Bryce Canyon

Today is a good day for a road trip after yesterday’s strenuous hike to Angels Landing. So we drive 80 miles to Bryce Canyon.

Our original plans were to leave Zion tomorrow, Sunday, and spend 3 nights in Bryce. After checking the weather, however, we opt for 3 more nights at Zion.

It’s a scenic but overcast drive as we head north on US Route 89.

We turn east on Utah State Route 12  and pass through Dixie National Forest. The sun pops out now and then and I get some pretty previews of the red sandstone and hoodoo formations yet to come.

This is how I am imagining Bryce Canyon will be…

Utah State Route 63 heads south and takes us into the National Park.

Actually, 63 dead ends into the Park and is the main road through the Park.

As we drive to the Park’s entrance, we notice that most of the restaurants, attractions, and souvenir stores leading to Bryce Canyon are not yet open. It’s still snowy and cold at this higher elevation, validating our decision to stay longer at Zion NP.

Since the shuttle is not running yet, we drive to Rainbow Point and make our way back through each stop along the way.

The drive through Bryce Canyon is not what I expected, coming from Zion NP.

The Park traverses the rim of the canyon instead of cutting through it. To partake the marvelous views you need to view Bryce from the edge or hike through it.

So as we drive the 18 miles to the end of Route 63, relax while I give you a brief history of Bryce Canyon’s geological wonders.

First of all, Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon but a horseshoe-shaped bowl formed by several creeks and streams that rapidly began carving down into the rock layers of the Colorado Plateau. The beginnings of these streams moved slowly, further and further back, like fingers into the edge of the plateau, creating the scalloped amphitheater in which the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon can be seen eroding from the rim. (

Hoodoos begin as a fin-like column capped with limestone. Freeze/thaw cycles and acid rain erode a window in the fin. Eventually the limestone cap can no longer  support itself and the window caves in creating a cairn-like formation. (

Here are my pics from Bryce Canyon…

Rainbow point… elevation 9115 feet

And here is a most unique hoodoo…

Black birch canyon… Elevation 8750 feet

Ponderosa Point… Elevation 8904 Feet

Agua canyon… Elevation 8800 feet

Natural bridge… elevation 8627 feet

Fairview point… elevation 8819 feet

Swamp canyon… elevation 7998 feet

Bryce point… elevation 8296 feet

Inspiration point… elevation 8100 feet

Sunset point… elevation 8100 feet

As we drive back to Zion, the weather threatens snow and the temperatures drop.

But Watchman Mountain stands tall and offers protection and comfort as we exit Zion NP and cozy-up in our RV.

Zion National Park Part 3

We did it!

We wake up to snow on the mountains surrounding our campground.

But the sun is shining and we are psyched to tackle an iconic 5.4 mile adventure hike.

The Angels Landing Hike is rated Double S for Strenuous and Scary. The description from the Zion National Park Information Sheet reads:

”Long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights.” (LIKE ME!) “Last section is a route along a steep narrow ridge to the summit.”

What is not mentioned is just how narrow some steep sections are! But I decide to give it a try. Jeff reminds me we can always turn back.

Angels landing

The shuttle lets us off at The Grotto Stop where we cross the street and take the bridge across the Virgin River. We look up at our destination… yes, that’s it… the top of the rock formation below.

It’s 11:47. Ahead of us is the challenge of a strenuous climb of some 1500 feet that will require us to hang on to chains as we scale a knife-edge ridgeline with steep drop offs on either side.

We wind our way up to the mouth of Refrigerator Canyon.

From here we loop up and through the canyon walls into a series of 21 switchbacks known as “Walter’s Wiggles.”

No pain, no gain… I keep focusing on the spectacular views.

Meanwhile the road and river grow smaller below.

The ascent through the switchbacks leads to Scouts Lookout and the intersection of the West Rim backcountry trail and Angels Landing.

Scouts Lookout is a great place to take a port-a-potty and snack break, shed the backpack and extra gear, and catch the first glimpse of the last half mile and first set of chains to the summit. Here’s where many hikers give up their plans to continue to the Landing. Some freak out while others decide it’s not worth it to fight the crowds going up and down.

