Well, I didn’t get the chance to blog the honeymoon as often as I thought I would.
I know. Duh. What was I thinking? It was my honeymoon, not just your average vacation. I was never very good at blogging while on vacation anyway… The two times that I did (XOBA, Italy), I wrote quick summaries of what was going on. Had I aimed to write short summaries and embellish later, I would have probably met my goal and had a decent travelog.
Oh well. I guess my negligence is just proof of the wonderful time I was having. We exhausted ourselves silly each day with our adventures… and driving from one adventure to the next. It became our modus operandi to arrive late (10-11pm) at our planned, and even our unplanned, campgrounds. Yeah, we were the pricks who arrived at 11pm when the entire campground was in bed early, shown our RV lights into everyone’s tent and camper windows, made lots of noise as we backed into our space (the RV had one of those beeping sirens that indicate it is backing up), and then proceeded to use the water pump during quiet hours as we rushed to get ready for and into bed. Fortunately, we usually also tended to high-tail it out of dodge very early in the morning so as not have to deal with any backlash from angry campers.
The only place we stayed that was not extremely dead at 11pm seemed to be the campground at Arches National Park. At Arches, people were often up sitting around their fires in the designated fire ring later into the evening. I assumed that was because Moab–the town just a few miles from Arches–has a rather lively night life. Moab is also the hot destination for mountain bikers and Jeep people alike. When I lived in Colorado, people often ventured to Moab for long weekends. It’s reputation proceeded my visit there.
Anyway, for sake of brevity, I’ll list here the places we visited while on the trip. Hopefully at some point in the future, I’ll be able to expound a bit on these places and punctuate my experiences with pictures.
National Parks/Monuments/Forests, State Parks, and Other Parks Visited:
- Gila Cliff Dwellings
- White Sands
- Carlsbad Caverns
- Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
- Monument Valley (Navajo Tribal Park on the Navajo Reservation)
- Bryce Canyon
- Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)
- Grand Canyon
* = Technically, we only stayed a night in Guadalupe. We were supposed to hike Guadalupe Peak, but it was raining when we arrived at our usual 11pm, and then it was rainy and soppy all morning (and I stupidly did not pack a rain coat… cuz I don’t have a rain coat for hiking), so we opted to spend an extra day at Carlsbad Caverns instead which turned out to be a great decision anyway.
** = We actually only viewed the Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point and from various spots along the trail we mountain biked along. But since I did spend part of a day along the rim, I feel as though I were there, though I’d still like to actually rent a Jeep and drive through the Canyonlands someday. Some people just view the Grand Canyon from the top and never hike it, so I say that my viewing of the Canyonlands counts as having been there. Even though we don’t have the collector pin from the gift shop to prove it.
- Albuquerque, NM
- Las Cruces, NM
- Santa Fe, NM
- Roswell, NM
- Durango, CO*
- Moab, UT
- Las Vegas, NV
* We passed through Durango on the way to Moab/Arches. But we stopped for a beer at Steamworks Brewing where I bought Crow a jersey for his birthday and, of course, we collected our typical metal sign and pint glass for our future cool beer basement.
Other points of interest visited or discovered:
- The Very Large Array in NM
- Kelly Ghost Town (not far from the VLA)
- Four Corners (CO-UT-AZ-NM)
Places we passed through but did not have time to stop (usually cuz it was like 9 or 10pm and it was closed):
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Grand Staircase/Escalante National Park
That’s quite a bit of traveling! I thought going into this that we would have plenty of time and maybe would have some more room to breathe between scheduled places. Ha. No, distances are a lot longer than they are in the Midwest. Not only are things truly farther from each other because those states are so big, but sometimes simple mileage does not translate to time in the same way as it would in the Midwest because you have to climb a winding mountain pass or something. So we spent a lot of time driving from one place to another. Our pace slowed at those places we stayed a few nights, such as Arches (three nights), Zion (two nights), The Grand Canyon (technically two nights but one of them was spent at the bottom of the canyon and had to be hiked to) and Las Vegas (three nights). Other than that, it was go, go, go! But road tripping was fun! Especially in an RV where we had access to cold beverage and food and even a microwave (run by generator) whenever we desired.
