Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Road: Bryce Canyon National Park

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Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my favorite parks. I have been lucky enough to visit Bryce four times. If I am traveling on Interstate 70 or Interstate 15 in Utah, I will make the time to visit the area. This park has a magical quality to it. Some have described the hiking experience as walking along a group of magic rocks. The park even has a trail named the Fairyland Loop.

As with all national parks, visitors should check out the website for the National Park Service before they visit.  The site will give ideas for everyone depending on how much time is available for the visit. The most popular section of the park is the amphitheater region. Visitors have a choice of fourteen overlooks in the park. Some give a close look at the hoodoo rock formations and others give an impressive view of the entire amphitheater area. The most famous overlooks are Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. These are located in the amphitheater area. For those who do not have a lot of time at spend in Bryce, stopping at these points will give a good view of the park.

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The views at Bryce are impressive from the viewpoints, but the best part is to hike down to the floor of Bryce Canyon. The park service has rated the trails. The easy ones are Mossy Cave, Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop and Queens Garden. The least difficult way into the canyon is Queens Garden. The moderate trails are Navajo Trail, Tower Bridge, Hat Shop and Swamp Canyon. One thing to keep in mind is all the trails are easy in the beginning. Hikers are walking down the trail. Coming back requires a climb. The strenuous trails are Fairyland Loop, Peek-a-boo and Riggs Spring Loop. These trails involve a higher climb at the end of the hike. Hiking shoes or boots are a must for these trails.

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Many visitors explore the amphitheater region and do not realize another section of the park exists. Those who have the time should continue down the main road to visit Swamp Canyon, Whiteman Bench, Natural Bridge, Aqua Canyon, Ponderosa and Black Birch Canyon.

Bryce Canyon has a lodge with a dining room and a general store which are both located near Sunrise Point. These facilities are closed in mid-November and reopen at the beginning of April. The park is open all year, but some roads are closed in winter during snow storms.

Water is available and hikers should make sure to take enough for the hot summer conditions. I began my hike early in the morning one summer. The rock formations were fascinating and I wanted to see more. Soon the temperature started to go up and I had finished my water. I still had to climb my way back to the top. I became dehydrated and knew I needed help. Fortunately, a park ranger came by in a very small vehicle. I had the amazing experience of sitting looking backward as I rode up seeing Bryce Canyon from an angle most do not see. I received medical attention and was fine. I think that is one reason I am so fond of Bryce. I thank the rangers every time I return. I learned a lesson that day that sometimes a simple hike can present challenges to one's safety.

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Bryce has two unusual activities available to guests. During the full moon, the park has a night hike. A limited number of people can participate. Tickets are given to guests and a lottery is held to choose the hikers. Horseback riding is also available.  Riders have a choice of horse or mule and can choose to take a 2-hour or 4-hour trip.

In addition to the information available on the National Park Service website, visitor can also check the reviews on TripAdvisor to get tips from other travelers about the area. People have also posted videos to YouTube that show their hiking experience. These a worth a look to determine whether a trail would be suitable for a particular individual or group.

Many debate whether Bryce or Zion is the best park. Although Zion is impressive, I find the crowds detract from the experience. Bryce does not have the impressive rock formations of Zion, but I find it a more manageable experience. Exploring the floor of Bryce Canyon was one of my favorite national park experiences. As with all the national parks in Utah, each has its own aspects. No two parks are the same and all deserve a visit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On the Road: Capitol Reef National Park

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To the west are Bryce and Zion and to the east are CanyonLands and Arches. In the middle of Utah's Majestic Five is Capitol Reef National Park. This area, which was made a national park in 1971, is 100 miles long. It is located on UT 24 between the towns of Torrey and Caineville. The nearest interstate is Interstate 70. Those coming in from the east should take Exit 149 and head south on UT 24. Travelers from the west should take Exit 40 and go right on UT 120 South, left on UT 118 North, right on UT 199 east and then go right on UT 24.

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As with any national park, visitors would be wise to check the National Park Service website to obtain information to make their time in Capitol Reef rewarding and safe. The Park Service will give suggestions as to possible itineraries for those who have only a limited amount of time to spend in the park. No restaurant or lodge is available. Water is available at the Visitors Center and the campground. Baked goods and snacks are for sale at the Gifford House Store and Museum during the summer.

The park service provides descriptions of all the trails in the park. The length and time of each trail are listed in addition the elevation change and scenery. Trails are rated for difficulty. The easy trails are Capitol Gorge, Goosenecks, Grand Wash and Sunset Point. Cohab Canyon, Fremont River and Hickman Bridge are the moderate trails. The strenuous trails in this park are not lengthy, but the elevations are high. These are Cassidy Arch, Chimney Rock Loop, Fremont Gorge Overlook, Frying Pan, Golden Throne, Navajo Knobs, Old Wagon Trail Loop and Rim Overlook.

