Four States, Two National Parks, and much more

The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip.  After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above.   It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip.  That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier.  This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City.  During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

It has been a few days since we finished the trip.  I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books.  Should it be summarized in one blog?  Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description?  How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story?  What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in?  I have decided on a “hybrid” approach.  Only time will tell how this will turn out.

Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors.  Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place.   The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces.  Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses.  In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time.  And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.

Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me.  I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland.   The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface.  The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park.   Steam rises into the air everywhere.  There are very few places in the world like this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHot springs,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgeysers,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA fumaroles,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmud pits,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released.  The air is filled with fumes with different smells.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is an amazing place.

The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is very much a geologically active area.  In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot.  You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk.  The crust is thin.  You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you.  Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.

Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.

The Grand Tetons are a different experience.   The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene.  Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line.  Over a period of millions of years,  the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other.  This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range.  Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.

The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.

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The Tetons rise behind Jackson Hole airport
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The breadth of the Teton mountain range
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Sunset behind the mountains
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Mountains and Lakes
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Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park

 

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In the evening

In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams.  The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks.  There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.

We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year.  We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails.  The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows.  There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions.  Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge.  Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience.  We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there.  Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.

There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated.  A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view.  We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.

The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did.  After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.

Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way,  we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape.  The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.PA160360.jpgApparently astronauts come here occasionally to train.  There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself.  The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective.  The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”

The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before.  Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country.  It is still active.  There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here.  I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.

We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north.  As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day.  We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”.  We drove onward to the town of Stanley.  The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck.  The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it.  The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”.  The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road.  There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection.  There was usually a gas station.  The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few  restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern.  I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town.  Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places.  Perhaps they keep them alive.

The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon.  A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place.  The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West.   The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City.   Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake.  Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe island is dedicated to outdoor activities.  We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails.  In general,  these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.

We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island.    The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island.  That did not happen.

The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City.  The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot.  The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle.  They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism.  It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure.  Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. PA190756.jpgAfter a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe headed back to our hotel.  Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day,  went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.

And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.

We flew back to Maryland the next morning.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)

Colorado, Utah, and Arizona by Car – The Epilogue

(You might notice that the subject line for this sequence of blogs has finally gotten corrected in the last posting of the series!  It’s the least I could do.)

It happened when we were in Kanab, UT.  It had been a while since we had gone to a Chinese Restaurant.  Luo’s Cafe was close enough to the hotel for us to walk to.  The food, and especially the hot soup, was welcome on a cold evening after the active day in Zion National Park. We got fortune cookies at the end of dinner.  The one I opened up said “In the near future, you will discover how fortunate you are.”  I have thought of myself as very fortunate for many years of my life.  So this message about making a “discovery” was incorrect in a way, but considering the nature of the trip that we were making, it was still interesting, and perhaps timely, anyway.  The other fortune cookie had the message “It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”  Please contact me if you can figure that one one out!

Here are some stats from the trip.
According to the odometer in the car, we covered 2579 miles during this trip.  This might be equivalent to driving across the country.

The places we stayed in were Denver, Estes Park, and Parachute, in Colorado; Moab and Monticello in Utah; then Monument Valley and Page in Arizona; back to Kanab, Cannonville and Torrey in Utah; and finally Red Cliff and Denver in Colorado.

The National Parks we visited were Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonland (two different sections), Mesa Verde, Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.  Places visited also included Monument Valley, Pike’s Peak, Four Corners, and a few state parks.  We passed through numerous interesting little towns, including places like Escalante in Utah, and Parachute, Red Cliff, and Leadville in Colorado.  We did drive through a town called “No Name”, and drove past a restaurant called the “Bla, Bla, Blah Cafe” towards the end of the trip.

Most of the travel was on the Colorado Plateau.   We started off at an elevation of slightly over 5400 feet, in Denver, and probably stayed at an altitude above that most of the time, finally hitting over 14,100 feet at Pikes Peak.

