The Best Laid plans—even better!

When we started shopping seriously for an RV and a tow vehicle, we knew we wanted something that could accommodate a couple of our grandchildren traveling with us at a time. We chose an RV with a pull-out sofa bed AND a truck with a crew cab and plenty of legroom for growing kids. Even before purchasing Rhett (RV) and Scarlett (our ruby red F350), we started dreaming about when we might be able to have our two oldest grandsons join us for an extended vacation.

We began planning with Graham and Dean more than a year and a half ago and asked them what national parks they’d like to visit. We knew it would be summer of 2019 and by then they’d be 13-1/2 and 11. They first mentioned wanting to see Arches and Canyonland; we put our heads together and planned an amazing itinerary that would include all of the national parks in Utah as well as the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and maybe even the Petrified Forest NP.

Our first park together, Arches NP.

At Christmastime, we enlisted the boys’ help to research each of the parks in Utah—what specific places/hikes within the parks would they like to try? We chose dates and we started making reservations at campgrounds along the way — people warned us over and over about how blistering hot it would be in the summer so we made sure that we’d have full hook-ups (and air conditioning) at every stop.

Canyonlands! Park #2.

To say that these last three weeks have been everything we hoped for would be a tremendous understatement. Graham and Dean have been the most wonderful traveling companions—incredibly helpful, appreciative, curious, flexible, and hilarious! We have had such a fabulous time laughing and living together—we are REALLY going to miss them!

The most recent blog post (authored by Dean) covered our adventures through July 9th. After that, we spent time in Zion National Park, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest NP (including the Painted Desert). The boys visited Walnut Canyon National Monument with Grandpa on the last day of our adventure.

Al was really excited that we’d be able to spend time at Zion; we had visited it VERY briefly 30 years ago (when our kids were 11 and 7) and Al had really looked forward to returning for a more complete visit.

Zion National Park

In Zion, you’re at the bottom of the canyon, looking up. A nice change!

In contrast to Bryce, Zion was incredibly warm. We topped out at 111 degrees! Our campground was about 14 miles from the entrance to the park. We were able to drive into community of Springdale where we picked up a free shuttle into the park and transferred onto a free park shuttle. When there are shuttles running, no private cars are allowed into most areas of the park.

We got up early in the morning (before the heat of day) to hike the Riverside Walk up to the start of the Narrows. The shuttles were pretty busy(*) and we noticed many folks with special waterproof shoes and walking sticks. These items are available for rent for the brave souls who would actually walk up through the water-filled canyon–we talked to a couple of women who had walked in to where the water was up to their waist. One of them tripped and fell into the water (but luckily didn’t damage her expensive camera).

(*) Pro tip: The shuttles are very busy with 45 minute to one hour waits at the visitor center even as early as 7:00 AM. If you arrive at the park relatively early, drive up to the first stop, the Museum, and board the shuttle there. You’ll have to stand, but you can get on with no line! I don’t know when the museum parking fills, but there was lots of space there when we went by at a bit past 8:00.

We only went to up to the point where the trail moves into the riverbed. Maybe another time we’ll go up the river a bend or two but even going only this far the canyon shows many different faces.

Photo credit: Graham Simons
Photo credit: Graham Simons

Walking alongside the river was a great time to learn about fast shutter speed photography, to stop the motion of the water!

Photo credit: Graham Simons

The land is home for the wildlife; we are just visitors.

Soooo many squirrels gathering and burying food! We were walking through their pantry. Photo credit: Graham Simons
A mule deer browsing just a few feet off the trail. Is it good that they are completely accustomed to the flow of people? Photo credit: Graham Simons
But this one wanted to get away from all of us… and did!

The valley section containing the canyon and Narrows is in the west side of the park. Our second day in the park, the boys and Al went to the east side, where the geography is very different.

Al: To go between east and west one must go through a long, narrow, twisty tunnel. Our dually pickup Scarlet was too large to go through with traffic flowing both directions, so we had to wait for westbound traffic to be shut down so that we (and many others) could go east. The Ranger’s last words to us before we entered: “Drive in the middle.” Talk about “it goes without saying!”

