Our Honeymoon Itinerary

So I’ve been posting a lot of these entries about our honeymoon trip out of order. I’m choosing to talk about my favorite places and I’m doing those I feel most inspired to write about at the time I sit down at the computer. But I figured to keep things in perspective, I’d post our itinerary. We came up with this plan sometime during the fall of 2012 because we knew we needed to start making reservations since summer is the high season for travel out west. We wanted to make sure we could get campsites at our desired locations and we knew some of these places did not offer a whole lot of options if you didn’t make it into the only place nearest the attraction.

I have to admit that at first I was really opposed to planning the trip out to this level of detail. I’m the type of person who likes to throw myself at a destination and then just play everything by ear. I imagined if we planned things out too much, we’d have no fun, feeling as though we had to go from one place to the next. While there was an element of having to leave a place before it was fully explored (Bryce!) for the next, I think our plan ended up working great because it kept us on the mission. We saw every place we wanted to see, even if only briefly, and we did have some time to improvise a little (which brought us to the Very Large Array)! So all and all, the trip was really satisfying. And I’m so grateful to Crow who is an excellent trip planner. Crow chose some simply marvelous guided tours for us at Carlsbad Caverns and Mesa Verde. He picked some great, unique places to stay overnight, most notably Los Poblanos in Albuquerque, the cabins at Zion, and the national park campground at Arches. I can barely take credit for the trip planning except to add my own personal must-sees.

So here it is…

7/14/2013 – Arrive in Albuquerque.

Arriving in Albuquerque early in the day, we ended up checking out the town since we couldn’t check into our hotel yet. We actually did some errand-type things… Crow got his iPad set up to work on his wireless service and I got to go to Lush to use a gift certificate a friend gave me for my bachelorette party. Whee!

We checked into the Los Poblanos and got to enjoy some local brews that awaited us in the refrigerator! Another great Crow decision: Instead of the honeymoon package, he selected the local brew package for our stay! Beer is better than champagne any day!

7/15/2013 – Petroglyphs National Monument

This was not originally in our plans, but we had some time to kill before we could pick up our RV . It was really cool and I’m glad we did it. Oddly, my memory of that day is filled with big gray clouds. It was kind of a chilly day with little sun.

7/16/2013 – Gila Cliff Dwellings

Awesome.

7/17/2013 – Las Cruces

This is the town in which Crow’s grandparents lived and Crow spent many-a-summer there with his mom. So it was mostly a walk down Memory Lane for Crow which was nice for me to see the places he roamed as a child (I have taken him down similar walks down Memory Lane, subjecting him multiple times to Hiram College). I really had fun. It was a neat little down with lots of shops. Very, very southwestern in look and feel. We shopped some (I bought some beautiful jewelry, some clothes, and book by a local writer that I’m still reading because I’m too busy). We ate at La Posta, a Mexican restaurant that Crow’s family used go to. It was delicious!

Failure of note: The state park we were supposed to stay at the previous night did not apparently exist. Well, the state park existed, but it looked deserted and we could not find the campground. We ended up staying at a local KOA.

7/18/2013 – Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns

We spent the night in the Guadalupe campground which was really just a parking lot with big spaces for RVs. We were the only one there. It was kind of spooky. Heard some strange noises and thought we heard scratching on the door or the RV shaking. It was rainy all night and all the next morning. We decided not to attempt to climb Guadalupe Peak. Which was really disappointing to me as this was a state highpoint I’ve wanted to do for some time. We ended up going to Carlsbad Caverns a day early, though, which turned out to be really awesome.

At Carlsbad that day, we did the Kings Palace tour, all the self-guided tours, and we returned in the evening to watch the bats leave the cave. We stayed at a campground in White’s City. Which really isn’t a city at all but a collection of buildings that contain an pathetically small grocery story, a huge souvenir shop, and a really depressed looking family restaurant. (We went into the restaurant, looked around at the sad buffet, and decided to eat what we had in the camper with our own beer.)

7/19/2013 – Carlsbad Caverns.

Slaughter Canyon Tour!

7/20/2013 – Roswell, NM

International UFO Museum, cruising around town, additional consumption of New Mexican food.

7/21/2013 – Very Large Array, Kelly Ghost Town

Both of these were spontaneous decisions, especially Kelly which we passed on the way to the VLA and decided we should go check it out.

We had lunch at the Socorro Springs Brewing Company (which we kept calling Skaro–the home planet of Daleks–because the names sounded so close). We stopped at La Cumbre Brewery in Albuquerque on the way up to Santa Fe. Had a nice chat with fellow beer enthusiasts at the bar.

7/22/2013 – Santa Fe, NM

We only spent the afternoon here. Checked out the old town, I bought more jewelry, had a legendary lunch at The Shed. Damn, that was some good eattin’.

On the way to Mesa Verde, we stopped in Durango, CO for a late dinner and a beer at Steamworks Brewing Company.

7/23/2013 – Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners Monument

We took a guided tour through Mesa Verde to see one of the many cliff dwellings. We then walked to an additional cliff dwelling and hiked a trail to some petroglyphs.

Four Corners Monument was always something I wanted to see… Who doesn’t want to step on four states at once? Apparently a lot of people do as we had to wait in line to get our picture taken there. I won’t even go into my disappointment at the $6 entry fee per person and the fact that the monument is rimmed by Native American vendor booths. Um. And I did buy another piece of jewelry so their tactic worked.

7/24/2013 – Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

It was like being on an alien planet. One might even think of Mars owing to all that radiant orange sand. I owe this place its own blog entry with lots of pictures. We ended up taking a Jeep tour. We were early so we got the whole Jeep to ourselves.

7/25/2013 – Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point

We mountain biked the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point on this day. Enjoyed Moab’s fine eating establishments in the evening.

7/26/2013 – Arches National Park

We took the park by storm and hiked all over the place!

7/27/2013 – 1/2 day at Arches National Park and taking care of laundry and grocery shopping in Moab, rest of the day driving to Bryce.

7/28/2013 – Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking and avoiding thunderstorms.

7/29/2013 – Zion National Park

Hiked to Observation Point.

7/30/2013 – Zion National Park

Walked part of the Narrows, then departed for The Grand Canyon.

7/31/2013 – Grand Canyon National Park

Hiked Bright Angel Trail to the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.

8/1/2013 – Grand Canyon National Park

Hiked back out of the Canyon.

8/2/2013 – Las Vegas

Stayed at the Luxor (my choice). We saw Kathy Griffin.

8/3/2013 – Las Vegas

We saw David Copperfield. That was so AWESOME.

8/4/2013 – Returned home at the crack of dawn.

