Navigating the Parks – What I’ve Learned

Now that we’ve been in 12+ national/state parks and monuments in the last month, I have some tips and obserations for others, especially anyone camping.

General Tips:

  1. Reserve a campsite or lodging in advancif you can! We’ve been really lucky with our play-it-by-ear strategy, but the park campgrounds are super popular and many parks, believe it or not, have just one small campground and no lodges, so it’s a total crapshoot being able to stay IN the park. Most people vacate their campsites between 7-8:00am, so that’s the time to stalk! After that you’re screwed. Although, I will admit that some of my favorite camp nights have been when we’re denied a campground and we find a pretty bluff somewhere with an amazing view (price is right, too).
    Ranger talks at the parks are cool too!

    Ranger talks at the parks are cool too!

    Watching the sunset from our make-your-own campsite 2 nights ago! #theworldismyoyster

    Watching the sunset from our make-your-own campsite 2 nights ago! #theworldismyoyster

  2. Don’t dismiss the state parks and national monuments – Vermillion Cliffs, Natural Bridges, Kodachrome, Goblin Valley have been some of our favorite stops! (Dinosaur NM was just recommended to us, too, so we might try to hit that on our way out of Utah). The state parks also often have better amenities.
  3. Do your research – there are a ton of opportunities to get back-country permits at most parks, but all need to be purchased in advance (lesson learned)! If I come back, especially to Grand Canyon & Canyonlannds, I will have a bunch of back country permits and hike the hell out of the rest of those canyons!
  4. Take the scenic route – the fastest way is not always the best. I have absolutely loved Hwy 89 in AZ (through Vermillion), Hwy 12 in UT through the Red Canyon, and Hwy 95 in UT as some of my most breath-taking drives ever.
P.S. Straw hats do not travel well in crowded cars!

P.S. Straw hats do not travel well in crowded cars!

Park Tips (the fun stuff):

  1. Zion: take the shuttle bus to town (Sprindale) and have lunch or dinner at Oscars. Best tamale I’ve ever had. Everything is fresh & homemade. It’s delish!
  2. Capitol Reef: don’t miss Gifford House – it’s like walking into a store from Little House on the Prarie! Everything is homemade – pies, jams, ice cream, pickled items. Stock up. We left with 6 pies – they’re amazing!
    #bestpiesever! #BAMF2015

    #bestpiesever! #BAMF2015

    I miss those pies...

    I miss those pies…

  3. Moab: hit the brewery! It may be the only beer in the state of Utah >3.2%! Seriously good local brews (my fave is the Red Rye IPA) and food. Needless to say, we did not leave empty handed.

    Moab Brewery. They had us at "beer"! #BAMF2015

    Moab Brewery. They had us at “beer”! #BAMF2015

  4. Arches: get an advance permit for the guided tour of the Fiery Furnance. We did it solo because the guided tours were booked, but we got serously lost. It’s really cool!
    Fiery Furnace. Don't try this at home...

    Fiery Furnace. Don’t try this at home…

    That’s it for now. We’re still in Utah for another week or so. I’m enjoying camping without bugs and bears. That will end soon as we head into Wyoming, Montana, Canada, and Alaska!

    Last tip: take time to relax!

    Last tip: take time to relax!

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong”

Actually, nothing has gone wrong (yet), but Martin chose the middle of the hike-from-hell to the Grand Canyon basin to impart this philosophy. Should I have know this before commiting to a 6-month adventure? 🙂

Ahh...nature. Notice the smoke stacks in back! #BAMF2015

Ahh…nature. Notice the smoke stacks in back! #BAMF2015

The Canyon rim-to-rim hike (which they smartly advise NOT to try to attempt in a single day, but somehow we feel the warnings to mortals don’t apply to us) was both escrutiating and unbelievably scenic. I actually think the view from the bottom is even more beautiful than from the top, but you have to work your ass off to get it! We did the Bright Angel trail (7,000 ft) down to the Colorado River (2,000 ft) and then up the South Kaibab trail (8,000 ft). In total about 18 miles, but half straight up steep climbs. My bones were HURTING at the end!

18 miles of beauty + pain. #worthit. #BAMF2015

18 miles of beauty + pain. #worthit. #BAMF2015

Jen: we didn’t make it to the Hopi Reservation, as much as I wanted to do the Havasu Falls hike. I didn’t realize it was 3-4 hours from the South Rim (in the wrong direction). In hindsight, I would have done that first! Next time I’ll also get a backcountry permit and camp inside the canyon to break up that back-breaking hike.

I absolutely recommend Grand Canyon in early April. With the exception of a bit of a Spring Break crowd early in the week, we largely had the campgrounds and many hikes to ourselves, and despite chilly evenings, the day temps were perfect for long hikes. I never would have done the hikes we did in the summer heat! The desert plants were all starting to bloom, too, which is beautiful.

Grand Canyon hike. #JustDoIt #BAMF2015

Grand Canyon hike. #JustDoIt #BAMF2015

This morning we left Grand Canyon and drove to Page, AZ to tour Antelope Canyon (thanks to Megan for the reco). It was SO cool! All those photos you see of the waves of rocks with sunlight bouncing off the walls at odd angles – many are taken here. It is truly breathtaking and definitely worth the stop if you’re driving through northern AZ. You’ll also drive through the Vermillion Cliffs which are seriously awesome.

