Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Welcome to Idaho

Welcome to Idaho! Idaho feels like home, like Ireland. Its very green, full of fields and hills, sheep and cattle. Some of the towns we drove through reminded us of the outskirts of Banbridge.

We have been enjoying over a week of solid rain now. It rained in Utah, it rained as we drove through Wyoming, and its raining in Idaho. We are beginning to wonder if the rain will ever stop.

We left Utah and took some of the scenic roads through the edge of Wyoming to Idaho. We will be back in Wyoming soon enough, to visit Teton and Yellowstone national parks. But right now we are enjoying some of Idaho's small towns.

Today we are in a town called 'Hot Lava Springs'. As you can guess, its named after the hot spings which are heated by lava here. The town is a quaint little place. A street full of motels, with a bar and a few shops. We took a trip to the hot spring pools this afternoon. Although we weren't at all prepared for how hot they really are! Poor little Barney couldn't get in the pool. He has his baths pretty cold compared to the rest of us. We all sat on the step for quite some time before venturing into the water. Eventually we had a swim though, and it was nice.

After we got out of the pool the rain and hail started. It would have been so cool to be in the hot pool during the hail storm! Tomorrow we are taking the kids to the other pool, not hot, with slides and fun stuff. After tomorrow we are slowly heading up to Teton National park in Wyoming, and Yellowstone. Lets hope the rain stops sometime soon.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Our last full day in Moab was spent at the Canyonlands National Park. One of the smaller parks we've visited, but a beautiful place none the less. The weather was still really wet when we got there, but it dried out into a sunny day by the end. We spent about 3 hours driving through the park and stopping at the various lookouts. I am still trying to find a big horn sheep, which apparently live in many of these parks, but they remain a mystery to me, and I'm starting to wonder if they really exist.

Our favourite part of Canyonlands was the stop to see Mesa Arch. The 10 minute walk up steps to see the arch was well worth it. The natural arch exists right at a cliff edge. We couldn't see the cliff as we walked up to it, until we looked through the arch. It was funny to watch every one walk up to the arch and then hear them gasp as they saw the sudden drop they were standing right next to!

We have now left Moab and driven north through Utah. We spent two days relaxing at a KOA RV park in Provo, just south of Salt Lake City. The park seems to be run by three very friendly 15 or 16 year old goth boys, with faces full of piercings and jet black hair! Maybe they work at the weekend. They were lovely helpful lads though, despite their appearance.

Today we are heading north again to Idaho. We plan to take a scenic drive through Idaho and Wyoming, which will last a few days, until we get to Yellowstone National Park. We've been told its a very busy, touristy place (a bit like the Grand Canyon) but we will go and see it while we are here. After Yellowstone we will be on the last leg of our journey westward across Idaho and Oregon, then back down into California.

With regards to the pregnancy, I am now 11 weeks pregnant and Barney is drawing cute pictures of Mummy with a baby in her tummy. I had a two week stint of feeling so tired that I could barely lift my arms let alone get out of bed. I had about one week of morning sickness, where I felt nauseous and just wanted to go home. But that all seems to have passed and I feel like myself again now. I can't tell you how releived I am to feel well again. With all three of my previous pregnancies I suffered almost constant morning sickness for a full nine months. The fact that I'm not this time is a true blessing.

Friday, 23 May 2008

La Sal Mountain Scenic drive, Moab, Utah

After a day of extreme heat we have had a sudden change in weather to extreme rain and cold. Even snow. Although we haven't left the town of Moab! Three days of rain so far, although we plan to head on to newer pastures tomorrow.

The La Sal Mountain scenic drive that we took yesterday was cloudy, rainy, and at one point extremely snowy! But the scenery was still beautiful, in a dramatic, stormy kind of way. From the top of the mountain we could see what looked like Arches National Park in the distance. It looked very spooky through all the fog. We wondered whether to do the drive in the rain, but eventually we were driving higher than the clouds where the sun was shining. The mountains were covered in frost and snow. They looked like they'd been dusted with icing sugar, which was pretty. We drove through a snow storm which was a bit scary, as at the time we were driving along cliff edges! We are both amazed to discover how many roads in America have sheer drops on one side of them, but don't have any barriers.

The drive took us up into the La Sal Mountains, and then down to the Colorado River, which has burst its banks right now and is gushing past at really high speeds. We saw some water rafters and Barney waved at them. They stopped rowing to wave back at him, and were suddenly spun round, back to front as they'd taken their hands off the oars! We stopped the RV and ate lunch next to a field full of cows. I would like to be able to do the drive again on a bright sunny day, but I really did appreciate the scenery in the rain as well.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Arches, Utah

We are back in Utah again. We seem to be nipping in and out of it constantly. But our plan was never to stay in Colorado for long as we have to start heading north in order to see Yellowstone and Oregon before we leave for home in 5 weeks time. Right now we are spending five days in Moab, Utah, a beautiful scenic area which has experienced some variations in weather since we arrived!

