Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zion, Bryce ... and More!

We rolled into St George, Utah for what we thought would be a four day visit. Our site at Sand Hollow State Park gave us welcome peace and quiet compared to what we had just left in Las Vegas.

Since Doug had noticed some overheating issues on our way out of the Mojave Desert, he made an appointment to have the Wildebeest evaluated at a local shop, Kristi Diesel. The benefit of towing a car meant that we could still explore the area while the RV was being worked on.

And explore we did! Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks were on our radar. So when the repair job took a couple days longer than expected, we were fortunate to be able to explore even "more" beauty in the area.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park was located two and a half hours away from us ... road trip time! We took the longer but more scenic route going there and the faster I-15 route back home. The longer route involves slow driving through a portion of Zion National Park,

... but the beautiful cliffs towering above the road

... and the unique mountain tunnels definitely had made up for the extra road time.

Bryce Canyon National Park consists of one main road that leads from the Visitor Center and along the ridge overlooking the canyon. Along the 18 mile stretch, there are a number of turn-offs that provide spectacular canyon views and access to hiking trails.

Natural Bridge

So, while it is possible to "see" Bryce via the car, we found the true essence of the park was found by taking one of those hiking trails down into the canyon.

We decided to hike the Queens/Navajo Combination Loop that we accessed from Sunset Point.

It took us through some "keyholes" and got us up close and personal with the "hoodoos". Hoodoos, the odd-shaped rocks left standing by the forces of erosion, make Bryce Canyon so unique.

Of course, what goes down, must go up again ... but we felt that this three mile hike was the best way to really experience Bryce's beauty.

Some more Bryce beauty ...

Doug works his "HDR" photoshop magic on this
Bryce Canyon view.

I'm naming this "Kitty" HooDoo ...
What would your name for it be?

Upper view of the "Amphitheater" that we hiked down into.

Zion National Park

Located 45 minutes to an hour away from us were the three entrances that lead into different parts of Zion National Park.

The Kolob Canyon entrance is right off I-15 and is much less busy than the main entrance to Zion. Because of the easier access, we visited and hiked this area a couple of times. Driving up Kolob Canyon Road took us to Timber Creek Overlook Trail and a beautiful view of the valley below.

Hikes along Taylor Creek Trail and La Verkin Creek Trail lead us

... along and through picturesque creek beds that helped form the area.

A few days later we took the Kolob Terrace Road which is another quiet access point to Zion hiking and scenery. Although twisty and steep at times, it was a great way to see ...

shy Zion inhabitants,

eagles "fishing" in the Kolob Reservoir,
... and panoramic views!
"I'll take the picture, Doug. You just keep your eyes on the road!"

On the way down, we stopped off at Left Fork Trailhead and took a short hike that produced more amazing views of ...

blooming cacti,

California Fuchsia,
... and a serene canyon and creek bed below.

The main entrance of Zion begins near just past the town of Springdale, Utah. This area tends to be the most popular with visitors. Great numbers of tourists descend upon the one narrow road leading into Zion Canyon.

For safety reasons, this road is closed to private cars from March through November and accessible only via the Zion Shuttle Bus. So we parked our car by the Visitor Center and took the narrated trip to the end of the canyon road. A short hike along the paved Riverside Walk brought us to the Narrows.

Usually one can hike along the river further back into the canyon area known as the Narrows, but Doug is out of luck this spring as the massive amount of melting snow is swelling the riverbank making the trail impassable.

Unique rock sculptures
left behind by park visitors.

During our shuttle ride back, we got off at The Grotto to access one of the many hiking trails along the canyon. We not only escaped the throngs of people, but we also got much better views of the rock formations then is possible when riding the shuttle bus.

On our way out of Zion, we happened upon Zion Canyon Brew Pub. Operating under the stricter liquor laws of Utah, the brewers' creative juices are a bit limited. 

But even Doug could enjoy a mediocre beer on a deck with this kind of view!

Meanwhile, back at the RV repair shop one thing was leading to another ... forcing us to "cool our jets" for a few "more" days. We are so grateful that we were in such a beautiful area that we could mellow out and enjoy!

We took time to explore Snow Canyon State Park with its petrified sand dunes,

... lava caves,

... and narrow canyons.

On Thursday we found ourselves "homeless" as they had the Wildebeest a bit torn apart in order to work on its exhaust manifold. So, after finding a hotel room that was larger than our current "home", Doug treated me to a little local "culture".

It was opening night for "Annie Get Your Gun" at Brigham's Playhouse. We both agreed that the musical and acting talent was ...

... right on target!

Friday afternoon we were starting to make tentative plans if we have to be in this area over the weekend ... Maybe a quick Grand Canyon visit??!! But the dedicated and skillful mechanics at Kristi Diesel had the Wildebeest all shaped up by closing time on Friday.

So it was time to pack up our gear,

... break out of jail,

... do "last call" at the saloon,

... and hit the road running (get it ... road-runner??!!)

Good-bye, southwestern United States, it has been a "more" delightful winter than we ever imagined it could be!

