This years big trip was one that took us out west. In two weeks we passed through 12 states and drove 5,027 miles, visiting 5 national parks and several other amazingly cool spots along the way. I had never been into the true west besides visiting Californias redwoods. I was especially excited to see the great barren desert, Native American country and of coarse the Grand Canyon. The first leg of the journey was through Tennessee which was a good eight hours by itself on highway 40 west. Then it was into Arkansas and Oklahoma. This is when the trip really began for me. The landscape began to change and we entered Native lands. The mountains flattened out and long flat mesas emerged. Wind turbines dotted the roadside, casinos were everywhere and trains seemed more active here than anywhere I have seen. I instantly felt I had entered the American west. While in Oklahoma we ran into the famous route 66, which I learned was a highly used highway back in the day that runs from California to Illinois. It was neat to get on and off a few times during the trip, each stop led us through segments of small towns, most of which were quaint and charming, some had very little left except the remnants of past glory. One day I’d like to travel that route in it’s entirety. Passing through the reservation lands had a special feeling for me, since my youth I have held Native culture close to my heart. I could feel the spirit all around. We did a stretch across the pan handle of Oklahoma called no mans land. Crossing states, we made a stop in Amarillo, Texas to see the Cadillac ranch. It was out in a big open field, ten Cadillac buried nose down and covered in spray paint, done by artists in the 60’s. We also ate lunch in a small town and I had a bacon cheeseburger stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwichs, with onion rings mixed in, some things are bigger in Texas. After sleeping in the car, we crossed yet another state and stayed a night in Gallup, New Mexico. This little town was the home of Native artisans. Lots of little jewelry and hand made Native crafts and my introduction to trading posts, a big thing here in the west and traditionally how Natives and white settlers traded. In this town we checked out a Native American museum that I found interesting. Being in New Mexico really immersed us in Native surroundings, as well as desert environment. The landscape began to have some color, mesas and canyons, a truly beautiful state.
Gallup street art
Gallup street art
Gallup street art
Gallup street art
Gallup street art
Onto to Arizona and the serious adventures begin. It seemed almost immediately after crossing the border between states, the landscape changed again. Mesas turned to mountains. We pulled over at a trading post to take it in. Huge cliffs of reds and browns and purples towered above us. We bought a few sand paintings which is a traditional form of art in Native culture and very cool. Our first big stop came at the Petrified Forest, wow what a place is all I can say! We bought an inner agency park pass here, which would get in any National park for a year and more than paid for itself along the duration of the trip. We did a short one mile hike along the rim of the painted desert to start off this adventure. It seemed endless, sand dunes in blues, greens, purples and reds. For the first time the intense desert heat hit me and man it’s no joke. There was several small hikes to enjoy and one that stood out most was called the blue mesa, it was a hike through these small, blue striped mountains of sand, and all along the trail were stumps and pieces of petrified wood. We went from end to end of the park and saw remnants of the Native peoples village and also super cool petroglyphs, these amazing drawings in the rocks. On one of those hikes, called newspaper rock, the hat I just bought especially for the trip blew right off my head in a huge wind gust, sailed down the cliff and is forever gone, guess that’d be my offering to the ancestors. One of the amazing things about this park was how many trees used to be here, big ones too. We’d later learn from a friendly park ranger that much of the wood here traveled along rivers back when the world was still connected, Pangaea as it’s known. This is dating back to dinosaur times. This whole area of New Mexico and Arizona is well famous for dinosaur bones and history. The idea of Pangaea had always fascinated me and though I thought it made sense , I never wasn’t completely sure if it was true. Seeing examples like this made it clear it happened no doubt. One of the last hikes we did here was one called the avenue of the giants, huge stumps and whole petrified trees covered the hills by the visitor center, just magnificent. Inside the center we saw dinosaur skeletons and beautifully polished petrified stumps. If your out that way it is a must see park.