The RV park we are staying in is a Passport America one that have been kind enough to give us a cheap site for $12 a night. PA price is usually $14 a night and full price is $28 plus. Our site doesn't have a sewage dump, hence its cheapness, but they let us dump our slosh in another site, so that's fine. We are leaving here on Saturday and heading north to Salt Lake City, where we may end up sleeping in a Walmart or something, as it will be Memorial Weekend, and the whole of America is going camping! We had a nasty moment when we went to the dump station and some idiot had filled the dump with rocks (unknown to us - apparently its not the first time its happened) and so our 3 days worth of bathroom water, poo and a nice amount of morning sickness splurged out of the sewer in a fine gooey stinking mess, just like something from the Robin Williams film "RV". I felt sorry for the poor person who had to clean it all up. Why on earth is someone coming into the park and filling the sewage with rocks though?

Anyway, our main reason for coming to Moab was to visit Arches National Park. We had heard it was a match for Zion or Bryce, and since we loved them so much we couldn't miss this one. The day we chose to visit Arches turned out to be a record breaker in the heat stakes. The hottest May day Utah has had for many many years, it was expected to hit 105F/38C at one point. As we drove through Arches stopping at each lookout point we had to take a photo, take in the view, and then hastily head back to the cool air conditioning of the RV. It really was hot. Extremely hot. A lot of the places we have already visited are so hot now that we've realised we actually planned a pretty good route, weather wise.

Despite the extreme heat, and my tiredness and mild morning sickness, we all really enjoyed the beauty of Arches. This place is definitely worth a visit. The kids completed their junior ranger programs and went on some mini trails (the heat stopped us from doing any big hikes). The beauty of Arches National Park is not just the 2000 or so arches that are there, but the amazing view across the petrified sand dunes to the snow capped La Sal Mountains, and the awesome spectacular-ness of the large rock formations. The pastel colours in the sand stone rocks, against the green foliage and yellows and oranges of the spring flowers, make the scenery at Arches look like a water colour painting. We stood looking out over the land so many times, just thinking that it looked as if someone had painted it. It didn't seem real.

Funnily enough after that really hot day we have been experiencing days filled with rain and snow! But more about that in my next blog post.

(The rest of the photos to go with Arches are in Utah Album 3 and Utah Album 4).

Monday, 19 May 2008

Colorado so far....

We've spent a good few days resting in Colorado. We did so much driving through Utah the last few weeks that we were all totally shattered. So we booked into an RV park Country Village in Montrose to just relax for a few days. This RV park is managed or run (I highly doubt they are the owners) by the most miserable woman on the face of the earth. Dan was scared to go into the office when he needed to. She seemed totally unable of smiling, grunted a lot, was kind of put out that we wanted to stay the night as it meant she had to do some work. Her husband, on the other hand, smiles more than anyone I've ever met. What a couple. I wonder if the people who own the park realise what an awful welcome she is giving their guests.

Anyway, we spent two full days lounging around and doing nothing of any importance. I slept for most of it, waking up for the occassion bout of mild morning sickness. Jimmie found a snake on our doorstep and we all ran outside to take photos of it. I dont know how to tell which snakes are poisonous, but this one moved at the speed of lightening when it wanted to.

After two days of rest Dan was itching to do something so we headed up to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison national park. It's one of the smaller, quieter parks we've visited, and was much less grand than the likes of Zion or the Grand Canyon, but still a lovely place with amazing views of the Rockies. We stayed in the campsite there which has electric hookups. Luckily for us the camp site wasnt busy so we were able to choose a nice big level site surrounded by grass and trees. A lot of the sites were very unlevel, and I'd hate to have to park an RV here during the busier months.

We spent our first day at Black Gunnison enjoying the beautiful weather outside our RV. Dan finished reading the third book of the trip (a biography of Kurt Cobain from Nirvana) and I lay in the sun for an hour. Jimmie ran around the trees and bushes for hours, as he always does when released into the wild. Barney spent a good few hours digging RV parks into the gravel with a spade and then parking his cars in it (now a favourite game of his) and Annabelle spent most of the time reading.

The next day however we set out to explore the park. We basically just drove through the park stopping at all the lookout points. The views over the canyon were spectacular, and the kids had junior ranger questions to answer at each stop.

Today we are heading back to Utah where we will stop at Moab and the Arches national park before heading north.

Friday, 16 May 2008

An Important Announcement

This trip that we have taken has been an amazing experience for our family. The children have grown, matured and developed over the three months that we have all been living in a 30ft long space together. The older two children seem less consumed by the shallow things that they got sucked into before (things like TV, playstations, etc). When we ask them to tidy or do a job they happily smile and get on with it, which is a pleasant change indeed! I'm sure that won't last once we get home! But as a family unit we have been brought very close together and our bond has tightened, which was my biggest hope for this trip. To spend some time with my children while they still want to, and to make some precious memories together for us all.

We now have a very special memory from this trip. A few weeks ago whilst in Zion national park we took our children for a hike along the rivers edge. When we found a secluded spot we let the kids play on the sand and throw pebbles into the river. Dan and I sat and watched them play for almost an hour and then we called them to sit with us for a while. In this serenely beautiful area we told our children something very special.

