Bye Bye Utah, Hello Wyoming!

The adventure continues and we’re creeping slowly closer to Alaska (and bear country!) We’ve been on the road almost 6 weeks already! Hard to believe. Even harder to believe I’ve actually camped that long. Wasn’t sure I could do it! I do need a pedicure desperately…and I’m about to start chopping my own bangs…

Canyonlands - Island in the Sky

Canyonlands – Island in the Sky

But I LOVE waking up every morning wondering what the day will bring. Sure beats sitting in a cubicle beating my head against a wall. Especially when Martin whips up an egg/bacon/hashbrown tortilla scramble like this morning. YUM!

Arches

Arches

Canyonlands - The Needles (my favorite!)

Canyonlands – The Needles (my favorite!)

I feel like we conquered Utah. We’ve been EVERYWHERE – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands, Moab, Arches, Monument Valley, Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Park City, Dinosaur NM.

Dinosaur National Monument. #JurassicAlive

Dinosaur National Monument. #JurassicAlive

I was worried that by the last park, I’d feel like Chevy Chase in “Vacation” when he got to the Grand Canyon thinking “big deal – another rock, let’s go!”, but I continue to be amazed and enthralled by the color and formations of the canyons, mountains, and craters here. I don’t think that could ever get old.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Zion

Zion

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument

Last stop in Utah tomorrow is Flaming Gorge and then it’s hello, Wyoming! I’m excited to see the Tetons again – one of my all-time favorite sights. I’m sure the bears will love Martin’s bacon too! (yikes)

Lots of cool sunsets and star gazing when you're away from city lights!

Lots of cool sunsets and star gazing when you’re away from city lights!

My new obsessions:

  1. Slot Canyons (favorites: Antelope Canyon, Canyonlands – The Needles, Little Wild Horse Canyon)
    Little Wild Horse Canyon. #Amazing

    Little Wild Horse Canyon. #Amazing

    Martin climbing the walls - Little Wild Horse Canyon (SO cool)

    Martin climbing the walls – Little Wild Horse Canyon (SO cool)

  2. Everything “collapse-able” (best invention – my whole kitchen will be collapsing dishes when I get home!)

    cooking pan, drinking cup, laundry bucket - all fold into nothing! #brilliant

    cooking pan, drinking cup, laundry bucket – all fold into nothing! #brilliant

  3. Coffee drip – $5 and it seriously tastes better than a pot-brewed coffee!

    best coffee drip ever!

    best coffee drip ever!

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!

Canyonlands is my Candyland

It’s impossible to play favorites with the AZ/UT parks because each is unique, fascinating, and beautiful in its own right, and I’ve loved exploring them, but I have to admit…Canyonlands (The Needles) holds a very special place in my heart.

Canyonlands "The Needles". #heaven #BAMF2015

Canyonlands “The Needles”. #heaven #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

There are no shuttle buses to take you to the scenic overlooks here. This place makes you work for it! In just 4 days, Martin & I logged more than 50 miles of the most magnificent hikes, and with each mile, I fell a little deeper for this raw wonderland.

#inlovewithCanyonlands #BAMF2015

#inlovewithCanyonlands #BAMF2015

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Each hike is more like a series of mini hikes as the topography keeps shifting. We went from walking-on-the-moon through giant rock craters, to traversing over slickrock, to bouldering, to winding through narrow slot canyons barely wider than our hips (so cool!) to meandering through big open fields surrounded on all sounds by massive, colorful rock formations.

Craters on the moon. #BAMF2015

Craters on the moon. #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

Crazy trails! #BAMF2015

How they carved these trails in/over/around/through/ under those rocks is a mystery, but it’s a hikers paradise. You never know what will surprise you around the next bend or over the next rock. It’s heaven – GO!

Slot canyons - my favorite!

Slot canyons – my favorite!

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Special thanks to Randy and Jeanne – our new friends who helped show us the ropes and see the hidden wonders of Canyonlands. You two are an inspiration for living the adventure travel lifestyle. Thank you for sharing some of your secrets with us! Same time, same place next year??! 🙂

Randy & Jeanne - thank you!

Randy & Jeanne – thank you!

We are now in Moab/Arches and will be visiting Canyonlands’ sister in the north (Island in the Sky) next, but The Needles has set the bar high, even for Glacier and Denali.

So, while I’m loathe to play favorites, if you make me do it, you have my answer!

Monument Valley = Monumentally Disappointing

This may be blasphemous as I’ve never heard a bad word about Monument Valley, or maybe my expectations were too high coming off of Zion, Bryce & Capitol Reef, but, for me, Monument Valley is the first thing on our itinerary that did not deliver.