The squirrels certainly enjoy the crowds, however. They scurry out whenever they hear the crackle of plastic unwrapping.

I won’t lie, I am a bit intimidated by what lies ahead of me. But, I’ve made it this far and am committed to the last scary and strenuous stretch. Actually it doesn’t look so bad from here, just crowded. Of course I can’t see the summit.

We have to wait before going up as a long line of hikers descends the slickrock ridge. Then our turn comes. I fall in with a group and take it step by step. There’s no time to look over the edge. You have to just concentrate, hang on, and not slip and fall.

Somehow Jeff and I get separated. When I find a space to stand off to the side I wait for him. But he’s having second thoughts and considers going back. I, on the other hand, cannot give up yet. I am determined to haul ass, conquer my fears, and make it to the top. Selfishly, I leave him behind and get adopted by a group of co-eds from BYU. I hang with them… get it?… hang… chains… groan. Unfortunately Jeff has my iPhone in his pocket but I can’t worry about that now. No one is taking pictures anyway.

A second set of chain railings ends and we traverse a narrow 2-3 foot wide passage with steep drop offs on either side. Did I mention that there is nothing to hold onto? I feel like I am  walking in midair. I just stay in the moment and carefully place one foot in front of the other and concentrate on my hiking shoes.

We maneuver around a huge rock and the area widens out like a side saddle. Looking straight ahead I catch sight of the summit. OMGeez Louise… it’s straight up!

I look behind me and I see Jeff making his way up. I knew he wouldn’t back out! As he hands me my phone to get a picture, he explains how the crowd of hikers was offsetting to him. (It’s a one lane highway up here with no room for passing. So traffic is frequently stopped leaving you to find a precarious but secure spot to place your hands and feet while waiting your turn to go. After centering himself, Jeff was ready to complete the hike.)

I take a picture of the final climb to Angels Landing. There’s a steady flow of people going up and down. (I circled some hikers on the ridge in the picture below to give a better perspective.)

The picture above is deceiving because after walking around the evergreen in the foreground you have to make your way down a bit before scaling the last section of chains.

I take a breather and hand my phone back to Jeff for safe keeping. My peeps are ready to go and I leave Jeff behind once more. (If I think and wait too long, I will get scared. So I don’t think and just keep going.) What you can’t see in the picture above is how close the guy in the red shirt is to the edge.

At this point of the climb everyone on the ridge becomes friends and conversations blend. We coach and encourage each other. We find out where people are from. We work out a traffic system. We look out for each other as we hang on for dear life.

Finally, we reach the top! And just as I’m wishing I could take a picture to capture this moment, I hear Jeff’s voice. He’s made it too and I get to take a picture after all.

I decide to walk out a little further and as I hand my phone back to Jeff he quickly snaps a picture of me… King of the Mountain… Look, Ma, no hands!

My young friends from BYU line up for a picture.

I take a few more pics before descending.

These are pictures of Zion Canyon looking over the Big Bend area toward the Temple of Sinawava:

This next picture is a view from the other side of Angels Landing looking out  toward the south.

Down we go. I am so looking forward to being back at Scouts Lookout standing in one piece on terra firma.

Once again we encounter long waits as we let ascending hikers pass. Amazingly a few hikers ignore the queues and chains and stride up and down with poles making their own paths over the slickrock.

When our group arrives back at Scouts Lookout, we are strangers no more and we cheer our collective accomplishment. My college friends have officially adopted me as Grammy L and invite me to visit them on campus.

Jeff and I pause for the iconic OSU OHIO picture even though none of us went to The Ohio State. We all went to colleges in Ohio though.

We find our backpack and a rock to relax upon as we hydrate and eat trail mix and an orange.

I talk to 2 young women waiting for their boyfriends to return from Angels Landing. After watching YouTube videos they decided to opt out of the last half mile climb. I’m glad I didn’t know too much before hand. I plan on viewing some later, though.

As we travel back down the remaining 2 miles to the Grotto Shuttle Stop, I take one last picture of the Wiggles. At least this time it’s all downhill.