We will be bringing home the ultimate souvenir from the deserts of New Mexico. Dan and I are pleased to announce that we will be due to have another baby on December 16th, if all goes well. Whoever knew we would leave as a family of 5 and come home as an expectant family of 6? Certainly not I !

The kids were delighted with the news and spent three full days discussing baby names together. Little Barney took it all in his stride, but has since taken more of an interest and wishes the baby would be born now. He has no patience. Christmas is a long time away for a four year old!

On our return to Northern Ireland I will be 17 weeks pregnant. For the last 10 weeks I have been amazingly well, and have had practically no morning sickness. (Anyone who remembers my previous three pregnancies will know that this is indeed a miracle!) I know this is an unusual way to announce a pregnancy, but we are in an unusual situation without any family nearby. I do hope that everyone is as pleased for us as we are.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


I'm so excited to finally have seen the Rockies, walked in the snow and experienced the amazing alpine mountains of Colorado. The mountain views here are everything I thought they would be. I just don't ever want to leave.

This place is such a change from all the desert regions we have visited. To start with it is cold, and today it is raining. But despite the coldness and the snow it seems usually bright and sunny. We started in Cortez, just on the border of Colorado and New Mexico and visited the Mesa Verde national park (see blog post below this one). Then we headed north along the San Juan scenic byway, through some spectacular scenery. This scenery is nothing like what we have seen so far... snow topped jagged mountains, miles upon miles of alpine forest feet deep in snow, gushing torrential rivers and mountain log cabins. I tell you, this is a place that I could live quite happily. Not far along the San Juan byway we stopped for breakfast. We drove into a little byway just by the gushing Dolores River where we sat and ate bacon sandwiches. It wasn't snowy in this region, but the river was so rapid from all the melted snow coming down from the mountains. We sat for an hour to take in the scenery, whilst the kids fashioned arrow heads from flint. They had such fun doing that.

The drive all the way to Tullaride was just so spectacular that it took us a few hours instead of just one hour, as we kept stopping so many times. We stopped at one point to let the kids play in the snow. They took out some cardboard boxes with them and used them to slide down the slopes. It was strange to be warm in the snow - we didn't need any coats, hats or gloves, as it's the spring time.

We drove on to Tullaride, a town recommended to us at the visitors centre. We had hoped to stay there over night but the town had no RV parks, so we just drove through it. Tullaride is a quaint little town set at the foot of the mountain. The houses in it are just adorable beach hut style mountain log cabins. Dan pointed out that everyone in the town was young, lol.

From Tullaride we took a few back roads to try to find some free camping that we were told about. We couldn't find the camping but the drives were worth it anyway. Eventually we arrived in a town called Ridgeway, where we spent the night in a tiny RV park called Webber's. The man who owned it let us stay at less than the advertised price, and then gave us a site with the most beautiful view over fields full of cows and horses, to a valley with a snow capped mountain in the distance. It was like something from a post card.

We have now moved on to the next town and we plan to rest here for maybe four days as we've just done so much driving lately. There are some hot springs nearby, and another national park, so we will venture out to them at some point. There are many more photos like this in the Colorado Album so do check them out.

Mesa Verde, Colorado

After re-planning our route many weeks ago, I thought that I wouldn't get to see the Rockies or visit Colorado. One of my dreams for this trip was to see both Colorado and the Rockies. This week my dream came true and we are now happily driving through a very cold Colorado.

Our first stop in Colorado was at the Mesa Verde National Park. Our of all the national parks we have visited, this has been the most expensive. We didn't have to pay the $25 entry charge as we have an 'America The Beautiful' pass that we bought at the start of our trip. At $80 for a year, it has really saved us money on tall the $20 park entries we would have had to pay. However, camping in Mesa Verde was expensive. Camping with hookups was almost $50 a night (which for a national park is phenomenal). Dry camping was $28 a night. We consider $10 a night to be about right for dry camping. Therefore we dry camped in the park for just one night.
The camp site itself was set in the forest and although we were parked on a slope (not good for sleeping without water retention) we were lucky enough to see several Mule Deer wandering around our RV throughout the evening.