We saw so many large vehicles waiting in line both directions that I think it likely the tunnel never sees two-way traffic during the summer. But even so, we couldn’t take Rhett through if we wanted to (we didn’t), because it is too tall!

The geography in the east side of the park is very different. It is pretty much wide open, with sloping sandstone hills showing very distinct layers. Graham, Dean, and I had a great time scrambling on the rocks in a few places. We would have done more, but the heat limited our willingness to be out of the truck’s air conditioning for a longer time!

Photo credit: Dean Simons
Photo credit: Graham Simons

There are still peaks on the east side, but overall the area is much more open.

Photo credit: Dean Simons
“Checkerboard Mesa,” named because of the pattern of fractures both horizontally and vertically. Photo credit: Dean Simons

Grand Canyon National Park North Rim

From Zion, we went to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We camped in Jacob Lake about 42 miles north of the park–it was the closest campground with electric hookups (air conditioning is essential to us in Arizona in the summer). A sign near our campground at the start of AZ-67 said “This road is not plowed in the winter and not patrolled at night.” It quickly became apparent why. This is basically a very long driveway to the North Rim; there is virtually nothing for the whole distance.

Nothing, that is, but some cattle and bison, and one gas station selling gas and diesel at obscene prices. A monopoly!

Bison mother and calf Photo credit: Graham Simons
Cattle right next to the road… Photo credit: Graham Simons
…and ON the road!
Proof positive…
Or is this better proof? Thanks for the picture, Graham! Photo credit: Graham Simons

Brother Graham framing up a picture of the canyon…

Photo credit: Dean Simons

We’ll let the grandeur of the canyon speak for itself, as words can’t improve on it.

Photo credit: Graham Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons
A little bit of water, and a few million years go into making a canyon. In the center of the picture is the Colorado River, over a mile below us. Photo credit: Graham Simons
Angel’s Window. Notice the railing out at the end of the fin? Yep. We went out there! Photo credit: Graham Simons

Unbelievably, after visiting the Grand Canyon it was time for the last National Park of our time together. But first, a quick stop after driving to our next campground.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

It is not often that you get to be next to a (dead? dormant?) volcano. Sunset Crater Volcano erupted about 900 years ago, so it is relatively new, geologically speaking. The cone is still covered with lava “pebbles.” (Sorry for not knowing the right term; somebody please fill me in.) Nature hasn’t taken the ground back with vegetation. Also, there are huge chunks of lava jumbled about. It is really quite interesting to walk through.

Photo credit: Graham Simons
Many acres of lava rubble Photo credit: Graham Simons

For many years hiking was allowed on the cone. This resulted in paths that were waist deep through the lava pebbles. Restoration efforts were made by shoveling many tons of pebbles back into the tracks. The scars from this are still slightly visible, but we didn’t get any good pictures of that.

The National Monument was created in response to a movie company wanting to dynamite the cone to create a landslide for a scene! The locals said heck no, and pushed for the creation of the Monument. Phew!

There are secondary outlets from the volcano, and their mounds are called “spatter cones.” They are very fragile, and many of them are no longer complete.

A partial spatter cone. Photo credit: Dean Simons

Nature is trying to re-vegetate the land, but it is slow going.

Photo credit: Dean Simons

Sunset Crater Volcano was named because later eruptions expelled a reddish, instead of black, rock, covering the rim and lower slopes with red. This reminded some of a sunset. Or so the story goes!

Photo credit: Graham Simons

Petrified Forest National Park

The calling card of Petrified Forest NP is of course the abundance of petrified wood—huge logs of rock. But it offers so much more: the remains of an ancestral Puebloan village, petroglyphs, the Painted Desert, and more.

Our last entrance sign picture!

Petrified wood is formed as mineral laden water migrates into the cellular structure of the wood. Different materials such as iron oxide cause different colors. It is beautiful!

The pure white is uncontaminated quartz. Photo credit: Graham Simons
Contamination sure looks pretty! Photo credit: Dean Simons
Reds and yellows are from iron oxides contaminating the quartz. Photo credit: Graham Simons

You can still see the tree’s structure preserved in the rock. The park said that there are some logs here where you can count the rings, but we didn’t find them.