Exhausted, but exhilarated we arrive back at the trailhead around 4:15 and take the shuttle to the Visitor Center. But wait, we have another half mile walk to the RV. Tomorrow our muscle groups will be talking back to us. But, WE DID IT!!!

Zion National Park Part 2

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

We wake up to a foggy mist blocking out the sun and head by car to Kanab, Utah for a late lunch, early dinner.

Up we go on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, a 25 mile road connecting the canyon in the west to Mt. Carmel Junction in the east. The East Entrance to Zion NP is midway through this drive.

The fog adds an element of mystery to the rock walls as we travel up through a series of 7 switchbacks from the canyon floor to the sandstone cliffs above.

The tunnel

Despite the many challenges faced by construction crews from Utah and Nevada in just carving out the Zion to Mount Carmel Highway… rock slides, sloughing cliffs, large boulders needing to be blasted with dynamite, and one fatality… the most significant challenge was the 1.1 mile tunnel through the heart of the sandstone cliffs connecting the switchbacks from the west to the new road from the east.

Construction began by blasting gallery windows into the cliff. From these openings crews were able to access the interior of the cliff and bore through the rock. The windows also provided lighting, ventilation, and routes for clearing away excess rock debris.

Two years and ten months later, in July of 1930, the tunnel was dedicated and officially opened to traffic. (

The tunnel is 2 lanes across and can accommodate 2-way traffic with some restrictions. Vehicles 11 feet 4 inches tall or taller OR 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider require a special $15 traffic control fee so that you can drive down the center of both lanes. (park brochure)

Immediately after exiting the tunnel from west to east, we encounter an other-worldly land of twisted, twirly rock formations that we nickname “the wavies”.  They look like layers of flaky phyllo dough and frosting swirls on a cake.

The wavies

The mist turns to rain, turns to sleet, turns to papery bits of rushing snow.

Checkerboard mesa

We turn into a pullout to get a picture of this dome covered in horizontal and vertical cracks. Erosion, wind, and rain caused the horizontal cross-bedding. Freezing and thawing over eons created the vertical cracks. (plaque at viewpoint)

We pull out from the viewpoint and continue to Mount Carmel Junction where we head southeast on US Route 89.

Seventeen miles later we arrive in “Little Hollywood”.


Kanab is just north of the Arizona border on 89. The city has a history as a filming location for many movies and television series, such as The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Planet of the Apes, Mackenna’s Gold, and many others. (

We grab a bite to eat at the Rocking V Cafe and enjoy the Kanab-A-Dabba-Doo Burger with Garlic Smashed Potatoes.

Returning through the tunnel, it’s late afternoon and there’s still fog over the canyon walls.

Zion National Park Part 1

Oh, Wow!

The most prominent feature of Zion is the steep red rock canyon carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Zion Canyon stretches 15 miles long and spans up to half a mile deep.

Access to Zion Canyon  Drive is via the Park’s South Entrance off State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah.

The East Entrance is on Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, also known as SR-9, and passes through the 1.1 mile long tunnel nestled inside the rock. No Visitor Center is located here.

The 3rd Entrance is the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center off Interstate 15 at Exit 40. This 5 mile scenic drive is located in the northwest corner of the Park.

Enough info for now. It’s time to hit the trail and experience the mesmerizing majesty of Zion. We can walk to the South Entrance since we are staying a mere half-mile away. So, let’s go!

The watcHman trail

Starting at the Visitor Center, along the east bank of the Virgin River, this hike passes by the South Campground, employee housing, and a construction yard.

But nothing can spoil the beauty beyond… the blue sky, white clouds, bright green evergreens contrasting with the sage-green shrubs, and of course the red, brown, pink, salmon, gold and white layers of the Navajo Sandstone.

After crossing the road restricted to employee and maintenance vehicles, we head upward into the cliffs and get close up and personal with some canyon walls.

The trail is moderately strenuous due to the 600 some feet gain in elevation. But I use my picture-taking need as an excuse to take a breather.  And no, the hike does not proceed to the top of Watchman, but to a viewpoint on top of the first layer of cliffs overlooking the main canyon.

