Travel theme: Stepping it up in Varenna, Italy

If you live in Varenna, you probably have to get accustomed to steep, but lovely, climbs.

If you live in Varenna, you probably have to get accustomed to steep, but lovely, climbs.

This week’s Travel Theme: Steps from Ailsa who writes the blog Where’s My Backback? reminded us of the many steps we took in Varenna, Italy.  Walking there can be a challenge, if all you’re accustomed to is your fitness routine on even pavement in your neighborhood.  Walks in Varenna are definitely a step up, but when you’re in a beautiful town on Lake Como, you probably don’t mind at all.  Here are some of the steps we took.

After heaving luggage up steep steps, we paused at the doorway of our rental apartment from VRBO to admire this sweet greenhouse nestled above the stone walkway.

Pretty as a picture:  a backyard greenhouse and stone steps in Varenna.

Pretty as a picture: a backyard greenhouse and stone steps in Varenna.

In town, we walked along water’s edge, following the signature red railing along Lake Como.

Following the red railing around Varenna

Stepping out in Varenna

The gardens of Villa Monastero offered even more steps with some leading directly to water’s edge . . .

Steps and statues:  the gardens of Villa Monastero.

Steps and statues: the gardens of Villa Monastero.

and others lined with artfully planted urns.

Concrete urns lining a walkway at Villa Monastero

Concrete urns lining a walkway at Villa Monastero

If you plan a trip to Lake Como, know that you’ll be walking up and down.  But you won’t mind.  You’ll think you’re on stairways to heaven.

More photos are just a step away:  Travel theme: Steps.

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Travel theme: Big Orange Sugar

When this week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog Where’s My Backpack? appeared in my mailbox, I immediately thought of a fundraiser for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library called The Great Cake Bake, celebrating books and the host of the event: the University of Tennessee.  With that in mind, I searched my photo bank, and here are three creations made specifically for Big Orange Country.

First, how ’bout a little Big Orange pre-game competition? With a cake shaped like a corn hole board (complete with little white pillows of edible frosting), eating this cake might be more fun than playing the game.

This is one fun UT cake shaped like a corn hole game!

This is one fun UT cake shaped like a corn hole game!

Second,  there’s nothing more iconic in Big Orange Country than Neyland Stadium.  And, for a loyal fan, sitting in the upper deck on a crisp fall afternoon cheering on the Vols — su-weet!

Neyland Stadium cake -- perfect for Big Orange country!

Neyland Stadium cake — perfect for Big Orange country!

Finally, Ailsa’s challenge this week coincides with a much-anticipated game with one of the Vols’ biggest rivalries: the Florida gators.

What UT fan wouldn't want this football cake?!

What UT fan wouldn’t want this football cake?!

So, what would it be like for UT to win the game against Florida today (September 16)?  Pure sugar!

For more entries in Ailsa’s Travel theme: Sugar, click here.

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Take that road less travelled: Potash Road, Utah

Red sandstone cliffs along Potash, Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah

Red sandstone cliffs along Potash, Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway, Utah

Just put a road we don’t know in front of us, and we’re likely to drive it — side roads, byways, you name it.  But one thing we learned while driving in Utah is this:  If it says Utah Scenic Byway, don’t miss it.

To get there from Moab, drive about four miles along Hwy. 191 to Utah 279 — Potash Road.  It’s one long stretch — about 30 or so miles round trip — but any part of it will have you falling in love.  On your left going in will be breathtaking views of the Colorado River.  On your right — steep red rocks, petroglyphs, and mesmerizing scenery.

Rock climber on Wall Street -- area of Potash Road, Utah

Rock climber on Wall Street — area of Potash Road, Utah

First, look for rock climbers about four miles in.  The climbers we saw must have been taking a class, since instructors were at the ready, coaching them as they scaled red, jagged rocks along Potash Road. Locals call it Wall Street . . . with good reason.

Rock Climber clings to cliff along Potash Road

Rock Climber clings to cliff along Potash Road

Second, drive about thirteen miles down for a view of Jug Handle Arch.  And if you get out to take pictures, look for cliffs below Dead Horse Point State Park in the distance.

