Natural Bridges National Monument

Sipapu Bridge, 220 ft. tall and 268 ft. span

We rushed out of Capitol Reef NP on a Sunday afternoon so we could beat the snowy weather headed our way. We don’t have a heater in the van so anything under 20-ish degrees is quite chilly! As we drove toward our BLM camp spot near Natural Bridges National Monument we could feel the temps drop. We braved the cold night awoke to snowy & icy conditions the next morning. While the temps were below freezing, it was a clear and sunny day so we headed for Natural Bridges National Monument. We were the only ones at the visitor center when we arrived and after grabbing a map and getting our passport stamp, we hit the scenic loop drive around the park. It was pretty awesome to have the park to our selves and with the proper gear on the freezing weather wasn’t so bad!

Kachina Bridge, 210 ft. tall and 204 ft. span

As its name implies, this park is home to some of the largest natural bridges in the world. While there are numerous bridges in the park, the main attractions are Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo bridges whose names give homage to the Puebloan people who once lived in the area. We had originally planned to hike the ten mile loop from bridge to bridge but, because of the cold, we decided to stick to the loop drive and hop to each bridge in the van then take the short hikes to them once at the parking lot.

Owachomo Bridge, 106 ft. tall and 180 ft. span

Takeaways

This small national monument has much to offer and made for a great day trip in between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. My favorite natural bridge was Sipapu and Alan’s favorite was Owachomo.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan & Ashby

For more photos see the gallery below!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Thor’s Hammer

Following our visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument, we were excited to see the Hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater, the park’s main attraction. This amphitheater is a vast basin of rich oranges, pinks, and reds in which stands thousands of statuesque pinnacles known as “hoodoos”. We spent two days hiking in and around the wonderland that is Bryce Amphitheater.

Navajo, Peekaboo, & Queen’s Garden Loop

On our first exploration day in the park we chose to hike what the visitor guide describes as “The Figure-8 Combination”. This trail combines the Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop, & Queen’s Garden trails into one awesome 6.4 mile trip through Bryce Amphitheater. After parking near the Sunrise Point overlook, we packed our packs and headed for the trail.

Navajo Loop down into Bryce Amphitheater

We first stopped at Sunrise Point for our first overlook of the amphitheater. Our initial reaction was similar to that of Cedar Breaks, the hoodoos seem infinitely different to one another and each stand as their own unique statue dressed in orange and red sandstone. From Sunset Point we headed down into the amphitheater via the Navajo Loop giving us a chance to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. At the end of the Navajo Loop, we found a nice spot for lunch and took a break before continuing on to Peekaboo.

The Peekaboo Loop is a constant up and down hike completely below the rim of the amphitheater past beautiful sandstone formations and stunning overlooks. There are also multiple places on the trail blocked by natural walls and can only be passed via a tunnel, which only added to the adventurous nature of the trail. After completing Peekaboo Loop, the final section was Queen’s Garden.

Tunnel View

Named for a famous hoodoo in the shape of a statue of Queen Victoria, Queens Garden is fun hike that led us up out of the amphitheater and past some of the more interesting hoodoos we had seen that day. Once at the top, we headed to the general store for some post cards and a couple of popsicles. All in all, a great first day at Bryce Canyon!

Fairyland Loop

For our second day at Bryce, we chose to hike the Fairyland Loop. This trail is 8 miles in length and is lesser travelled than the trails near Sunrise Point. We parked at the same location as the day before and once again prepared our packs then headed for the trail. The trail led us up and down through the northern portion of Bryce Amphitheater along various overlooks and down into valleys with majestic hoodoos on either side.

The hoodoos in this area felt more grouped together and it seemed that they were more eroded causing them to look different to their neighbors to the south. We hiked through the amphitheater until climbing up to Fairyland Point from which we could see the whole area we had just walked through. The rest of the hike back was along the rim of the amphitheater and we were treated with stunning overlooks until we reached the trailhead.

Upon returning the van, we hit the scenic drive through the remainder of the park, stopping at the points of interest and overlooks along the way.