first mountains we saw in Arizona
the first Arizona mountains
From there we were Sedona bound. Some say it’s the land of vortexes. We camped a night on a forest road on the way to Sedona, we’d return for a second night because it was close enough and free camping is the best stuff. A huge discovery that came on the trip was how much BLM land there is out there. BLM land is government owned land that’s free for the people to use, especially to camp on, there are sooo many long, dusty side roads to pull off on and set up shop it’s unreal and highly convenient, we would use these roads the whole trip. Driving into Sedona was breathtaking. We drove through an area called Oak Creek Canyon and the views were unreal the whole way, each new corner brought awe inspiring views. I was instantly taken by the charm of Sedona, thinking as I do on most trips, I could live here. We had a fancy lunch at a restaurant called Mariposa Latin Grill and it had some great food and amazing views. After that we made our way to a stupa I discovered online called Amitabha stupa and peace park. Funny story here is, last year we were given these postcards from a local photographer of this very place, we both picked these out of many random ones to choose from and put them up in our home, not knowing it was the same place we were bound for. This park was great. Right outside the city, tucked away in a neighborhood was the park. It has a very peaceful setting, lots of hiking trails and beautiful back drops, one being a place called thunder mountain, a huge mountain close by, supposedly a vortex. We spent some time here, hiking around, exploring the park and meditating. We left the ashes of our loved ones with the Buddha on the hill. It was cool to see many people here taking part in rituals and healing ceremonies, others leaving ashes as well and meditating. Just an awesome place. As part of a spiritual day, we made our way to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This is a huge, pretty chapel set into the side of the red rock cliffs, also very close to downtown Sedona. It’s an inspiring place, with amazing views. I left some ashes of my two fathers here as well.
view going into Sedona
our camp spot
Chapel of the Holy Cross
the madonna and child rock as well as the praying hands
inside the Chapel
After camping again we took on a big hike at a place called Cathedral rock. Here again is said to be a vortex. One way to tell your in a vortex area is all the twisted trees, in this area it’s juniper trees. This hike was intense, it involved some light rock climbing, very little shade and some serious heights. When you reach the top, your blessed with spectacular views. It challenged my ever present vertigo, ever since falling off a waterfall several years ago I have struggled with this in high places, especially anywhere with steep drop offs. Yet I managed and really enjoyed this hike. At the end is a somewhat skinny ledge to walk that takes you to the side of the mountain, the drop off here is insane. Jill was completely comfortable doing yoga poses there, as for me, a quick look and I was happy to go back to safer ground. That night we went to spend the sunset at Airport Mesa overlook, a very popular spot and you guessed it, a vortex. We did a short hike to get to a sweet spot, many people were gathered there, even a Native man playing the drum and flute for a group. Have to admit I didn’t feel much but it was a great sunset none the less. We spent a few hours that night running around downtown Sedona, grabbed a bite to eat and peeked in a few shops. Part of us wanted to stay another day and do a hike along Bell rock but we decided to move on.
the ledge again from another angle, can you find Jill in there?
another view of the ledge at the end of the trail
vortex twisted trees
view over Sedona
Leaving Sedona was bittersweet but we had much more to see. We gained some serious elevation going up the mountains through Flagstaff, perhaps the highest city in Arizona. Here we grabbed a much needed shower at the YMCA, yes membership does have it’s privileges and helpful road tip if your a Y member. We didn’t stay in town much longer than to grab a bite to eat. The place we stopped at was one of favorites so far, called the Toasted Owl. Everything in the restaurant was owls and everything was for sale, it was super cool. Little ceramics, tee shirts, paintings, lamps, stickers, mugs, and on and on. I bought a really neat tee shirt for myself, simply loved this place.
flagstaff street art
From Flagstaff we headed to the big event, the Grand Canyon. The depth and shear splendor of the canyon was apparent and almost overwhelming upon first sight. I instantly felt my vertigo hit standing there at the first overlook. I could barely walk to the railing to look over into the canyon. It is magnificent however and I took it all in. The size of the canyon is unreal. We walked the rim trail, which goes for something like 17 miles. I had to stay away from open spaces and walk on the inside of the trail, away from the edges, but how amazing to look over as your walking and see the endless canyon. We stopped here and there to peek out into the massive expanse. We took the shuttle the first day because parking was limited and there was a lot of people there, when I say a lot I mean it! We heard lots of different languages and saw the various styles from around the world present, all of which was quite entertaining and fascinating I’ll say. That night we camped just outside the park on another forest road. While camped in the Prius we were serenaded by the cries and howls of the coyotes, it was super neat to hear. The next day we’d get up early to dive in head first into the canyon on the bright angel trail. This trail was intense! It goes straight down and then straight up on the way back. We managed to make the 3 mile rest point instead of going to the canyon base and the river which was a few more miles down. My vertigo was on and off as I traveled down, eventually getting comfortable with being on the edges. The three miles was more than enough as it was mostly straight sun with stretches of shade here and there and it was really hot. We left some ashes at the three mile point. Doing the trail was pretty great, it was hard and beautiful and at the end we felt a real nice sense of pride and accomplishment. As we concluded our time at the grand, we drove to the desert view portion and the watch tower. It was really cool inside the watchtower, with lots of Native art all over the walls. Great views of the canyon and the river from inside and on top of the tower as well.