View of Jug Handle Arch as seen from Potash Road, Utah 279.

View of Jug Handle Arch as seen from Potash Road, Utah 279.

Third, drive all the way down to the Moab Salt Plant where a mineral used as fertilizer — potash — is extracted and processed.  On the day we were there — a Sunday — trains stood still.  But we could imagine the huge operation of loading boxcars for distribution throughout the U.S.

No trains filled with potash running on Sunday. Just lined up and waiting.

No trains filled with potash running on Sunday. Just lined up and waiting.

On your drive back from the potash plant, look left or right, and you’ll be amazed at the scenery. Still waters of the Colorado River reflect rock formations bordered by shrubs that turn golden yellow in the fall —  a postcard picture suitable for framing.

Postcard perfect: Scenic view of Colorado River along Potash Road.

Postcard perfect: Scenic view of Colorado River along Potash Road.

Hikers know the area.  As do campers, RV travelers, and just plain ol’ sightseers like us.

Lone hiker makes his way along Potash Road.

Lone hiker makes his way along Potash Road.

Finally, don’t miss the petroglyphs . . . as we almost did.  Even with a sign that says “Indian Writing,” we couldn’t locate the drawings.

Cars pulled over. People staring at the petroglyphs.

Cars pulled over. People staring at the petroglyphs.

But when someone familiar with the area pointed out the artwork to Bert, we immediately picked up on what to look for and where.

Sometimes you need someone to point out the location of petroglyphs high up on the cliffs.

Sometimes you need someone to point out the location of petroglyphs high up on the cliffs.

Some drawings resemble people with triangular-shaped bodies.  And several seem to be carrying orbs or round structures of some kind.

People with triangular-shaped bodies, found deep in the crevice along Potash Road.

People with triangular-shaped bodies, found deep in the crevice along Potash Road.

Others were harder to see because they were positioned higher or tucked into a tiny, dark crevice. But keep looking.  You won’t be alone.  Many visitors stand for a while looking, pointing, and sharing what they see with others.

So, when’s the best time to drive Potash Road?  We recommend an afternoon excursion timed for late-day shadows on red sandstone cliffs. But we imagine early morning has its benefits, too.  This is a photographer’s paradise, so pack your gear and get ready.  Be prepared to pull over often.

Late-day viewing rewards you with rich colors and vivid contrasts.

Late-day viewing rewards you with rich colors and vivid contrasts.

No matter what time of year or what time of day you go, make Potash Scenic Byway a destination rather than a mere happen-upon place. It really is that good.

For more information:

Moab’s Scenic Bywayshttp://www.discovermoab.com/byways.htm

For other posts on the natural beauty of Utah, check out We Saw Utah in our Travel Series.

And access all our photos of Potash Road on Flickr.

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Seven things you must do at Bryce Canyon National Park

Morning fog at Bryce Canyon, Sunrise Point

Morning fog at Bryce Canyon, Sunrise Point

It probably goes without saying that most people visit Bryce Canyon because they’re trying to check off all the national parks in Utah.  Or they’ve heard of hoodoos and want to see them.  But actually, there’s more to Bryce than just another national park experience.  Here are seven things we consider must-do’s at Bryce Canyon National Park.

1. Visit Bryce Canyon Lodge

You might as well begin here in this historic structure of Arts and Crafts design.  Built between 1924 and 1925, the oversized log construction welcomes you to “sit a spell” on its long front porch, snuggle up to the massive fireplace, dine in the restaurant, or head out the back door path to stand in front of the canyon itself.

Rustic exterior of Bryce Canyon Lodge

Rustic exterior of Bryce Canyon Lodge

Now managed by Forever Resorts, the Lodge at Bryce Canyon has no cell phone service and pretty much all the quiet you come for.  Closed this year from November 6, reopening on March 23, 2018, the lodge requires that you check for availability of rooms and cabins early through their website.

Relaxing by the fire at Bryce Canyon Lodge

Relaxing by the fire at Bryce Canyon Lodge

2.  Go early but stay the day!

Mornings begin way before sunrise, and you want to position yourself at Sunrise Point for a breathtaking view, for sure.  You may even get lucky and see fog lifting, revealing one hoodoo at time until the vista opens up wide before you.