The following morning we got up early to spend the day visiting the park. Mesa Verde is famous for its cliff dwellings. 800 years ago the Pueblo Indian people left the brick built cliff dwellings that are dotted across the canyon. There were as many as 600 homes built into the cliffs at the time. They Pueblo Indians lived in the area for 800 years before migrating south into New Mexico and Arizona, where they still reside today. Many of the buildings still stand, in fantastic condition after so many hundreds of years. Some of the dwellings are available to walk around, but to really appreciate the larger dwellings, we had to take a ranger tour (at a cost of $3 each). This was the first park to charge for ranger led activities.
We bought tickets for all five of us to visit the Cliff Palace, and a ticket for just Dan to visit the Balcony House dwelling. Visiting the cliff palace involved a strenuous climb down steps into the canyon, and a scary climb up three ladders fixed onto the cliff walls, in between some narrow canyons. The Indian people did not use ladders, they used toe and hand holds which were chiseled into the rock. Once into the cliff palace area we were virtually hidden from the rest of the world, in a small village with a huge window into the canyon. The ranger talked about the Pueblo people, how the buildings were made, what they were used for and many other things. Amazingly after all these years, we were still allowed to walk around the buildings, to touch things and explore. We sat and thought about what life would have been like to the people who lived there. In the summer they would have coped with extreme heat and dryness, in winter freezing snow and cold. The area would have been noisy with children and turkeys running around the place. There would have been strong smells from all the cooking (typically they ate squirrel, mouse or rabbit stew). It was a real adventure to climb down to the palace and to think about past cultures and ways of life.

After our tour of the cliff palace (which incidentally isn't actually a palace) the kids and I stopped for lunch whilst Dan took one of the scarier tours on his own. The tour into Balcony House comes with warnings about claustrophobia and vertigo. We thought it was best to let Dan go on his own. To get in and out of the dwelling he had to clamber through the tiniest man made corridor through rock (one of the larger men in the group had to lay on his side to wiggle through, and Dan actually thought he was going to get permanently wedged inside!) Then he had to climb up vertical ladders, for many feet up steep cliff edges. It certainly wasn't a tour for anyone with a fear of heights or confined spaces. Dan however, loved the tour and relished the chance to explore without the constant chatter of the kids!

At the end of the day as we drove out of the park, a wild coyote stopped in front of us in the middle of the road! We stopped the RV and stared at the coyote, as he stared back at us. We didn't get a photo, and he slowly slinked off into the woods. We were so excited to see a coyote after hearing them howl at the moon so many nights.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Four Corners

On our long drive from Monument Valley to Colorado, we past the four corners. An area where four states join. We got there just before the site closed and so we didn't have to pay, or queue for our photos. It was a bit of a silly novelty tourist thing, but we had fun standing on the different states at the same time. The four states are Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. We took a few photos, then Dan and Luke lay across the states for some funny photos.

Monument Valley

From the first day we started planning this trip there were two places I really wanted to see. Monument Valley in Utah/Arizona and the Rockies in Colorado. On Sunday we finally made the trip down to Monument Valley, on Mothers Day of all days. The kids woke me up with home made mothers day cards, and a DVD about the art of tattooing. That was cool. One kid (who shall remain nameless) woke me up with a moonie of the face drawn on their bottom!!

We only had an hours drive to get to Monument Valley. When I saw the monuments in the distance I got very excited. We stopped at a Navajo Indian stall on the way in, to take some photos of the valley in the distance and to look at the Indian jewelry. Both Jimmie and Annabelle saw something they wanted to buy from the stall. The necklaces were $12 each, but when the owner of the stall heard me tell them they'd have to use their own money he told them they could have them for $10 each. Little Barney was begging to buy something but I kept telling him he'd be better saving his money for a toy in Walmart than an Indian necklace. The stall holder must have felt sorry for him, as he picked him out a blue necklace made with juniper berries and gave it to him for free. He showed him the Juniper Tree and told him about how he made it. Barney was way more impressed with his gift necklace than he would have been if I'd bought it for him.

A few days before Barney had asked me if Indians were bad people. When I explained that they were nice people, he said he thought they were bad because they fought the cow boys. After the Indian man gave him the necklace he said to me "you're right Mummy, Indian people really are nice".

The drive into Monument Valley was as beautiful as I'd expected, although it was quite an overcast (yet hot) day. We stopped countless times to take photos. We saw wild horses wandering around the roads and Dan got a photo of two of them in front of the monuments. We paid $20 to get into the Indian run tourist part of the monument. This was really wasted money as we could see as well from the roads anyway. The visitor centre there was closed, and we couldn't take the RV on the scenic drive as the roads were unpaved. So we basically paid $20 to sit in a car park and eat lunch. We did take a walk down to the little Indian village and have a look in homes there.

It turns out that there isn't an RV park for about 150 miles either side of Monument Valley, which we didn't realise. So we ended up driving till late in the evening to a town in Colorado, just to find somewhere to sleep. The kids though we excellent the whole time. They are really getting used to traveling so much and entertain themselves every time.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Capital Reef National Park, Utah

