsite.

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Whilst it is only 15kms from the South Rim to the North Rim it is 300kms by road. When we arrived at the campground at the North Rim we were disappointed to find it full. However we were told that you could camp for free in the forest just outside the park. In the forest were designated campsites with just a fire ring. We drove 8kms down a gravel road and found a perfect site perched right on the edge of the Canyon. What a view. Canyon on one side and beautiful forest with the quaking aspens turning yellow with the onset of Autumn on the other. This was a really special site and for anyone following in our footsteps drive down forest road 611 and drive along to site 611V.

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Reluctantly we left the site to do the normal sightseeing on the North Rim. The North Rim is much greener than the South and it is also over 300m higher. Whilst the views are not as spectacular it is still amazing.

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We left the canyon for another night camped in the Forest outside.

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Red Sandstone Deserts

We left the mountains of Colorado and headed west into the deserts of Utah. Even here in the desert there had been a lot of rain the the week before, enough to damage some of the roads as well. Moab is the nearest town to two stunning national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. The town was surrounded by the red sandstone cliffs that the area is famous for. It was atop the steep mesa (flat topped mountains) at Arches that we came across the unbelievable structures that the park is named after. These delicately coloured half hoops are scattered throughout the desert landscape, accompanied by tall spires and buttes of sandstone. In the evening and morning light they constantly change colour from flaming oranges, reds, pinks and purples all within minutes. A photographer’s dream but also quite frustrating as it was hard to capture the exact shade on the camera (Steve will attest to this as he moans constantly about shifting through the hundreds of photos I take).

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Canyonlands National park is made of the canyons formed through the red sandstone by the Colorado and Green rivers and where they converge. The park road took us to the top of the mesa with scrubby desert all around, nothing special so far we thought…until we saw the view down! The canyon stretched out below at least 500 metres at least, in thousands of jewel coloured layers. The different view points strung out across the top of the canyons gave us an unbelievable lesson in geology and how beautiful it can be. This area is aptly named “Islands in the Sky”.

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Our campsite in the park was just the sort of place we love: an amazing view, very few people, with no facilities and surrounded by stunning scenery. An evening under the stars and an almost full moon with a distant thunderstorm lighting up the clouds completed the evening. We had realised again in Moab that RV parks are not really our thing: lots of huge RVs (way bigger than us) squashed into a small lot in a town. The Moab one even had a high school band that practiced every morning at 7am right next door. However we do need something like that once a week or so, to get all the jobs done, so needs must.

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On our second day in Canyonlands we decided to visit the other part of the park and although it was 20km away from where we were the preceding evening because there was a wacking great big canyon between them we had to take a 200km round trip to get there. Also stunning the “Needles” sections had far more sandstone spires and bizarre mushroom shaped sandstone structures than the northern section.

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