People gathering at Sunrise Point to watch the sun come up over Bryce

People gathering at Sunrise Point to watch the sun come up over Bryce

But don’t think morning is the only time of the day to see Bryce.  What we’ve learned about canyons and red rocks out West is this:  they stay always the same.  It’s light that makes the difference.  As the day breaks and Ol’ Sol puts his spotlight on first one formation and then another, the reveal can be something to behold.

When fog lifts at mid-morning, you get an even better view.

When fog lifts at mid-morning, you get an even better view.

Stand in one place for a while, and you’ll get several changing views.

As the sun shifts its spotlight, other formations become highlighted.

As the sun shifts its spotlight, other formations become highlighted.

Or drive one way along the paved highway and then stop to take a look.  But drive the reverse direction for a different sight, based entirely on light and weather.  Any time of day is “all good” at Bryce.

Even with full mid-day sun, you get shadows and interesting patterns.

Even with full mid-day sun, you get shadows and interesting patterns.

3.  Enjoy the drive and the stops along the way!

Not all of us have a vintage Edsel to tool around in at Bryce.  But what fun we had talking to a visitor who had just bought this primo vehicle to see the USA in style!

What a beauty!

What a beauty!

At each turnout, we took pictures of signage around the viewing areas.  (Makes it easy when you’re curating that slide show for the family and you want to show what you saw and where.) And kudos to the park service for premier paving, clean restrooms, and railings that blend in naturally.  Bryce is first class in appearance and accommodation.

 4.  Look at nature — all of it!

At first glimpse, you’ll notice what’s closest — an arch, a statue-like formation, a shape you see in the rocks.

Variations in color, layers, and formations: Bryce Canyon National Park

Variations in color, layers, and formations: Bryce Canyon National Park

But if you look beyond the pinkish, white-topped formations, you’ll realize there’s more nature that you could have missed, if you hadn’t paid attention.  Sometimes you don’t see the forest for the  . . . rocks.

Balanced on the edge was this single tree, roots extended, welcoming the morning light.

Balanced on the edge was this single tree, roots extended, welcoming the morning light.

Look closely, and you'll see patterns in the bark of nearby aspens.

Look closely, and you’ll see patterns in the bark of nearby aspens.

At Farview Point, this rain-and-wind eroded arch forms a window on a forested section.

At Farview Point, this rain-and-wind eroded arch forms a window on a forested section.

5.  Follow a trail — and your heart!

Now here’s an example of doing what we tell you to do, not what we did. How we missed this is beyond both of us, but we never knew that we, minimal hikers at best, could have enjoyed the trails down and around the passageways at Bryce.

Hikers prepare to head down the trail into the "bowels" of Bryce.

Hikers prepare to head down the trail into the “bowels” of Bryce.

When we looked down into the center parts of the formations, we realized that there were people walking casually along smooth trails with little more than a walking stick for support.  And we could have done that!

Next time, this will be us!

Next time, this will be us!

As sure as we hope there’s a next time to visit Bryce, we can guarantee we’ll grab a map, talk to a ranger about the best places for casual hikers to go, and take a hike.  There’s something about being in the bowels of a canyon that can’t be duplicated when you stand at street level and look down.  Or at least that’s what we think.  We’ll tell you after our next trip!

6. Take pictures.  Lots of them.

For most of our readers, there’s no reason for us to post this mandate.  You already have gear galore whether it’s a pocket-sized phone with a camera or a two-foot long lens on a fancy apparatus.

Walking to the edge for another great shot of Bryce Canyon!

Walking to the edge for another great shot of Bryce Canyon!

Shutterbugs use all sorts of equipment to best advantage.  Some walk to the edge and snap away.

 A lone photographer focuses on the unique structures at Bryce.

A lone photographer focuses on the unique structures at Bryce.

Others set up their tripods before dawn to capture first light.

Waiting for daybreak!

Waiting for daybreak!