inside the Canyon- bright angel
along the trail
view from bright angel trail, the green shelter is where we stopped
our camping spot
As we left the south rim side of the Grand Canyon, we had the plan to go to the north side. Here we rode highways 89 and 89-A, which would be very much used small highways on our trip and truly scenic roads overall. Leaving the canyon we entered Navajo lands and right away saw little road side stands. We stopped to check one out and met some friendly Native peoples with some really nice art and jewelry. They shared stories and meanings of some of the things they made. It was sad and humbling to be in their presence. The stands were make shift, tattered structures, beat up trailers were parked behind the stands and the people themselves did not seem in the best health. Once a mighty, dignified people that lived in harmony with these lands, now living in poverty and fighting to survive. Jill bought a bracelet from an older woman sitting with her daughter and grand daughter, made from juniper berries. The lady told how the ghost berries are for protection, safety and represent connection to the earth. She told how many Natives in the military have given them to fellow soldiers for protection, especially in world war 2. Being as there was very little out there in the desert period, few towns and I’m guessing fewer work opportunities, having these stands might be all they have. As we drove along there would be scattered little houses, mostly trailers, all looking in rough shape. Jill put it best when she said it’s just heart breaking. We drove along through most of the daylight and as night came on we hit an area called the Vermilion Cliffs. We decided instead of pushing through to the north rim, we would camp in this area and check it out and I’m glad we did. A place called Lees Ferry is where we found a campground and even in the night, what we could make out seemed pretty cool. We awoke to find a little wonderland to explore. The vermilion cliffs are wonderful and big, our camp site was a skip away from the Colorado river and there is some historic sites right there. I couldn’t contain myself at all, the whole trip I had wanted to jump into some water and there it was. The Colorado is amazing shades of jade green and crystal clear. In this particular area was another, smaller river called the Paria that flowed into the Colorado. The Paria is much warmer and pretty muddy. The Colorado was damn cold, 49 degrees to be exact, but boy it felt so good. Getting in that river marked a certain huge highlight for me. As we explored around, we found out this was a launching spot for rafting tours into the Grand Canyon, huge rafts were loading up there. We went out of the park and checked out the Navajo bridge, a historic bridge built in 1929. There is now a newer bridge beside it. A California condor lives underneath the bridge, an endangered species , there are few remaining in the world. I stopped to check out the Navajo art stands there and bought a turquoise owl necklace, my spirit fetish. As we went back into the park we did an educational hike with a lady ranger, who interestingly enough had done a season on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. She gave us the history of Lees Ferry, a Mormon church member who moved here to set up a settlement and eventually got a ferry service started across the Colorado. The ranch switched hands a few times over time, even a polygamy commune in the mix. We hiked alittle around the ranch, saw an old graveyard, rusted out truck, several old structures and oddly enough a wonderful orchard full of pears, apricots and apples and yup I helped myself to an apple and a pear that were mostly unripe but fine by me.
The Native art stands
the Vermilion cliffs
our campground spot
the mighty Colorado river
The Parie river
the Navajo bridge
along the river trail
Colorado river view from the bridge
the slant of the cliffs was where the horse wagons came down from Utah, imagine?
