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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild West Adventure Day 7, Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon, Utah. 

Hoodoo Alert! Hoodoo Alert! We've landed on Mars and we're surrounded by hoodoos. When we first came upon Bryce Canyon in southern Utah, it looked like something from outer space. For millions of years, the forces of nature have worn away ancient boulders and mountains and sculpted them into strange and stunning rock castles, spires, mazes and weird formations called "hoodoos".

Viewing the hoodoos is like an out-of-body experience. The surreal looking, gigantic rock shapes resemble freaky creatures from a lost world. The term "hoodoo" is reportedly a Paiute Indian name loosely translated to mean: Red rocks standing like men in a giant bowl." And that's exactly what they look like. Geologists believe that Bryce Canyon began at the same time dinosaurs were becoming extinct. It is considered one of the world's greatest geologic masterpieces. While all of the national parks in Utah are amazing, if you can see only one, I'd recommend Bryce Canyon. It's phenomenal!

Jagged hoodoo spires of rock form a small arched window.
Ancient "hoodoo" soldiers all in a row.
Bryce Canyon with snow-capped mountains in background.
World famous hoodoos. Notice how they tower over the giant evergreens.
Happy Hoodoos populate the canyon.
Ancient rock ampitheatre.
Tall, crazy hoodoo formations seen from above.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Wild West Adventure Day 6, Zion Canyon

Day 6:  Zion National Park in Southwest Utah. Temperature: 109 degrees! I've never been in a blast furnace but that's what this desert heat felt like. Slammed us right in the face. We nearly drowned ourselves drinking water. Not an ounce of sweat on our skin. How hot was it? You could fry an egg on the hood of our car. You could bake a potato on the dashboard. You could dry two pair of large, thick, sopping wet, men's denim jeans...on the hotel balcony in half an hour. True! We did night. The dry air evaporates water like a super-charged jet vacuum. Whoosh! The air sucks up the moisture like a thirsty kid with a giant slurpee.

One curious thing about the scorching took away our appetites. We seldom felt hungry. Hmmm....may we should move down here to live and get skinny. NOT! Another good thing about the desert is that once the sun goes down, the heat disappears and the air becomes pleasantly cool. Stayed in a lovely little town at the very bottom of the canyon floor called Springdale. An oasis of trees, plentiful flowers and greenery smack in the middle of the desert. Our hotel, the Driftwood Lodge was impeccable. From the name, we expected a mom and pop rustic, cowboy kitsch sort of place. But the Driftwood is very European, owned by a couple from Austria who originally came to the states to open a ski lodge in snow country. Instead they ended up operating a first rate hotel in the desert with an award winning restaurant on premises. Sounds crazy but it works.

Zion National Park is just a few minutes from Springdale. The canyons and cliffs have been sculpted from raw rock by the Virgin River millions of years ago. To me, Zion Canyon is as impressive as the Grand Canyon only not as deep. It encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the U.S. Characterized by high plateaus, a maze of narrow deep sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas. We were on the Zion Canyon floor looking up at the enormous, sheer cliffs and red canyon rim. The arrid heat and 100 plus temperatures were overpowering and zapped our energy. It didn't help that we were both lugging backpacks with a gallon of water in each. We did manage to hike down to the Virgin River, follow a few trails and watch some dare devils rapel down steep cliffs. And of course, we took pictures.

The vivid colors of Zion Canyon are amazing.

Towering cliffs are around every bend.

Sunset casts a glow on a steep canyon wall.

Locals call this the Checkerboard Mesa.

Colossal cliffs rise from the mesa.

Look! There's me up on that rugged canyon wall.  NOT!

The red rocks are ravishing.
Children cool off in the swirling Virgin River.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wild West Adventure ...A Few Words about Utah

If you think the Grand Canyon in Arizona haven't seen eye-popping grandeur until you visit the State of Utah. I truly think there's no other place like this on earth.

Unfortunately they nicknamed this spectacular state the "Beehive State". So probably a lot of folks think it's got nothing but yellow-jackets buzzing around. You would think they could have come up with a more descriptive moniker than that. I suggest they re-christen Utah the "State of Amazement" or the "Stupendous state" or the "You won't believe your eyes state". Utah's rugged and geographically diverse natural beauty seriously wowed my husband and me on our journey throughout the Western United States.

An especially stunning drive everyone should experience to witness first hand the majestic resplendence of our country, is the west-east route on Interstate 70 from Cedar City to Moab, Utah...location of Arches National Park. In a recent post, I touted the benefits of taking the backroads instead of the Interstate. This time however, the drive along Interstate 70 is absolutely not to be missed. It's sort of like viewing the Grand Canyon...for nearly 300 miles.