But it bears repeating: charge your batteries and get a spare memory card.  Bryce is worth remembering.

7.  Look beyond the hoodoos.

It’s easy to earmark Bryce as the hoodoo capital.  But there’s so much more.  That sense of being a small part of a very large planet is what you get at Bryce, especially if you look beyond the amphitheaters and nearby formations.

Looking at the big picture puts it all into perspective.

Looking at the big picture puts it all into perspective.

From layers of colored stone . . .

Variegated layers of stone on a Bryce Canyon bluff.

Variegated layers of stone on a Bryce Canyon bluff.

to “statues” and towers formed by wind and rain. There’s beauty of all types, colors, and kinds here.

Looking up close yet beyond -- a magnificent view at Bryce.

Looking up close yet beyond — a magnificent view at Bryce.

Finally, it’s hard not to sound trite when describing something as vast and magical as Bryce Canyon National Park.  And each visitor takes away something different from the experience.

Looking into the distance at Bryce.

Looking into the distance at Bryce.

If you’ve been to Bryce, let us know what you liked best.  And if you haven’t been, here’s hoping you get there.  It’s nature at its finest.

With the wind and rock at our backs, enjoying Bryce Canyon!

With the wind and rock at our backs, enjoying Bryce Canyon!

For more information:

Bryce Canyon National Park website:  https://www.nps.gov/brca

Bryce Canyon social media:  https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/photosmultimedia/social-media.htm

 

To read all our posts on the national parks in Utah, go to Travel Series:  We Saw Utah here.  

 

 

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Hoodoo you love? Bryce Canyons National Park

Hoodoos standing tall in Bryce Canyon

Hoodoos standing tall in Bryce Canyon

To say that each of the national parks in Utah is unique wouldn’t be an untrue statement at all.  But we wondered, before we actually traveled there, how could rock in one park in the same state be so different from that in another park?

Arches has well, its arches, of course. Canyonlands has not only canyons but precipices and commanding views.  Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante —  two drive-thru parks — boast vast scenery of various colors and shapes.  But then there’s Bryce, different from all, with amphitheaters, canyons and hoodoos.

Yes, hoodoos.

A convention of hoodoos, gathered in a Bryce Canyon amphitheater

A convention of hoodoos, gathered in a Bryce Canyon amphitheater

Ever since we read the term “hoodoo,” we’ve been fascinated.  It sounds like “voodoo” and resembles some people’s vision of a haint, if you’re from the South.  But hoodoos are formations. Kinda like tall, skinny people with wispy bodies and heads balanced on necks of questionable support.

Studying the formations at Bryce

Studying the formations at Bryce

Hoodoos are all about erosion, if you will.  Composed of limestone with some other content thrown in (mudstone, siltstone, for example), hoodoos begin as blocks of stone but end up as hoodoos after wind and water have their way with them.

Shaped by erosion: hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

Shaped by erosion: hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

Frost wedging is what it’s called:  melting snow gets into the crevices of porous limestone and freezes.  And when freezing water expands, it creates cracks and holes that eventually lead to separations — or those tall individual forms resembling men standing at attention.

And so it goes -- wind and weather form holes that in turn form hoodoos.

And so it goes — wind and weather form holes that in turn form hoodoos.

Minerals play a part in the coloring of hoodoos.  If you look closely, you see striations of white and cream among the pinks and oranges and reds.  Dolomite, for example, is one such mineral.  A magnesium-rich limestone, dolomite can form a protective coating that erodes less quickly, explaining why some of the hoodoos are topped with white caps.

Hoodoos sporting white caps. Dolomite, perhaps?

Hoodoos sporting white caps. Dolomite, perhaps?

You may find yourself, as we did, staring for long periods of time at formations that you might not have seen at first glance.  And you notice the ravages of time and weather on the stone.  But you also start to create things.  Like you do when you look up at clouds and see shapes of something familiar.  Standing here, we could make out “buildings,” so to speak, with arched doors, covered “hallways,” and hoodoos stationed at the base like time-worn sentinels waiting for visitors.

Could this be enormous building with hoodoos guarding the entrance? Or are we just dreaming?