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Antelope Canyon. #BAMF2015

Right now I’m sitting in the middle of nowhere (the campsite we were aiming for is closed), so we pulled off a nice forest service road near Jacob Lake, AZ. For some reason I have 5 full bars of cell coverage, so I’m posting a blog! Dinner will be sausages and sweet potatos over the fire (there’s a nice fire pit here), and I have wine in hand, so who can complain?

From last post: deerskin work gloves. Can you tell who works harder in this relationship? #MartinRocks. #BAMF2015

From last post: deerskin work gloves. Can you tell who works harder in this relationship? #MartinRocks. #BAMF2015

Tomorrow: who knows? But probably Utah. It’s been fun Arizona – thanks for a great time!

When Happiness = A Hot Shower & Cheap Hair Dryer

We’re 11 days into our 180 day road trip, and I’m starting to get used to the life of vagabond, although I’ll never get used to dirt under my fingernails!

We’ve been in the Grand Canyon for several days exploring every nook and cranny. We’re gearing up for a 14-miler tomorrow down to the heart of the canyon. The 14 miles doesn’t scare me, but the steep descent and ascent on both ends sure as hell does! Wish us luck…

My favorite part of the Grand Canyon campground is the heated bathroom with hot showers ($2 for 8 minutes) and laundry machines ($3 for a wash & dry). Worth every friggin penny (errr, I mean quarter)! There’s nothing like a hot shower to feel human again. And those cheap hair dryers I hate so much? Not anymore – it was pure pleasure to actually dry my hair. It’s definitely about the simple pleasures when you’re camping!

For what it’s worth, I do have a few tips & tricks I’ve discovered in these first 11 days…

1.) Come prepared for any weather! It has been WAY colder than anticipated, and I am so thankful that we brought our best down jackets and base layer. There are so many tourists freezing their cahones off in their shorts & t-shirts. Even though we’re in the Arizona desert, you just don’t know what Mother Nature will throw at you. It’s worth it to tuck a couple extra layers in your bag! Did I mention already that down booties are my most favorite thing on the planet?!

2.) Cotton in NOT your friend. While I desperately miss my favorite jeans and cute cotton T’s, I’ve sat next to enough smelly shirts on the shuttle buses to appreciate the value of dry-wick materials that wash/dry/wear easily and keep odors & moisture at bay. We may not be setting any fashion trends, but we’re comfortable and dry! (My favorite hiking pants are still the Columbia Ridge convertible – I like the men’s because they have more pockets!)

3.) Hiking Poles are (NOT) for Wimps! I hate to admit this, but I was one of those “real hikers don’t need sticks” kind of people until Martin forced a pair of hiking poles in my hands, and it has literally saved by ass (and my knees) on these steep and treacherous hikes. I now understand and appreciate the function of hiking poles, especially on adventurous terrain. I will mock them no more!

4.) Get a good pair of deer skin work gloves. Martin taught me this, too. These gloves are not only warm, but you can literally stick your hand in the fire to move logs. They are seriously awesome! Keep a pair in the car for whenever you need to get a little dirty. I’m having trouble uploading photos, but I’ll show you who the real worker is in this relationship when you see the state of Martin’s work gloves compared to mine. But I have 6 months to catch up!

5.) Lastly, fatwood is the secret to a great fire! I think Martin is probably a natural pyromaniac, but there is a secret ingredient that I’ve seen work in literally every climate and condition. Get some fatwood (essentially sap-soaked wood sticks) from any hardware or grocery store. Those little sticks as the foundation will rock just about any fire. And Martin has saved more than 1 unprepared neighboring camper with them in the last week!

That’s all I’ve got. I hope these tips are helpful! The next post will be all photos & videos. We’ve got a bunch of good ones. Love and miss you!

Still Alive…in the Grand Canyon!

We left Valley of Fire and drove down to the Hoover Dam – one of the top engineering feats of the 20th century. The tour is really cool. They actually finished 2 years ahead of schedule and the Dam fully paid for itself within the first 2 years of running. That could NEVER happen today!

Hoover Dam. #BAMF2015

 

Now we’re spending our first night in the Grand Canyon. I can’t believe I’ve never been here. Everywhere you look it just gets more unbelievably breathtaking. I’m sure Martin was tempted to give me a little push today. 🙂 We’re actually camping outside the park because our reservation starts tomorrow (oops), but we had Elk for company for dinner (no, they weren’t dinner!), so that was pretty cool.

Grand Canyon. #BAMF2015

Grand Canyon. #BAMF2015

The beloved selfie-stick. #BAMF2015

The beloved selfie-stick. #BAMF2015

We’re here for a while, enjoying the hikes and the scenery. Hoping to make it down to the Canyon bottom and perhaps even a helicopter tour. Why the hell not?

Miss you all. One thing I’ve learned is that time goes slower when you’re not on a schedule. It’s nice to actually wake when we wake and plan the day as it comes. I highly recommend it! xoxo