Takeaways

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of those “out of this world” places that is unlike any other park we have visited. This was our second of southern Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks and we were stoked to see the remaining three. We highly recommend you make the journey to this awesome piece of mother nature’s artwork.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos from our Bryce Canyon adventure!

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Our second stop in southern Utah was Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is a relatively small park that is located high up in the Dixie National Forest East of Cedar City, UT. Its main feature is a half mile deep amphitheater of pinnacle like sandstone formations. The amphitheater is painted in the browns, oranges, and deep reds characteristic to the rocks of southern Utah.

Ramparts Overlook

We spent a day exploring the park and hiked the Ramparts Trail to both the Spectra and Ramparts Point overlooks. The formations within the amphitheater below were much different than those we had seen before although they did slightly remind us of those at Chiricahua National Monument. After our hike we drove the rest of the road through the park stopping both the Sunset View, Chessman Ridge, and North View Overlooks.

North View Overlook

This park is another example of the unique beauty that makes up the southern Utah landscape. After seeing the amphitheater in this, we were even more excited to see Bryce Canyon National Park, our next stop!

Thanks for reading! See gallery below for more photos of our Cedar Breaks adventure!

-Alan

Zion National Park

Zion Canyon

We finally made it to southern Utah! Alan has been excited about Utah since we started planning this trip. Southern Utah is home to “The Mighty 5” national parks which include Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP and Arches NP. Our first stop was the infamous Zion National Park. Zion is known for having some of the most scenic canyons in the U.S.

Zion Narrows

Due to the pandemic, Zion is currently running a shuttle service for the busiest area of the park. We were only able to snag shuttle reservations for two days. Our first day in the park, we decided to start by hiking the Zion Narrows Riverside trail. This trail leads you to the start of The Narrows hike, one of the most iconic trails in the park that takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon.

We opted out of doing The Narrows trail due to Toxic Cyanobacteria found in the Virgin River which we would have been in contact with because 60% of the hike is spent walking in the river. In the end we were glad we decided against this trail because it was way too crowded!

Zion Canyon and Virgin River

Emerald Pools

After the short narrows hike, we hiked to Upper, Lower and Middle Emerald pools. We had amazing views into Zion Canyon and the Virgin River from this trail. The natural pools weren’t as impressive as we thought they would be but the surrounding rock formations made up for it!

Sheer rock walls by Upper Emerald Pool

Angels Landing

Weeks before arriving at Zion, we learned that the chain section leading up to Angel’s Landing was closed due to COVID-19. Alan was bummed out because this is a famous must do hike at Zion. I on the other hand was pretty relieved that the chains section was closed because I am very scared of heights! But as luck would have it, a few days before we arrived at the park the chains section was opened back up to the public.

Hiking up the steep Walter’s Wiggles

Angels Landing Trail is considered a strenuous five mile hike with 1,630 feet in elevation gain. Once you get to the chain sections there is scrambling involved and oh yeah, there are 1,500 foot drops on both sides of the trail. We decided that we would both hike up to Scout’s Lookout right before the chain section begins and Alan would continue on to Angel’s Landing while I waited for his return.

Scrambling up to Angel’s Landing

As we made our way up Walter’s Wiggles, (the switchbacks leading up to Angel’s Landing) we found the trail to be fairly easy. Once we arrived at Scouts Lookout, I scoped out the spine of the trail and decided to just do it! Turns out it was not that scary after all!

Chains on Angel’s Landing Trail
Angel’s Landing

Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyons

On our third day at Zion, we ventured out to the less visited side of the park to explore the Kolob Canyons. A park ranger recommended that we hike the Taylor Creek Trail and we are so glad we did! This hike was filled with fall colors and followed a flowing creek the entire way. At the end of the trail was a double arch alcove which was pretty neat to see.

Double Arch

Takeaways

Zion is awesome and you must go see it for yourself! Every view in the park is mesmerizing and breathtaking. It is no wonder why this park is so popular. Zion holds a special place in our heart and we can’t wait to return!

Thanks for checking in!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos from our visit to Zion NP!