Photo credit: Graham Simons
Photo credit: Graham Simons
Photo credit: Dean Simons

All of those pictures were taken walking through a one mile loop behind the visitors’ center. Then we drove through the park stopping at several of the view points.

Part of an 100 room village believed to be from the ancestral Puebloan people. The area was abandoned in the 1200s due to severe drought. Photo credit: Graham Simons
The petroglyphs near the Pueblo village were varied and fascinating to check out. Photo credit: Dean Simons

After Petrified Forest, we had one more stop.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

This was a short stop very near where we were camping, on the morning of our last day together.

Despite heavy looting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many cliff dwellings still remain in this canyon.

Half way up the opposite canyon wall. How did they get there? From the top or the bottom?
Lots of cliff above, and below.

The “Island Trail” is a loop trail. When we were here several years ago in a February, the trail was only passable part way because of ice. This year the trail is only passable part way due to trail maintenance. Fortunately, it closed the other half, so across two trips Al was able to see the whole trail.

The side that is now open has much more extensive dwellings right along the trail. Some can be entered, some are posted to keep out

The trail goes right alongside these structures.
Many of the structures were dynamited to make it easier to loot them. Sad. Notice the “No Entry” sign.
A still-intact wall with entry… And a No Entry sign.

We have such easy lives. Imagine that you had to carry your food, and water up or down a cliff every day—several hundred feet of nearly sheer rock face, either way. How did they get Amazon deliveries? Oh… Wait.

Then we spent the rest of our last day together getting ready for the trip home and playing games. Then Al had to say “goodbye,” and drive us to the airport. It was a great visit with Graham and Dean, everything we’d hoped for and so much more!

The fourth—ninth. (With an added story time)

On the Fourth of July, we didn’t really do that much. Well, we did go see the new Spider-man movie. (Far From Home) We figured out through “loads of researching” about Moab where the fireworks would be. (In a central area with no trees) We drove up to a organizer/helper person to find where the best spot would be. He told us to “Keep driving up this road, then turn left at ‘Potato Salad Hill'” We told him thanks, then burst out laughing. Potato Salad Hill? But alas, it was a real thing! We found a spot part way up the hill, and set up shop. We set up Grandma’s little Canon G12 that I was using, and Grandpa’s big Canon on tripods. We had the location of the fireworks completely wrong! We thought they were to be to our right, but they ended up on our left! Even though there were high fire precautions, we still saw at least 5. Thankfully, they all got extinguished before they were too big.

A nice fireworks show! Photo credit: Dean Simons. I took all the pictures here unless another name is shown.

On the fifth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too badly to join us, so we 3 boys went down to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. On the way to the Needles District, we pulled over to see “Newspaper Rock,” a site of many petroglyphs.

Over 650 designs!

We started at the ‘Cave Spring’ trail, a .6 mile loop going up 2 ladders and going under some mushroom rocks. The mushroom rocks provided some shade from the hot sun.

I’m pretty sure these mushroom rocks won’t taste good!

The ladders were a disappointment. We were expecting some big log ladders. The ‘big’ ladders turned out to be two seven or eight rung ladders.

This is the SMALLER of the two!
We saw loads of lizards!

We did another hike at Pothole Point. It’s a really cool hike, getting its name from the indentations in the rock. After the summer monsoons, the potholes fill up with life. They contain microscopic bacteria that can hibernate during the dry season, then pipe up with life after the monsoons.

Swiss cheese?
As said before: loads of lizards!

On the sixth, we set course for Torrey, UT for Capitol Reef NP. We had gotten a recommendation for Goblin Valley SP. Goblins are small (ish) stone spires that you can climb on. This was the stop I was most excited about. (Thanks Jay Darrin!) It was AWESOME! Graham and I played Hide & Seek among the spires. Grandpa got a $5 permit to fly Butterfly (the drone) around the park, getting some great video.