The weather cooperated for the most part.  Even when it rained in the night or in the morning, it would clear out in time so that we could do something outside.  We had some really cold mornings, even around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it usually warmed up enough for us to get going.  We always dressed in layers, and the outerwear would go into the backpack as we warmed up during a walk.  The snow that we experienced was not significant enough to cause problems, but it did bring an additional element of beauty to our travels.

One of the surprises for me was the fact there are still cowboys in the west, and that cattle still roam the open range in Utah.  There is definitely still a western culture.  Another delightful surprise was the discovery of the town of Red Cliff in Colorado.  I could have spent more time in that area, including a drive through Shrine Pass.  I could probably have also spent some more time at places like Cortez, Escalante and Leadville.  But we had other places to get to.

People we encountered were generally nice and helpful.  Conversations were not very deep. Politics never came up and that helped us stay out of trouble.  The servers at the restaurants were mostly  genuine and hardworking, and we ended up talking to some of them, and even tipping more than usual.

There were many tourists from Europe.  I  noticed very few black families in the parks.   This is unfortunate. On the other hand, the number of oriental tourists we encountered was staggering. For a reason I cannot fathom, tourists from India are found in large numbers in Page, AZ.

It took me a significant amount of organizing effort to make sure that we had a place to stay every night of the trip, and that these places would be suitably located relative to things that I thought were good to experience.   There was no issue with any of the hotel reservations, and some of the facilities had their own character and were interesting in themselves.  There might be one or two changes that I would make if I had to do this again, mainly related to location, but things worked out nicely for the most part.  I had also created a list of things that sounded interesting to see and do for every place that we stayed at.

I did all the driving, but Teresa worked out all the details of packing and unpacking and managing the stuff that we carried during our hikes.  My outerwear to handle cold weather stayed in the back seat of the car for the most part when I was not wearing it.  I spent significant amount of time every evening, and the next morning, working on the blog for the day.   I used to wake up very early in the morning and slept less than usual overall.  It must have been the difference in time zones that I never adjusted to.  But I have also noticed that something like this happens to me every time I make a trip like this.

We jointly decided what we would try to see and do on a particular day, and it mostly worked out.  We were flexible in planning and adjusting when things did not go exactly as planned, especially when it rained.  Sometimes the advance planning was minimal.  We did not see everything we would have liked to.  There was not enough time.  We did most things together – there were a couple of occasions when I did a little extra on the trails.  We managed to not get on each other’s nerves too much.  It was good teamwork.  Teresa actually started proof-reading my blogs after the first few days.  I know it helped, but I suspect that a bunch of editorial stuff still needs to be addressed.  I will try to fix errors as I find them.

The return to Gaithersburg and reality was smooth but I would not call it pleasant.  The election season is upon us, and it is the season of lying and spreading fear.   But a day at the Manna food bank revived my spirit somewhat.

I did manage to rescue the jacket that I had left at the security checkpoint on our way out of Dulles Airport on the 6th.  Some people may not be happy about that, hoping that this rather tattered piece of clothing would disappear.  But I think there is something to be said about being sentimental about old things.

Here is the link to a page that lets you access all the blogs for the trip in the correct order.

By the way, this is an amazingly beautiful country!

 

 

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 10 (Zion NP)

The visit to Zion National Park today was one of the great experiences that I hope to never forget.   It was an amazing day!

We have a general tendency to avoid the obviously touristy places and their crowds, but Zion was the place that showed me that it is possible to have a great experience even when the place is packed with tourists.  In this case, the park has set itself up to serve the tourists in a very effective way, dealing with the bottlenecks of crowds arriving in large numbers at peak times, and also having most of these tourists passing through a couple of points of entry and through a single visitor center.  There is a shuttle bus service which ensures that you do not have to rush through the park in your car causing unnecessary pollution and also frustration in finding places to park during the day.  Furthermore, the type of people who come to these places tend to be outdoorsy types, respectful of the space that they are in, and respectful of other people who are visiting.   They all also seemed to be well prepared for their outdoor activities with what they were wearing and what they were carrying. Once people get dispersed to the various spaces in the park and take to the longer and more challenging trails the crowds dissipate, and except for the popular trails, all is good.  The system seems to work in spite of the volumes of traffic.