Page & Elsewhere

After exploring Great Basin National Park, we made our way to the town of Page, AZ to rendezvous with my mom for a 5-day adventure of the many surrounding national parks and monuments. Centrally located on the Arizona/Utah border, Page is in the heart of the Colorado Plateau and is on the shores of the amazing Lake Powell (more to come on that). This was our first time to experience the immense red sandstone formations and canyons that the Colorado Plateau if famous for and we were certainly not disappointed.

Horseshoe Bend

Grand Canyon North Rim

Aspens in Fall Color

Since we had visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon with Ashby’s family in March and it is closer to Page, we decided to check out the north rim this time around. The two-hour drive to the park was, not surprisingly, a very scenic one as we drove past Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and the beautiful Aspen trees in fall color near the entrance to the park.

Bright Angel Point

Once we got to the park, we stopped by the visitor center for a short hike to Bright Angel Point and our first glimpse of North Rim. The views were equally beautiful to South Rim and my mom and her husband Steven were astonished by the indescribable beauty of the Grand Canyon. We spent the rest of the day going from scenic overlook to scenic overlook and were sad when we got to the last one on the map, Cape Royal, which in my opinion was the best of the day.

Point Imperial
Cape Royal

Wire Pass Slot Canyon

Wire Pass

The Colorado Plateau is well known for containing many narrow canyons known as “Slot Canyons”. These slender drainages are formed by water erosion and have sheer walls that wind and twist through the sandstone. Page is home to one of the most famous slot canyons, Antelope Canyon, which can only be accessed by guided tour. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon and all other guided canyon tours in the Page area were closed as a COVID precaution.

Wash leading to slot canyon

We were determined to take a hike through a slot canyon and after some research, we were able to find a trail to a slot canyon known as “Wire Pass” in the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. From the trailhead we hiked through a wash with beautiful red sandstone on either side until reaching the entrance to the slot. The slot has an 8-foot drop at the entrance that hikers can attempt, or they can enter via an easier scramble located near the entrance. We chose the scramble, which was still a little tricky, but we pulled it off.

Scramble to canyon below

The canyon was beautiful, the sunlit sandstone reached heights of 40 feet and narrowed down to 18 inches wide at some points. Once we reached the end, we turned around and went through the slot once more (equally cool the second time) and scrambled out and back onto the wash for the return to the trailhead. When we returned to the parking lot, we drank water and snacked while reminiscing on the unique and other worldly hiking experience that is shared among slot canyons.

Taking it in!

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Lake Powell sits within Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and was formed by the damming of the Colorado River near Page. Given Page sits on the shores of Lake Powell, we felt we had to explore this immense reservoir that is unlike any other. What’s the best way to experience Lake Powell? From the water of course!

Cruising through Last Chance Bay

We rented an 18-foot ski boat for a day and hit the water at 9am leaving from Antelope Point Marina. Our first stop and farthest boat ride was to Rainbow Bridge National Monument which gets its namesake from a semi-circle shaped 234-foot span of sandstone that is 42 feet thick at the top, most impressive! We then headed south making our way back towards Antelope Point stopping at Dangling Rope Marina then made some stops to take a swim near Gregory Butte and Padre Bay.

Rainbow Bridge

The whole day we were repeatedly amazed by the gigantic sandstone formations and deep red canyon walls of Glen Canyon. We could not stop talking about how much we had on Lake Powell and would like for a multiday house adventure on the lake.

Sunset near Antelope Point

Takeaways

Page, AZ is an awesome destination for exploring the spectacular wonders of the Colorado Plateau. We feel we could have spent the whole year in this area and still not explored it all. This was a special week in a special place, and we hope for many more to come.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

For more photos from our Page adventure click here!

Great Basin National Park

After taking a drive east across Nevada on Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest in America”, we arrived at Great Basin National Park. This park is billed as an “island oasis” in an sea of sagebrush. Having crossed most of what is know as the Great Basin on our drive from California across Nevada, we soon understood what that meant. The mountainous park serves as a reprieve for plants and animals where the air is cooler and water is in greater supply.  We spent two days exploring this example of an island in a desert sea.