Wild, breath-taking and uninhabited...I-70 is one of the most deserted stretches of interstates in the entire United States. So bring gallons of water, top off the fuel tank and don't drive it in the winter. But don't let that scare you. The road itself is well-paved with a speed limit of 80mph for long sections. We passed through sweeping valleys, red-rock mesas, promontories and escarpments that stretch for hundreds of miles. Vast rock formations, tall as mountains, boast phenomenal million year old stratas of painter's palette colors: fiery reds, yellows, bronzes, russets, blues and sepias...all varying with the light. On the day we drove this route, the sky was a dazzling ultramarine blue with wisps of fluffy clouds floating sublimely overhead as if Mother Nature was sky-writing: "Enjoy the ride, folks."

Round every bend, at the top of every jaw-dropping landscape after another. Cliffs and canyons, rivers and mountains, twists and turns, heart-stopping heights and deep gorges. Need I say more? If you ever have the chance, visit amazing Utah and be sure to go for a spin on awesome I-70.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Wild West Adventure Day 5...The Bear Lake Incident

Day 5: This post is a bit of a digression from my wild west travelogue. Today I thought I'd share a personal side story from our road trip adventure  It's about taking short cuts or taking time to smell the flowers. First off, let me say that my husband, J.B., and I have been married for 40 years so we've pretty much figured out how to get along with each other by now. However, during our day to day lives at home, I'll admit we occasionally bicker and disagree. But a curious thing happens whenever we travel together. We get along perfectly. We like the same things and we always agree about where to travel, what places to sightsee and so forth. We never argue when we're on a trip...whether it's to Europe, Tahiti, Hawaii, or the Grand Tetons. I've often said to J.B. that if we spent our lives doing nothing but traveling...we'd have the perfect marriage.

Day Five started off with a plan to drive from the Grand Tetons in northern Wyoming to Zion National Park in southern Utah near the Nevada border. A distance of over 600 miles. Around 1:00, we looked for a place to stop for lunch in the little burg of Montpelier, Idaho. The weather had turned surprisingly hot and the temps were in the high eighties. On our map, I noticed that there was a lake nearby and I suggested we take time for a cooling lakeside picnic. From the image on the map, the lake, which is called Bear Lake, looked like the ideal spot. I'm thinking...relaxing lunch, picnic tables, shade trees, water view. Nice.

We stopped at a small grocery store in town and purchased sandwich fixings: some good bread, Swiss cheese, lean turkey slices, a couple fresh peaches and a jar of mustard for spice.  After we got back in the car, J.B. decided he wanted to take a short cut since we had such a long way to drive. However, the short cut did not pass by Bear Lake where I had been envisioning our lovely picnic. I finally persuaded him that it would be good for us to stop and rest, enjoy a relaxing meal by a refreshing lake and get re-energized for the rest of our long day's journey. Begrudgingly he headed toward Bear Lake.

Forty miles later...we finally found Bear Lake. Turned out it was much farther than it appeared on the map. And it was huge! We pulled into a beach area and looked around. There were no picnic tables, no grass, tall weeds obscured the shoreline and saddest of all...there was not a single shade tree anywhere. The entire area all along Bear Lake is nearly devoid of trees. Just a barren, blisteringly hot valley. By this time, it was getting incredibly warm, the sun burned mercilessly and there wasn't a hint of a breeze (who knew it got this hot in Idaho!)  J.B. was steaming because I derailed his precious short cut and I was upset because my relaxing little picnic turned into a swelterama drama.

We parked the car, cranked up the A/C and I made sandwiches for us. JB dribbled mustard all over the steering wheel and I almost choked on the peach pit. As if on cue, the wind picked up and blew sand everywhere. We both cursed Bear Lake. So much for relaxing and unwinding. Life isn't always the picnic you want it to be. We finally got underway again but to get back on the right road, we found ourselves driving the entire length of Bear Lake...which we discovered was so large that it flows through two states: Idaho and Utah. By this time we were two hours behind schedule, stressed out, cranky and fuming about the Bear Lake fiasco. So we decided to spend the night in Provo, Utah and not drive the entire way to Zion.

300 miles later, as we we neared Salt Lake City and Provo, we were able to chuckle about that blasted Bear Lake. The scenery had changed from bland and barren to bold and beautiful with canyons, gorges and amazing mountain lakes which lifted our spirits tremendously. Once we arrived in Provo, home of Brigham Young University, we couldn't help but notice how clean and fresh and pretty the city looks. Actor Robert Redford founded Sundance Institute near there. He owns a popular resort there and lives on a ranch nearby. After checking into a motel, we were bringing our bags inside, when we saw a terrifying sight in the parking lot....a very large truck emblazoned on the side with the words: Bomb Squad. That's Bomb Squad as in: "There's an explosive device in the building and we're here to find it or you'll all be blown to smithereens".