Until next time ... delight in how much "more" surrounds you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Doug's Birthday Weekend ... Vegas Style

It seems kind of funny that a someone who has never put his hands on a slot machine or played a round of poker would be in a position to celebrate his birthday weekend in Las Vegas.

But, since our favorite gifts are experiences and not stuff,

... and our travels brought us to the area,

Let Doug's Vegas Birthday Weekend Begin!

In order to get to Vegas, we had to drive through the Mojave National Preserve ... that is, over 100 miles of desert nothingness. 

Never been in the "middle of nowhere" quite to this extreme before ... a little thrilling and a little terrifying. Like, this is REALLY neat until the Wildebeest got a little overheated on one of the long climbs, and we end up on the side of the road. Then a tiny bit of panic sets in.

But Doug, calm as ever, let her rest and cool down and then gently coaxed her on ... all the time keeping his eye on the temperature gauge. We arrived in Las Vegas without further incident, but Doug was already formulating a repair plan.

Since the Wildebeest was cooling her jets at our new home, Las Vegas RV Resort, I knew that Doug needed to cool his jets also.

So off to start his birthday brewery tour. During the long weekend, we toasted to Doug's birthday with the crafts of six local breweries: Bad Beat, Crafthaus, Sin City, Ellis Island, Lovelady, and Boulder Dam. Happily, Doug was able to add to his coaster collection. Sadly, Doug found most of the Las Vegas craft beer to be just "average". Lovelady Brewing was the only one that brewed more than one IPA along with a few other intriguing styles ... making it "flight-worthy".

   Having achieved a "chillax" mode, I seized my opportunity to convince Doug to become a Vegas tourist.

We meet the "sweetest" people in Vegas!

The Pinball Hall of Fame

Based on the recommendation of a friend, our first stop was the Pinball Hall of Fame. Years ago, Doug bought his own pinball machine, Fish Tails. He and the boys spent many hours flipping the balls at the lit up targets ... and I spent many hours listening to the annoying yet catchy music.

As a part of our downsizing, Doug put many hours into refurbishing it before selling it to another pinball "wizard". He was happy to find his beloved Fish Tails at the Hall of Fame and play a few games again. I, too, was overjoyed to get that Fish Tails tune stuck once again in my head as I got drawn into the game!

After $10 of pinball fun, I convinced Doug that EVERYONE needs to experience the Las Vegas "Strip" once in their life ... and he made me promise that it would only be once. Let the mingling with thousands of colorful, interesting, or just plain unique people begin!

The Vegas "Strip"

Among the "once in a lifetime" sights ...

Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden
Real gondola rides on the canal inside the
Venetian Casino
A chance to spin the wheel
to win a fortune ... Doug resisted
Finding the perfect birthday treat ...
a solid pound of chocolate peanut butter bliss!

Buildings and lights ... sights and sounds ...
and, of course, Elvis appearing on every other corner!

OK, we did the "Strip" ... now on to the neat and natural reasons to visit Vegas.

Red Rock Canyon

About 10 miles west of Las Vegas is the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. When we arrived late morning, there was a long line of cars waiting to get into the park in order to drive the 13 mile loop around the park and access the hiking trails.  We decided that we had enough of crowds on the "Strip" the day before, so we drove two miles up the road and did our own hike.

We found the Oak Creek Canyon Trail and experienced the beauty of the canyon with none of the crowds. After we had finished our hike, we found that the lines into the park had dissipated, so we went in. As we drove around, we were able to appreciate the bold rock formations, 

... as well as the delicate beauty in the area.

Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam

To the east of Las Vegas lies Lake Mead National Recreational Area and the magnificent structure that created the lake ... Hoover Dam.

We were interested in seeing the lake and also checking out the public camping areas that surround Lake Mead. The beauty convinced us that "boondocking" in this area is definitely in our future.

It doesn't look like it from here, but Hoover Dam, like Red Rock Canyon, was also bustling with tourists that day. For $10 we parked and walked on, over, and around the dam taking in the sights from all angles. Admission to the Visitor's Center is an extra $10 a person, and $30 will get you in for a tour ... if you arrive before the tours sell out. 

Lake Mead side
Overlooking the Dam

Colorado River side

But, see that bridge in the distance?

It is free to park near the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and walk on the pedestrian side of the bridge to get possibly the best perspective of the Hoover Dam ... without having to deal with the crowds that flock to the dam.

While it was fun to feel like we were a part of the "spring break" crowd, after three days of go-go-go, we needed a "break" from the tourist mode. We recharged our batteries by celebrating the Easter joy with the local Las Vegas community. Slowing down and reflecting on our blessings was the best ending to Doug's birthday weekend!

After that Doug convinced the Wildebeest that she can "climb any mountain" ... or at least get us up through the Virgin River Gorge while still keeping her "cool".

Currently, we are in St George, Utah getting the cooling system looked at and some routine maintenance done. While John and his talented mechanics at Kristi Diesel work on the Wildebeest, we are taking advantage of being near Zion and Bryce National Parks.

Until next time ... celebrate with the ones you love ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!