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Trip Report Water in the Desert - The Great Southwest National Parks Trip

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We expected to have a great time on our Great Southwest Adventure - but didn't expect to find that water played as important a part as it did. We found rivers, waterfalls, even lakes where we did not expect them. Contrasted with the spectacular southwestern desert scenery it made for a wonderful trip. Of course we realized this while we were on the trip, but it really hit me when I was editing the photos.

Overview - this trip it was just me and my sister-in-law Allison. We left the husbands (and my kids) at home. I started with 3 days in Vegas (on which I'll do a separate trip report) before Allison joined me. We then did thee days in Bryce, two at the Grand Canyon North Rim, and two in Zion before going back to Vegas to drop the car and fly to Albuquerque. We then drove to Mesa Verde/Silverton/Durango Colorado and ending with four days in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Taos, Tent Rocks, Albuquerque).

The best part of my trip reports are the photos - they are at:
Bryce and Zion - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/utah
Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/arizona
Mesa Verde, Silverton, Durango - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/colorado
Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque, Tent Rocks - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/new_mexico

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    Flights - Both of us flew Southwest -out, back and between Vegas and Albuquerque. Having never flown Southwest before I am now a huge fan. On-time, great service, nice seats. I paid for the speedy boarding for some of the flights and checked in on line exactly 24 hours ahead for the others and always got in the A group - and always got a seat I wanted. Their prices are not as much cheaper than the 'regular' airlines as say EasyJet in Europe is, but still reasonable. And their baggage allowance is very nice.

    Car - We rented with Alamo and were very satisfied. I was overall kind of disappointed at the prices I was finding, but Alamo was better than the rest. It took a LOT of research but finally figured it was way cheaper to do separate rentals even including the extra flight ($137) than to drop off in a different city than pick up. We also managed to get a number of 'discounts' and free second driver which helped. Still, it came to over $35 a day. The cars and the service were fine though.

    We booked all our accommodations on line way ahead of time. We choose to stay IN the parks at GC and Mesa Verde as there is no other reasonable options with out long drives. GC was full but most of the places we went there were some vacancies even if you were to show up without reservations.

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    You can still check in online 24hrs ahead with SW and still usually sit where you want to. It is really easy to do this if you are flying solo, as you did. I have flown SW many times and only about 10 percent of the time have I not been to sit together. Both times was on tight connection times.

    Really nice shot of Emerald Pools waterfall-It was barely going when we were there a couple of years ago. HOw far down the Narrows did you Go?

    Iv'e been to the GC 3 times, but haven't made it to the NR yet. Tent Rocks look interesting too.

    Looks like a great trip with good weather. The blue sky of UT against the red rocks is hard to beat.

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    Great photos and great trip!!!

    On the Navajo Loop / Queens Garden trail I don't remember what looked like a tunnel. #140 / 15.

    You started at bryce then went to Lower Calf creek Falls, then to Zion and over to Horseshoe Bend.

    Did you consider Devil's Garden Escalante between Bryce and Lower Calf Creek falls? Or Antelope Canyon once you were in Page.

    That's a hot 3/4 mile hike to Horseshoe bend. And no shade.

    I've been to that area several times and you're whetting my appetite for more.

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    Deb - thanks for liking the photos, your advice was so helpful in planning the trip. As you can see, we did make it to Tent Rocks!

    Myer - you also were a great help in planning the trip. We went to Calf Creek Falls on the day we had planned to go to Willis Creek - the ranger in Cannonville said the thunderstorm threat was too high. I was so disappointed but Calf Creek did turn out to be wonderful. Antelope Canyon was my next big disappointment - as you'll see when I get to that part of my report - it was so crowded we would have had to wait for close to three hours in 110 degree weather to get in. I might have even done that, by I couldn't do that to my traveling companion.

    We did have great weather. It rained several days, but usually it was the late afternoon variety so didn't ruin whole days. And most of the time it wasn't awfully hot - the hike to Horseshoe Bend almost killed us, but other than that we found water or shade to make the heat bearable.

    Now here's the actual report....

    Friday, August 12 - We met up in Vegas, and picked up our car from Alamo at the car rental center. Crazy huge but no lines at 8 am on a Friday. You could see they were set up for huge lines which they must get at times but we got lucky. We got our reserved Ford Fussion and directions to I-15. Decided to head straight out of Vegas and look for a place to buy provisions in a smaller town.

    St. George had a Wal-mart (and looked like every other chain store known to America) and we stocked up with groceries for the week, had lunch at the Subway there and continued on. Once on Rt 14 the scenery got really good. Drove by the bottom of Cedar Breaks National Monument and then onto Rt 89 – less dramatic but still great, and then you turn onto Rt 12 which is really extremely scenic. The drive goes through Red Canyon and we started seeing hoodoos and stone arches and huge red stone outcroppings. And then we were there – Ruby’s.

    Ruby’s is everything its website says it is – the busiest place in Bryce – the only place besides the Bryce Lodge (which was really not that interesting looking). There are at least half a dozen motel buildings, a laundry, a ‘fast food’ restaurant and the main building housing the hotel registration, a massive gift shop, a small grocery store and a huge restaurant. Plus two gas stations. What more could you want. The campground is just down the road.
    The room was great – huge: two queen beds, table and chairs, desk, fridge (really cold), microwave, coffee maker, big bathroom. Everything was clean, comfortable – the perfect place to base to explore Bryce. I sound like an add but really it does have everything. However at about $150 a night it was actually our most expensive lodging.

    A short drive and we were at the entrance to the park. The main road (aka ‘Scenic Drive’) through the park does not have many over looks – the ‘points’ (sunrise, sunset, Bryce, inspiration, etc) are short drives off the main road. On the main road you would never know the amphitheater and all those hoodoos were even there. In fact the original 'Ruby' apparently set up his homestead and lived there for quite a while before he discovered what was literally in his back yard.

    We went to Bryce and Inspiration Points and were just blown away by the view – those hoodoos are well named, they are magical. Neither pictures nor words can come close to capturing it. We spent I don’t know how long just looking.
    Eventually we needed dinner so went to the fast food restaurant which was less than impressive. But it filled us up and we were able to get back to Sunset Point for sunset. And the full moon! We were lucky enough to be at Bryce for a full moon – and it came up pretty early, around 8:30. Bryce offers “Full Moon Walks” with a ranger but you have to get (free) tickets for them by waiting on a line at around 6 am. I originally thought they went down into the canyon (they require lug sole foot ware) but I think they just do the rim walk, and you can certainly do that on your own. Unfortunately it was cloudy the next two nights so we only got the one full moon. But the hoodoos are really interesting in that light too - they almost look alive. Great, but a little creepy.