It’s crowded here so we take the loop trail and get some amazing views of lower Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale where we are staying.

The end of the trail also offers views of the Towers of the Virgin and Watchman Mountain. Since I don’t  know this at the time or what these rock formations look like, I miss these photo ops. My excuse is that the sun obscures their view. I just take pics that inspire me.

This is also the “loop less traveled” and we share the solitude with a young family taking a lunch break.

As we head back, it starts to rain hard intermittently. But I still stop to take pictures.

The Towers of the Virgin are in the distance below…

And I capture Watchman in the pic below…

Another downpour threatens again…

…and when it hits we find shelter underneath a rock. Two hikers from Germany join us.

When the rain stops we slosh our way through the red mud, collecting the clay soil on our hiking boots. Each step gets heavier. But the inconvenience of the mud doesn’t stop me from taking a few more pics as we continue back to the trailhead.

Zion canyon scenic drive

Wet and muddy we head back to the Visitor Center and catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle. Starting here the shuttle makes 8 stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center to the “Temple of Sinawava” where the canyon narrows.

Private vehicles are not allowed beyond Stop 3, Canyon Junction, which takes you to Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the tunnel, and the East Entrance of the Park.

Riverside Walk

We take the shuttle to the end of the line, Stop 9, The Temple of Sinawava, and walk the 2.2 out and back trail along the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon. Since the path is paved it is rated wheelchair accessible with some assistance.

It’s still raining off and on but it does not ruin our day. Clouds gather and disperse, coloring the sky various shades of blue and gray.

Actually the weather adds an eerie sense of grandeur to the ferns, trees, moss, and river on the floor of the canyon…

as the imposing weeping walls of rock embrace it all…

The paved trail ends as the canyon narrows into a gorge.

We watch as a few folks wade into the water as they continue into the Zion Narrows, a day-hike following the Virgin River as it winds through a 2,000 foot deep canyon that narrows into 20-30 feet wide passages. A longer hike requires a backcountry permit. Either way, you will get wet.

When we return to the trailhead we board the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. It takes about 40 minutes to get there as the shuttle has to make 8 stops along the way.

From the Visitor Center we walk back to Zion Canyon Campground where we are staying. It is also a Quality Inn motel. That’s our RV to the right of the couple walking toward us:

What a great day!

Leaving Las Vegas

Heading to Zion National Park

Continuing northeast on Interstate 15 for about 90 minutes, we cross into the tip of Arizona after passing through Mesquite, NV.

The landscape changes.

Thirty minutes later we enter Utah.

There is no denying that we are in Utah. Just look at the spectacular rock formations.

We exit the 15 onto State Highway 9 in Hurricane, Utah. Following the 9, we pass through La Verkin and Virgin and arrive Springdale, the gateway into the southern entrance of Zion.

We arrive at Zion Canyon Campground 3:30 Mountain Time.

What a gorgeous setting! And we are only a half mile away from the entrance to Zion NP.

After setting up “camp” we drive into the Park and end up on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway that leads to the mile long tunnel to Bryce Canyon. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to all vehicles except for the Shuttle that runs from the Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava making 8 stops along the way.

We reach the tunnel and turn around, deciding to drive through it another day and maybe hike the Canyon Overlook Trail on the other side of the tunnel.

On our way back we stop at a turn-out and take some awesome pictures:

When we return to the RV, I relax with a glass of wine (okay, you got me… a mug and a bottle…) and watch the sunset bounce off the rocks beside us. Another perfect day in RV Land…

Hike to Delicate Arch

Arches National Park

Today, under threatening skies and with hoards of other hikers, (some in flip-flops, others with hiking sticks) we embark on a memorable 3 mile round trip adventure on steep slickrock slopes. The trail offers no shade and traverses a rock ledge before arriving at Delicate Arch.

The trail begins at the Wolfe Ranch parking area.

Disabled Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son, Fred, settled here in the late 1800s. The weathered log cabin, root cellar, and corral are evidence of the ranch they operated for over 20 years. (park brochure)

nps public domain

After crossing a bridge, a loop trail leads to petroglyphs on rocks that we decide to explore on the way back.