The day started out with very cold temperatures.  We had packed warmly for the outing.  We need not have been concerned about the weather.  Once we got to the park and got moving everything turned out well.

We headed north out of town on US 89. We reached Zion taking Utah Highway9 from US 89.  At the entrance to the park the color of the road surface actually changed to a shade of brown. I do not remember seeing such a surface anywhere else.  The speed limit dropped as the road began to wind through the hills.  We began to see the mountains on the east side of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the 1.1 mile Mt. Carmel tunnel that takes you across the mountain to the western side of the park.  The tunnel was completed in 1930 and provided a way through the mountains in this section of the mountains for the first time.  The tunnel is quite narrow.  They were running one-way traffic when we arrived, probably because a bus and an RV were trying to get through.  They would take up both lanes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the picture below you can see one of the holes that was blasted in the side of the  mountain to provide a view point from the tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as the road crosses the tunnel, it switchbacks it way to the bottom of the canyon in a very dramatic way.  You can pull over to the side of the road in many places and you can get views like this.  These colorful mountains tower over the narrow canyon.  It is awe inspiring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Visitor Center to get ourselves oriented and figure out where we were going.  We decided to take the shuttle bus to its last stop, The temple of Sinawava, to take the Riverside Walk.  You get a lot of information on the bus during this 40 minute ride, and you can enjoy fabulous views from the bottom of the canyon, including this picture of the mountains called the Patriarchs, including the three peaks, Jacob, Abraham, and Issac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou also pass the a peak that is probably called Angels Landing.  It is the terminal point for the Angels Landing trail, a climb of 1488 feet over really challenging terrain that is not for the weak of heart.  A one point you will be climbing and walking on open rock high over this open space, completely exposed, with only a metal chain railing to grab on to.  Other younger people in the family have done this trail in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZion’s canyon was formed by the Virgin river that flows along its bottom.  Over millions of years the river has cut its way down through many layers of rock.  The place can become dangerous when the river floods.  The river was calm during our visit.  The riverside walk was very crowded, but there was always the opportunity to go off the trail and find a calm space beside the river itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end point of the trail, one can proceed further into the canyon by walking in the river itself.  You can go for miles, and many young people had come prepared to do this.  It sounded like fun, but not something we could indulge in today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had something to eat as we sat by the river side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter this hike we took the bus to the stop for the hike to Weeping rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hike to Weeping Rock was short but it was quite challenging in parts.  At the end of the hike you find yourself in a rock alcove with dripping springs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next hike started at the same place.  We climbed up the mountain you see in the picture below on the East Rim Trail to Echo Slot Canyon.  We had to climb up to the trees that you see in the picture below.  Basically, one is going up the face of the mountain that you are looking at using extended switchbacks.  You have a view of the valley below as you are climbing.  This proved to be a very challenging effort but quite rewarding. We took it slow and easy, with plenty of stops.  Lots of young people passed us on the way up, but speed was not the goal here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley as we started the climb.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Weeping rock, the place we had gone to earlier, as we climbed the East Rim Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley when we finally reached the top of this section of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail then continued on the other side, behind the open face of the mountain, in an opening between two cliffs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could see the slot canyon below you in places.  They looked difficult to navigate, but it apparently can be done.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter passing through the gap in the mountains, you arrive at an open space on the other side.  We declared success at this point and turned to head back to the trail head. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy GPS device was having all kinds of issues during this climb, either because of the terrain, or because of a bad software download.  So I do not know how much ground we covered.  The hike took a couple of hours. We probably walked only about three miles in all, but we might have climbed about a thousand feet.

