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Trip Report SW Scenic Whirl: Zion,Bryce,Capitol Reef,MV,GC,Sedona

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What started out as taking advantage of a great 3 night stay/deal in Sedona - suddenly morphed into a last minute/six day - fast moving/scenic/whirlwind tour (certainly not for all travelers) - around the southwest US.

This meant that instead of flying into Phoenix and renting a car, we packed the car here in San Diego on Saturday afternoon - included some camping gear - and bright and early/Oh Dark Thirty Sunday morning - headed from San Diego to Zion National Park in SW Utah - just beyond St. George.

Zion: Since we arrived at around 3 PM - we just went for it and drove to the visitor parking lot (vis a vis parking outside the park and riding the shuttle) and found a spot as people were leaving and we didn't even have to wait to board the bus for the incredible 80 minute roundtrip of the uber scenic canyon. http://tinyurl.com/6qymf44

This "blitz" was rewarded by our meeting a well equipped hiking couple (from New Hampshire) - who boarded at the top of the route. They also had been up before the crack of dawn and had energetically hiked up the Narrows (walking in/along the river part) and even up another canyon/Wall Street. That has always been on my "to do" list - and next time - we will hike/explore Zion in much more depth. http://www.zionnational-park.com/zion-narrows.htm

Bryce: From there, we drove on to Bryce - and perhaps the driving "highlight" of my having toured all over the western US happened en route - about 5 miles south of Hatch: We actually saw a big bear!!!!

This blond/brown Bruin was running along the other side of a fence just below/parallel to the road - chasing some tasty morsel - and this big guy was moving!!!!! For short distances - Bears can sprint as fast as a horse.

And while Black bears can come in all colors - and supposedly Brown/Grizzly bears are non-existent in most of the lower 48 states, this sure looked like a 500+ lb Brown bear - and again, it was hauling after something, just galloping along on all fours.

Suddenly - it veered toward the fence and dove down toward the bottom - and I can only guess the rabbit? - got away by zipping under the fence.

Continuing on - we entered Bryce about 7 PM - and after hastily pitching the tent - drove down the 18 mile drive to the end at - Yovimpa and Rainbow Point - and then doubled back to Bryce Point for the Sunset. http://www.gorp.com/parks-guide/bryce-canyon-national-park-outdoor-pp2-guide-cid8844.html

As expected - the Hoodoos http://tinyurl.com/6pvw3a3 were in fine fettle, and there are other great lookouts/photo ops along the way - including the Natural Bridge Arch. http://tinyurl.com/86olhu4 http://www.bryce.canyon.national-park.com/sights.htm

It should be noted that comparing Zion and Bryce National Parks is difficult - as they really are two different types of parks: Zion is big and round and a river running through it - and you start at the bottom and head to the top - whereas in Bryce, the orientation is mostly top down - and you have the fabled hoodoos and other rock formations - yet they are both stunningly beautiful.

Forgot to mention another great wildlife viewing while driving in Bryce - and that was a pack of Antelopes who were just casually munching in the meadows about halfway to Rainbow Point.

For dinner - we broke out the "tent chicken" - a roasted chicken we had picked up in St. George - and it served us well for dinner that night and the next night when we camped at the Navajo National Monument - just west of Kayenta/Monument Valley.

During the night - I walked to the rest rooms - and the view of the stars was as amazing/bright/clear as anything I have seen, including looking up from Glacier Point in Yosemite.

Bright and early the next morning - we again drove down the 16 miles (measured from the North Campground) - for more photo ops and appreciation - again - planning to return for more in-depth exploration on a future trip.

Grand Staircase, Kiva Coffee, Boulder and on to Capital Reef: We then broke camp - had a quick breakfast at Ruby's Inn (where we would have stayed if there was not a campsite available - http://www.rubysinn.com/ ) and then headed north and east - toward Capitol Reef - stopping at the very helpful Inter-Agency tourist office in Escalante http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/grand_staircase-escalante/Recreation/visitor_centers/Escalante_Interagency_Visitor_Center.html.

Not only does this center have a cute little display of native animals/plants (including a Rocky Mountain Ram) - they also gave us a great tip about where to stop for coffee. This was at Kiva - a round/built into the side of the hill/marvelous find - where the coffee was very good and the view was terrific. http://www.kivakoffeehouse.com/

And then it was off for a majestic drive along scenic Hiway/Biway 12 - http://www.scenicbyway12.com/ through the 9,000 foot passes - before heading on to Capital Reef. This part of Utah - including going through the town of Boulder - besides having beautiful Red Rock formations - could almost double as being in Colorado, with Aspen groves, mountain lakes and the like. http://www.lrbryanphotography.com/Still-Life/Trees/20481732_f6xCWv/1540922847_vqN9Vqj#!i=1540922847&k=vqN9Vqj http://tinyurl.com/7zmdz6q

We were also overlooking the Grand Staircase area - where the hiking couple we met in Zion was excited about going canyon-iring here for the rest of their week. http://tinyurl.com/7mt7wcy

As you may or may not know - this was the last part of the US that was finally mapped - and that was not until about 1860. What - with a part of the road called Hell's Backbone - what do you expect? :)

Continuing on through Capital Reef - turning east at Torrey - is just an incredible visual smorgasbord/potpourri - of the beautiful Red Rock formations that cover this part of the US. http://tinyurl.com/cjypn9l It was just one after another - nonstop - ongoing great sights and can only be appreciated by driving through this area.