A young kid’s playground. Also, a perfect place for hide and seek!
Me, climbing on a goblin! Photo credit: Grandma Lobster

On the seventh, we went to Capitol Reef NP. We tried to go to the visitor’s center, but the parking lot was so small, it was filled up even though there were only about 15 cars there. So we went on, hoping to come back later. We saw some old farm equipment, including a prehistoric can of WD-40! Not really, but it was pretty old. I guess the old saying’s true! “All you need in life is a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape. If something doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If some moves and it shouldn’t, use the duct tape.” We didn’t see any duct tape though.

Everybody needs some WD-40 in their life.

At an orchard and one room schoolhouse, we did see an elk. It crossed the road, and two others joined it. We went back to the visitor’s center and (finally!) got a spot. The orientation film was in a cool little theater. We had Aunt Lee’s Chicken for dinner. (Yum!)

The only school to ever exist in Fruita, a small town that no longer has any inhabitants.
There were lots of fruit orchards
Some pretty rock
More pretty rock
Even more pretty rock!

On the eighth, as we drove into Bryce Canyon City, almost all the stuff was Ruby’s this, Ruby’s that. (General store, Inn, RV Park, etc.) We found out that Ruby’s real name was Rubin Syrett. Ebeneezer Bryce found the canyon after losing a cow in it. Ebeneezer set up his home at the rim of a canyon full of hoodoos. (Tall spires of rock.) The canyon was named after him. Many people lived near him and his family, but didn’t know that a beautiful canyon was a few miles from their house. Ruby Syrett was one of them. Legend has it that one day, a stranger came knocking on Ruby’s door, asking if he had seen “Bryce’s Canyon.” Ruby said no, so the stranger took him to see it. Ruby was amazed. In 1919, Ruby and his wife, Minnie, set up a tent to host visitors to the canyon. This business grew and grew, until it is what it is now. Ruby’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren still run all the businesses today! (Sorry for the story time!) On the second night, we went to “Ebeneezer’s Barn And Grill,” a live country music show with a buffet. The music was really good, but obnoxiously loud. We snuck out after a couple songs.

Some hoodoos
On either side of the hole, you’ll find newly forming hoodoos.
We even saw some people riding horses!

On the ninth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too much to join us again. So we three boys headed out to do the Navajo Loop trail. The trail went down, into the hoodoos, providing some great sights! The first part was “Wall Street,” a small canyon with three or four really tall Douglas Firs.

Wall Street

We then went up to Sunrise Point, after hiking about two and a half miles. We went back to the camper, exhausted. A good lunch of I-can’t-remember-what juiced us back up though. We went on a short hike called Mossy Cave. It led to a (Duh!) mossy cave. The info sign said that the icicles that form there over the winter can sometimes last until June!

Moss (In Mossy Cave)

We went back to the first bridge and found a path down to the waterfall at the stream. Grandpa taught us how to “Stop the water” so you can see each individual droplet of water.

Two guys went swimming!

That night, there was an astronomy talk at one of the lodges, and after, there was a telescope demo at the visitor’s center. The ‘Dark Ranger’ who was presenting was really funny. The four telescopes showed: a single point of light that is actually two separate stars, the remains of a ring nebula after it exploded, the moon, and Jupiter with its four biggest moons.

Stay tuned for the last couple parks!

A once in a lifetime experience

Hello! My name is Graham and my brother and I recently flew into Salt Lake City from Rochester via Chicago to start our adventure in Utah. After our flight from Chicago to SLC was delayed two hours, we finally arrived back at the camper with our grandparents.

Waiting for a plane…
We found a plane!
Finally here!

One of the necessities of the camper was that there was room for grandkids to accompany on trips. As the backseat riders in Scarlet, the truck, Dean and I have only been here since Thursday the 27th. We started planning this trip over a year ago, and it is finally happening.

On our first day here we stayed in a KOA in Salt Lake City, only 10 minutes from the airport. We departed the next morning, heading for Price. In Price we discovered that there was more than we had expected there. Price had only been a short stop on the way to Moab. There we found a cool mining museum, where we met a woman who had just come back from our home, Corning! We found a lot of cool artifacts there, and an old caboose and tie-layer.