After all the sites I’ve seen, what were my favorite places?
Gila Cliff Dwellings. Not to be outdone by the more popular Mesa Verde, I have to say that the nicest things about Gila were 1) its courteous and helpful staff, and 2) the fact that it is lesser known, harder to get to, and therefore less touristy than Mesa Verde. Yes, Mesa Verde has tons of different cliff dwellings and they are truly amazing. But the one cliff dwelling found at Gila is accessible. You can walk among many parts of the dwelling without guidance. We spent about an hour and a half in that dwelling, whereas even on the Mesa Verde guided tour, we could only look upon the dwellings from specific spots where the rangers wanted you to stand. Gila was way less formal. Less people. Win, win.
Arches. We were there for three nights so I feel a little bit of intimate involvement with the area. I loved mountain biking at Dead Horse Point–it was the first time I ever thought that I actually loved mountain biking. It was still terrifying, though. But, oh the views!
I also loved the beauty of the Arches. We humans go out of our way sometimes to personify a bit of geology and give it a name. Each arch fit its name, though, and was singularly interesting. In some cases, such as with Delicate Arch, the journey was just as exciting as the discovery. Double-O Arch was a fun hike, too, with a point where you walk across a long rock with intimidating drops on both sides. Landscape Arch was easy to get to but really neat looking (and doomed to someday fall apart and no longer be an arch, I’m sure). We spent a whole day hiking to just about all the arches. I was really impressed. I loved the red rock, especially against the cerulean blue western skies.The campground was really quaint, too, located amidst the red rocks, making me feel like I was a part of the park. We actually did buy some firewood the first night and sat around a fire before going to bed.
Carlsbad Caverns. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this place as much had we not had the extra day afforded to us because of being unable to climb Guadalupe Peak. We started the first day with a guided tour of the King’s Palace. Then we walked both self-guided tours, enjoying multiple views of the caverns along paved walkways. All the structures were lit with the best lighting to accent their beauty. I tried to take pictures, but really the post cards showed these structures the best. Perhaps some things are just not meant to have their photo taken.
We ended the day by watching the flight of the bats from the cave after the park closed. A large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats use Carlsbad Caverns as part of their migration pattern each year and they live in a cave within the caverns that is not entered by tourists. At generally the same time each night, the bats exit the cave in a very orderly tornado and head off towards a nearby river. The National Park allows visitors to view this event from the amphitheater outside the cavern’s natural entrance. This was an awesome experience. Our bats actually exited the cave earlier than expected (which the park rangers guest-i-mated had to do with all the rain the area had experienced) and so we missed the usual ranger program about the bats because they were still waiting for people to settle. However, I was able to listen to an informal Q&A session after the bats had pretty much all exited the cave and I learned a ton about bats.
If you’re ever at Carlsbad Caverns, I highly recommend sticking around to view the bats. It was indescribably cool and I don’t have a single picture of it because the park is protective of wildlife (thankfully) and you are not even allowed to have your camera on. All I can say is that it was a tornado of black spiraling from the cave… and then lines of bats extending from the tornado out into the sky, the lines getting thinner and thinner as each group of bats disappeared in the same direction. I’ve never seen anything like it and the goofy, animal-loving hippy that I am, it gave me goosebumps to witness!
Lastly, the experience that was the icing on the cake to make our Carlsbad trip an absolute favorite was the guided tour Crow signed us up for months in advance at the Slaughter Canyon Cavern–a primitive cave that is not open to the public or lit. This trip involved a slightly strenuous hike up a part of a canyon mount to the cave entrance. Once in the cave, the only light available after you passed the “twilight zone”–the zone past which natural light no longer reaches the cave–is on your headlamp. The paths through these caves are not paved and are, other than a bit worn from foot traffic, original cave floor. The trail was especially slick due to all the recent rain (and remember, the formations inside a cavern are created from water, so the caverns are actually susceptible to the outside rainfall). The park only allows 60 people in the Slaughter Canyon Cavern per week and they do stress the strenuous and dangers of the hike to keep those more casual viewers away.It was really neat. And, as the park ranger pointed out as she had us sit in total darkness to experience the cave’s natural state, these formations grow in complete darkness. Their beauty is never seen by an eye and yet they grow… It’s the curious human spirit that brings one to explore a cave that uncovers their beauty. It was rather a profound thought that really made me rethink everything I’d seen at even the main caves. (What is beauty? Is it only in the eye of the beholder? Oh, so many quandaries!)