An enormous building with hoodoos guarding the entrance? Maybe.

Perhaps the most famous hoodoo at Bryce is Thor’s Hammer.    And the structure must feel pretty special, too, since it has its own commanding view, and most visitors want to take its picture.  It could be the hoodoo of all hoodoos.

Seeing it is something you don’t want to miss.

Thor's Hammer (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Thor’s Hammer (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You can’t visit Bryce without being charmed by the hoodoos.  They’re what you come for. Best viewing spots? According to the National Park Service website, you can be see them at the Navajo Loop Trail, the Queen’s Garden Trail, and Full Moon Hikes.  But actually, we saw them at every stop we made.

Valley of hoodoos -- Bryce Canyon National Park

Valley of hoodoos — Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos are natural.  Colorful.  Captivating.  And synonymous with Bryce.

So, hoodoo you love?

For more information:

Bryce Canyon National Park/Hoodoos: https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/hoodoos.htm

Photo credit for Thor’s Hammer: Wikimedia Commons

For more on Utah’s national parks, check out our Travel Series We Saw Utah to see the beauty!

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny — UT’s Pride of the Southland Band

Looking shiny even on the practice field, the Pride of the Southland tubas pump out "Rocky Top."

Looking shiny even on the practice field, the Pride of the Southland tubas pump out “Rocky Top.”

Count me lucky.  Day 4 of UT’s Band Camp found many alums (including me!) watching as the Pride of the Southland Band practiced its newly- polished maneuvers.  Alums stood on the sidelines of a practice field near the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center duly impressed with what a group, together only for four days, could master for pre-game entertainment.

They marched 8 to 5.  They played “Rocky Top” and  “Star Spangled Banner.” And they sparkled — even in the 90-degree heat.

Upholding the colors: UT's Pride of the Southland flag corps

Upholding the colors: UT’s Pride of the Southland flag corps

Even if they weren’t perfect yet, they were getting there, thanks to the leadership of Band Director, Dr. Donald Ryder and an emphasis on perfection — from drums and horns to flags and majorettes.

Drilling for perfection: majorettes of Pride of the Southland Band

Drilling for perfection: majorettes of Pride of the Southland Band

If you’re anywhere near Knoxville for the home opener against Indiana State on September 9th, get into Neyland Stadium any way you can.  The Pride of the Southland Band will shine on . . . as always.

— Rusha Sams, a proud Golden Grad of the University of Tennessee

For more posts on the Weekly Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny theme, click here.

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Fog can be a good thing: Bryce Canyon National Park

A lone tree at the rim -- Bryce Canyon National Park.

A lone tree at the rim — Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sometimes getting your hopes up while traveling can only lead to a let-down.  From Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we drove west along Utah Highway 12 hoping to arrive at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon before sundown to catch a glimpse of hoodoos at dusk.

At the lodge, we didn’t unload the car or check in.  Instead, we darted through the lobby and out the back door, following the short pathway to the rim to see something — anything — at the “golden hour” of sundown.  Friends on social media had called it “Jaw-dropping. Gotta get to Sundown Point in time to see the last light of day.”

But not that day.  Bryce Canyon with all its pinkish, whitish, glorious formations was socked in.

We rose before sunrise the next morning, threw on our clothes, and headed to Sunrise Point — on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped “amphitheatre” behind The Lodge.

But again, no view.  Only fog.

We stood with tourists from Japan, Germany, and the UK. People took pictures, shrugging their shoulders at the site where nothing, at least for that moment, was happening.

Early morning peek at Bryce Canyon

Early morning peek at Bryce Canyon

And then something magical happened.  Little by little, we could make out formations.  Slowly at first, but at least something.  Bundled up and expectant, we began pointing.  “Look there,” we said. “Over here, too,” said someone else.  “I can make out a head,” yelled one guy.

Fog lifting over Bryce Canyon

Fog lifting over Bryce Canyon

Sure enough, outlines appeared.  We could make out the spikes of the hoodoos. And jagged rocks.  And walking paths where photographers had set up.  The fog (hated by all at first) had become a rising curtain showing off nature’s stage.