We didn't really plan to visit the Capital Reef park. But we had a choice of two routes to get past Lake Powell to Monument Valley in Arizona. We had already traveled most of route 1 on our way from Zion to Bryce, so we decided to drive the longer route 2 over the top of Lake Powell in order to see some different scenery on the way. Our half way point on this several hundred mile drive happened to be Capital Reef National Park. We only spent half a day there before heading on towards Monument Valley in Arizona but it was well worth the visit.
This quiet little national park is full of fruit orchards. In the summer visitors can eat the fruit for free, but we were there at the wrong time of year for that. The drive into the park took us past many huge rock formations with names such as 'the fluted wall', or 'the castle'. We stopped at the visitors cente to pick up the junior ranger programs which the kids completed on the 20 mile scenic drive. They had to interview a ranger as part of the project and came up with some good questions for him. Little Barney asked 'what happens to a lizard after it dies?' and learnt that it is a waste to bury animals as they serve as food for other animals. The scenic drive was well worth doing, and we stopped for a picnic in one of the orchards on the way back.
Before heading off on the rest of our jounrey we stopped to view the petroglyphs. The kids and I were quite excited to see rock art that had been left by Indians who had passed through the area over a thousand years ago. The art is much bigger than it appears. These etchings are lifesife, but still we all thought they looked like kiddies drawings. Apparently they were made as part of a ceremony to entice the big horn sheep back into the area.
After our brief half day visit to this park we carried on with our journey and drove hundreds of miles through Utahs wilderness. I have never seen anywhere so desolate. For about 200 miles we did not pass one single house or business. We almost ran out of gas too! Before discovering a town with a gas station and RV park where we spent the night, totally shattered.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Scenic Byway 12 - an all American Road

I'm not entirely sure what an 'all American road' is, but scenic byway number 12 is definitely worth a visit. It was our route from Bryce Canyon to Capital Reef national park, and what a journey it was.

We stopped over night in an RV park in a small town (more of a street really) called Tropic. Then spent the following day driving to just outside Capital Reef. The drive was long, but so scenic. We drove through canyons, over mountains, past hundreds of miles of desolate land. We found the quaintest little cafe built into the side of a canyon cliff where we stopped for a coffee and to admire the view. We drove so high up into a mountain that the RV barely made it. From the top there was a lookout called 'as far as the eye can see', and it wasn't lying. We were standing in a snowy area looking out over a wilderness bigger than Luxembourg. The following day after visiting Capital Reef we found ourselves driving for hours through that same wilderness that we had looked down upon.

I don't need to say too much about the drive, as I can just post the photos. Click on each photo to see the large photo....

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Utah is turning out to be the most beautiful and diverse state we have visited so far. The whole of southern Utah seems to be filled entirely with national parks and forests. I wonder if anyone other than park rangers live here! We are in a colder climate now, often surrounded by rapidly melting snow, and sleeping with the heating on at night. My tan will have well and truly worn off by the time we get home to Banbridge. We have been traveling over three months now. I think we have about 6 or 7 weeks of travel left and will be home on July 4th. To be honest we never know what day of the week it is, or what time zone we are in any more. We often turn up to camp sites just to realise its the weekend and therefore the sites are packed.

Bryce Canyon National Park was a place like no place I've ever seen before. I have seen images of Utah on TV etc and looked forward to seeing these things for myself. Bryce is full of 'Hoodoos' which are the odd shape phalic type orange rock formations that have been shaped over centuries by wind and rain erosion. They are an odd site to see. Beautiful in a strange way. Not like the overpowering majestic beauty of Zion, but curiously, strangely pretty.

The drive from Zion to Bryce was a long one, so we stopped at a campsite outside of Bryce NP and rested over night, and did a bit of laundry and internet updating. The following morning we set off early into Bryce Canyon, where we spent the day. The kids completed their ranger programs and now have quite a collection of Junior Ranger badges. We spent the day driving from each lookout to the next in the canyon. Dan took a walk down into the canyon while the kids and I made lunch. I just didn't have the engery for the strenuous climb back up, but I could tell that Dan was itching to explore. So he climbed down and walked aroung and through the hoodoos. Some of them have walkways drilled through them. From the ground the hoodoos look an entirely different site than from above.

The various overlooks along the way all have enchanting names like 'Fairyland Point', 'Inspiration Point', 'Agua Canyon' or 'Rainbow Point'. In truth Inspiration Point truly was an inspiring place to look out over Bryce Canyon. Although Dan and I found it hard to breathe at such high elevations. At first I thought I was terribly unfit as a short walk up to the lookouts left me gasping for breath. Then I noticed Dan doing the same. Then everyone else was too, and someone explained that the air is much thinner at high altitudes and the slightest bit of exhertion leaves one breathless. I was releived it wasn't just my fitness.

As we drove to Rainbow Point, the furthest point in the park and the highest elevation, we started to drive through alpine forests still covered with a thick layer of snow. During the winter this area gets many feet of snow and the park is not open to traffic. Now the snow is melting but there are still huge piles of it about the place. It was at this point we saw some large wild turkey crossing the road. They are funny looking creatures, and so huge. When we reached Rainbow Point the kids couldnt wait to get out and play in the snow. It was strange to be playing in the snow after so much time in the desert. But even here it wasn't cold enough to need a coat, or hat and gloves.

As we left Bryce Canyon we saw some wild deer roaming the forest land, and we stopped to watch them and to take some photos.