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The Grand Canyon

Early on in our relationship, Crow happened to mention that he had walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon once with his family. They had dipped their toes in the Colorado River, and then climbed back out. 18 miles, all in one day. (Exactly what every guide book, piece of literature, and podcast from the park tells you not to do, I would learn later.)

One thought popped in my head when he told me about this adventure: “Hey, I want to do that too.”

Because anything that sounds incredibly grueling is immediately I’m interested in doing.

So we decided pretty early on in our honeymoon planning that we would hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend the night at the Bright Angel campground and Phantom Ranch. We really would have liked to have hiked the North Kaibob trail from the North Rim but we didn’t really have time. When we looked at the plan for our honeymoon, we realized we’d only have two days to spend at the Grand Canyon. The North Kaibob is 14 miles long. While I might be able to hike 14 miles in one day down, I did not think I would be able to climb 14 miles up the next day. We realized if we wanted to do that trail, it would be much wiser to cut it to 3 or 4 days. (Nevermind the fact that while hiking the Bright Angel trail, we ran into people who were hiking the North Rim to the South Rim–over 20 miles!–in one day. Now that’s NUTS.)

Sunset at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon, as viewed at sunset the day before our hike.

Another sunset view.

We ended up choosing the Bright Angel trail out of convenience. The South Kaibob–about the same mileage–was more primitive, which would have been nice, but had less available potable water available. I suppose Crow and I will have to eventually break down and purchase some water purification equipment, or maybe just those tablets, for future backpacking adventures, but we didn’t have any such equipment, so we figured it would be easier to just use the most used trail with all the water stops.

To stay at a campground in the Grand Canyon, you need to have a back country permit which you can only obtain on the first of the month four months prior to your trip. You have to specify which trail you are using and how long you plan to stay. Reservations at the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch can fill up quickly too. We learned while we were down there that the maximum capacity at any given time–including staff–is about 200. Fortunately, we also learned, out of the millions of visitors who go to the Grand Canyon each year, only 1% hike to the bottom! I’m int he 1%, go figure!

We made our reservations at Bright Angel and submitted our request for a back country permit on March 1st. We really sweated it for a few days thinking we wouldn’t get our dates, but everything turned out all right, and our reservations were made! To save us room in our backpacks, we also decided we’d get our dinner and breakfast at the canteen at Phantom Ranch. This turned out to be a great idea because the seating was family style and we ended up meeting some cool people (a couple who was catching a rafting trip down the Colorado River!).

I think the hike down the Grand Canyon was one of the adventures that I was looking the forward to the most. I talked about it the most when people asked me about out honeymoon plans; my mom dreaded it the most out of our honeymoon plans because she envisioned harrowing drops off the side of the trail and thought we’d surely plummet to an untimely death. So there was a lot of talk about this hike. It was probably the one thing I was doing on the trip that most people understood. I don’t think that a lot of people knew a whole lot about the other parks we said we were visiting. Everyone knows the Grand Canyon.

Unfortunately, by the time the day arrived to hike the Grand Canyon, I was suffering from a huge sore on the back of my heel that I got while hiking the 9-mile round trip trail to Observation Point at Zion just two days earlier. I don’t know what happened. My hiking boots were not new–I’ve had them for about two years and they were definitely worn in. Maybe I didn’t tie them tight enough, as Crow suggested. But unfortunately by the time I got down walking that trail in Zion, the top layer of skin had pretty much rubbed off the back of my heel. It had obviously blistered and popped while I was on the trail.

Mars Girl & Crow at the Bright Angel Trailhead

Mars Girl & Crow at the Bright Angel Trailhead

I thought I was going to be able to heal it in enough time before the Grand Canyon. I wore sandals continuously to expose the cut to the air, hoping it would start to mend. It did start to crust over and harden in those few days. However, it wasn’t enough. When I put my hiking boots on that morning we were to set off into the Canyon, I was in so much pain that I limped. The limping was the result of having to twist my foot in such a way that pressure would not be applied to the back of my heel when I walked. From a little sore at the back of my heel….

So after we picked up our back country permit and Phantom Ranch meal vouchers, we ended up going to the grocery store in town to buy some sort of products that would help ease the pain. We bought a blister pack that I did not correctly use and a self-adhering bandage. I wrapped my whole foot in the self-adhering bandages which helped a little and put the wrong blister stuff in the area of the wound. Then–mistake number two–I loosened my boot so that I could move my foot forward when I walked. Do you see the problem with this? Yes. For several hours, my front big toe would push into the front of my shoe, sending bolts of pain shooting into the root of my toenail. This would eventually lead to the inevitable loss of my toenail a few days after returning from the honeymoon. Sad. But after you’ve lost some toenails (which I unfortunately have on multiple occasions), the whole process is less terrifying. Unfortunately, because I’ve lost toenails before, I also knew during the hike that that was the inevitable outcome.

It wasn’t as bad as it seems. I’m not a complete masochist so as much as I wanted to hike down the Grand Canyon, if it had been unbearable the entire time, I would have not gone down. Given that downhill generally makes your foot move forward in a shoe, no matter how tight or lose the shoe, I had the descent working to my advantage.

The view from the top of the trailhead (and some of the trail we tread...).

The view from the top of the trailhead (and some of the trail we tread…).

About a week before we arrived at the Grand Canyon, there had apparently been a big flash flood that washed out parts of the Bright Angel trail. It wasn’t anything that would endanger foot traffic, but the debris made the trail impassible for the mules. So on our trip, there were no mules coming up or down the Bright Angel trail. I don’t think this would have been much of a problem anyway as the trail is pretty wide and it is not exposed at any point. To assuage your curiosity, though, had there been mules on the trail, a sign at the trailhead informed us that hikers get to move to the inside (rock-side) of the trail and mules go to the outside (cliff-side) of the trail. Even if there had been mules, I don’t think I would have felt unsafe at any point during this hike. In fact, the trail to Observation Point at Zion had more exposed, narrow trails than anything I experienced on the Bright Angel trail.

The horizontal top view. Simply beautiful!

The horizontal top view. Simply beautiful!

The first half of the journey is really very stunning when you’re going down. (On the way up, the same view becomes your biggest source of frustration.) The trail is very busy through this section, filled with hikers of varying degrees of preparedness. There was us. And there were tourists in flip-flops carrying bottled waters. Or not carrying water bottles at all. And, on our way back up the second day, a Japanese guy who could barely speak English asked us if the bottom was just another half-hour. Ha!! That question after we’d spent 6 hours climbing up from the bottom. We hoped he understood us, but he did continue walking down. With a child running ahead of him who was about 5.