The next day we went to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, where over 15,000 bones have been found. The majority of the bones were found in a 60×40 foot area. 70% of the bones were Allosaurus. We then went to Buckhorn Wash, a really nice drive through a long canyon. We stopped at two pictograph and petroglyph panels along the way. Pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved or chipped into the stone. We then went to the Wedge Overlook, fittingly deemed the ‘Mini Grand Canyon’.

Dino quarry!
15000 bones! The green is Allosaurus.
Rawwwr!
Inside the canyon!
Snake!
What do you think this one is?
Sheep?
Cheese!
‘Mini Grand Canyon’

We departed Price and went to Moab, home of two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. We headed to Susie’s Branding Iron for lunch, had delicious food, and headed off to our first day at Arches. We stopped about every two minutes to take pictures, which got old towards the end. At the end, as the boys went to investigate the Windows, Grandma went to find parking. She went to the lower loop and discovered an amazing double arch! I went climbing up under the arch and found a gap under a big rock and found a cool thing to crawl through. We went back to the camper and played a fun game, The Mind.

Skillful balancing, mother earth.
Double arch!
Big rock!

The next day, we started off to Dead Horse Point State Park, a park near the top of Canyonlands. The reason it has such an odd name is because the cowboys corralled the horses to the point of the park where they picked the best ones to sell and left the rest trapped at the end. The horses died of thirst, while looking out 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The view there is spectacular and we got some great photos. We also saw a potash evaporation facility and a nice guy told us what it was for. The way to get potash is to drill down to it and put water in the hole, then take the potash water and put it in these large pools to evaporate, leaving only the potash. Potash is mainly used for fertilizer.

Potash pools Photo credit: Graham Simons
Utah Juniper Photo credit: Graham Simons
View from Dead Horse Point Photo credit: Graham Simons
Cool Tree! Photo credit: Graham Simons

We then went for “fro yo” and went to a dinosaur amusement park , where there are giant dinosaurs that I had fun photographing. There was also a series of rooms that had a 3D aquarium. The 8th room was a shark attack, and the floor moved when the shark hit the ‘window’ or screen. We then went to get my FAVORITE food, sushi! We ordered a ‘Boat 2’ not knowing it was served on an actual boat! I also tried Octopus for the first time, and I liked it! We went back to the camper and played some of The Mind.

Watch Out! Photo credit: Graham Simons
Don’t worry, this one is a herbivore. Photo credit: Graham Simons
No one was expecting this!

The next day, we woke up super early and left for Arches, so we could do a hike while it was still relatively cool. We set out with the goal to see Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the world, 305 feet. We also saw two smaller arches, Tunnel and Pinetree. We got to the big arch, and me being me, I wanted to climb up the thin, steep, and possibly dangerous next part of the trail. I made it up pretty quickly, and went back down.

Long way down
The green backpack is me!
Only 11 feet thick at its smallest point.

We came back to Rhett having agreed to do some Ham Radio work. We have been working to get our licenses for a few months. Grandpa and Dean walked down the road a ways while Grandma and I stayed in the camper and Dean and I used their call signs to communicate. It was pretty fun and we learned a lot doing it. We finished off our day by watching Captain Marvel, and Grandma made some delicious bread pudding.

The next day, we left to our first day at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. We drove out to some cool viewpoints went on two short hikes, the first of which was a short and easy hike to Mesa Arch. The second hike was a bit more uphill, but was a nice hike to the first overlook for Upheaval Dome. Our personal opinion is that it was formed by a meteorite strike, while the other possibility of its formation is a salt dome. We hiked back down and returned to the RV to plan for the next few days.

That is a road!
But I thought this park was Canyonlands, not Arches… Photo credit: Dean Simons
Meteorite or salt dome? Photo credit: Dean Simons

Finally, we left the camper at about 9:00 to do some star photography at Panorama Point in Arches. We got some cool photos, and towards the end we got the whole viewpoint to ourselves! The people that were already there were mostly there for sunset. We headed back to the camper at about 11 pm.

Milky Way from Panorama Point

The first week was really fun, and I look forward to seeing the other state and national parks in Utah.

Next stop, Capitol Reef and Goblin State Park!