"Oh my God!" we thought. First a crappy picnic and now the motel's about to blow up! Could it get any worse? Luckily, there was no bomb in the motel. Turns out that several of the bomb squad guys were having dinner at the motel restaurant. Whew...crisis averted. As for J.B. and me...we're still cruising on down the highway...side by side in the front seat...listening to Sirius radio...golden oldies. Still enjoying each others' company and planning our next excursion. J.B says: "In the future, we're going to do fewer picnics and take more short cuts." I reply with a sweet smile: "Whatever you say, dear...whatever you say."
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wild West Adventure Day 4

DAY 4: The King of Awesomeness! The Imperial Majesty of Magnificence! If ever there was a poster-child for spectacular mountains...The Grand Tetons is it! The first thing that strikes us upon entering Grand Teton National Park is: "If this isn't heaven, we don't know what is." There just doesn't seem to be adequate superlatives to describe the grandeur and beauty of this majestic range of mountains located in northwestern Wyoming just 23 miles from Yellowstone National Park. The Tetons are a formidable, in-your-face, formation of mountains with towering, jagged peaks that rise to an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet. Often compared to the Swiss Alps, they are truly a sight to behold and one you will never ever forget.

We were blessed with glorious weather for touring the Tetons...mild temps but cool, gentle breezes. Brilliant blue skies with few clouds to obscure the tippy tops of these lofty, rocky spires. We stayed at the historic Jackson Lake Lodge with 60 foot panoramic picture windows overlooking a pretty alpine lake with the Teton Mountains as a stunning backdrop. At night, we heard elk bugeling in the woods outside our lodge cottage. Not sure if elk bugle or bellow...but whatever it is that they woke us up at 2:00 in the morning. Abundant wildlife live in the park and roam its environs without fear of being harmed. Elk, moose, bison (buffalo), mule deer, beavers, coyotes and of course...bears. Black bears and grizzlies. We saw a lone coyote trotting down the walkway in front of the lodge. He stopped and stared at us and then shrugged and continued on his way. Moose casually munched on tall grasses in a nearby stream. And buffalo congregated by the hundreds along the side of the road.

Bears as well as any of the wild animals can be dangerous. On the days we were there, a couple of the hiking trails were closed due to numerous bear sightings. In the event of a bear charge, park rangers advise visitors to stand in place and "face the bear down". Rangers say bears will often "bluff" an attack just to see who's chicken. Not sure if I'd have the nerve to call a 600 pound bear's bluff. However, we gathered up our courage and spent many enjoyable hours hiking beautiful wooded trails that took us past five pristine alpine lakes. We enjoyed a scenic picnic lunch in a grassy, wildflower meadow overlooking a cobalt blue lake with the mighty Teton Mountains hovering above us. It was the most fantastic restaurant-with-a-view we've ever eaten at.

One of the best things about the Teton National Park is that as massive and imposing as the mountains are...we didn't feel closed in by them. That's because an immense emerald green valley stretches out in front of them for as far as the eye can see...providing an expansive view of wide open spaces.

We took some extra time and drove over to Yellowstone National Park. Got there just in time to see Old Faithful geyser spout off. A stunning eruption if ever there was one. Enjoyed dinner at the fabulous Old Faithful Inn hotel restaurant. The massive Inn is over a century old and is one of the largest log-built structures in the world.

Yellowstone is impressive without a doubt. But millions of forest trees line the white-knuckle narrow roadways and gave me a feeling of claustrophobia. For us, the splendor of the Grand Tetons, fewer crowds and easy accessibility to all its scenic resources...overshadowed Yellowstone by a mountain mile.
Old Faithful blows it top...right on time.

Colorful wildflowers overlook the majestic Tetons.

A crystal clear alpine lake shimmers at foot of the Grand Tetons.

The Grand Tetons are truly colossal.

Sparking lake...perfect place for our mountain picnic.
Thankfully, we didn't see any of these bad boys.

It's end of June, yet snow still blankets the mighty Tetons.

Incidentally, these are all my photos...except for the grizzly.
More to come next posting.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wild West Adventure: Day 3

DAY #3:  Cool thing about NOT driving on the Interstate. You see a lot more amazing scenery and a whole lot fewer cars. In continuing our summer adventure out West, we opted to travel the back roads from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming instead of the Interstate. Took Route 40 west through Colorado and then followed U.S. 191 north all the way to the Tetons.

The roads were well paved and well marked but only 2 lanes. Incredibly. during the entire trip to the Tetons, we only saw a handful of other vehicles. We sped along at a breezy clip without a care in the world wondering where all the summertime traffic was. We're guessing they were all on Interstate 80.