Getting Lower!!

Getting Lower!!

The first three miles to Three Mile Resthouse campground give you great views of the canyon and the path ahead. You can see the switchbacks and the next rest house from quite a distance away. The grade is pretty strenuous, though going down is relatively easy, but I did note the looks of anguish on the faces of those coming back up the other direction. This was definitely going to be like a mountain climb in reverse with the hardest part being the return. The trail levels off for a bit to less of a grade once you pass the Three Mile Resthouse.

Indian Garden is the halfway point on the trail. For those who are not inclined to hike to the bottom in one day, there’s a campground with a ranger station. The Indian Garden is an odd spot in the canyon where life miraculously thrives and it looks less like a desert. The lush greenery and shade probably owes its life to the creek that runs through it. Okay, I call it a creek, but that “creek” contained the flash flood that washed out parts of the trail before we got there. According to the rangers we talked to, the creek got pretty high and it actually redirected itself somewhat. Oh, the mighty forces of water in motion!

The first 3 miles.

The first 3 miles.

I gather that a lot of day hikers hike down to Indian Garden and turn around. There’s also a trail from that spot that goes out to an observation point that hikers can get to from Indian Garden. So it was quite a busy spot with people resting, eating, and filling their water bottles. For this reason, there were no shortage of canyon chipmonks–the little rodents who have capitalized on the droves of hikers who feast in this spot. For some reason, neither of us seemed to have taken any pictures at Indian Garden. I guess the trees were obstructing our view?

Outside Indian Garden.

Outside Indian Garden.

Another shot just outside of Indian Springs.

Another shot just outside of Indian Springs.

The Bright Angel Trail beyond Indian Garden is far less populated and more peaceful as a result. We did pass groups of trail workers who were fixing the washed out parts of the trail. They were always pleasant and happy to exchange greetings despite how much work they were doing. It looked like extremely tough work for sure! I thanked them for all their hard work each time we passed them. Without people like these, most of whom were volunteers, we wouldn’t have all the beautiful trails we do in the National Parks.

Some flatter ground.

Some flatter ground.

We lucked out that we had such beautiful weather for our hike down. It was monsoon season and afternoon storms were likely; however, that day was filled with blue skies and the occasional dotted with wispy little clouds. Unfortunately it did also get quite hot. That last stretch to the bottom of the canyon from Indian Garden to the River Resthouse was HOT. I even got a bit grumpy and frustrated after we descended the last set of switchbacks because the path just went on and on with no sign of the Colorado River. I also timed my water consumption badly and ran out of water shortly before we reached the resthouse.

Panoramic of the last set of switchbacks into the canyon.

Panoramic of the last set of switchbacks into the canyon.

In the canyon, the view becomes claustrophobic, as you are surrounded always by the goliath rocks that from above merely seem like bends and folds in a long rugged rip in the earth. I thought about how I was so tiny compared to the whole of the Grand Canyon that people couldn’t even see me at all from the observation points near the Bright Angel trail, though they could maybe see parts of the area where I was now walking. It’s pretty amazing. The trail at ground level follows a stream that eventually flows into the Colorado River so for much of the walk, the constant static of flowing water was our background music.

A very brave bird who continued to guard its food as we passed on the trail.

A very brave bird who continued to guard its food as we passed on the trail.

The view up.

The view up.

When we finally reached the Colorado River, the roaring sound of rapids got much louder. I was surprised by how muddy looking the river was. For some reason, I expected the water to be clear. We approached the little beach, climbing over hard, pinkish gray rock (I think quartz) and reaching the sand. I gladly removed my boots–the back of my heel was unbearable at this point–and we both stepped into the river to symbolically mark the near completion of our rim to river journey.

Alas, a beach! The mighty Colorado River.

Alas, a beach! The mighty Colorado River.

The water was pretty damned cold. To say it was like ice would be an understatement of metaphor. Despite the fact that I was very hot from the hike (it was probably near 100 degrees at the canyon bottom), I had no desire to do anything more than put my feet in. You had to stay close the beach anyway because the shallow shelf dropped off pretty quickly (or so we figured) and the rapids just a few feet away were quiet fierce.

We stand in the Colorado River.

We stand in the Colorado River.

And there's our feet.

And there’s our feet.

Mars Girl and the rapids.

Mars Girl and the rapids.

Crow in the river.

Crow in the river.

After rinsing my feet, I had to reset my makeshift bandaging. This time I read some of the helpful instructions on the blister kit and I found this tape that contained a sort of goo. I put in on my heel and then the provided band-aid over top and instantly the wound felt 100% better. When I put my shoe back on, I didn’t even feel a tinge of pain in my heel. I kicked myself for not discovering that stuff sooner because it would have saved me a lot of discomfort on the hike down. For the remaining mile to Phantom Ranch, I walked in complete comfort. Well, that is, except for my sore muscles from the long hike.

The river shore in panoramic.

The river shore in panoramic.

The path along the Colorado River.

The path along the Colorado River.

The last bit of the trail followed the river on a trail cut into rock wall. It was really beautiful. We stopped a dozen times to take pictures of the river from every angle. We knew we would get to cross the river on a bridge eventually. We were anticipating the bridge we’d seen on a photograph on the wall of the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before–the bridge in the picture led to a man-made tunnel through the rock. It turns out that was the bridge from the South Kaibob trail to Phantom Ranch. The bridge from the Bright Angel trail was built to also bring the pipe for Trans Canyon Water Line. It was a little bit frightening because it is just a grate floor through which you can see the raging river maybe a hundred feet below. Scary! We were a little disappointed; however, we later learned that the River trail, which continued on passed that bridge, went to the other bridge. Since the mules can’t use the “gray” bridge (I don’t know why? Too narrow?), the River trail leads to the black bridge (the one we saw in the picture).

Two bridges across the river.

Two bridges across the river.

Once over the bridge, it was a small walk to the rustic Bright Angel campground. We found ourselves a site next to a creek and set up camp. We had set out on the trail around 8:30-9:00am and we finished at about 4:30pm. Not bad!! Of course, that was DOWN.

To cross the blue bridge.

To cross the blue bridge.

It’s a small walk from the Bright Angel campground to Phantom Ranch. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a cute little cluster of very rustic cabins and a main canteen house. Not unlike Indian Garden, the area around Phantom Ranch has lots of vegetation and greenery. There is a ranger station as well as a cabin at which some of the trail workers we’d passed earlier stayed.