Looming large, structures take shape as visibility improves at Bryce.

Looming large, structures take shape as visibility improves at Bryce.

A lone photographer prepares for morning shots at Bryce.

Standing out at a distance: structures of Bryce Canyon

Standing out at a distance: the various colors of Bryce Canyon

A morning reveal at Bryce Canyon

Another morning reveal at Bryce.

And before we knew it — maybe only about 30 minutes later, all told — we could see clearly.  There they were:  the colors, striations, and forms of Bryce.

The view behind The Lodge at Bryce Canyon

The view behind The Lodge at Bryce Canyon

Fog, as it turns out, can be a good thing.

The view past the tree at Bryce Canyon.

The view past the tree at Bryce Canyon

If you go:

Book ahead at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon.  Since it’s the only accommodation in the park, it fills up quickly.

For those with mobility concerns, the many paved pathways and sturdy viewing stations allow all to enjoy the natural beauty of Bryce.  And there are benches throughout where sitting and contemplating are welcome!

Bryce Canyon National Park is open 24/7.  Click here for Visitor Center hours and holidays.

Check out our series entitled “We Saw Utah” with posts on several of the National Parks. And, as always, thanks for traveling with us!

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An elemental expanse: Grand Staircase Escalante

Ribbons of color at Grand Staircase-Escalante

Ribbons of color at Grand Staircase-Escalante

If you’re thinking Grand Staircase-Escalante is just another Out West pass-through, pretty place, think again.  With over 1.9 million acres of vast wilderness, Grand Staircase-Escalante amazes you with its grandeur, formations, and ribbons of color unlike any you see at other national parks.

The colorful , yet rugged expanse known as Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Looking down on the highway that cuts through this vast expanse known as Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Since the Escalante River area was one of the last in America to be explored and mapped, it wasn’t until 1996 during President Bill Clinton’s administration that Grand Staircase Escalante was named a National Monument.  But oh, is it ever deserving!

Much of the area known as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is still unexplored.

Much of the area known as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is still unexplored.

Over sixty million years ago when Utah was covered by lakes, the sediment from those lakes hardened into rock.  The “staircase” was formed when the Colorado plateau lifted, and the layers of deposits extended, developing the fans and ribbons we see today.

Standing at a jut-out along Utah Scenic Highway 12, you can see the ribbons of color and enormity of the area.

Standing at a jut-out along Utah Scenic Highway 12, you can see the ribbons of color and enormity of the area.

If you follow the route we took from Capitol Reef along Utah 12, make time in your schedule to stop in Boulder at Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm “where (they say) the food is heavenly.”  (And it really is.) The two owners Blake Spalding (river chef, caterer, and practicing Buddhist) and Jennifer Castle (feeder of trail crews and recipe writer) invite you to indulge in their regionally based cuisine that has them winning awards like Best Restaurant Utah 2017 and James Beard Foundation Award Finalist.  We won’t soon forget Duck, Duck Goose Quesadilla and Posole Stew, but any of their organically grown, carefully crafted entrees will find you loving Blake and Jen’s elemental style, their blended Southwestern, Pueblo, Western Range flavors, and their business based upon Buddhist principles.  (Lunch ends at 2:30, so pace yourself and reserve ahead!)

Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah

Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah

When you get back on the road, have your binoculars and camera ready.  You don’t want to miss the vistas:  great, huge, imposing sky and colors of the Southwest.

Dark clouds in the distance at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Dark clouds in the distance at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

And if you’re there in the fall, look for evidence of turning leaves and contrasting colors of shrubbery dotting the landscape.

Yellow shrubbery finds space to live in a ravine along Utah Scenic Highway 12.

Yellow shrubbery finds space to live in a ravine along Utah Scenic Highway 12.

It’s all elemental.  Expansive. And quite glorious. It’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

For more information:

Visit Southern Utah:  http://www.visitsouthernutah.com/Grand-Staircase-National-Monument

Grand Staircase Escalante: https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/most-visited-parks/

To see all our posts on the national parks in Utah, click on We Saw Utah in the Travel Series menu at the top.