It’s so remarkable to be walking through the geology of Arches National Park! The colors, the rocks, the foliage, the views!

Teaser alert… An arch, yes, but not Delicate Arch…

Ooh… the trail narrows and looks over the edge…

Now we continue along a ledge…

And arrive..

People gather to rest, take pictures, get closer to the base of the arch, and make new acquaintances.

We spend 20 minutes talking to others.

And then it starts to rain!

Everyone starts scrambling down like ants, heading back to the trailhead and seeking the shelter of a waiting parked vehicle.

Water starts streaming through the crevices in the rock and quickly fills the potholes. I try to get a picture but my fingers are too wet to unlock the screen on my iPhone.

Meanwhile, other brave (or crazy) hikers, some carrying crying toddlers, continue up the trail to Delicate Arch. They are closer to the end of the trail than to the beginning, anyway. Besides everyone is already drenched, except for those who thought to bring a poncho.

By the time we arrive back at the trailhead, the rain has stopped, and no, we never do take the loop to see the petroglyphs carved in the rocks. Next time…

Arches National Park

Water and Ice… Extreme Temperatures… and Underground Salt Movement… Oh My!!!

There are over 2,000 cataloged arches in this National Park, ranging in size from a 3-foot opening (the minimum considered an arch) to the longest, Landscape Arch, measuring 306 feet base to base. (park brochure)

Can you find the 2 arches in the picture below?

Look again for 2 small pinpricks of white in the upper middle section of rocks. (I deleted the photos before I could point them out.)

Towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks (perched atop seemingly inadequate bases) compete with the arches as scenic spectacles. (park brochure)

Can you spot The Three Gossips whispering below?

Below is Sheep Rock, but it looks like a lamb to me.

Balanced Rock sits below. Pretty awesome!

Jeff and I first visited Arches National Park in December of 2009. It snowed heavily as we traveled into Moab. The next day, the NP actually closed because of the weather conditions.

Fortunately the Park reopened the next day and we were able to drive the main road out and back, traverse the side roads, take a few short hikes, and bask in the awe of these natural wonders surrounded by blue sky and white snow.

Today we return and wait a good half hour in a line of cars before gaining entrance to the main road that traverses the Park.

Unfortunately, major road construction has intermittently closed some sections and littered the landscape with orange cones.

I have done my best to crop out the orange construction cones so I can share the beautiful scenery from the main road, a 36 mile out and back drive, on a partly cloudy, sometimes sunny day with threatening storms on the horizon. Honestly, the  sky adds a hint of surrealism to these incredible rock formations.

Dupa rock?

Do you remember the name of this formation? (Hint: whispering women…)

How did the arches form?

Geologists speculate from circumstantial evidence:

Three hundred million years ago a sea flowed across the Colorado Plateau and left a thick salt bed deposit as it eventually evaporated. Arches National Park lies atop this underground salt bed, thousands of feet thick in some places.

Then, over millions of years, residue from floods, winds, deserts, and more oceans, that came and went, blanketed the salt beds and compressed into rock.

The weight of this thick cover of rock caused the underlying salt bed to shift, buckle, and liquefy. This repositioning of the salt bed thrust some layers of rock upward creating domes while other layers of rock fell off section by section.

Faults deep in the earth’s crust created even more instability and produced vertical cracks in the rocks. Surface erosion stripped off younger rock layers leaving the salmon-colored Estrada Sandstone and buff-colored Navajo Sandstone exposed.

Over time rainwater seeped into the porous cracks, joints, and folds of sandstone. As the water froze, the rock expanded and contracted and broke off in bits and pieces. Wind later cleaned out any loose particles, leaving behind a series of freestanding fins. More wind and water caused some fins to collapse.

But others, harder and better balanced, survived this erosive process despite missing sections of rock underneath. These became the iconic arches of Arches National Park. (park brochure)

Mesa Arch

Canyonlands National Park

A lone span, clinging to the canyon rim, Mesa Arch has greeted every sunrise for a millennium. Repeated cycles of freezing and thawing created this geological rarity as water seeped through cracks in the sandstone cliff.