The dinner was remarkably good. We both had the beef stew which was so filling after a day of granola bars, Clif bars, and beef jerky. And–dream come true–they actually had beer you could purchase!! We gulped down two cans… it was some kind of local Arizona brew with Grand Canyon in the name… Beer is the recovery drink of choice, after all!

Our campsite at Bright Angel campground.

Our campsite at Bright Angel campground.

Pretty purple flowers near our campsite.

Pretty purple flowers near our campsite.

We ended up hanging around Phantom Ranch for a ranger program which turned out to be a Q and A session. People asked the ranger all kinds of questions about Phantom Ranch and the Grand Canyon. We learned a lot. For example, the reason that the maximum capacity of people at Phantom Ranch is 200 is because their flush toilets and running water use a septic system… and every few years, a helicopter has to move the solid waste out. Ew?

We learned also about the wildlife in the canyon. The Grand Canyon is home to a very unique species of rattlesnake that has evolved to a coral color to hide itself better in the red rock! We were lucky enough to actually SEE one of these rattlesnakes while hiking out of the canyon the next day, in fact. I was turning a corner on the trail when I heard a rustling and was able to sight a beautiful coral rattlesnake slide across the trail into the bushes! Crow saw it too but neither of us stuck around to take a picture. Though the ranger told us the rattlesnakes at the Grand Canyon are not very aggressive and only attack when provoked, I didn’t feel like taking a stupid chance. I was honestly not scared when I saw it either, more fascinated. I guess the ranger’s excitement about how cool she thought it was when she saw these snakes kind of made me feel at ease. (She actually said that the people who tend to get bitten by snakes is young men between the ages of 16-25. Go figure.)

Don't give drugs to squirrels or deer. I hear they have some serious addiction problems.

Don’t give drugs to squirrels or deer. I hear they have some serious addiction problems.

The coolest part about the ranger program was, once it got dark, she took us on a scorpion hunt! Armed with a black light, she walked around the empty corral used to contain mules, and showed us the glowing figures of scorpions. I didn’t know this, but scorpions glow in black light. Pretty wicked cool, too. The first set of scorpions she found were in the middle of their mating dance. I felt like we were intruding a little but I watched on with a sick fascination. I guess scorpions don’t eat each other in the act of mating, though. They just dance and wiggle and eventually copulate.

A scorpion glowing under black light.

A scorpion glowing under black light.

We found a total of 12 scorpions in that little area. It was fascinating, but it kind of freaked me out a bit. When we got back to our campsite, well after dark, we shook out all of our shoes. I didn’t reach into my backpack, which had been sitting outside of the tent on a pole, until I’d beaten it for about five minutes with my hiking pole. Scorpions are neat… But their bites are not pleasant.

I have decided I need to buy a portable black light before any future camping adventures in the desert.

Before going to bed, we lay for awhile on the picnic table to enjoy a rare view of the stars. The sky was filled with little glowing dots of various colors and, of course, I could plainly see the arm of the Milky Way. I forget how beautiful the night sky is when it’s full of more stars than you can count.

The next day, we had breakfast at Phantom Ranch. We packed up our gear and set off towards the first part of the South Kaibob trail so that we could walk across the black suspension bridge. As we were leaving camp, we saw a mule team leaving Phantom Ranch on the other side of the creek. All supplies are brought in by mule to Phantom Ranch. All garbage and such is brought out by mule which is why there are no garbage cans in the Bright Angel campground, Phantom Ranch, or at any of the resthouses along the trail. If you pack it in, you must pack it out.

We saw the mule team crossing the black bridge later. I wondered if the post cards I’d mailed from Phantom Ranch (they had a mail pouch) were already making their way out of the canyon.

Mule team heading out of Phantom Ranch.

Mule team heading out of Phantom Ranch.

Mules on the black bridge.

Mules on the black bridge.

A better view of the mules on the black bridge.

A better view of the mules on the black bridge.

The black bridge was neat and worth the extra mile we had to add to our trip after crossing it. Just the experience of walking through the rock tunnel at the other side of the bridge was just kind of cool. Also, the black bridge had a solid wood board along the middle that the mules walked on so there was less of the frightening sensation of walking on the air over the river.

Crow enters the tunnel at the end of the black bridge.

Crow enters the tunnel at the end of the black bridge.

Mars Girl on the black bridge headed into the tunnel.

Mars Girl on the black bridge headed into the tunnel.

Luckily, the first couple of miles out of the canyon are relatively flat. But it starts getting real at the first set of switchbacks. When I’d come down these switchbacks the previous day, they hadn’t seemed nearly as bad (other than probably contributing to the knee strain I felt all night). Boy, they certainly rough going on the way up! I think this was the steepest section of the trail.

By the time we made it back to Indian Garden, I was feeling a bit whooped. We spent a long time sitting on a rock by the little creek having our lunch of assorted dry food. Crow lay down fully clothed in the water to cool off. I finally relented and soaked my shirt in the water. It really did feel good!

Crow lays in the creek outside Indian Garden.

Crow lays in the creek outside Indian Garden.

About part way up the last 3 miles, we started to have some threats of afternoon rain showers. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but never got close. You could see rain falling in the distance, circulating around the canyon constantly for the rest of the afternoon. We got some sprinkles and maybe a little bit of a rainfall for a bit, but the storms thankfully held off until we were both taking showers and doing laundry at the RV.

A distant rain.

A distant rain.

The circulating rainstorm on the hike back up.

The circulating rainstorm on the hike back up.

I will say that those last 3 miles sucked. While not as steep as the bottom switchbacks, the last three miles is consistently upward at varying steepness with very little relief. And, worse yet, the top of the rock never seems to look like it’s getting any closer! So you feel like a hamster in a wheel… walking, walking, walking uphill and getting nowhere. I want to say that I enjoyed that last leg as much as I enjoyed the entire experience… But, really, by the time we reached the trailhead, I was pretty damned happy to be done. And famished. And I needed a beer.

Behind those smiles, we're begging for mercy.

Behind those smiles, we’re begging for mercy.

That said, especially in retrospect, it was a great experience. Crow and I have both expressed a desire to go down to Phantom Ranch again sometime. I think next time we’d like to come fully prepared and take the North Kaibob trail from the North Rim. We’d like to stay a few nights at Phantom Ranch and explore the area casually. I’m not sure we’re ready for a rafting trip down those wild rapids. But we’d definitely like to see more of the canyon from the bottom up.

Can't really complain about the view.

Can’t really complain about the view.

We didn’t have much time after we showered and laundered our clothes to see much more of the canyon. We were off to our final destination: Vegas. Funny, we had thought days earlier that we might like to go mountain biking in Vegas. However, after the Grand Canyon–which was probably the most rigorous hiking we did the entire trip–we decided to just be lazy in Vegas. At that point, though, we’d been hiking for several days straight so I think it was probably good to finally rest.