Sea of Sagebrush

Bristlecone Pine and Glacier Trail

On our first day at the park, we stopped by the visitor center and spoke with the rangers about suggested hikes and current conditions. We then grabbed a campsite at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and had lunch.

Bristlecone Pine

After lunch, we headed up the scenic drive towards Wheeler Peak and upon reaching the end, we parked and hopped on the Bristlecone Pine trail. This hike is 4.6 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The Bristlecone portion of the trail leads you to a grove of ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees. These trees only exist at elevations between 9,500 and 11,000 feet and have adapted to their harsh environment living to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old! This was yet another unique experience to be walking amongst some of the oldest living organisms on earth.

Glacial valley below Wheeler Peak

The trail continues to a glacial area at the base of Wheeler Peak, the only glacier in Nevada. We hiked about a mile past the Bristlecone Grove to a beautiful vista of Wheeler Peak and the glacial cut valley below. Satisfied with the sights, we turned back and headed to the trailhead then drove back to our campsite for the evening.

Wheeler Peak Summit Hike

The focal point of this park is the 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak. Upon seeing there was a trail to the top, I immediately decided we should give it a try and after a little convincing, Ashby was up for the challenge. The summit hike is an 8.6 mile round trip with 2,900 feet of elevation gain. After waking up early so we could secure a parking spot at the trailhead, we ate breakfast, packed our day packs then hit the trail. The initial two miles of the trail were relatively flat and led us through foliage lush with fall color and by an alpine reservoir called Stella Lake.

Aspen Trees in Fall Foliage

After the first two miles the real summit climb began as we hiked a long ridge on the north side of the mountain. Because the trail begins at 10,060 feet we were soon out of breath and had to take numerous breaks on our way to the top. The last two miles were comprised of steep loose rock and took us another hour and a half to complete before we reached the summit. After regaining our breath we found a spot overlooking the valley below and ate our lunches then explored the summit for another half hour then began the hike down.

Going for the summit!
View from the top!

This was the most challenging summit hike we had done to date mostly because of the higher altitude conditions. When we returned to camp for the evening we were tired and our legs sore but also were full of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

We were up there!

Takeaways

This park was a nice break from the “sea of sage” we crossed to get there. We only explored the Wheeler Peak area this time but hope to return to discover the parks many other wonders including the unique underground world on Lehman Cave. Until next time!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos of our Great Basin NP visit!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

After exploring the Redwoods, we headed east to see the largest plug dome volcano in the world, Lassen Peak! Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few areas in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes, plug dome, shield, cinder cone and stratovolcano. Due to the volcanic activity in this area, there are hydrothermal features similar to Yellowstone National Park. We spent two days hiking through this park.

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell

On our first day in the park, we began our hike at Bumpass Trailhead to see Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area within the park. This 2.7 mile hike features bubbling mudpots, sulfur vents and boiling hot springs. Even though hiking through the area smells like rotten eggs, the views of the hydrothermal features paired with the surrounding subalpine terrain were worth it! We learned that this area is named after Kendall Bumpass, who explored the region in the late 1800’s. On his first visit to the area he stepped through the thin crust and severely burned his foot. A few visits later he broke through the crust again and burned his leg so badly it had to be amputated. Talk about horrifying! There is a boardwalk in place now, so Alan and I didn’t have to worry about stepping through fragile areas. Phew!

After Bumpass Hell, we decided to continue on the trail to Cold Boiling Lake. The views on the way to the lake were spectacular! Once we arrived at the lake it didn’t seem to be boiling but it did have one small bubble that kept coming up every once in a while. The actually contains a small hot spring which causes it to bubble.

Crumbaugh Lake
Cold Boiling Lake

Lassen Peak

On our second day, we hiked to the tallest peak in the park. The Lassen Peak trail is 5 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet and tops out at 10,457 feet. When we made it to the top, we had fantastic views of Lake Helen and surrounding cinder cones, mountains and lava flows from the last volcanic eruption in 1915. We could even see parts of the Cascade Mountain range to the north of us and the Sierra Nevada mountains to the south. Pretty cool!