These same freezing and thawing cycles will eventually lead to its collapse. (plaque at trailhead)

Can you spot the arch in the picture below?

This half mile loop does not disappoint. This has to be the most beautiful trail I have ever hiked!

The Mystery of Upheaval Dome

Canyonlands National Park

Upheaval Dome is a geological wonder. Its rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than 2 miles wide.

A short, steep trail leads to 2 overlooks.

Cairns guide the way.


How did this unique and mysterious rock feature form?

Scientists propose 2 potential causes: a salt dome that cracked and tilted the rock over time, or a violent meteorite impact that instantly fractured the rock. Believe it or not, findings support the meteorite hypothesis. But the jury is still out.

After about a mile, we reach the second overlook and play “king of the mountain” on top of the Navajo sandstone boulder.

It always takes us twice as long to hike out because once I start taking pictures, I can’t stop!

It starts as soon as we get out of the car…

Today I am fascinated with the tree sculptures posing in front of rocky backgrounds:

This one is my favorite!

Canyonlands National Park

A Wilderness of Rock

Water and gravity are the master architects of this NP on the Colorado Plateau. These powerful natural forces cut flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of amazing canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires that are too beautiful to describe in words.

Before being dedicated as a NP, in 1964, these remote lands were only familiar to Native Americans, cowboys, river explorers, and uranium prospectors.  (park brochure)

Canyonlands is made up of 3 different regions: Island in the Sky to the north, The Needles to the south, and The Maze to the west. The Colorado and Green Rivers intersect these distinct regions.

 park brochure

Both Island in the Sky and The Needles are accessible off 191 that runs through Moab. The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands requiring a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, more time, and some self-sufficiency to visit this more remote area.

We head north for about 10 miles and then head west on 313 for another 20-some miles to reach the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.

But before we get to the Visitor Center, 2 spectacular rock formations catch our attention.

Do these rocks remind you of anything? (Hint: Civil War ships)

We stop at the overlook and read the posted information…

These prominent 600 feet-tall landforms are the Monitor and Merrimac Buttes.

Short history lesson: The Merrimac, on the left, was the Confederate ship, called the “Virginia” by the southern troops. The Monitor, on the right, was the Union ship, sent to destroy the Merrimac.

We also learn that this view area, and much of the Colorado Plateau, rests on Navajo sandstone deposited some 200 million years ago when a vast desert existed here. These sand dunes eventually hardened and petrified into the many rock formations that are visible throughout Canyonlands.

Our first stop is Grand View Point Overlook at the edge of the Island in the Sky mesa. This broad mesa is wedged between the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Closest to the mesa’s edge is the White Rim, a nearly continuous sandstone bench 1,200 feet below.

A plaque at the Overlook explains how mere drops of water chisel solid stone into dramatic cliffs, spires, mesas, and buttes. Rainwater seeps into the thirsty sandstone, we are standing upon, and collects in razor-thin cracks.

In winter the water freezes and widens the cracks, splintering the rock into great slabs that tumble into the canyons. Thunderstorms release torrents of rain that send waterfalls of loose pebbles and dirt over the edges of the cliff. Softer slopes of clay and mudstone crumble beneath the force of the water. A stair-step shape emerges as water carves alternating layers of harder and softer rock. Most of the water evaporates or is absorbed into the rock layers. Only some of the water reaches the Green and Colorado Rivers, unseen in the canyons below, carting away thousands of feet of rock, one grain at a time.

The colors of the Colorado plateau are due to the different minerals inside the rock layers and how they react to weathering. Each sedimentary rock layer offers its own predominant color phase.

When the iron in the rock is exposed to the atmosphere, it gives off a vibrant red and yellow hue. The black sheen, called “desert varnish”, is produced from manganese. The purples and greens are caused by the clay minerals from the Morrison and Chinle Formations. (posted info at Monitor and Merrimac Overlook)

Grand View Point Overlook marks the southern-most end of the paved road through Island in the Sky. We retrace our route and stop to see what we missed…

Buck Canyon overlooks the Colorado River to the east.

More pictures from the edge…

The Green River…