At least we got a rainbow out of the whole deal. I'll take this as the Grand Canyon's approval of our hike.

At least we got a rainbow out of the whole deal. I’ll take this as the Grand Canyon’s way of saying goodbye.

In case you’re wondering, the wound on my heel did not fully recover for awhile. For about a month after the trip, I could still see a ridged lineo f skin the shape of a circle marking the spot. It’s finally all gone now. But for awhile it was my “red badge of courage”… along with the toenail I lost. The toe still looks a bit rough. I wiggle it with pride.

Arches National Park

I have a fond place in my heart for Arches National Park. We arrived there after a day in Monument Valley and, before that, a day in Mesa Verde. I was looking forward to staying some place for more than one night. In advance, we’d planned to spend one day mountain biking and another day and a half exploring Arches. We actually arrived at Arches in the early evening, unlike so many other late night arrivals on the trip, and so we had time to enjoy the campsite a bit upon arrival.

Arches Campground - our little humble abode is in the center.

Arches Campground – our little humble abode is in the center.

The sign at the campground. We tried not to be offend. How many Woods constitutes a "gathering" anyway?

The sign at the campground. We tried not to be offend. How many Woods constitutes a “gathering” anyway?

Arches is an odd place. For one, it’s the only national park I’ve been to where immediately upon entering the gates, you pretty much start climbing up a very open system of switchbacks up to higher ground. As you climb, you can see part of Moab spreading out below to the south. It’s kind of intimidating climb, especially in an RV. And it’s pretty much 18 miles from the entrance to the campground at the very end of the park. A slow 18 miles. But beautiful and scenic.

My eyes were constantly drawing pictures and scenes from each structure so it’s very easy to understand how all of these structures got names like Courthouse Towers, Garden of Eden, Parade of Elephants, and Dark Angel. They are huge and they make you feel very small. Besides the magical names, I have to admit that Arches (and Bryce Canyon) really made me wish I knew more about geology. I constantly found myself asking, “How does something like this get made?” I read every sign I saw in that park, struggling to comprehend a lot of the information it was giving me, trying to grasp the enormity of the time lines they were describing. Thousands of years is hard for me to fathom. I tried to picture all of the events described in the signs, but I admit that I probably only understood a fraction of what I read.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Still, you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate Arches. Just a set of eyes to appreciate the beauty. And there was so much beauty there that I–not for the first time on the trip–found myself just exclaiming, “Wow!” repeatedly.

The first day we were in the area we actually went mountain biking at Dead Horse Point State Park which overlooks the Canyonlands. I don’t know what I was expecting the Canyonlands to look like, but, wow. The scenery blew my mind and gave me a taste of what I might see at the Grand Canyon later in the week. Of course, every canyon is different so it wasn’t exactly the same. The shades of brown and the rock layers still stand out in my mind. The first half of the 9-mile mountain bike trail followed the canyon rim, offering magnificent views of the valley. We stopped a few times to take some pictures and enjoy the view.

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A view of the Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point.

Another view of The Canyonlands.

Another view of The Canyonlands.

And yet more views of The Canyonlands.

And yet more views of The Canyonlands.

This was also the first time that I truly enjoyed mountain biking since I first tried it last year. It was still scary, for sure. The trail was described by the guy at the place where we rented the bikes as beginner…. But much like how beginner skiing hills vary depending on the region, the same could be said for mountain bike trails. I had to walk a few places still, but I also did let go a few times and try something that totally scared me, and I survived! The lack of trees was definitely a plus for me… Trees are my most feared obstacle when mountain biking out here–they really disrupt your ability to see what is coming in the path ahead and they have to be maneuvered around quickly. Without the trees, I felt a little more daring. I still have problems, though, navigating quick downhills followed by immediate quick uphills.

The view from the mountain bike was pretty much this for at least 5 miles!

The view from the mountain bike trail was pretty much this for at least 5 miles!

Our mugs blocking the beautiful scenery.

Our mugs blocking the beautiful scenery.

It was such a great experience that ever since I left, I’ve started thinking seriously about buying a mountain bike. I can’t always bike at places like Moab but now that I’ve been exposed to what it could be like, I’m a bit more willing to keep trying.

Mountain biking at Dead Horse Point -- I actually look like I know what I'm doing!

Mountain biking at Dead Horse Point — I actually look like I know what I’m doing!

Yep, we were really at Dead Horse Point overlooking The Canyonlands.

Yep, we were really at Dead Horse Point overlooking The Canyonlands.

Our rental bikes by the trailhead sign. I wanted to take this bike home!

Our rental bikes by the trailhead sign. I wanted to take my bike (Trek Superfly 15.5) home!

The evening adventure was a bit strange. The ranger had told us on our arrival about a place we could go swimming in town. From the description and directions he gave us, I got the impression that perhaps we’d be swimming in a river, but I pictured that it was something like a beach with a lot of people and a lifeguard or something. When we arrived at the parking lot that was supposed to be “the place,” we only saw a trailhead with a bunch of parked cars. We thought we’d missed the swimming hole. But after driving back down the dirt road and searching the area, we went back up to the trailhead just as some people dressed in various states of swimming apparel (ie, women in cut-off jeans with a bikini top, shirtless men in swimming trucks wearing Tevas). We learned that the swimming hole was literally a series of pools along a trail that people swam in.

Before we got on the trail, we witnessed two kids and adult taking a jump off of what had to be a 15 foot drop into a tiny river below! It looked scary and the river didn’t look nearly deep enough to support the momentum of such a drop. Crow and I both agreed those people were nuts. I vaguely wondered how many times a year the park has to rescue people who injure themselves doing stupid things like that.

The trail was primitive and a bit of a walk to find the next pool. We passed a lot of people coming the opposite direction on our way in. We ended up swimming at the first pool we encountered where a group of children were taking turns jumping off a 5 foot rock ledge. We both waded into the freezing cold water and eventually went for a swim. The water was not very transparent so it was a little creepy. We swam for a half hour before calling it quits. We did try to find the next pool up the stream, but it wasn’t immediately obvious so we turned around. I’m not sure even today what I thought of that experience… But at least I got cooled off after a really hot day!

(Sorry, I don’t have any pictures from that adventure. You will have to take my word for it.)