I had another photo to upload but my connection is too bad to let me load it. I'm gonna just upload this blog post now, unfinished, while I can. I'm so sick of bad internet connections.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Zion National Park, Utah

Finally, after days and days of no internet connection we are in an RV park that has sporadic connection possibilities. It has taken me no less than 4 hours to upload the photos from the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park onto Facebook. What with getting disconnected every 5 minutes. Ahh, what I wouldn't do for some reliable internet connection right now. Anyway, there are new albums in the sidebar now. One for the Grand Canyon, two for Zion (yes we went a little crazy with the photos there). New photos from Bryce will be loaded into Utah Album 2 at some point. There are a few new photos in the last Arizona album too (which go with the post below this one).

Well, blow me down, I think we went and found paradise! I had been warned about the beauty of Utah, in particular Zion. But the entire family was just blown away as we drove through the east entrance into the park. The scenery here was totally different to anything we'd seen so far. Mountains carved out of ancient sand dunes, the Virgin River coursing through the middle, alpine trees growing out of orange and pink rock. Zion was so beautiful that even the photos I took from the passenger seat of the RV whilst driving look spectacular.

All three kids sat with their noses to the windows as we drove forty minutes into the park. It was like a magical wonderland, like nothing we'd ever seen before. To my horror we discovered we had to drive through a one mile mountain tunnel to get into the centre of the park. A one mile unlit tunnel, that was only just tall enough for our RV. In fact, for RV's to pass through the tunnel, the road has to be closed at either end, so that the RV can drive in the centre of the tunnel without tearing its roof apart. Well, being extremely claustrophobic I don't like tunnels. I particularly don't like one mile long pitch black tunnels where the roof is inches from the top of the vehicle1 We waited at the tunnel entrance for the road to be shut at the other end (we paid $15 for the privilege) and eventually we led the way through. It was at this point that we discovered one of our headlights wasn't working. So the pitch black drive was not easy. Dan was stressed about trying to stay in the middle of the road, so as not to rip the roof off the RV, and I was holding my breath and talking myself out of hysteria. Nevertheless we made it through in one piece (even if I had to lie down for a few hours with an awful headache afterwards).

We couldn't sleep in Zion the first night as it was a Saturday, we'd arrived late and the camp sites were full. But the ranger there told us about a free place to stay just outside the park - land that belongs to the DLM or something. We headed there expecting to find an old car park or wasteland, but instead found a beautiful sandy riverside campsite. At first we got stuck in the sand. Thelma II's wheels got burried deep and I thought we'd never get out. But Dan got us out eventually and we parked up right by the river in a lovely secluded spot. It was great to hear the sound of the rapid river gushing by all night long.

The following morning we headed back to Zion and booked three nights in one of the campgrounds there. The campground itself was surrounded by spectacular orange coloured mountains. Jimmie and Barney spent many happy hours playing outside there. They have a new game where Jimmie digs the tracks of an RV park into the soil and Barney fills it with various cars and trucks. He spends hours playing with those miniature RV parks. The campground had more caterpillars than I ever knew existed on the planet. Every where you stood, you were treading on them. We'd find them crawling up our shoes, up our arms, on our wheels, on our seats. It was quite amazing. Also, because of all the Cottonwood Trees in the campground it seemed as if it was gently snowing all the time. The soft cotton blows in the breeze and you'd swear it looked like snow.

I have to say that one of the most spectacular drives you could ever take is the drive through the east entrance into the park. But many of the visitors to Zion miss that, as they enter through the south entrance and use the park shuttle bus to reach the various hiking areas. Because of the sheer amount of visitors and the congestion caused by their vehicles Zion has started to operate a free shuttle bus service throughout one route of the canyon. Much like the Grand Canyon does. We made a lot of use of the shuttle. The shuttle stops at various points of interesting for views and hiking. As usual the kids completed the parks junior ranger program, so we were always busy at every stop looking up information and answering questions.

Over our four days in Zion we made several stops, had lovely picnics beneath the mountains and went on many hikes. The first hike we took was the trail up to the Emerald Pools, at the Zion Lodge stop. It was an uphill trail, so Barney got tired quickly. I walked with him to the first pool and waterfall, then we headed back to Zion Lodge for an ice cream whilst Dan, Jimmie and Annabelle carried on with the hike up to the upper pools. This is one of the more popular hikes on the shuttle route, but we discovered much nicer hikes later on. The emerald pools weren't that spectacular, but the hike followed the line of the river, up to some small water falls and some amazing rock formations. There is no where in Zion that isn't extremely beautiful, so it's impossible to be disappointed.

We took another hike from The Grotto stop to Zion Lodge. We had intended to take 'The Grotto' trail, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up taking a scenic walk along the river side. We saw lots of evidence of the beavers that lived there. There were trees that the beavers had knocked down, trees that they were in the process of chewing, and beaver dams at the sides of the river banks. The Virgin River is too rough for the beavers to build their dams in, so they build them on the banks instead.