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Also available on the website are the three auto tours. The Scenic Drive section has eleven stops and the Park Service has provided a description for each stop. The Cathedral Valley tour is 59 miles long and the Waterpocket District one is 125 miles long. For these last two tours, the roads can be muddy and not many visitors travel these sections. For that reason, the Park Service warns travelers who venture into these areas that help may not arrive to them for hours or days if they run into trouble. People should be prepared with food and water.

On UT 24 to the east of the Visitors Center is the Fruita Schoolhouse which has been restored from when the Mormons settled there in the 1880s. The orchards provide fresh fruit in season. It is free for travelers to eat on the property, but a fee is charges for those who want to take fruit with them.

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In addition to the wealth of information on the Park Service website, travelers can also learn more about the park by going to Trip Advisor. People give their opinions about the aspects of the park and offer suggestions to make others' trips better. On YouTube are videos visitors have taken of the park's roads and trails. These videos will show travelers whether a trail or road is right for them.

The main attraction of Capitol Reef is the Waterpocket Fold.  This is a giant buckle or warp of the Earth's crust. The park also contains a variety of land formations from arches to canyons to domes. A model of the terrain is in the Visitors Center. Visitors can see on a small scale what awaits outside. We found it helpful to view the model since it gave us a greater understanding of the layout of the area.

Each national park in Utah is different with its own personality. Those who think seeing one park means seeing them all are in error. Capitol Reef has features that are unique and well worth any vacationer's time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Road: Canyonlands National Park

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Many, many years ago I ventured into the southern section of CanyonLands National Park. The visit was during the summer and I was by myself in a desolate area. I never saw another car and became concerned for my safety if anything went wrong, so I left without really touring the area. I wanted to visit again to explore another section of the park and I am so glad I did.

CanyonLands is located north of Arches National Park. They are both on US 191. In looking for CanyonLands on the map, travelers will notice that the park is actually to the southwest of Moab. To enter the park, one must drive north for 10 miles on 191 from Moab to UT 313 and turn left. The closest interstate is Interstate 70 which is to the north. Take Exit 182 and drive south for 22 miles to UT 313 and turn right.

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Researching a park like CanyonLands is crucial for the enjoyment and safety of a visit. The National Park Service does an excellent job of providing all necessary information on their website. All trails are described and rated as to their difficulty. The length and elevation change are provided in addition to the time necessary for the hike and a description of the conditions of the terrain. Suggestions are given for what to see if visitors have a limited amount of time. In addition, Trip Advisor gives reviews on the various aspects of the park and YouTube has videos of the trails.

At the Islands in the Sky section the easy trails are the Mesa Arch, Grand View Point and Murphy Point. Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte and Neck Springs are the moderate ones. The strenuous trails are quite long, so check the site before hiking them. These are Gooseberry Canyon, Syncline Loop, Murphy Loop, Wilhite Canyon, Taylor Canyon and Lathrop Canyon. This section of the park is the most accessible to visitors.

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Forty miles south of Moab is the Needles section of CanyonLands. Drive south on US 191 and turn right on UT 211. The park is 35 miles west. This area is more challenging than Islands. The easy trails are Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Springs and SlickRock. The strenuous trails are Big Spring to Squaw Canyon, Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon, Confluence Overlook, Peekaboo, Chesler Park/Joint Trail, Elephant Canyon/Druid Arch, Lower Red Lake Canyon and Salt Creek Canyon. These last trails are long.

CanyonLands has water available at the Visitors Centers and the campgrounds. Otherwise people are on their own, so it is advisable to bring in several gallons of water depending on the weather and the number of passengers. No food, gas or lodging are available. Cell phone reception is extremely limited or nonexistent. For those who take the chance of driving their four-wheel-drive vehicles off road, be aware that towing bills are obscenely high. The minimum charge for towing is $1,000. Travelers should be prepared for the weather which can be extremely hot. Storms can bring flash floods. Winter can be extremely cold and snow can cover the trails. This area is desolate and beautiful, but is also unforgiving. As always, travelers should respect nature.

I was watching for the entrance and noticed what I thought was a construction site. Then I noticed the small sign for the park. That was the first clue that this is a bare-bones national park. The drive to the actual park entrance was lengthy. When we arrived, we saw a manufactured home type building which was the Visitors Center. We got our information for the park and talked to the rangers. We were ready for our visit.

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We left the center and hurried to our car because it was so cold. I happened to look across the road and decided to see what was there. I was so glad I did. I cannot believe we almost missed it! The view was breathtaking and provided a stunning example of the scenery we would be fortunate enough to see. We stopped at every viewpoint and hiked some of the trails. The Mesa Arch was our favorite trail and we loved the Upheaval Dome even though the cold wind really ripped through us there.

The main road has one small connecting road that goes to the Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock. We were happy we had our hiking boots for traveling these trails. After we came back to the main road, we drove to Grand View Point. Since the weather was freezing, attendance at the park was low. A handful of people were at each site and we felt safe in the park. Even if I had been by myself, I would have been confident to tackle the trails knowing a few people were around to assist if things went wrong.