Our second day at Arches we actually hiked around the trails at the park. Since our campground was closest to the Devil’s Garden, we started with that trail. We headed right for the longer, more rigorous trail to the Double-O Arch. It was a really fun trek with varied terrain. The paved trail ended at Landscape Arch, giving away to sand (and completely filling my sandals with silky, hot sand). Then, we climbed up a steep boulder and walked on the rock for quite some time. A section of the trail went along a narrow ledge on each side with a rather long drop on each side (we tried not to think about it). It was fun!

We actually climbed through the smaller O and walked to the other side where you could climb a little bit of hill on the other side to get great pictures like the one below.

Double O Arch -- A really fun hike to this one!

Double O Arch — A really fun hike to this one!

The hike out to Double-O was really interesting.

The hike out to Double-O was really interesting.

Very non-conventional, indeed.

Very non-conventional, indeed.

The trail actually continued in a loop where one could see Private Arch and the Dark Angel rock, but we ended up turning around because we didn’t bring enough water for the full loop. It was a very hot day; I finished my water shortly before returned to the start of the trail.

We walked back to the RV campsite and had lunch, and then took the rest of the park by storm, working our way down the park to the bottom, seeing Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch (super cool), and Broken Arch (awesome if only that we got a lot of time alone around that arch).

Sand Dune Arch. It lived up to its name. Tons of sand!

Sand Dune Arch. It lived up to its name. Tons of sand!

Broken Arch... Not a long walk, but surprisingly vacant after a very busy visit to the neighboring Sand Dunes Arch.

Broken Arch… Not a long walk, but surprisingly vacant after we had to wait out the crowds for a clear shot of the neighboring Sand Dunes Arch.

Skyline Arch in panoramic for your viewing pleasure.

Skyline Arch in panoramic for your viewing pleasure.

Crow at the Fiery Furnace Overlook.

Crow at the Salt Valley Overlook.

We stopped at the Salt Valley Overlook and the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. We learned too late of the ranger guided hikes through Fiery Furnace, which we would have loved to have done, so we vowed to make sure we got on one of those tours on our next visit. You can’t go through Fiery Furnace without a permit and they highly recommend you take a guide because it’s easy to get lost.

Fiery Furnace--I long to hike in there!

Fiery Furnace–I long to hike in there!

More Fiery Furnace.

A closer look at a section of Fiery Furnace.

So our last stop on that first day, which was a long day of hiking, was the most famous and in so many ways most grand arch, Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch is probably the most strenuous of all the other hikes. It’s 1.5 miles to the arch and uphill with a few exposed parts of trail towards the end. But man, it is totally worth the climb!

The top of the rock solid rock climb at the start of the trail to Delicate Arch. The parking lot is straight back, several hundred feet.

The top of the rock solid rock climb at the start of the trail to Delicate Arch. The parking lot is straight back, several hundred feet.

Crow climbing the "escarpment." (That's what we jokingly called it anyway.)

Crow climbing the “escarpment.” (That’s what we jokingly called it anyway.)

The stunning view from that same overlook.

The stunning view from that same overlook. (Taken on the way down; note the change of lighting.)

And the road to Delicate Arches continues...

And the road to Delicate Arches continues…

(There were a few other scenic points of the trail, including an interesting walk along a rock ledge right before we reached the arches, but I didn’t stop to get a good picture of that. The memory of that entire walk is engraved in my brain, however, because it was magical. And very, very different.)

The narrow trail along the ledge ended and we had to pull ourselves up over a few more feet of rock that opened into a huge rock field on which dozens of people sat, heads all facing the same direction–toward the Delicate Arch which stood majestically in the middle of field with no other rock around it. It was breath-taking, to borrow an overused phrase.

Delicate Arch (panoramic view).

Delicate Arch (panoramic view).

The most beautiful (and famous) of all arches--Delicate Arch.

The most beautiful (and famous) of all arches–Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch and the vortex of stone next to it.

Delicate Arch and the stoney pit next to it.

There were so many people there trying to get pictures of each other under the arch that you had to sneak pictures in quickly between groups. We even went up to get our picture taken… However, the sun decided to hide behind a cloud at just that moment so it did not come out that great. But let me say that anyone standing beneath that Goliath looked pretty small!

We sat around there for awhile, just admiring the scenery. We didn’t bring any lights so we decided we were not going to stick around until dark… We enjoyed the climb down in the side-lighting. There was a small loop at the bottom to view some petroglyphs so we took it. They were surprisingly ornate and distinct.

Petroglyphs along the Delicate Arch Trail.

Petroglyphs along the Delicate Arch Trail.

The next day, before leaving the park for good, we visited all the arches in the Windows section of the park and stopped at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint. We, of course, were off to another location (Bryce) so we had to go. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out and spent a bit of money on some souvenirs. We each bought orange “Utah Rocks” hoodies and I bought a cap which I wore for the remainder of the trip while hiking.

Some pretty scared sand dunes. In fact, one might say they were petrified.

Some pretty scared sand dunes. In fact, one might say they were petrified.

Double Arch (I had to take the picture high to cut out all the people!)

Double Arch (I had to take the picture high to cut out all the people climbing around in there!)

More arches (I can't remember the name of this one.)

More arches (I can’t remember the name of this one.)

Playing with the panoramic mode again!

Playing with the panoramic mode again!

Arches National Park

The specs are people climbing around this arch.

Moab was a really great town and we spent all three nights checking out the local establishments. Probably the most notable was the Moab Brewery which not only offered a nice selection of beer (with bike themed named) but the food was above average for a pub as well. I ended up buying a bike jersey for the Derailluer  Ale, which was one of the beers I had with my dinner. The jersey also had a picture of Delicate Arch in the foreground of the label so I thought it was really cool.

Like I’ve said in many other entries, this is another place we’d like to visit again in the future. We would also love to explore the nearby Canyonlands via bike and/or Jeep. I’m pretty sure we could easily make a week out of staying in just this area alone.

Bryce Canyon

We only spent one day at Bryce Canyon. I wish we could have stayed longer. This place was so beautiful that I’m literally without any grand words to describe it. Orange, orange, and more orange–every shade imaginable. Hoodoos–these long spire structures that stick up from the canyon–are the distinctive feature of Bryce.

Unfortunately, the weather when we were there was variable. We were there during their monsoon season so afternoon thunderstorms were likely. We woke up early to view the sunset, but it was cloudy so we didn’t get the full effect of the sun-light hoodoos. Our early awakening allowed us, however, to actually get breakfast at the park lodge, which was really nice. And the first time since starting our honeymoon (we were into the second week by then) that we made it out somewhere for breakfast! (Our first night at Los Poblanos doesn’t count because we actually made it to brunch at like 10am.)

Cloudy sunrise at Bryce.