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    Saturday, August 13 Bryce Canyon: Navajo/Queens Garden Trail, Scenic Drive

    I got up for sunrise and got to Sunrise Point when it was still pretty dark – but the point was already full of people waiting for sunrise. Yes it is truly amazing to see the hoodoos wake up. They change color and character. Spent an hour or so just watching them change. It was a beautiful sunrise and worth waking up in the dark for.

    After breakfast and collecting Allison we headed back out to Sunset Point and began our hike down Navajo Trail through ‘Wall Street’ and through Queens Garden and back up. This is considered one of the best 3 mile hikes in the world and it really is. Going down through Wall Street some areas are so narrow as to be almost a slot canyon. Some areas are very steep – switch backs – but most of it is fairly easy – going down that is, you do have to come back up to get out. It’s steeper going down Navajo and easier back up Queen’s Garden and I’m glad we did it this way – people seemed mixed in opinion as to which route is better and there were plenty of people going in both directions. This was the most crowded area (other than Sunrise and Sunset Points themselves) in all of Bryce. But it wasn’t bad (just not at all ‘solitude’). And we had several nice conversations with the few other English speakers we encountered. It was literally 90% foreigners – the vast majority were French and Italian, followed to a lesser degree by German, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Eastern European and a scattering of Brits/Australians. I think it actually helped make me feel like I was on a trip to Europe.

    There were people of all ages but most were in pretty good shape – this was considered a ‘moderate’ hike and you don’t have to be in great shape or an athlete to do it, but anyone with medical or mobility problems would have a hard time. The “altitude” issue is real. Definitely found myself winded and heart pounding after a level of exertion that does not cause that back at sea level where I live. I don’t remember that at all from my previous times out west but that could be due to one of two things – one I was younger, and two, I lived there (and drove out) so it was much more gradual – flying out for just a few weeks it’s a more sudden change.

    We had lunch at Ruby’s buffet – it’s cheaper at lunch ($20 including ice tea, tax and tip) than at dinner plus we’d have the afternoon to work off all that gluttony. It really was pretty good.

    The afternoon we did the ‘Scenic Drive’ – 17 miles to the southern end of the park. We stated off by seeing a prong horn (looks like an antelope) which was cool – there are tons of deer but not many of these. If you are pressed for time though, the “Scenic Drive” is not really very scenic. There are numerous overlooks, by far the best of which is the Natural Bridge – a very impressive stone arch. But by far the best part of Bryce is from the entrance to Bryce Point.

    At the far end of the scenic drive is the Bristlecone Loop Trail, from Rainbow Point, which leads to a 1,600-year-old bristlecone pine, believed to be one of the oldest living things at Bryce Canyon. Unfortunately it looked entirely dead. Bristlecone Loop is an easy one mile hike through forest with a few moderately good view points.

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    It's best to listen to the warnings about rain and a slot canyon. There is always plenty of other things to see. And you did The Narrows, which is a slot. I have done 4 or 5 slots now and it is amazing to me how each one is really different and unique.

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    It wasn't actually a tunnel - it was a huge rock overhang that you could walk under, but not a tunnel. We came across quite a lot of them on the trip, this one was about the biggest though.

    I know you do have to listen to those warnings, and in the case of the day we wanted to do Willis Creek it was probably a good idea - there were thunderstorms that afternoon, whether we would have made it in and back out before they happened, well it obviously wasn't worth the risk. Plus we did get to see Calf Creek Falls. And now I'll just have to go back. But Willis Creek (thanks to Myer's descriptions and photos of it) was something I really wanted to do.

    Unfortunately I didn't get very far into the Narrows, just have to go back and do that one again too.

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    isabel,
    I've been to Willis Creek twice. The first time it had drizzled slightly and at the visitors center they told us we should be ok.

    It didn't rain again but we notice on the way back the creek was a couple of inches higher than on the way out.

    It doesn't have to be raining there. If it's raining somewhere in one of the feeders it will find it's way there.

    On the other hand, I can't see Willis Creek ever being a problem. There are about half a dozen slots. Each one is no more than a 100-150 yards long. In between there's a fair amount of open area. If it were to come down you could always make it to an open area and walk up the side.

    Easy for me to say in front of my computer. Better safe than sorry or not at all.

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    Myer - yeah, that's how I felt too. Your description and photos of Willis Creek are very inspiring and I do hope to get back there and hike it eventually.

    Sunday, August 14: Mossy Cave Trail, Rt 12, & Calf Creek Falls

    We woke to mostly cloudy skies. Oh well, we did have one gorgeous day. We first went to the Mossy Cave Trail, it’s north of the park on Rt 12. Small parking area (with vault toilet rest room) – hardly anyone there. There’s a nice stream, bigger than I expected and it’s an easy peaceful walk along it, with some impressive hoodoos along the way, to a small waterfall. There’s also a small cave with water dripping and of course, moss. It’s only about a mile round trip.

    Next we drove Rt 12 through Tropic – I think the population sign said about 400. Then on to Cannonville, pop 148 – the AAA guidebook says that at one time Cannonville was called ‘gunshot’ because it was too small to qualify as a cannon. There is a visitor center there for Grand Staircase Escanlante National Monument and Kodachrome State Park. The ranger unfortunately told us we should not do Willis Creek today, the flash flood danger was too high. Major bummer as I really wanted to do that. He suggested we do Calf Creek Falls hike instead as that one is safe to do should it rain. It’s about another hour east on Rt 12 but it’s a beautiful drive. We stopped in the town of Escalante, pop 848. Most everything (not that is much to begin with) was closed as it was Sunday but the Escalante Outfitters was open and has a small café with excellent gourmet pizza, so we had lunch there.

    Rt 12 between Escalante and Calf Creek Falls Trailhead has several scenic pull outs and we pretty much used up our stash of adjectives commenting on the scenery.

    Calf Creek Falls Trailhead is well marked on Rt 12, there is also a campground and rest rooms and drinking water available. There’s a $2 fee, and you can pick up a trail guide from a metal box at the beginning of the trail. The hike is over 6 miles round trip – but WORTH it. Gorgeous scenery all the way – huge rock walls, little caves, the creek visible part of the way, the plants – sage, scrub oaks, Indian paint brush, flowering cactus – all beautifully contrasting with the vermillion, and white and yellow rocks. Just amazing. The path does do quite a bit of up and down, and in some areas you have to climb small rocks (not rock climbing at all, just kind of need to scramble up a bit) and the path is very sandy in parts so walking is not that easy – but overall the elevation gain is minimal. It’s a mix of shade and sun. It’s considered a ‘moderate’ hike. But the reward, at the end is Calf Creek Falls – a 126 foot water fall into a deep green pool in a grotto surrounded by shade trees. I don’t have adjectives to describe this one.

    The sun had come out as we started the hike – and between having to stop every five feet to take a photo and the heat (it was over 90) it took us about 2 hours to hike in. We were there an hour or so, eating out trail mix and just watching and listening to the falls. There were about 7 or 8 other people there, and we passed maybe 20 or so hiking out as we hiked in. So didn’t feel desolate, but we had solitude most of the time. But as we started back out it clouded up again quickly and we heard thunder and could see lightening in the distance. It was breezy and cool (which was nice) and it started to drizzle – it was a tad scary to think we’d be in the desert in a thunder storm. But we made it back to the car in 1 hr 20 minutes just as it started to really rain. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – sun for great views/photos on the way in, cool on the way out and didn’t get stuck in the thunderstorm. When we got back to Ruby’s at Bryce there was another, much more severe thunderstorm.

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    Mossy Cave is the only water in Bryce. Last September I took my daughter to SW Utah for 3 days (she didn't want to leave her husband and daughter for longer) of hiking around.

    The day we arrived we drove from Las Vegas (with stops in Valley of Fire and Kolob Canyons (Zion) to Escalante (arrived 10:30PM). The first full day we went to Devil's Garden (Escalante), Lower Calf Creek Falls and Willis Creek. We're both into photography so these were great sights.

    By then my daughter was pretty tired so we skipped Mossy Cave and got into Bryce just too late for sunset. We stayed in the park. I like your photos of Mossy Cave. Interesting that very few people bother to go there.

    As I write my daughter is in Las Vegas for the Photoshop conference and her husband is in Tucson writing some board exams.

    Their plan is to go to GC on Saturday and hopefully Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon on Sunday before returning home on Monday. I can see them sleeping in both days and staying at GC.

    They don't keep the same pace that I do.

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    Yeah Mossy Cave was quite pleasant and it was our first "water in the desert" experience. It was starting to cloud up already, it was almost deserted and was just a really nice, easy hike.

    Monday, August 15 Kanab UT and Grand Canyon North Rim

    We woke to bright sunshine. The drive to the Grand Canyon first went through Red Canyon on Rt 12 (the road goes through two very impressive arches not far from Bryce). You can actually see quite a few hoodoos from the road in Red Canyon which is part of the Dixie National Forest which stretches from the Nevada Border to Capitol Reef Park. There’s a visitor center on Rt 12 with info on hikes. Rt 89 south to Kanab is less of a ‘wow’ but is quite pretty – much more green, alpine like than ‘southwest’.

    Kanab – medium sized town (3500 pop) with plenty of services: (gas, McDonalds, many motels and restaurants). We stopped at the Frontier Movie Town which consists of original movie sets from a variety of TV shows and big screen movies. It’s free, but you have to walk through an extensive gift shop with Indian jewelry, and cowboy boots and hats, etc. Had a quick McD lunch as we were in a hurry to get to the GC.

    Alt Rt 89 heads south to Jacob Lake, the last ‘town’ before the road to the north rim. Gas and one motel. Rt 67 is a beautiful drive but not at all what you’d expect for Arizona. It’s all alpine meadow – with quaking aspen and millions of pine trees and lots of gorgeous wildflowers: pink, yellow, blue, white. Everything quite green and lush. There was a pretty large stretch that had been burned but that actually made for really pretty landscape.

    Grand Canyon Lodge is at the end of the road, cabins all around – you can’t see the canyon till you go into (or around) the lodge and then it just opens out. The fact that it’s nothing – and then there it is! - makes for a much more impressive sight than if you came upon it slowly. There’s a huge ‘sun’ room with giant windows, the dining room also has a wall of windows. There are terraces on both sides, lined with Adirondack chairs facing the ‘view’.

    We had the least expensive lodging option – Frontier Cabins but they are perfectly adequate – a double and a single bed, desk, bathroom. They are log cabins so feel nice and rustic but the beds are about the most comfortable I’ve experienced. My bed right next to the open window with a breeze of incredibly fresh air blowing in on me all night, the sound of the wind (it really wasn’t that windy) through the canyon – great sleeping conditions. The scent of pine is so strong that if you smelled it in a shop or somewhere you’d say they were over-doing it and it couldn’t possibly really smell like that. Our cabin came complete with a pet mouse.

    We explored around the lodge – there are a few little ledges that you can walk out onto (with railings) for better views but the main event here is Bright Angel Point – about half a mile from the lodge – paved path, with railings where necessary, but a good bit of up and down and the elevation makes you really feel it. Several places to sit on rocks (and one bench) and different views around every turn. From here you really can see the south rim 11 miles away – you can just make out the tiny specks of glistening of light that’s from the cars and buildings over there.

    We checked out the visitor center, gift shop, and food options – the dining room requires reservations and is pretty expensive (entrees are $20-35, that doesn’t include drinks) but there is also the Deli in the Pines which has pizza, sandwiches, salads, ice cream, etc. Allison got a huge green salad with tuna for $7 and I got a pulled brisket sandwich on a ciabatta roll with cole slaw for $9. Really good.

    I went back to Bright Angel Point for Sunset – just gorgeous the way the light changes and both sky and canyon turn pink, purple, dark blue.

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    Wonderful report, isabel, together with your terrific photos. One of my most memorable travel moments was walking into the Lodge at the North Rim and reflexively taking a step back, the canyon was so close.

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    I didn't think the Mossy Cave itself was that great. But, I did like the waterfall and the fact that the little town, a few miles downstream, had built the waterway to have drinking water to the town. I read something that in the 100 years(i think that's about right) that it only stopped running once(during a severe drought about 10 years ago).

    Calf Creek falls was much colder than I expected. I did get in for a couple of minutes though.

    If you have a National Park Pass, it covers you at Calf Creek Falls entrance fee too.

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    bon_voyage - yeah that first sighting of the GC is incredible, even though I'd read about how you come upon it suddenly like that in the lodge, and I'd even been to the GC previous to this trip - but it was still amazing.

    spiro - agree Mossy Cave it self was a real dud, but the hike was great. And we were really impressed with the waterfall. Now if we had done Calf Creek Falls first then the Mossy Cave waterfall would not have been so impressive. I didn't know the Natl Park Pass covered Calf Creek Falls, but it was only $2, and it's a good cause. But nice to know.

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    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 Grand Canyon North Rim

    Well sunset (7:20 pm) was amazing, but sunrise (5:45 am) was beyond amazing. I got up just before 5:30 and as I was passing the Saloon/Breakfast Bar the man inside said the coffee was ready so come on in even though they don’t officially open till 5:30. Got coffee and a bagel and took it to eat on the terrace. Beautiful blues and pinks and purples – the canyon not yet awake. Only a couple other people around.

    I walked out to Bright Angel Point and got there just as the sun rose over the canyon walls. There were about 20 people there, half the number that were there at sunset, and they were all very quiet – the few who spoke literally did so in a whisper. Sunrise itself is not the ‘event’ it is say over the ocean. It’s the way the canyon slowly wakes up and the colors change, literally just before your eyes. After a few minutes I started walking back and sat on a rock at one area with a particularly expansive view and didn’t see a sole, or hear a noise for at least fifteen minutes. Just me and the canyon. It was one of those “this is why I travel” moments – those moments when even a city person feels that nothing could be better at this moment- I can’t imagine anything in the world being more peaceful.

    Allison and I drove out to Cape Royal – it’s a 20 mile drive with many pullouts for overlooks – all amazing. And we stopped at all of them. The first one is Greenland Lake just space for 3 cars, a very short walk to a ‘lake’ which is really a marsh. But lovely, and there was a buck grazing who let me photograph him.

    Next is Vista Encantada, ‘just’ a pull out but with nice views – ‘nice’ - clearly we are spoiled to consider this view merely ‘nice’. Soon after is Point Roosevelt, where Roosevelt camped in 1913, which led him to make this a national park. Also ‘nice’. Walhlla Overlook has some ancient Indian ruins, not clearly visible but the sign tells about them. The next pull out has a view of Angels Window and across the road is the trail head for Cliff Spring Tail. Close to the beginning of this trail is an ancient Indian granary. The path then descends through the alpine forest. You would never know you were in the southwest or anywhere near the Grand Canyon – it could be the Rocky Mts. At close to half a mile the path runs along a giant rock overhang – which goes for quite a while. You could see areas where water clearly dripped at some times of the year but was dry in August. We stopped although you could have gone further so I don’t know if there was any more of a spring.

    At the end of the road is Cape Royal Point / Angel’s Window – a very large parking area with vault toilets and a paved ½ mile path, lined with signs describing the fauna and flora in the area. It forks and one path goes to Angel’s Window, the other to Cape Royal. “Nice”, “Amazing”, “Incredible”, “Breathtaking” – none of these adjectives really do these views justice. Before the path forks it overlooks Angels Window (the path to it takes you up on top of it) – and the Colorado River is perfectly framed in the window. Both these viewpoints are probably the ‘best’ on the north rim.

    The view from the lodge, and even from Bright Angel Point are wonderful, but if you are going to take the time to visit the north rim you really need to make time to do this drive. With stops and all the short hikes it can easily take half a day – and there are several 4 mile hikes you could add if you had the time and inclination. But you can make it out there and back in a couple hours if that’s all you have – and it would still be worth it.

    After about four hours of amazing driving, lots of canyon gazing and short hikes from the overlooks we were hungry (the trail mix wasn’t cutting it) and tired (I had gotten up for sunrise) so went back to the cabin for lunch and a nap. My need to see and photograph the canyon in the better light of late afternoon led me to venture out again. Allison elected to stay and hike around the lodge area.

    The second time I first took the Point Imperial turnoff - 3 mile detour from the Cape Royal road. Of course it was great, but no greater than any of the other overlooks so I’d skip this one if time was limited. I will say the overlooks are mostly facing east on this road (Cape Royal itself faces both ways) so it’s much better in the afternoon. I had inquired about this of the ranger in the visitor center the day before but he implied it was great either morning or afternoon – it really is MUCH better in the afternoon. With anything, but especially with distant views like you get in the Grand Canyon, having the sun behind you brings out the color and definition of what you are looking at. Facing into the sun, or at high noon, things look washed out and flat compare to early/late in the day and with the sun behind you.

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    Wednesday, Aug 17 – GCNR to Zion via Page

    The road from the north rim to Jacob Lake (~ 45 miles) is two lane but quite straight and goes through beautiful alpine meadows with aspen and pine trees and tons of gorgeous wild flowers. We saw a large herd of bison grazing and sleeping. There must have been a hundred of them, including lots of calves (or whatever baby bison are called).

    Once past Jacob lake we turned east on Alt 89 towards Page. We descended 2000 feet almost immediately and were back in the desert southwest. Red mesas, long vistas, sagebrush. Quite a few turnouts for scenic views. Hardly any traffic till you get to Rt 89. A lot of this land is Navajo and there are a pair of bridges over the Colorado called the ‘Navajo Bridge’ – an original one, now pedestrian, and a newer one for cars. Awesome bridges plus the view down to the river and all around is wonderful. We were surprised at the color of the river – extremely dark green. A few Indians were selling jewelry (they were also at many of the scenic overlooks).

    A little before Page you can see Lake Powel in the distance. As we approached Page we saw the parking area for Horse Shoe Bend but as it was just about 11:30 we decided to forgo it so as to get to Antelope Canyon in time for the noon tour. Well, the line of cars was the first signal we probably wouldn’t make that tour but when we got to the booth we found the next one also sold out – meaning it would be 2 ½ before we could go, and clearly it was going to be very crowded. I knew Allison was in a hurry to get to Zion so I couldn’t really ask her to wait around in 110 degree heat for that long. (Plus it would have been $62 for the two of us). So my second planned slot canyon was also not to be.

    So as a consolation we went back to Horse Shoe Bend. It’s a ¾ mile walk each way, mostly on sand (bright pink/salmon colored) – which is of course much harder to walk on than hard pack – and there is no doubt you are IN THE DESERT – some desert sage bushes and sand and bright sun and hot – 110 degrees. And it’s up and down and up again. You can barely see that there’s anything there till you get really close and then you can see a large ‘fault’ in the ground and then you see it’s the canyon carved by the river. Of course it is spectacular. To see the whole ‘horseshoe’ you have to get right to the edge. It’s a long way down to certain death if you fell. If the rock were not so blazing hot you could lie down to get safely (well sort of safely) to the edge but it was too hot to even kneel. But I managed to get close enough to get a shot – Allison stayed back quite a ways. There were really quite a good number of people there. The walk back to the car nearly killed us. And I drank the whole liter of ice water I had with me.

    In serious need of salt, liquid, and air conditioning we stopped at the first place we came to which was McDonald’s (again!). Just past Page heading toward Kanab, you pass the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powel – sort of looks like moon scape. We were pretty much in a hurry to get to Zion at this point so didn’t do any exploring. Then we hit 17 miles of construction so it took a while. Still lots of quintessential desert southwest scenery – red and gold cliffs and mesas and weird rock formations growing out of the ground.

    Soon after Kanab you turn off Rt 89 onto Rt 9 at Mt Carmel Junction (one or two hotels) and head into Zion. The scenery just gets more and more spectacular. Allison drove through the really scenic sections of the trip so I could shoot out the window – and I did a lot of that on this stretch. The road is 24 miles and about half way you enter the park and the scenery just gets even better – tall sandstone cliffs and mesas and mountains with all kinds of curvy formations in pink and white and gold. There is a one mile tunnel and a series of 6 switch backs and then you pass the turn up into Zion Canyon which you can only drive if you are staying at the lodge – otherwise you go to the main visitor’s center where there are shuttle buses to take you into the canyon. We continued one mile further into the town of Spingdale where there are plenty of motels, restaurants, and shops selling jewelry, rocks, and hippy/southwestern items – plus a few adventure outfitters.

    We found Zion Park Motel – an older, family run motel but it was perfectly fine – huge room, 2 queen beds, big TV, fridge, microwave, wi-fi. No coffee maker though, maybe a Mormon thing cause there was certainly everything else all the modern American motels had.

    It was either 5 or 6 o’clock depending on whose time zone you were in (we decided to stop changing and just stick to Vegas time as that’s where we were flying out of – other wise we would have changed five times in the one week). So we quickly dropped the bags and went outside to catch the shuttle. You take one loop of shuttle which goes up and down Rt 9 (Main St) Springdale to the Visitor Center – then walk through the entrance (pay or show your pass) and get the other loop of shuttle into the canyon. Both are free.

    We walked the Pa’rus Trail – beautiful paved path along the river (by the campgrounds) up to Canyon Junction where we got the shuttle back.

    Dinner at Oscars – Mexican (also have American). Good but not great, especially for the price ($24 for burrito which came with salad, plus a coke – they have margueritas painted on their window but when we ordered them they said they only have beer and wine.)

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    Thursday, August 18 - Zion

    Allison got up at 5:30 – which was just before sunrise in the GC but here it was over an hour before sunrise. The first shuttle does go that early (no idea why) so she found herself pretty lonely in the dark canyon – she was able to get a coffee at 6:30 in the lodge. I ‘slept’ in till 6:30 but even then there was no place open for coffee till 7 when I got coffee and a chocolate croissant at the new age coffee shop across the street from the motel (substitute pony tails and torn jeans for the tattoos and it could have been 1974).

    I started with the Emerald Pools trail opposite the Lodge. Lower pool is an easy ½ mile walk on a mostly paved trail leading to a beautiful (but small after Calf Creek) water fall and a little pool of water that is really really green. The path to the middle pool is mostly rock steps and steep paths, not challenging, just a tough slog up the hill. The middle pool is much smaller and there’s not much in the way of waterfall – just a trickle over some rocks. On to the upper –ran into Allison who said it was a boring ½ mile and she never did find the upper pool so I canned it and went back down with her.

    Next I did the Weeping Rock trail – also paved and not very long but pretty steep – passed a deer having breakfast on some scrub oaks who was not at all bothered by several tourists gawking at him. The Weeping rock is pretty much what you would expect from the name – kind of like a gentle rain off the top of the overhang. Not the most impressive thing in the park.

    Then the Riverside Walk – beautiful easy paved path along the river. Lots of little paths (unpaved, many steep) down to the river where there are little waterfalls, pools people were swimming in, etc. Ran into Allison again who had gone to the start of the Narrows but wasn’t about to walk in the river.
    I really wanted to do it but had no stick and was worried about the cameras getting wet. You can rent shoes, stick and waterproof bag from the adventure outfitters (and you can even rent/buy sticks other places too) but I had thought it would be colder than it was. I watched as people crossed the river in flip flops, bare feet, sneakers, crocs, etc – at least half without sticks. Then some people coming out offered up their sticks (not rented/bought type, just actual sticks – but sturdy and good sized) so I took one and went in. It was great, after crossing the river – about a foot deep but rather swift moving – but not really slippery if you go slow, especially with a stick for balance – there is a pretty long stretch that is dry (this is August) so I walked till you had to go back into the water and this time is was thigh deep so I couldn’t do it with the cameras. But it was a great start, just wish I had done more. If I had known what it was like I would have rented the walking stick/camera bag and gone further. But you also need many hours to get to the really good parts and Allison really didn’t want to do it. So I didn’t get to do any of the three SLOT Canyons I wanted – have to make another trip just for the slots (canyons, not vegas).

    It was about 20 degrees cooler in the narrows than back out on the Riverside Walk- even that wasn’t too bad, lots of shade and lots of places to go down to the river to cool off. But still it was 110 degrees so by the time I got back to the lodge I was in need of a giant ice tea and a sit in the shade.

    Went back over to the bridge leading to Emerald Pools for a shot of the river in better light than in the early morning and the horses were just coming back from their ride so watched them for a while (you don’t actually ride them, you just sit on them – but could be a fun way to see some of the park).
    I took the shuttle to Court of the Patriacs – very short paved path to a view point not much better than what you can see from the road. But across the road is the Sand Bench Trail – which was covered in fresh horse poop, plus I was pretty tired of walking in sand so I just climbed down to the river again for a walk along there for a while.

    By now I had been in the canyon for over 7 hours and it was 110 degrees so back to the hotel to rest for a while. Checked out a few of the shops in town, the photos at the “Museum of Photography” near the Visitor Center (wonderful photos of Antelope Canyon, the ‘Subway’ in the Narrows, etc), the exhibits at the visitor center and walked by river near Pa’rus trail.

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    Too bad you had such bad luck with the slots.

    Actually, I don't put any two of them in the same category.

    Antelope Canyon isn't a real hike. It's more like a walk in the park that anybody can do.

    For Willis Creek the real adventure is getti ng there and the hike is pretty easy.

    I was amused by your description of Horsehoe Bend. I was there at the very beginning of June several years ago. It was pretty warm but not 110 degrees.

    I to was afraid of walking to the edge. I lied down a few feet from the edge and crawled.


    I expected my first trip to Utah to be it. I've been there three time so far. I'm sure you're planning a return.

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    Myer - you are definitely right about that. So much I want to do again, and so much more I didn't get to do this trip. It's funny cause this trip was really my sister in law's idea. I am very much into Europe travel - two trips a year for the past ten years. I did travel a lot in this country when I was in college - in fact even picked the college because of the location (CSU) (yes I know that's not how you should choose a college). So I guess I felt like I had 'seen' all these places. But you certainly see things differently a couple decades later than you do in college and now I just want more, so even though it probably won't be for a couple of years I'm already planning it.

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    Friday and Saturday - We did a few short hikes in Zion in the morning and then drove back to Vegas. I had spent three days there at the beginning of the trip so we just got back in time to return the car and have dinner. I'm doing a separate report on Vegas http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/a-skeptic-goes-to-vegas.cfm

    We flew to Albuquerque for the second week of our trip on Saturday, picked up our new car and drove to Durango. By mid afternoon on Saturday it was raining pretty hard, and that drive is not very pretty to begin with.

    Sunday, August 21, MESA VERDE

    Only an half an hour drive to Mesa Verde Entrance Gate. Very typical Colorado scenery – ragged peak mountains in the distance, green trees and meadows, ranches. So different from NM, AZ, UT – and yet so close. I guess it was pretty clear where to draw the state lines.

    Half hour drive from Entrance Gate to Far View Visitor Center/ Lodge. We got there at only 9:30 so way too early to check in so we went to the Visitor Center where they were more than happy to sell us tickets for the 10:00 Cliff House and 11:30 Balcony House tours (no mention of not doing both on the same day).

    Cliff House was very easy, a couple 10 foot ladders but nothing at all scary. Cliff House is huge and very impressive. It’s impressive from the overlook, which is where you meet the tour guide (large tour ~50 people), and impressive up close.

    Balcony House – This one is nowhere near as impressive visually. It’s very interesting that it was so hard to get to, but other than that the other major dwellings are larger and more interesting. After a walk down a lot of steps (hand rail) you do climb a 32 foot ladder. It’s well bolted at top and bottom and doesn’t wobble or move but some people still have trouble with it. You are out in the open (no trees or rocks on either side like the ladder at Cliff House). Allison decided that while the Cliff House ladders didn’t really bother her, she wouldn’t do Balcony House. I think a lot of people make that decision. They ‘warn’ you about it when you buy the tickets, and again at the beginning of the tour – they really warn you. After the first ‘room’, you climb through a narrow opening to the next room. After that one (15 min long ‘talks’ in each room, plus at the beginning of the tour and beginning of the ladder) you have to crawl through a narrow 12 foot long tunnel. A couple of guys almost didn’t make it. I’m surprised they don’t measure you first. But I didn’t feel it was claustrophobic at all. Finally there is a rather steep set of steps carved into the rock face of the cliff – now that is the most scary and dangerous part, I would think far worse for people with fear of heights than the ladders. The ladders even have hand rails at the top so getting off the ladder is not even difficult. They have installed a kind of metal mesh fence which I’m sure has saved a number of lives and does make it a lot less scary. Then another ladder and you are out. Other than bragging rights that you did it (there is a tee-shirt in the visitor center that says ‘I survived Balcony House’ just like the one in Zion that says ‘I survived the Narrows’ and ‘I survived Angels Landing’) – I don’t think anyone should do Balcony House if they are worried, it's just not worth it. I personally found it kind of fun but I’m not afraid of ladders or tunnels.

    Spruce Tree House Terrace – nice place for lunch, cafeteria style.

    Spruce Tree House – this one I really liked- no ladders (although I kind of enjoyed the ladders), no ranger led tour – just go through at your own pace, although there were a couple of rangers there to answer questions and there is a guide pamphlet that you can purchase for fifty cents. It’s the best preserved, and one of the largest of the dwellings.

    Far View Lodge – it’s not as quaint as the log cabins at the Grand Canyon, but more rustic than the Comfort Inn type places – plenty big with two double beds, fridge, coffee maker. View is pretty nice. Right after we checked in the skies opened up to a tremendous thunder storm. Very impressive, and nice (given that we were safe in our room). It cleared up just in time to go to the Terrace Café for dinner (pulled pork sandwich and chips plus soda for $9.50, Allison had a ‘southwest’ taco which uses fry dough instead of a taco shell).

    At sunset the view upgraded to spectacular. Plus in the other direction there was a rainbow and there was a family of four deer- including two fawns – grazing right next to us. They are clearly not afraid of humans and let me get very close to photograph them. Unfortunately it was pretty dark so they are a little ‘fuzzy’ in the photos.

    This trip has had some pretty amazing moments – full moon while we were at Bryce Canyon, herds of bison grazing just where we are driving by, deer outside our room, sunsets, rainbows, the thunder storms all occurring just when we get into our car or room. So far we've really had a great trip.

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    I’m surprised they don’t measure you first. There is a mock-up of the tunnel just outside of the Visitor Center, indicating that you must climb through a tunnel that is this size. And if you are "of size", the rangers will talk to you.

    Again, all of this sounds like just a wonderful trip and your pictures certainly give support to that end. It is pretty here, no doubt about it.

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    Enjoying the trip report thus far.

    A note about bristlecone pines -- older trees may appear dead on casual observance, but actually aren't. At the risk of citing Wikipedia:

    "In very old specimens, often only a narrow strip of living tissue connects the roots to a handful of live branches."

    And bristlecones live an exceptionally long time, probably longer than any other tree.

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    Deb - yes you do live in a beautiful part of the country. Thanks for all your help in planning. As I finish my report you'll see we did make it to Tent Rocks and LOVED it.

    Interesting note about the bristlecone pines. I did look at it pretty carefully looking for signs of life but maybe I missed it.

    Monday, August 22, Silverton/Durango

    After breakfast at Far View Terrace, we were about to go buy tickets to Long House but decided the three dwellings we had already done were enough. They are all fairly similar, as is the scenery and so we decided we’d rather go to Silverton instead. Silverton was the day we had cut from the original itinerary when Allison realized she needed to get home on Saturday, and so we were thinking we might be able to squeeze it in before driving to Santa Fe, but that would have been rushed and a long day.

    So we drove from Far View to Durango (½ hr to the entrance, another ½ hour from there to Durango) and then on up Rt 550 (aka Million Dollar Highway) into the San Juan mountains. It’s fifty miles from Durango to Silverton. There was a lot of ‘wow’ing. The mountains, valleys, meadows, wildflowers, streams, lakes – it was all better than I had remembered (and very much like the Alps). Allison was really impressed. So green after Arizona and Utah.

    Molas Pass, elevation 10,900 feet is one of the highest in Colorado but the drive is relatively tame. The view from the pass is spectacular – two meadow lakes, wildflowers and majestic peaks. The air on Molas Pass has earned the distinction of being the cleanest in the USA.

    Silverton’s population is only about 500 year round residents, but felt larger than I had expected, although does have only one paved road through the center of town, and a few side streets (dirt). It’s listed on some sites of ‘Ghost Towns’ but clearly is not. Today it is clearly a tourist town, but a nice one. Lots of colorfully painted false front western style buildings – mostly housing jewelry stores and eateries. We made good use of both.

    We had lunch at ‘Grumpys’ – beautiful old saloon with gorgeous late 1800s bar, stained glass windows and lots of moose and elk heads on the walls. Good food and very un-grumpy wait staff. We both got garden burgers and sweet potato fries and the best iced tea I’ve had in a long time ($25 for both of us).
    After some serious turquoise jewelry shopping (and turquoise jewelry is about the last thing in the world I need more of, but that didn’t stop me) we heard the train whistle.
    We had passed the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad train just as we were leaving Durango – so we had time to drive up to Silverton (with numerous stops), have lunch , explore the town and shop before the train got there. I recommend driving, I’m sure the train is fun but I think the way we did it was better.

    We started to drive to Ouray, and the road does go right along the river and has some nice views, but after about 15 minutes we realized it was clouding up pretty fast and we wanted to see the route back to Durango (Allison had driven up and I wanted to drive back so she could look) before it rained. We made it about half way and then we had some serious rain for the rest of the way.

    But soon after checking into the Quality Inn (same room as Saturday night) it got sunny again so Allison went for a hike along the river (easily accessed from behind the hotel) and I went into Durango to explore. We read that Durango was voted the #1 ‘micro-cropolis’ – defined as a small city under 50,000. It really is a nice little place – big enough to have a kind of busy vibe, but certainly laid back. Very hippy/ college town/ modern small city vibe. We had dinner at Fiesta Mexicana – just a two minute walk from the Quality Inn, typical nice Mexican restaurant décor – (the walls were the exact same color as the sand on the hike to Horse Shoe Bend) with real Colorado Mexican Food (unlike New England ‘s version). Yum.

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    I have to agree about the Bristlecone Pine at the end of the trail in Bryce. There was absolutely no life visible anywhere last time we were there. If it is still living it is hiding it really well.

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    Tuesday, August 23 Durango to Santa Fe

    The road from Durango to Pagosa Springs is pleasant, but not dramatic, scenery. Mountains off in the distance, green fields, ranches. Pagosa Springs definitely has a sulfur smell to it. There are a bunch of swanky hotels clustered around a bend in the river with several hot sulfur springs. Probably a nice place to spend a few days if you wanted to soak in the springs, but not much else.

    Driving south the scenery is much of the same till you hit NM, then things get flatter and browner and quite boring till you get to the Ghost Ranch/ Abiquiu area where suddenly there are red rock formations and a turquoise lake. Pretty apparent why Georgia O’Keefe choose this area.

    Finding our way into Santa Fe was not difficult, but Cerrillous Road is a pretty congested mess – strip malls, fast food, motels, construction. Not a pleasant street. Best Western is a very nice hotel but it’s over 4 miles from downtown so the 15 minute or so ride each way is a drag – but still, for 1/3 the price of the more central hotels I think it was worth it.
    Finding parking in Santa Fe was not a problem. We parked in one of the large garages ($2 hr/ max $10) but there was plenty of metered spaces (but most had 2 hr limits). This is a ‘slow’ time according to people here.

    We took a quick intro walk for an hour or so (and actually saw pretty much everything) and then had margueritas and tacos for dinner.

    Wednesday, Aug 24 – Santa Fe

    Santa Fe is quite uniformly adobe architecture which gives a nice atmosphere. The downtown area is quite compact, you can walk around most of it in half an hour. It certainly has charm, but I must admit to being a bit disappointed. Expectations make a big difference and we had very high expectations for Santa Fe. It’s overwhelmingly turquoise jewelry stores. Now I absolutely love turquoise jewelry but even I got bored with them. Mixed with a good number of shops selling ‘over the top fashion cowboy boots’ (e.g. bright pink with turquoise colored decorations).

    Canyon Road was also a disappointment – hundreds of art galleries but most selling very contemporary and extremely expensive works. No real sidewalk and lots of traffic. It really was not ‘charming’. One thing that could really make a difference in Santa Fe would be some traffic limitations – some pedestrian zones as in most European historic city centers. The ‘charm’ and visual interest that could certainly be there are limited by the fact that there are cars everywhere. You could say that for many locations in the US and Santa Fe is definitely one of them.

    The three main churches: St Francis, Loretta Chapel and Mission San Miguel were all pretty different and worth seeing. Not on a par with major cathedrals, or even with some of the many centuries old churches/chapels in Europe, but still much more interesting than most churches in the US. The two museums we visited – Georgia O’Keefe and NM Art Museum- were not as good. Really not much of interest (to us anyway) and we had to try to take more than a half hour to see them. I was not expecting something on par with the Met or the Louvre but even for small museums these were pretty weak.

    We did find a really good place for lunch Palacio Cafe. Great fresh food, reasonable prices.

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    It really isn't a slow time; in fact, you just missed Indian Market Weekend and last weekend was Fiesta. It is more that the city is impacted by the overall decline in the economy.

    People either love or hate Santa Fe. Some find it too touristy, some find it over the top in terms of costly merchandise, some find the architecture brown and boring, etc etc.

    Others love the history, the culture, the food, the art etc.

    I love it here, but you knew that :)

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    I didn't 'love or hate' Santa Fe. I did find it a little 'too touristy' but loved the architecture, history, weather, food. I really think it was the cars that did it for me. I've traveled in Europe for most of my vacations for the past decade and so love that at least the town centers are pedestrian only. I always come back wishing it that was that way here. And in Santa Fe (and Taos and Albuquerque) it would be so easy to do. The streets right around the Plaza, and just a few blocks out from it, could be made car free and the whole atmosphere would change. I really think people would be willing to walk three blocks from where they parked their car. Oh well.

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    Thursday, August 25 - Taos: High and Low Roads and an unexpected highlight.

    High Road To Taos – It’s got good PR, but the guide book writers need to get some perspective. While not an unpleasant drive, it is certainly not ‘awe inspiring’ or ‘gorgeous’. In fact compared to Arizona, Utah and Colorado it’s pretty dull. Passes through several small settlements, not exactly towns, mostly full of trailers and discarded vehicles. There were a few little churches that were worth a few minutes to photograph (in some cases Allison didn’t even bother to get out of the car) but not on a scale with the interesting old churches found scattered all over Europe.

    Taos – also disappointing, although in this case I’ll admit I’d read there isn’t much there. A plaza surrounded by a few streets compose the “Historic Old Town”. Unfortunately, as all over this country, parking is allowed everywhere which really detracts from any ambiance the old plaza could have had if only they had made that one area pedestrian. There were plenty of parking lots within a few blocks. There were a couple of alleys that were pedestrian only and that helped. Same shops and restaurants as in Santa Fe only with even higher prices, less selection and the buildings weren’t quite as interesting. We did find a nice restaurant with outside seating on the pedestrian alley and had a very good lunch of salad with roasted chicken and ice tea – it was $18 total each though so not exactly a bargain.

    The “Low Road” back to Santa Fe was at least as scenic and interesting. It runs along the Rio Grande, which is pretty large for a river in these parts. People were rafting down it in rafts that held 8-10 people.

    An unexpected highlight was the ‘Classical Gas’ Museum, in Embudo, NM. It’s apparently run by a man named Johnnie Meier, a retired scientist who collects Americana memorabilia – old gas pumps, signs, an old car and truck, an actual diner that he is refurbishing. Really pretty interesting stuff – some people could spend hours here (my husband and his brother would have been there for a couple hours, Allison didn’t get out of the car so it clearly depends on your interests) but I spent several minutes looking around (and photographing it). http://dadadada2u.blogspot.com/2010/10/on-low-road-to-taos-stop-at-johnnie.html

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    The trip ends on a high note.

    Friday, August 25 – TENT ROCKS and Albuquerque

    Checked in for my Southwest flight exactly 24 hours ahead, at 8:05 and got A 45 and A 58. Not too bad for not paying for speedy boarding. And as of Friday morning, flights were still scheduled for New England through Saturday, though they were canceled to New York and most of the rest of the east coast due to Hurricane Irene.

    We got to Tent Rocks in just under an hour. It’s well marked the whole way, and paved all the way also (some reviews talked about 5 mile dirt road in). The guy at the entrance booth ($5) warned us that they have been having flash floods the past few days and the conditions were the same today, so be attentive to the clouds and when thunderheads start to form it’s time to leave. He said we would see areas that had washed out across the road earlier this week and we did as we drove to the parking area. At the moment is was bright sun with no clouds around and he said it should be fine for the next few hours. There is parking, picnic benches and vault toilets at the trailhead.

    Canyon Trail through Tent Rocks – AMAZING! Finally I got to do a slot canyon. I had been ‘warned’ not to expect slots as great as those in Utah but this was pretty damn good. So narrow in spots that the ground is less than a sneaker width wide – though the walls of the canyon are never less than four or five feet, but you can certainly touch both sides at the same time in lots of places. It’s relatively flat going into and through the slot canyon section. There are some large boulders that you have to climb around and over and some areas you have to sort of climb/scramble up but overall it’s easy. Great curvy rock walls, just beautiful. Probably not quite as colorful as Antelope Canyon, and floor of the canyon is dry – no river (although moist, you could tell there had been some flash floods recently) – but still beautiful.

    The slot section is fairly long and then it opens up to a wider, sandy/rocky path with the tent hoodoos on both sides. After a while you start climbing up the mesa, but there are plenty of rock and/or man made steps that make it easier. There are a couple of places that you do actually have to hands-and-knees climb but overall it was moderate as opposed to strenuous. There were several people well into their 70s doing the hike and only one very overweight person we saw that had to turn around before the top. The view at the top of the mesa is fabulous, although the tent rocks are better about half way up – when you are at eye level with them, rather than way above them.

    And the best part is that you have to go back through the slot to get out so you get to do it twice. The light was also much more interesting on the way out (about 11:00 versus 9:30 on the way in). The Cave Loop was pretty tame and boring compared to the slot canyon trail. The cave is tiny and pretty high up on the rock face and you can’t climb into it. Total for both trails just about 2 ½ hours.

    As we were driving away we noticed considerable thunderheads had formed. Most of the hike it was totally blue sky with hardly a cloud at all, so they do form quite quickly. It never rained where we were (drove down to Albuquerque after it) so don’t know if the thunderheads actually ever did anything, but clearly morning is the best/safest time to be there. We were there from 9:15 to almost noon.

    The Comfort Inn on Yale Blvd near the airport in Albuquerque is one of the nicest ones and it really is only 5 min from the airport, and it has a free shuttle from 5am to 11pm.
    We rested briefly – Irene still on course – it will be close if I make it in before they close the airport – Southwest’s site says Bradley and Boston will be closed all day Sunday, and NYC airports closing at noon Saturday.

    Then we drove to ‘Old Town’ – the route from the hotel took us along Central Ave which is the old Route 66. Really does have lots of 1950s buildings and signs and is actually really interesting. I wanted to stop and look around and take pics but figured Allison had about had it will all my photographing the past two weeks. Downtown Albuquerque is really just a few medium sized newer buildings off to the sides of Central Ave. They are nice southwestern colored (pink, salmon, turquoise) modern buildings but they are not ‘skyscrapers’ as some books say.

    Old Town Plaza is actually a block off Central Ave, we almost missed it as there is a sign on Central Ave but nothing there so we almost said screw this and turned around. But we found it and were actually pleasantly surprised. It’s at least as nice as the plazas in Taos and Santa Fe. The buildings are less uniform – some adobe but some wooden western style too.
    San Felipe de Neri Church is an attractive adobe church built in the early 1700s. There’s a rattlesnake museum. There are several side alleys which are pedestrian which is nice since as in the other towns you can park any ole place you want – convenient as we found free parking right there but I would gladly have paid a few bucks and walked a block or two for a nicer car free ambiance.

    The shops were a mix of turquoise jewelry, southwest trinkets, art, and hippy. Prices at least as good as the other towns.
    Really liked Albuquerque. Maybe expectations are more of a factor than you might think. High expectations for Santa Fe and it didn’t quite live up to them. Modest expectations for Albuquerque and it exceeded them.

    Car return was a breeze, even easier than Vegas.
    Had dinner at the ‘Village Inn’, a chain I had seen on our trip but figured was like a Denny’s. We went there as it was right next door to the hotel and we no longer had a car. But it was much better than Denny’s. Pie is their thing and they had about 25 varieties and they all looked scrumptious. I had a pretty nice piece of grilled fish, salad, onion rings, strawberry lemonade and huge slice of chocolate/peanut butter pie for $17.

    The End

    PS - I landed an hour before they closed the airport due to the hurricane.

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    Isabel,

    Thanks for the report and glad you make it back before the hurricane. Did you go to Taos Pueblo when you were up there??

    I must agree that expectations do color how much we like a place. I guess it pays not to believe the wonderful things folks have to say about a place to make it more interesting to us.

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    The road to Tent Rocks was dirt until late last summer when it was paved.

    One of the big things with printed guides is that the info gets out of date fast sometimes; same thing happens with reviews. That is one of the great things about a forum like this, info is usually way more up to date.

    All in all, as your pictures prove, a good time was had by all! Come back soon.

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