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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?