We were exhausted after this hike, but it was quite exhilarating to have done it.  The rest of our stay in the park was just icing on the cake.

The next walk was on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail.  It was somewhat unremarkable.  The trail was crowded.

We took the shuttle bus back to the museum to watch the movie about the park, and then walked back to the Visitor Center on the Pa’rus trail that ran along the canyon floor close to the river.  These pictures are from the walk.  We walked amidst the mountains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are plenty of camping sites at Zion National Park, and it looked like all of them were occupied.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last stop was at the gift store to get a replacement light jacket for the one that I had left behind at the security check at Dulles Airport on the way in.

Then it was time to head back to Kanab for the night.  It took a long time to get out of the park because we were stuck in a long line of cars, slowed down because of a couple of drivers who did not seem to have the good sense to pull over when they got a chance to let the others through.

We walked over to Luo’s Cafe, close to the hotel that we were staying at, for our first dinner of Chinese food during this trip.  It all went down quickly because we were very hungry.  Back at the hotel, we took our baths and crashed out.  I, of course, spent some time processing some pictures for this blog.

We are heading north to Bryce National Park today.  It is going to be colder today than yesterday!

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 7 (Mesa Verde NP to Monument Valley)

We took a quick walk around the town of Monticello, UT, before we departed for Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.   I usually find something charming about these little places, but Monticello seemed to be just another town on the road to somewhere else.  There was nothing that caught my senses particularly.  Here are some pictures.  This picture is of the sunrise and it was taken from behind our roadside motel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the front of our motel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the locals were going for a morning run.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA local Native American store.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Abajo mountains rise from the morning fog west of town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were being careful about making sure that we did not run out of gas (petrol).  So, we filled up even though we had used only a quarter tank of gas, turned east at the only traffic signal in Monticello, and pointed our way towards the rising sun on US 491 (not an Interstate Highway).  We passed through the city of Cortez on our way to the entrance to Mesa Verde.

We arrived at Mesa Verde by about 9:30 and it was already too late for the ranger guided tour that we were interested in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only slot available was for the 3:50pm tour, and that was too late for our drive to Monument Valley in the evening.  We also realized that we had not given ourselves enough time to explore the place leisurely.  So the visit was a little rushed.

The primary theme of this park is the history of the Pueblo Indians who have lived in this area for a very long period of time.  You can see the ruins of their living spaces and communities spread out over the area, many of them under ledges in cliffs.  But reaching the areas where you can see these artifacts also requires long drives on the park roads.  The drives were actually quite thrilling over the mountain roads, some of them quite narrow and open only to smaller vehicles.  Our first stop to see the historical artifacts was for the Step House at the end of the narrow Wetherill Mesa Road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is was a long way down to get to the Step House from the parking area on top of the cliff.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cliff dwellings were usually under a ledge that provided some protection.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see how far down one must go to reach the dwellings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then headed back to the main park road to the Museum at the end of the road.  Here are a couple of pictures.  We were rushing.  This is the Spruce Tree House,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand this is the Cliff Palace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd before we knew it, it was time to head out of the park to Monument Valley, a drive of about three hours.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis drive was notable for the fact that for the most part we were passing through land that was barely populated and was essentially featureless compared to what we had experienced so far. US 160 on which we were heading west ran straight for long periods of time.  You could occasionally see the horizon in the distance at the end of a particularly long stretch of straight road. The speed limit on these smaller roads was 65 miles per hour, but folks were overtaking me every once in a while.  We did make a stop at Four Corners, where the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, all meet at a single point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe place is managed by the Navajo, and, frankly speaking, I got a rather poor impression of the way they maintained and operated things at a location that has now become a somewhat well recognized tourist attraction.