Cloudy sunrise at Bryce.

Early morning light at Bryce.

Early morning light at Bryce.

The morning cleared, however, and by the time we began to take our first hike along the Queens Garden Trail, the sun was poking out of the clouds. It just got sunnier and sunnier and we had real hope that the rain would clear completely.

Heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

Heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

This cute guy heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

This cute guy heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

Hoodoos, hoodoos, and more hoodoos.

Hoodoos, hoodoos, and more hoodoos.

The trail was a pretty popular one, listed on the park map as an easy hike. I don’t remember exactly, but I think we took some sort of extended loop from the Queens Garden (cuz supposedly we did 3 miles and the park map I’m using to aid my memory says it was 1.8 miles roundtrip). Anyway, it was truly stunning. All the various hoodoo formations did look like some sort of fairytale kingdom.

Panoramic View of Queens Garden.

Panoramic View of Queens Garden.

Another panoramic shot. (I really love this feature of the cadmera!)

Another panoramic shot. (I really love this feature of the camera!)

After we finished walking the Queens Garden Loop, we excitedly ran to the RV to change into lighter clothes as it had warmed up considerably from the morning. We started walking the 8 mile Fairyland loop, but just as we got about a half a mile down the trail, dark clouds began to advance from the distance and we heard the rumble of thunder. Having been unpleasantly caught in alpine thunderstorms more times than I’m ashamed to admit, suggested we turn back. We were both so depressed.

More scenery along the stunning Queens Garden trail.

More scenery along the stunning Queens Garden trail.

Descending into the canyon.

Descending into the canyon.

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We went back to the park general store and decided to wait out the storm there. We both snacked on some food and enjoyed a beer. Which, by the way, was $1.25 (!!) for a bottle of a nice local microbrew.

The storm never really came, though. Lots of rumbling thunder, a little bit of a drizzle, and the temperature dropped a bit again. After some time, we decided to take at least take the Fairyland Trail to the Tower Bridge, just 3 miles round trip. As we hiked, the sun came out and was over taken by clouds repeatedly so that we could only guess as to what the weather was going to do. It was really hard, though, to resist the urge to continue the Fairyland Loop, which we passed both right before the Tower Bridge viewing area and on the return. I was so disappointed that we couldn’t walk that trail that I have sworn we will come back and walk the whole thing one day.

Fairyland Trail

Fairyland Trail

Another view along the first 1.5 mile of the Fairyland Trail.

Another view along the first 1.5 mile of the Fairyland Trail. (Stormy clouds included.)

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Some goofy hikers at the Tower Bridge viewing area.

Some goofy hikers at the Tower Bridge viewing area.

More Fairyland Views

In fact, we know that if we come back to Bryce some day, we’d definitely like to hike as many trails there as we can. There are some campgrounds in the canyon; we’d love to walk the Lower Rim trail and spend a night or two in the canyon. It was sad that we couldn’t stay there longer than the day. But our trip was mostly a taste of national parks of the southwest.

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This looks a little like some sort of important building on a hill overlooking some ancient city.

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Another shot of the “capitol building.”

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Another panoramic view of Fairyland. What do the fairies do here, you suppose?

Majestic!

Majestic!

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It really does look like a fairy land!

After hiking out and back to the Tower Bridge, we conceded to drive along the rim to Rainbow Point at the far end. Along the way, we stopped at almost all of the view points, taking pictures while marveling at all the spectacular views. Each part of the canyon had its own unique beauty. I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it all was. As you can see, it was impossible to take an uninteresting picture. I can’t wait to go back! This was most definitely one of my favorite places we visited.

The colors remind me of Mars!

I believe these next few were taken at Inspiration Point….

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And various other views along the canyon rim….

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The Natural Bridge (at the view point of the same name).

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Honeymoon Highlights

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
  • Guadalupe*
  • Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
  • Monument Valley (Navajo Tribal Park on the Navajo Reservation)
  • Arches
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)
  • Canyonlands**
  • Zion
  • 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.

Cities visited:

  • 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.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

After leaving Albuquerque, we headed up into the Mongollon mountains to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We overnighted at an RV park just outside of the monument but within the national forest. The drive to the Gila area was over a very scenic pass, although we were running behind and drove it after dark, so we did not get to enjoy the scenery. The RV park had hookups so that was really cool for our first night in the RV.

I have to say that so far on this trip, Gila Cliff Dwellings has been one of my favorite stops so far. It was a nice sunny day when we started out on the trail that went up into the woods. The climb was not especially steep despite the warnings of the park rangers who urged us to take more water than we seasoned hikers really needed. There were a few rest areas on the walk up that a person less seasoned with uphill hiking might use.

Even before reaching the top, the trail offered soaring views of the cliff dwellings and the valley over which they looked. I got really excited as I could see the dwelling walls. So that I wouldn’t be disappointed, I had lowered my expectation of what I’d see of the cliff dwelling remains, but as I viewed them from a distance, I got really excited because they appeared to be what I would have expected.

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We came to the end of the trail to an open cave that no longer had a wall. A ranger immediately walked up to us to explain that we were looking at what was probably a single-family abode with a fire pit and sleeping area. She then explained that much of what we were about to see and what she could tell us about the place were mostly guesses based on what local people from tribes descended from these dwellers could piece together, and what historians can only surmise from the little evidence remaining. (We had missed the one guided tour they give per day, but this ranger really ended up practically giving us the information we would have gotten from a guided tour by answering our questions.)

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Moving on from the first two caves (the second one was still walled and secure but they had it closed off because it’s dangerous to enter), the dwellings just got more interesting… Crow and I walked through every room we could get to and looked into every crevice. We must have been up there an hour or more. There were not a lot of people so it was very cool to feel as though we had the place to ourselves (and we could get shots of the dwellings without other people in them).

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I found myself imagining what it would have been like to live in such a place as a native. Of course, these kind of thoughts generally lead me to want to do research and then… you know, it could end up as a story idea. I kept repeating aloud, “This is so awesome!” and “This is so cool!” as I walked around that place. This is definitely one of those moments in life where even a writer can’t find the appropriate words to describe just how magnificent a place like this is. Much of the structures were no longer intact in their original form, but there was enough there that it is very easy for me to imagine life in this “high rise” overlooking a beautiful valley (that unfortunately recently experienced a forest fire).

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There was a little bit of restoration by the park to make the area safe to navigate around (I’m sure the steps below are not original). But the ranger was very good at explaining how the village may have looked. When the structures had roofs, it is believed the people walked on roofs to get from place to place. Additionally, they created ladders to climb from various places on the cliff into specific dwellings.