Although this portion of our trip took longer, it was abundantly worth it. We passed through some of the most jaw-dropping scenery we've ever encountered. The towering mountains of Colorado scale down to lush, green plateaus with sweeping vistas as far as the eye can see.  Every hill we crested, we were rewarded with a "wow" moment.  The Northeast corner of Utah and Southwest Wyoming all along 191, put on an astonishing show of panoramic buttes and bluffs, canyons and gorges, lakes, red rock escarpments and spectacular snow-capped mountain peaks that stretch as far as the horizon...for hundreds of miles. Any of which would give the Grand Canyon a run for its money. All for the price of a tank of gasoline. No crowds. A smattering of isolated outposts with more cows than people. Mostly we saw cattle, antelope and wild horses. Nary another vehicle crossed our path. The splendor of this majestic natural beauty is world class. And yet very few people even know it exists. I snapped some photos but pictures can never capture the true essence of this breathtaking scenery. So detour off the Interstate and experience the happy surprises of an off-the-beaten-path road yourself some day...wherever you live.

We're the only car on the long and winding road through Utah and Wyoming.

Red rock canyons span the horizon in Utah and Wyoming.

Flaming Gorge Lake is stunning.
Wyoming moonscapes.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Scenic Wyoming off the beaten path.

Twilight captures the Windy River Mts. in Wyoming in the distance.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Wild West Adventure, Days 1-2

It's June of the year 2011. Times are hard. In the United States where we live, a deep melancholy spirit prevails throughout our land due to disastrous economic upheavals. In nearly every city, every neighborhood, we've all seen and personally experienced the ravages of unemployment, foreclosures and economic suffering. Pundits cry out that the U.S. has lost its greatness...lost its way. Yet amidst all this foreboding economic turmoil, I began thinking about the astonishing beauty of America. Her richness of natural scenery and  breathtaking landscapes. World class wonders that many of us have never laid eyes on. And so we (my husband and I) decided to embark upon an adventure to experience the sumptuous natural splendor of the United States. Over the years, we've traveled to many regions of the country. This time we will rediscover the Western United States including the vast ranges of the Rocky Mountains, awe-inspiring  forests, unforgettable national parks, majestic canyons, blow-your-mind waterfalls, mysterious and amazing desert formations. All this in about two weeks. Let's get started.

DAYS 1-2: Our flight to Denver upon Thunder the Bison aka Frontier Airlines, is smooth and thankfully uneventful. We rent a car in Denver and head for the towering heights of the Great Rocky Mountains. Denver is known as the "mile high city" because it sits on a plateau elevated 5280 feet above sea level. To us, the city appeared relatively flat. I thought it would be very hilly if not downright mountainy. But once we had driven a few miles out of town, suddenly the highway ascended upward very quickly and those majestic snowcapped peaks of the Rockies appeared significantly closer.

About three hours later we arrived in Steamboat Springs....a world class ski village north of Denver with more medal-winning Olympic skiers living there than you can shake a ski pole at. Altitude in Steamboat and surrounding mountains scales from nearly 7000 feet to over 12,000 feet. Just a half day earlier, we had been in Michigan...altitude of 640 feet. Can you say "oxygen mask"? We are drinking tons of water to stave off altitude sickness.

This being the month of June, the mountains of Steamboat Springs are resplendent in vivid hues of lush emerald greens. The aspens have just started to leaf up. The tallest peaks are still blanketed in snow. High up, the graceful, curvaceous ski slopes meander down the alpine hillsides, like grassy wide ribbons.

For most months of the year, the Steamboat Springs area is blanketed in white...a skier's paradise. But now, the ski village, stores and thousands of seasonal condos at the base of the slopes in Steamboat are deserted. Locals here refer to summer as the off season. Yet summer time in the Rockies beckons with a pristine beauty, easy pace and glorious new awakening of natural wonders.

Oh did I mention that today is our 40th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we enjoyed a happy, little picnic among the wildflowers atop a pristine, green alpine meadow high above Steamboat Springs. Cheese, crackers, strawberries, Little Debbie Swiss rolls for dessert. We toasted our years together with Gatorade. Simple, sweet and surrounded by nature. Lucky for us, the bears stayed away.

And that is why we came here. To witness the enthralling summer beauty of these magnificent mountains.

The snow capped peaks of the Rockies loom ever closer.

A secret mountain waterfall discovered on a late afternoon hike.

Foamy clouds graze the snowy peaks around Steamboat Springs.

Majestic mountain ranges overshadow a peaceful meadow.

The ferocious power of Fish Creek Falls rages from spring snowmelt.

The might beauty of Fish Creek Falls is an awesome sight.
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