We spent two beautiful nights in the tent, which felt amazing after sleeping in the car. We were blessed with two huge, full moons that lit up the whole area as well. Before we departed from Lees Ferry, we did a hike along the river and saw more historical remnants and did the Cathedral wash trail which was pretty awesome, it took us into Glen canyon, following a dried up wash (stream bed) and felt like something out of star wars. It was a super fun trail, we saw animal prints, most likely some sort of cat paw, climbed some rocks and frolicked along the smooth, colorful canyon walls. We also wondered around a big section of huge rocks balancing on small rock platforms, reminded me of Hopewell rocks, it too was like something straight out of star wars, the whole area was a really surreal setting.
on the wash trail
Next we traveled to Page, Arizona. There was much to see here, as well as grabbing some good food and using the internet. We discovered a huge lake there called Lake Powell, it was yet another chance to jump in some water. There was a pretty big beach area and of coarse practically zero shade, we did however manage to park in some shrubs that gave just enough shade to survive without any real sunburn. The water was warm and cooled us off. Giant mesas and mountains provided a nice back drop. There was a busy boat scene which cut into the peace of our time there but it was still great. A big highlight came at sunset when we hit Horseshoe Bend, a wonderful rock formation that was surrounded by water in a perfect horseshoe shape. Our timing was almost perfect, we arrived as the sun was setting but just as we reached the overlook and sun sank a little faster than we expected and we caught just that last moment before it disappeared into the far off mountains. Didn’t get to catch that picture except in our minds. We did hang out there awhile and roam around the rocks, it’s really something amazing to see. We were atop a huge cliff and my dear friend vertigo came back once again. The drop offs are so steep there, like the Grand Canyon and every other place we’d visit with huge drop offs and steep cliffs, people love to go right to the edge for a picture or dangle their feet off or look straight down into the chasms which blows my mind, scares me and seems just plan dumb but then again not everyone has the vertigo. We parked the car in a parking lot of our next adventure and one most stunning ones the whole trip, a place called Antelope Canyon. The lot was empty and we got permission, since we had to be there early we decided to just stay there. Now just before we got there for the night we were driving trying to find it in the dark when across the road came a large looking wolf, it was whiteish-gray in color and big, I could easily make it out it’s teeth and to me it looked like a werewolf. We’d learn it may have been a cross between a coyote and a wolf.
the sunset at horseshoe bend
So Antelope Canyon, this place is truly a spectacle! We booked a tour of four canyons with a place called Adventurous Antelope Canyon. All the tour companies are run by Navajo people and that’s the only way to get into them. They are on private land owned by a 95 year old Navajo woman, she discovered these canyons after her live stock wondered into them many, many years ago when she was a young child. We were glad to pay to go into them and support the Navajo people. We got a guide who was 22 and went by the name Blue Sky. He was great, along the way he told stories from his life and experiences, also shared history and traditions of his people. He was very laid back and patient, not rushing us at all. He even took pictures for us with our phones inside the canyon to get some absolutely amazing shots. Blue Sky really made the tour a lot more special than it already was. The formations in the canyons were stunning, I caught myself just starring at them, the curves and twists, the colors and cracks were all just so unreal. Using your imagination you could see faces, animals and shapes in the formations. Antelope was indeed crowded, hundreds of people in there at once but it was pretty well organized and flowed nice. On the way out we got to see ‘the beam’ of light that has been the iconic picture. The other canyons we did were called Owl, Mountain Sheep and Rattlesnake Canyons. They too were very cool, not as awe-striking as Antelope but neat in their own way. For example we saw two great horned owls in Owl canyon, which was super special to me. They blended right in with the canyon walls. Rattlesnake has tight, curvy walls, beautiful patterns and was quite awesome. Mountain Sheep was the longest one and made for a little hike and some small climbing around and we also saw a rattlesnake. I can’t say enough of how amazing it was to be in those canyons, truly magical moments to cherish.
Us with Blue Sky
After such an awesome experience in the canyons we were refreshed and ready for more. Before we left Page we did a small hike to a place called the hanging gardens, a rare oasis of life. Springs sometimes seep out of the rocks and create a little area of plant life that is lush, in this case it was ferns hanging from the rocks. Our journey would take us to Zion National park next but we had a small ways to go to get there and in-between we’d stop at a place called the Toadstools, an interesting little hike that led to formations called toadstools because they are essentially big rocks resting on longer, skinny rocks. The Toad Stools are a part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante. We were lucky to witness these as there used to be a lot more and they have vanished, the sands are always falling and eroding and with them go the toad stools. Very few remained but they were pretty cool to see. We stopped for the night off a long park road at a place called the pink corals in Utah. All night we heard coyotes that seemed to be all around us and in the morning we saw prints everywhere.