We arrived at Monument Park as the sun was setting.  This horse had left its companions and wandered on to the side of the road as we were driving in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are some pictures of the sunset.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are staying at the only hotel here, The View, built on Navajo land, and owned by a Navajo entrepreneur lady.  The first order of business was dinner at the only restaurant in this isolated place on the border of Utah and Arizona.

Our room has a beautiful view of the valley and the sunrise is expected to be spectacular.  We will see.  We head out to Page, AZ, later today.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 3 (Rocky Mountain NP and Onward)

The morning started with the sighting of elk from our hotel room window.  They were crossing a side street and somebody’s property.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese animals own the place.

It had snowed overnight.  After breakfast of some pastries we had bought in the supermarket, we headed out into the park. On the way we saw these elk bulls butting heads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce in the park, we got a picture of ourselves at the entrance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADue to incomplete instructions from the ranger the day before, and because of plans being made on the fly, it took a while to get to the trail head that we finally decided to hike from.  We started at the Park and Ride lot on Bear Lake road at about 8800 feet elevation and took the trail to Bierstadt Lake. The temperature was 30 degrees F when we started. We climbed through the snowy woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was tough! We reached a spot by the lake after a couple of miles, and an hour and a half of laborious climbing.  It was a small lake, which had its own beauty in the snow.  The altitude was supposed to be 9460 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a different trail down the side of the mountain to the actual official trail head for the climb to this lake on the way back to the car.  The view of the valley as we switchbacked down the mountain was spectacular in spite of the weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt would have been much more amazing if the skies had been clear.  At the bottom of the mountain we turned east, and we walked on a trail that ran along the road, back to the parking lot at the Park and Ride location.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFive miles of walking!  The temperature had risen to 37 degrees by then.

After a lunch of peanut butter, carrots, and fruit, and a Clif bar for myself, we drove to Bear Lake. The lake itself is at a height of about 9600 feet.  It was back to freezing temperatures – 32 degrees F – because of the altitude!  After a short and quick walk around the lake,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe hit the roads to head out of town.  We had a 250 mile ride ahead of us.

We headed south past the town of Boulder, and picked up Interstate 70 at Golden, CO, the birthplace of Coors beer.  There was only time for a stop to fill gas (petrol) and get a quick drink of hot chocolate.

Then began the most spectacular ride on Interstate 70 towards the place we were staying for the night – Parachute, CO. We crossed the Rocky mountains. The weather was all over the place during the ride through the mountains, but it was a notable experience nonetheless.  That part of the ride started with heavy fog in a winding section of the road as we climbed into the mountains.  I was not happy at that point.  We then encountered rain and snow in some other sections, and in some places it looked like the sky was going to clear up.  We crossed the the mountains through a tunnel above 10000 feet. It was clear on one side and we could see the snow covered mountains of the Rockies for the first time,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand on the other side of the tunnel it was snowing so heavily that the surface of the road was covered with snow and traffic was moving more slowly. The weather kept changing.  We went past the ski towns of Breckenridge and Vail.  It started raining lightly once again as we drove through Glenwood Canyon at the western end of the ride through the mountains. We emerged from the windy section of the road at Glenwood Springs and the ski area of Aspen.

Glenwood Canyon was spectacular, with the highway hugging the vertical sides of the canyon, supported by various concrete structures, the Colorado river below us, and the Denver and Rio Grande railroad line on the other side of the Colorado river.  (I may be wrong, but it is possible that Amtrak’s California Zephyr train from Chicago to San Francisco runs on this line.)

After another over hundred miles of driving past towns with names like Gypsum, Silt, and Rifle, we arrived at Parachute. We drove into the sunset as the skies cleared out a little bit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter dinner with margaritas at the Mexican place in this small town, we crashed out.  This tiny place looks interesting. We can probably see everything there is in town in 15 minutes.  The hotel room was remarkably affordable, and recommended to anyone coming this way.

Now it is on to Moab, and Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  The weather should be warmer from now on.