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I can’t imagine the thrill of finding a place like this tucked away in the wilderness. What an awesome discovery that must have been to see this place in a more pristine state. I’m sure people came through before it was a part and contributed to the ruins or stole some artifacts that were still around. But, wow. What a place. My pictures don’t even do it just as the camera lens cannot capture all that your eyes can see. But I tried. And these are only the pictures off my roll; I imagine Crow’s are even better.

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I admit that I felt a little sad to leave the cliff dwellings behind when we began our hike down. It was like I’d entered some alternate universe where for just an hour or two, I could connect with some phase of humanity’s past. The last time I felt this moved about a place was the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in Rome. I’m not directly descended from native Americans or Romans, that I know of, but I still feel a connection to the great chain of human existence when I go to places such as these. Maybe it’s the writer in me who always tries to put herself in those time periods and societies because I want to know what they were like. The part of me that wants to know what the daily lives of these people were like wants to research for answers… and then the writer in me wants to put herself in that time period through the characters of a story. But I’ll wager I’m not the only person who ponders human existence at places like these…

We will visit Mesa Verde on this trip so I’ll have a second opportunity to view cliff dwellings. We have a guided tour for that one. I look forward to learning more about native cliff dwelling people.

Petroglyphs

Before picking up our RV, and therefore leaving Albuquerque, we decided to check out the Petroglyphs National Monument. This area contained a series of rocks on which ancient native people drew–or wrote–leaving behind cryptic pictures that we really, apparently, have no idea what they mean. Many signs indicated that some of the tribes today with ties to the ancient people have some theories as to the meanings of these drawings, but no one appears to be certain about all of them.

I personally like to speculate that most of them were about aliens from outer space interacting with the alien people. Come on, how can you deny it with pictures such as this:

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Or this:

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Ok, so that one shows a bird, but still… the spirally thing? What’s that? It’s the warp drive the aliens used to get here, of course!!

And certainly the creature in the next petroglyph is not of earthly origin….

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Okay, I’ll believe that the petroglyph shown below is a yucca plant, as the sign claimed, and not a space craft or aircraft of alien origin….

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…But I simply will not accept that the following does not depict a space ship crash landing into a group of teenagers celebrating Mardi Gras.

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And I believe this to be a portrait of one an elder from the bird species of Beta Fomalhaut 4.

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Perhaps these represent teenage angst.

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But you can’t tell me that this isn’t close encounters of the third kind…

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Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to the native people of New Mexico. I actually found these petroglyphs quite moving. It just tickles my funny bone to look upon them as a 21st century girl who wants to believe that ancient man was visited by men from outerspace. I wish we really knew fully what these symbols mean… It really makes you think about how symbols only mean something in context to the civilization making them. Will writing some day be obsolete and seen as anything more than incomprehensible scribbles to future man? In all likelihood, yes. And in that case, I give the future tourists looking upon my writings to deem them an account of an encounter with men from outerspace!

Lavender and an Organic Farm

We began our adventure on July 14th with only three hours sleep between arriving at our hotel after the reception (and subsequent clean up and last minute packing at the house) and getting up at 5am because we had a 8:00am flight for Albuquerque, New Mexico… Can you say “jet lag”? Or, really, “post-wedding lag.” Who’s bright idea was it to book a 8am flight the day after our wedding anyway?

Oh, yeah. That was me. I forgot.

I wanted to get the most days out west as possible. I guess I forgot about how incredibly tired one is after the planning and execution of one’s wedding is complete. Hard to believe that as a seasoned person, I’d forget that. I guess I just figured that walking onto the plane as a zombie is socially acceptable. I just forgot how painful it is.

I usually appreciate air travel as time for me to do some reading. With that in mind, I packed the book I started reading in February and a new book from my own shelves that I have not yet read in anticipation that I would finally complete the first and get to start the next. Ha, ha.

I slept the moment the plane started moving until it started to descend on the first flight, and then, on the second flight, I slept most of the way, though I woke up long enough for a few snacks and a pop.

When we arrived in Albuquerque (which is not, I learned, an airport but a “sunport”), it was sunny and warm. I felt jet-lagged but excited out seeing someplace new. We had planned to spend one night at a hotel because we could not get our RV until the following day. Since we had arrived in Albuquerque before noon, we could not check into our hotel. So we drove to the Old Downtown Albuquerque and walked around browsing in shops and such.

I was immediately taken by the square, adobe architecture of New Mexico. It was like every stereotype of the southwest I’d ever known. I guess that’s why it’s a stereotype. Of course, every shop was filled with turquoise jewelry and authentic-appearing (but not always so) Native American art. Crow loves southwestern style art and furnishings (it was the inspiration for the color we painted our bedroom, which is terra cotta) and it seems some of that is rubbing off onto me.

The hot sunny day broke into a sudden sunny thunderstorm that Crow says was typical of this area of the country. The rain stopped but the evening settled into clouds. It was still early, but I was getting kind of tired, so we decided to finally check into our hotel.

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The courtyard at our hotel.

Crow picked the hotel and had booked it a few weeks ago. It was actually the coolest place I’d ever been as far as an overnight stay–even cooler than any bed and breakfast I’d ever stayed at. It was called the Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. Crow had chosen the beer-themed package where we got a refrigerator stocked with select local brews, a dinner sandwich, and some delicious tortilla chips. The sandwich was gourmet–beef with some kind of delicious dressings.

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Peacocks (including an “almost albino” white one) roamed the property freely and the smell of lavender from the fields where they were growing scented the wind. The gardens were beautiful as well and the room was really cozy. We were in the lap of luxury in this quiet, peaceful place. I pretty much crashed around 8:30pm, jet-lagged to the core, and had a very restful sleep.

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The next morning we had the most awesome breakfast–included in our room. I don’t remember the name of my meal (I’m so bad at non-English words sometimes), but it was basically a tomato-based soup with some kind of soft-boiled egg and lots of other veggies. Crow had the omelet–which was wrapped around a cream cheese and a raspberry sauce. We each share a bite of each other’s meal and I completely stuffed myself to finish mine, it was so good.

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Our delicious breakfasts.

We walked around the grounds after breakfast, enjoying the local animals–some chickens and goats. We both fed the goats. At the little gift shop, I bought some lavender soap for our RV and a book about growing and harvesting lavender since I recently planted lavender for the flower, but I’ve been thinking of trying to use the flower if they grow.

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Crow delicately (piece by piece) feeds the goats.

All and all, it was a completely beautiful first day and a half. I totally fell in love with Crow again for his marvelous selection in a hotel.

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The kitty who ran the register at the gift shop.