Natural Bridges National Monument - on to Monument Valley: We continued on toward Monument Valley - stopping at the headwaters of Lake Powell for a picnic lunch - and then toured the Natural Bridges National Monument - a bonus along the way. They have a great 10 minute film at the Visitor's center which we watched before driving around. http://www.nps.gov/nabr/index.htm

You do know the difference between a bride and an arch, right? :) A bridge is formed by running water - a stream/river - continually wearing down the rock/and or cutting a new path through it - while an arch is usually the result of many centuries of erosion, from top down.

We took the shorter route toward Monument Valley - route 261 - going down the Moki Tugway - which is not for the faint of heart. http://tinyurl.com/6nh3rjf It's about a three mile or so gravel road - sharply descending with numerous switchbacks - but we loved it. (Well, I know I loved it - and as my wife was driving during that section - she did manage to catch some of the scenery while adroitly steering the car down the hill. :) )

After gassing up/topping off in Mexican Hat - we drove into Monument Valley from the north - and because we had just experienced two of the most scenic days one could ever imagine, and additionally because we hav also visited Monument Valley before - we continued on to the Navajo National Monument - as we wanted to set up camp before coming back to Monument Valley for Sunset.

We did stop in Kayenta - and grabbed a soft drink at the Burger King - where they have a very nice/small - yet powerful/moving display of the huge contribution by the Navajo Nation to our Marines during WWII. http://tinyurl.com/6mqteve

This was when the Navajo language was used to form an unbreakable code - which was used to call in supporting artillery during the island campaigns in the South Pacific. There was even a recent movie about this Wind Talkers - with Nicholas Cage among others. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245562/

The sad thing about their brave exploits is that the Navajos' heroic actions were classified until the 70's (yes - the secret code was apparently that good) - and they couldn't even get jobs with the US government - as they couldn't say anything about what they did in the war, and even their local community didn't fully appreciate their significant contributions did during WWII.

Navajo National Monument: We arrived at the National Navajo Monument - http://www.nps.gov/nava/index.htm and thankfully there was camping space (we had called ahead for info - first come first serve - and again - this was a spur of the moment trip).

We set up the tent - and after enjoying some more of the great roast chicken, etc - this time on a picnic table - we just decided to chill out and didn't drive back to Monument Valley for the Sunset. We had been there before - and loved it - but since we had just covered over 1,000 scenic miles in two days - what can I say - we wimped out :) But hey - the good thing about now being "senior" citizens is the $10 lifetime pass to National Parks was good every place we visited. :) dos.

The next morning - I drove back into Kayenta to pick up some coffee (next time will take along a little portable coffee maker) and we broke camp - and since we had also visited the Navajo National Monument before - we headed out early for a "bonus" stop at the Grand Canyon en route to our three day - kickback stay in Sedona.

Grand Canyon: Now what can you say about the Grand Canyon? http://tinyurl.com/7g4pusx Simply put - it should never be missed if one is in the area - as it has something of everything we toured during the previous two days - with perhaps the exception of the numerous hoo-doo spires that you find in Bryce.

We have been to the GC several times before - but it is always just that - GRAND - and this time, thanks to our good 10 power binoculars - we were even able to watch 8 different rafts running through two different sets of rapids. It's truly one of a kind, and one of these trips - will get down on the River for the rafting trip - much more exciting than the half day float trip we once took out of Page - pretty but tame.

Sedona: Continuing on - we drove out the GC via the southern exit - and then south of Flagstaff - along the Oak Creek Canyon http://tinyurl.com/d6lerdg into beautiful Sedona - http://tinyurl.com/6vmsx2l

Now - while we have been in Sedona before - we never had the opportunity to leisurely explore it for three days - interspersed with some chilling out/pool time, but that's another story - with downloaded pics to follow ............................ :)

While in Sedona, I noticed the weather report for Phoenix was to be 112 degrees on Friday, so we left at 6 am to beat the heat - and had a nice drive back to San Diego - via Prescott - arriving mid-afternoon.

OK - can't wait for the next "Road Warrior" trip. :)

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