Every time I have driven Interstate 70 in Utah, I have wanted to take one of the roads to explore this magnificent country. Since I had a passenger, I felt this was the time to do it. I would feel confident to try this journey through the park again by myself. CanyonLands is now one of my favorite national parks. Our visit during the off season gave us the opportunity to experience the serenity of this desolate area. It also gave us an appreciation for the achievements of the early settlers and the workers who built roads through this land. Take the time to visit CanyonLands National Park. It is the experience of a lifetime!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On the Road: Arches National Park

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I have been to Arches National Park three times. Two times were with other people and one time was by myself. Some may feel scared to visit a national park alone, but with careful preparation the experience will be a rewarding one.

The National Park Service has a website that details all activities available at the park. The goal of the NPS is to provide a safe and rewarding experience to all who visit. They have looked at all situations and circumstances of the public and have worked hard to inform visitors of all available options. The important aspect for the park visitor is to be well informed. Visiting the National Park Service website is the first step.

A map of Arches National Park is available on its website, so I was able familiarize myself with the layout. I was also able to choose the activities I wanted. I read the descriptions for each trail and noted where they were on the map. The Park Service has classified the trails as Easy, Moderate or Strenuous. In addition to the location, the description also gives the length of the trail and the time hiking it would take. The change in elevation is also noted. This information is important for hikers to know before they start on the trail.

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The easy trails at Arches are Balanced Rock, The Windows, Double Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Skyline Arch, Landscape Arch and the Courthouse Wash Rock Art Panel starting point. The Delicate Arch Viewpoint is also an easy trail; however, the Delicate Arch trail itself is strenuous. The viewpoint takes 15 minutes, but the Delicate Arch itself takes 2 to 3 hours. The only moderate trail is Park Avenue. Finally, the strenuous trails are Tower Arch, Delicate Arch, Double O Arch, Devils Garden and Fiery Furnace.

The Park Service also provides suggestions for visitors that take into account those who have limited time. They will suggest the best options for hiking or for driving for those who have only a few hours to devote to the park. Since the position of the sun can greatly affect the quality of photos, the Park Service offers suggestions for the best time of day to photograph the scenery. Summer visitors need to take ample water for their visit. Water is available only at the main entrance and at the end of the main road. Winter visits require adequate clothing since the wind really rips through the area.

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Other valuable tools for planning a trip to Arches are the Trip Advisor reviews and YouTube. The reviews give practical suggestions from those who have already made the trip. They provide solutions to problems that may be encountered. The videos give an insight as to whether trails are suitable for particular individuals. For example, we had viewed the video for the Delicate Arch. When we got to the area, we found the conditions extremely windy and cold. We had an hour before the sun started to set, so we knew hiking that trail would not be wise. These trails can be dangerous. The next week someone fell at that location.

The closest interstate to Arches National Park is Interstate 70. For those coming from the west, take Exit 182 for 191 South. Arches will be on the left just before Moab. For travelers driving from the east, take Scenic Byway 128 south from Exit 204. This beautiful road follows the Colorado River for part of its journey and runs along the southern boundary of the park. This road joins 191 and at this point turn right and head north. Soon the entrance to the park will be on the right.

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The entrance is at the southern end of the park and the best option is always to stop at the Visitor Center. Information about the area is available and the rangers are ready to answer any questions. The gift shop at Arches is much larger than the one at Canyonlands. Travelers would be wise to buy their souvenirs and needs at Arches. The rest rooms are also better. The main road travels north with two small connecting roads. The first one travels to the Windows section and the second one goes to the Delicate Arch. This park is not just a collection of arches. The road winds through terrain that contains various types of rock formations and land masses. Visitors in the winter are treated to views of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains. During the summer parking is a problem, but in November we had our pick of places.

Visitors to Arches National Park must be prepared for challenges they may face. Check the weather because the Visitors Center and a restroom at the end of the road are the only shelter available in case bad weather affects the area. Heavy rains can wash out roads. Wear proper clothing because the sun is intense in the summer and the wind will cut through anything in its path in the winter. Also make sure to wear proper hiking shoes. Sandals are not a wise option for the trails and rocky sections on which people must travel. People have been hurt or even killed in this park. Arches is beautiful and the scenery is amazing, but travelers must respect nature.

Moab is the closest city to the park and hotels can be full during the summer. We had no trouble finding a great place to stay when winter was starting, but we did notice many businesses and restaurants were closed. After our visit, I made sure to watch Thelma and Louise again because it is one of many movies to be filmed in this scenic area. Arches provided the location for the scene where the women lock the police officer in the car trunk and the famous ending was filmed near Canyonlands.

We enjoyed our visit to Arches even though it was so cold. In the future we would like to spend at least a week in Moab to continue exploring this spectacular national park.