Views from Lassen Peak!

Takeaways

After being blown away by the geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, we were excited to see more at Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had an awesome time at this park and loved that it was not as busy as other national parks we have been to. Besides the the volcanic and hydrothermal features, the park also has a handful of beautiful lakes right of off the main road which made for a very scenic drive. This is definitely an underrated national park over shadowed by it’s California cousins.

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos from our Lassen Volcanic NP visit!

Redwood National Park

Having already sought out some very tall trees on the Olympic Peninsula, we could not wait to walk amongst some of the tallest trees in the world. Redwood National Park is in northern California on the Pacific coast. We spent two days exploring the park.

Tall Trees Grove

The tall trees grove is an area known to have some the tallest trees in the park and, subsequently, in the world. Redwood trees in this area tower to heights 350+ feet! Access to this area is allowed by permit only and we were lucky enough to acquire one a week before our visit. This trail is one of the more difficult to access, besides the permit we had to drive 7 miles down a dirt road to a small parking lot which thankfully the van fit into.

Tall Trees Grove

From the trailhead, we hiked 2 miles down 800 ft of elevation to Redwood Creek where the Tall Trees Grove lives. A one mile loop took us through the grove and we had to keep stopping at each colossal Redwood we came to and ponder its mass. After the grove loop, we hike along Redwood Creek for a bit then returned up to the trailhead.

Tree hugger
Leaning on a friend.

Prairie Creek

After our Tall Trees hike, we grabbed the last available spot at Elk Prairie campground and bedded down for the evening. The next day we went to the visitor center then explored some of the nearby points of interest including Big Tree and Corkscrew Tree. Big Tree is not the tallest in the area but is known to have one of the widest trunks among other trees in the park with a diameter of 23 feet. Corkscrew Tree is truly a unique site which is saying something when you are surrounded by 300 foot tall trees! It consists of four trees intertwined in a corkscrew pattern that reach skyward together.

Big Tree
Corkscrew Tree

Takeaways

It is truly difficult to get a scale of the size of the Coastal Redwoods at this awesome park. We could tell they were enormous but since every tree is so big, we had no comparison to the “tall” pines of the Piney Woods back home. We plan to come back and hike more of the many trails that wind through these giants of nature and continue to be humbled.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

See gallery below for more photos from our Redwood adventure!

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

At 14,000 acres, this national monument might be relatively small but it is loaded with many paleontological and geological wonders. John Day Fossil Beds is located in eastern Oregon near the towns of Mitchell and is comprised of three separate units each with their own unique features. This was our first time in eastern Oregon and we were surprised at how quickly the landscape and temperatures changed from the densely wooded coast and 75 degrees to mountainous desert grasslands in the east and 100 degrees (yikes!).

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

The first unit we explored was Painted Hills, named so for the large hills with stratifications in the soil making stripes of red, tan, orange, and black in the hillside. We hiked up an adjacent hill via the Carroll Rim Trail and had amazing views of the Painted Hills below. We then explored an area called Painted Cove that has small hills of deep red, yellow, and lavender claystone hills.

Sheep Rock

Blue Basin

This area of the national monument is the largest of the three units and is named after a large rock formation near the visitor center. Our favorite feature of this unit was an area called Blue Basin, a small canyon walls of blue green claystone. There are also many preserved fossil replicas along the trail though the canyon of various ancient specimens found in the area.

Clarno

Natural Bridge

We visited the Clarno Unit on our way out of the monument. This area features palisades made of volcanic ash and mud flows formed 45 million years ago. The trail along the palisades contains many fossils embedded in the rock and lead us to an overlook of a natural bridge at the top of the palisade cliffs.

Takeaways

John Day Fossil Beds is a fun and educational park where you can embrace your inner paleontologist. We enjoyed our visit and would not mind a return trip in the future. I especially enjoyed being back in the desert for a bit after the forests of coastal Washington and Oregon.

Click here for more photos of our John Day Fossil Beds visit!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan