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Water in the Desert - The Great Southwest National Parks Trip

Water in the Desert - The Great Southwest National Parks Trip

Old Sep 5th, 2011, 11:31 AM
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Water in the Desert - The Great Southwest National Parks Trip

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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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 11:41 AM
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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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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 12:05 PM
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beautiful pics. relived our trip from last year.
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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 12:09 PM
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Great photos! It looks like you had beautiful weather for the entire trip.
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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 12:16 PM
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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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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 01:23 PM
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Your pictures are captivating and show the true spirit and beauty of the place I call home. Thank you~
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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 03:37 PM
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Beautiful pictures, isabel! I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.

Lee Ann
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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 03:48 PM
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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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Old Sep 5th, 2011, 05:07 PM
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You are a gifted photographer. I love the baby buffalo! Thanks for sharing.
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Old Sep 6th, 2011, 02:55 AM
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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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Old Sep 6th, 2011, 12:19 PM
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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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Old Sep 6th, 2011, 01:46 PM
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Thanks for the report, the pictures are fantastic. It makes me want to plan another trip to the area soon.
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Old Sep 6th, 2011, 03:57 PM
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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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Old Sep 6th, 2011, 05:43 PM
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Myer, it's a really short tunnel. We have pictures of it as well.

Lee Ann
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Old Sep 7th, 2011, 09:32 AM
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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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Old Sep 7th, 2011, 12:42 PM
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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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Old Sep 7th, 2011, 03:38 PM
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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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Old Sep 7th, 2011, 04:53 PM
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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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Old Sep 8th, 2011, 01:47 PM
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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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Old Sep 8th, 2011, 04:40 PM
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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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