Bryce Canyon. Hoo-doos. Orange rock. We hiked the 3-mile Queens Garden Trail first and the whole time down, all I could say was, “Oh my God, this is so awesome.” Every two steps I stopped and took pictures because even a change in position changed the way each structure looked. I was wowwed the moment we set foot at that place. I wanted to stay there extra days, but we were only scheduled for one (with a late arrival, of course, the night before). Unfortunately, the day was wrought with afternoon storms so we could only hike two 3-mile paths to keep close to the car. But I soooooooOOOOOOooooo wanted to hike the 9-mile Fairyland Loop from start to finish (we did end up going out to the Castle Bridge point, and then turning around, for our second 3-mile hike). Someday we will return and we will hike every single path in that park! I swear it!
Also of note: While waiting out a potential thunderstorm, we discovered that bottles of microbrewed beer were only $1.50 at the General Store. WINNING. That’s practically cheaper than a bottle of pop.
The Grand Canyon. Though I think Bryce is by far a prettier canyon, you just can’t knock an old great. Besides, I got to know The Grand Canyon intimately; at least as far as the Bright Angel Trail is concerned. When you spend all day hiking 9-miles from the top to the bottom, and then you wake up the next day to do it again in reverse, you can’t help but have love for it. Even though in the last 3 miles to the top, I was cursing the trail. (I saw a shirt that explained the journey well: “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” I should have bought one, dammit.)I’ll never forget how frigid the Colorado River was when I stuck my toes in, how the coldness actually dampened and chilled the air around the beach as you approached it.Phantom Ranch was amazing. A rustic little series of cabins, an oasis in a desert of rock and after a day of strenuous hiking. We ate dinner and breakfast there (reserved in advance along with our camping site) and it was exquisite. They even had beer for us to purchase to drink with our dinner!
We attended the ranger talk and learned how to find scorpions with a black light. We witnessed the ritual of mating among scorpions as the ranger led us around the mule pen with a black light. Somehow this disambiguated scorpions for me and made them a little less scary. (Note to self: Add black light to camping supplies.)
We smelled horrible (no showers at the campground) and we had a sweaty night of sleep in 80 degree weather. But we saw millions of stars and the Milky Way. It was magical. Only 1% of the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon ever hike or even take a mule to the bottom, by the way. I feel special.
Very Large Array. Big radio telescopes. I sure as hell wish I knew what they were tracking while I was there. But, oh. Geeky fun, indeed. I took a ton of pictures and spent a small fortune in the gift shop. Fantasies from my childhood of wanting to be an astronomer (which was the only other thing I thought I’d be, other than a writer, when I was younger) returned.
Though those were my favorite places, I want to stress that I loved everywhere we went! It was such a great experience to be free to travel to all these places I dreamed of going for a big part of my life. The spirit of adventure followed us throughout the trip and every time we ended up at a new place, my pulse raced with excitement to see what awaited me to explore. I think we will return to some of these places again in the future and explore them more in-depth.
I also gained a great appreciation for our national parks. I guess I underestimated the upkeep of these places. But it was just so cool to talk to rangers who were very passionate about their jobs and who spoke so highly of the natural world and conservation. Some of the smaller parks were asking people to complete surveys because I believe that the government wants them to justify their existence to some degree (thank you, funding cuts, sequester). Whenever asked to complete a survey, I did so enthusiastically. These parks need to be accessible, maintained, and staffed. I hope they don’t fall victim to funding cuts; I especially worry about those smaller parks like Gila. I feel like preaching to the world that they should put down those video games and go outside and see the great big world I found these last three weeks! If everyone visited these parks, no one would have to justify their existence. For this reason, I never felt guilty spending money at any of the non-profit gift shops located in the visitor centers… I guess I did my small part.