Dan loved Zion so much that he got up early every morning to go on hikes before the rest of us awoke. Some of the hikes are very strenuous and can't be made with a four year old. The third hike we took as a family was up to the Weeping Rock. This was a lovely, paved, easy walk. Uphill on the way there, and down hill on the way back. It was only a half mile walk but the view at the end was worth a ten mile walk! The weeping rock seeps drips of cooling water out, and when you walk under it, it feels like a waterfall. The kids all got drenched by standing with their heads under the drips. I could have sat at the end of that walk for days just looking out at the view.

Perhaps the most memorable hike for the kids was the walk to the 'Temple of Sinawara'. A walk along the river that gets narrower the further you proceed into the canyon. It was strange to be inside a canyon looking up at the extremely tall cliffs and wondering what the view was like up there, when only a few days before we had been at the top of the Grand Canyon, looking down and wondering the same thing. Along our riverside walk we stopped to catch our breath. Dan sat down on a rock there and put the ruck sack on the ground. From out of no where arrived this cheeky little squirrel. He could smell something and was desperate to find it. He ran all over Dan sniffing for food until he discovered our ruck sack. Without hesitation he rummaged right into the ruck sack and helped himself to hand fulls of popcorn! It was such a funny sight that some Japanese tourists started filming the whole thing! But it made a great memory for the kids. This little squirrel wanted popcorn, and took pop corn. It's something the will talk about for years to come.

Later on that same walk we stopped at a little beach side area. The kids and their Dad spent some time throwing stones into the river, while Barney spent some time covering his legs with mud. We all sat around and had a good family chat here about all sorts of things. It was one of the real special family moments on this trip. On our way back to the shuttle, walking past huge rocks, vast canyons and the river, our day was just made perfect as we spotted our first snake! Yes, for three months we have wanted to see a real wild snake, and finally we have seen it! You can see a photo of it by clicking here.

On one of the days we took a trip outside the park to get a few necessities. As we pulled into a gas station a man from the garage next door came over to tell us that one of our wheels was a bit flat. He was a mechanic and as he examined the wheels he was horrified to discover that we needed 6 new wheels. He phoned Cruise America and told them that they'd rented out an RV for two months that had cracked wheels. I thought he might just be touting for business but Dan looked at the tires and they really were cracked. Cruise America agreed for him to replace the wheels, at a cost to them of $1800 ! I was more than a little angry that Cruise America rented us an RV with both a broken headlight and 6 dodgy wheels. I mean, its not as if we are only hiring it for a week, we are here for 5 months!

The highlight of our last night at Zion was having a camp fire and roasting marshmallows. The kids always enjoy that. This morning we said goodbye to paradise and headed eastwards to Bryce National Park. Tonight we are staying just outside that park and will head in there tomorrow. It's much colder here and there are still patches of snow about the place. Tonight we have had rain for the first time since we drove through Houston in Texas.

Arizona and the Navajo tribe

I have to write a short post about the drive from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park. We are leaving Zion today and heading to Bryce (both in Utah) but since I haven’t had any internet connection, I am behind with the blog posts. Hopefully I will catch up soon. We have some amazing photos from Zion to go with my next blog post.

Anyway, the drive through Arizona to Utah was as beautiful as any drive we have made so far. Vast orange colored landscapes, filled with huge rocks and canyons. The scenery was breath taking. We were driving through a huge Indian Reservation, that covered hundreds of miles. At various stops along the road were little Indian craft stalls selling jewelry, pottery, dream catchers etc. We drove past a huge canyon in the ground. I’m not sure if it was the end of the Grand Canyon, or something entirely separate. But the Indian Reservation had opened up a little area to stop and view the canyon. To get to the canyon we had to walk through Indian craft market stalls. I was a bit dubious about that and felt I was being conned into making purchases just to see the view, but I was wrong.

It was nice to see the Indian stalls being run by actual Indians. All through America we have gone into Native American gift shops just to find out they are run by people who have nothing to do with Indian heritage at all. I always felt that they were making money out of the people whose land they stole. But here the stalls were owned by native Indians, from the tribe of Navajo. The people sat and made their items whilst tourists browsed past. They never once tried to sell us anything or pressured us to buy anything. So I felt fine to take my time looking, and we bought a few gifts for family members and school friends. We all really enjoyed listening to the native Indian language too. It sounds so mystical! (Later on we stopped at Walmart and were one of the only non-Indian shoppers there).

We ended up sleeping overnight at Lake Powell as the drive to Zion was too far. At Lake Powell, like Lake Mead, there is a large dam which we were able to drive over. The Lake Powell area runs on the border of Arizona and Utah, and is beautiful. However, camping there cost an arm and a leg, so we only stayed one night, despite the scenic beauty.
Hopefully, I will be back soon with my blog post about Zion National Park. In the mean time if we are out of range for phone and email, we are at Bryce National Park in Utah.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Where on earth do I start when writing about the Grand Canyon? I just don’t know where to begin. The drive to the Grand Canyon took longer than we’d anticipated, so we stayed over night in an RV park outside of the canyon. The following morning we woke up bright and early and headed to the park, as we had nowhere booked to sleep, so we didn’t want to arrive late.