After you drive into the Navajo Reservation ($20 entry), the scenic drive itself is a bumpy, dusty dirt road filled with tourists and dust clouds. And everything is an up-sell (take a tour, ride a horse, get a photo with a native, camp in our crappy campground, buy our jewelry…). It just feels like a tourist trap. My favorite photo (below) is actually from the visitor center!

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and you should go if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Monument Valley, as we did. I would much rather visit the beautiful UT/AZ/CO parks where you can hike into the landscape and actually experience it up close and from all angles – get your hands dirty! The drive-by experience isn’t quite the same.

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

The BAMF in Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

The BAMF in Monument Valley. #BAMF2015

My $.02 for what it’s worth!

Utah: Beauty vs. Booze

So my observation of Utah is that it is easily one of the most beautiful states I have ever seen with endless mountains, canyons, and the most amazing rock formations and colors. Which makes me think: “I should live here!”

Utah beauty. #BAMF2015

Utah beauty. #BAMF2015

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imageimageimageimageBut there’s a catch. You’re in Mormon country. Try getting a decent beer, margarita, or any other cocktail. The max alcohol content is 3.2%. I said 3.2%! You can’t order before 11:30am (hello?!). You must also order food (probably a smart rule). You can only get liquor in a liquor store, and we could probably be arrested for carrying alcohol across state lines (the least of all our offenses).

So, could I live here? Given my Irish heritage and taste for fine wine and dark beers, probably not. But it sure is pretty!

Not a Quitter!

Sorry for the delay in posting. We’ve been without any cell coverage for days, which begs the question: why can I get fast, free WIFI in Cambodia – a third world country – and I can’t get basic connectivity in the U.S.? Granted, I’ve been hanging out in canyons, but still, I expect more of this “advanced technological society”! Just sayin…

So I owe you a bunch of updates as we’ve been through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges National Monument since my last post, but first I have a confession, in the name of keeping this blog real…I had my first “I can’t do this” moment last week.

Our snowy campsite. This was NOT in the brochure! #BAMF2015

Our snowy campsite. This was NOT in the brochure! #BAMF2015

Bryce in the snow. Still beautiful! #BAMF2015

Bryce in the snow. Still beautiful! #BAMF2015

I was doing pretty well with the cold. We brought proper gear and I’ve been wearing every layer (and Martin is a master fire builder). But, when the cold turned to snow & bitter winds at Bryce, I cried for the comforts of home (ANY home). Then when that night was followed by cold blowing rain, every bone in my body said “I can’t do this.” Poor Martin – I was not fun company.

This was a gift from Luise. I attached it to the windshield as my reminder that "shit happens". #BAMF2015

This was a gift from Luise. I attached it to the windshield as my reminder that “shit happens”. #BAMF2015

I knew those moments would happen, but I was surprised by how hard and fast it hit – how quickly my adventurous resolve crumbled into dust. Clearly, if I’m going to come back as Katniss, I have a lot of toughening up to do! And if I’m going to survive Alaska.

But this jouney is as much about self-discovery, and I knew it wouldn’t all be pretty. So, there, I confess. Some days are REALLY hard, even with Martin’s endlessly optimistic spirit. I hope I become more like him!

Yesterday and today were both sunny, beautiful, perfect days, so my spririt is lifted, and I hope my resolve just a little bit stronger.

Natural Bridges. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges hike. #awesome. #BAMF2015

Natural Bridges hike. #awesome. #BAMF2015

Yesterday we did a hike at Natural Bridges National Monument that is definitely on my Top 10 most favorites hikes EVER list. We climbed rocks, forded streams, fought through narrow wooded paths, and around every corner was an unbelievable scenic reward. Every 5.6 miles of it was unique and awesome.

Our campground on the bluff. #perfect #BAMF2015

Our campground on the bluff. #perfect #BAMF2015

Watching the sunset. #heaven #BAMF2015

Watching the sunset. #heaven #BAMF2015

And last night we had the most breathtaking campsite on a high mountain bluff with views for miles in every direction and vertical cliffs below. Watching the sunset there and then the sky fill with stars literally took my breath away. Not another person for miles. If I could put that experience in a jar, I would pull it out in all my moments of weakness as a reminder of what this is all about.

Life is good! #BAMF2015

Life is good! #BAMF2015

I’ll probably be without coverage again for a few days as we head into Monument Valley and then up to Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab, but I’ll post as often as I can, and will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly! Love and miss you all.

You tell me what this is! #BAMF2015

You tell me what this is! #BAMF2015

P.S. On a less serious note, I have a question. Maybe it’s just my 3rd grade sense of humor (or something deeply Freudian), but why do all rock formations look like a penis?