street art at a small town in Utah we stopped at
street art at a small town in Utah we stopped at
our camping spot at the Pink Corals
Driving into Zion National park was pretty awesome. The landscape in there is like nothing I’ve seen. The colors of reds, pinks, purples, greens, beige and browns are fantastic. The Natives here call it the land that grows straight up, fitting as the mountains are towering. On a light note, one of the first sights we saw was a huge body builder in just his speedo doing some sort of photo shoot. Driving into the east entrance gave a chance to really take in the park, it’s a long scenic drive with lots of pull overs and a long tunnel to drive through before reaching the trails and visiting centers. we saw big horned sheep right away as well. As we got to the other side of the tunnel the landscape changed from sand dunes and mesas and small mountains into the towering mountains. You have to use the shuttle in the park which was convenient and they ran every ten minutes or so without missing a beat. We dove right in, checking out a few short trails and after eating a taco buffet at a park restaurant we got right at it, doing one of the hardest trails in the park, Angel’s Landing. This trail was no joke, reminded me of the Bright Angel trail at Grand Canyon only in reverse. There was steep drop offs and we started climbing in elevation right away. It is a twisty trail full of lots of switch backs, 21 to be exact called Walters Wiggles. It seems to never stop climbing but we made it to lower top level. When you reach here there is just a half mile left of the trail and it continues up, except you climb along chains and there super steep drop offs on both sides. 17 people have lost their lives here. We decided to not take this section on. Where we ended up had amazing views and was plenty high enough and a strenuous hike in it’s own right. Another huge accomplishment for me and my vertigo issues!
the wisp of a waterfall at the emerald pools
The top section up ahead
along the trail
view from the top of the trail
We stayed just outside of the small town next to Zion, down a BLM road once again. The next day we had breakfast in the little town and Jill bought a pair of crocks, which she was very hesitant about, given how ugly she has always thought they were but she was super glad she got them as we were about to hike the Narrows. Zions most famous trail is a four mile trek into the canyons. You have to hike through the river, along tons of big river stones and water sometimes up to your waist. This is my idea of great fun and some of my absolute favorite hiking. It was simply awesome in there! I loved every second. There was no shortage of people in there that’s for sure. I wore my sandals which held up with some mindful slow steps but in the future I’d advise water shoes for sure. We stopped for a swim break along the way which was great. We didn’t quite make it through the whole trail but spent a good four to six hours in there getting it. It made for a fun memory for sure. After that hike we enjoyed one more lunch in the park and it was pretty hard to leave. Zion is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen, simply beautiful in there, I will return for sure. We were able to take some much needed and refreshing showers just outside the park. From here we were bound for Arches National park traveling upon highway 70 East.
On the way to Arches we drove through a crazy section that was like deer heaven, they were everywhere! One big horned male was actually standing right in the middle of the highway, just standing there, it’s always scary, those guys. We decided to pass up on going to Bryce Canyon as after Arches we wanted to stop in Colorado and enjoy some of that wonderful state. The speed limit in Utah is 80, worth mentioning, way too fast in my opinion. We stopped in a place called Green River to have breakfast by the river and a huge cinnamon bun. We also stopped at a fruit stand and got one of the best melons I’ve ever had (Israeli Melon), seems they are famous for melons here. Arches did not disappoint. There was a lot of people there like many of the other parks. While waiting to get in we even had a car next to us that was from Asheville too. The Arches were something to see, amazing how they form in such magnificent formations and how just in this small section of the desert there was this rare place. We drove through the whole park and stopped to do a few hikes within. It never got old, seeing such wonders. Before leaving Utah we stopped in the neat city of Moab, right down the street from Arches. It is a mountain biking mecca and destination for sure. We had a fine mix of ice cream and espresso and grabbed some showers at a local hostile called the lazy lizard.
The best melons
Utah speed limit!
March of the Elephants
Sand Dune Arch
As our trip was entering it’s last days and the journey, it’s last leg, we opened the road to Colorado. We didn’t want to get too far into the state at night so we could see all the beauty in the daylight, so we stopped for the night. We drove miles down a country road to try and camp at a state park only to find it closed off. We ended up at a rest area,