The drive into the park was so much more alpine than I’d expected. I really thought the canyon was in the middle of desert land, but it felt more like Canada with all the tall pine trees. At the entrance to the park we were told by the ranger that we had no hope of finding a camp site to sleep in inside the park. That was disappointing, but Dan never gives up and he asked in the visitors centre, where he found out there were 3 spaces in the dry camping park (no hookups). He sprinted back to the RV and we raced to that campsite, to find two RV’s in front of us. We got the last space! The following day Dan went over to the other RV park, that had hookups, and asked for a spot. The ranger there said he had nothing. Dan asked if he wouldn’t mind double checking. So as he rolled his eyes up and checked through the bookings he said ‘Oh, we must have had a cancellation!” and so we had another 2 nights to sleep in the Grand Canyon National Park. Three nights in total. Not bad considering we’d been told we didn’t have a hope of finding a space.

I think the majority of tourists from Britain see the Grand Canyon on a one day tour. I know Dan did that many years ago. The tour bus drops them off and then collects them three hours later. But we had three full days to explore the park, and so we were able to see some of the less touristy parts.
On day one however, we took the free shuttle bus up to Hopi Heights, with many other tourists. The shuttle buses came every six minutes and always had space on board, so it was an easy way to see the park. I remember when the bus doors opened and I caught my first glimpse of the canyon. Wow. It just took my breath away. Photos can not convey how huge it is, how wide and deep. All our photos, although lovely, in no way truly show how vast the place is. There are no words to describe the Grand Canyon adequately. You simply have to go and visit it yourself.
We rode the red bus line up to the top of Hopi Point. Little Barney was quite scared of the sheer height of the cliff edges we were standing on, and every time a gust of wind came he begged to go home. On another of the stops we walked out across a cliff to a huge rock with a memorial plaque on it, with the names of the men who first discovered the canyon. The walk across to it was scary for a mum with three adventurous kids. The cliff walkway was about 6 feet wide, with no rails on either side, and possibly a mile drop off if one fell. The wind was harsh and Barney was clinging onto me begging to go back to the bus. But we made it across to see the view there. Dan proceeded to scare a couple of touring pensioners, by climbing out to an area that looked like a sheer drop from where we were standing. But it was an optical illusion and he only had about a 10ft drop below him. However, the old couple nearly had kittens when they saw him, and started calling him back, telling him the wind would blow him away. I had to explain to them. I read that 600 people have died in the area, many of which are tourists who have ventured too far for the perfect photo, and fallen off the edge. I was completely surprised at how many un-fenced cliff edges there are.

On the second day we drove the RV to Mather point, which is the first place on entry to the park where its possible to view the canyon. Because of this it is packed with tourists. This area was fenced all around. That is how I expected the entire place to be. But it wasn’t at all. After stopping at Hopi point and various stops on the red bus route we walked some of the ‘Rim Trail’. The trail often has no rails at the edges, and I was a nervous wreck trying to keep an eye on all three kids and Dan (he’s the most likely to fall off a cliff!) On my first night sleeping in the Grand Canyon, I spent the entire night dreaming of catching various family members before they would fall to their doom.

During our Rim Walk we spotted a park ranger giving a talk about the California Condors that live in the area. We hiked down to where she was and sat for 40 minutes listening to her, whilst watching the condors flying hundreds of feet below us. The kids learnt a lot from that talk. The condor weights up to 20lbs, has a wingspan of up to 9.5ft, and can live 50 years in the wild or 80 years in captivity. It was great to see them flying below us. They are ugly critters though, I must say.

The Grand Canyon is a mile deep. I didn’t realise that. If you can imagine standing at the edge of a 1 mile drop, you might understand how its possible to feel slightly dizzy. I felt dizzy on more than one occasion. But I just loved staring out at the vastness of the canyons, and the Colorado River below.

On day three we decided to drive Thelma II up to some of the areas that the shuttle bus didn’t run. This is when I really started to feel that I was exploring the area for real. We left most of the tourists behind us and headed eastwards. There were several scenic areas to stop and view the canyon, but the road in between these areas were covered in alpine forests. So different to how I’d imagined. We saw wild elk grazing in the forests.

At the end of our drive we stumbled upon an old watch tower. We had no idea it was there. This watch tower is built right on the cliff edge, and has 360 degree views of the canyon from the top. Inside the watch tower is decorated with Indian Petroglyphs. It is well worth the drive if you’re in the Grand Canyon area with a vehicle to visit this watch tower.

I had really wanted to venture down inside the canyon on one of the trails there, but I was so sick with the cold while we were there that I could barely walk. I still enjoyed the views through my watery eyes, but it was a shame not to be able to climb down into the canyon. We were told that if you climbed down for 30 minutes, you had to allow 2 hours to climb back up again!

Edit - there is an album on facebook called 'the grand canyon' but i can not add the link to it on here yet, as this goverment internet connection Im using doesnt allow connections to facebook. So annoying. I will add the link next time. Meanwhile if you are a friend of mine on facebook you can go see the photos there yourself.

Please also take time to read Jimmies first blog post below this one.