Posted on https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/elemental

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Reach out and touch Capitol Reef

Capitol Dome at Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Dome at Capitol Reef National Park

If you’ve visited Arches or Canyonlands national parks, then you’ve experienced some of America’s most beautiful scenery, thanks to careful planning and highway engineering.  Both of these parks lead you down paved roads to well-marked parking areas positioned in range of natural monuments you’ve always wanted to see — like Double Arch, Delicate Arch, and Mesa Arch.  But, for the most part, you parked, walked, photographed, and drove to the next scenic area.

We expected the same when we traveled along Utah State Route 24 headed to Capitol Reef. But what lay ahead for us was an entirely different experience.

Striations in the rocks at Capitol Reef

Striations in the rocks at Capitol Reef

First, on the horizon we could see boulders and distant structures with sandstone ribbons of color unlike the solid reds and ambers we’d seen in other parks. Capitol Reef is distinguishable by its striations — slices, if you will — of whites, pinks, tans, and browns.

Photo taken from car window as we "passed through" Capitol Reef.

Photo taken from car window as we “passed through” Capitol Reef.

Second, we looked for those well-marked parking areas, only to find that they didn’t exist.  We were actually driving through Capitol Reef.  The rocks we expected to see at a distance appeared alongside the highway, and many of our best photos were shot from a passenger seat window.

Fall color in the orchards at Fruita, a place where visitors can pick the fruit in season while visiting Capitol Reef.

Fall color in the orchards at Fruita, a place where visitors can pick the fruit in season while visiting Capitol Reef.

Third, when we did park the car, we had choices of other close-by sites to see. One of them, Historic Fruita  (settled and developed by Latter Day Saints (Mormon) settlers in the 1870s) takes advantage of the rich resources of the Fremont River valley.  And although no more than 10 families lived there at a time when it was a settlement, the area still boasts 3100 trees (cherry, peach, apricot, pear, apple, etc.) in the Fruita orchards. Today, visitors are allowed to pick the fruit and eat in the park for free or pay if they take fruit out of the area.

Blending in with the landscape, the Fruita schoolhouse

Blending in with the landscape, the Fruita schoolhouse

Also remaining in Fruita is this small, hand-made schoolhouse.  On the day we visited, the school was locked — perhaps it always is — but we stood on tiptoe, peeping in the windows, imagining schooldays here.  (The area is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.)

The primitive schoolhouse in Historic Fruita

The primitive schoolhouse in Historic Fruita

Finally, we followed a short portion of Fremont Gorge Overlook Trail, putting us front and center with the park.  For all its beauty, it was hard to believe that Capitol Reef wasn’t designated a national park until 1971.

Following the walkway at Capitol Reef where you feel a part of the landscape.

Following the walkway at Capitol Reef where you feel a part of the landscape.

If you’re headed to Capitol Reef, plan to spend more than one afternoon.  We had not done our homework, so we missed many of the must-sees of this park: Fremont petroglyphs, Waterpocket Fold, and Panorama Point. You could easily spend a day or more at Capitol Reef, especially if you take the trails or spend time picking the fruit in the orchards.

Storm brews over Capitol Reef.

Storm brews over Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef may be more of a “drive-through” national park than other Utah parks with paved roads leading to grand-scale designated parking areas. But the feeling of being “right there in the middle of things” makes us rank Capitol Reef as one of our top national parks to visit. After all, who doesn’t like being up close and personal with beauty like this?

There's more to see at Capitol Reef!

There’s more to see at Capitol Reef!

For more information:

National Park Service website for Capitol Reef: https://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

 Visit Utah website for Capitol Reefhttps://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/most-visited-parks/capitol-reef/

7 Tips for Photographing Utah’s Parks: http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/2017/06/photographing-utahs-zion-park/

 

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Look up, look down: The highs and lows at Canyonlands

Highs and lows at Canyonlands National Park

Highs and lows at Canyonlands National Park

When friends knew we were embarking on a tour of Utah’s national parks, several told us, “Each park is different!”  And we remember thinking that red rocks are red rocks, so surely that’s not true.  But one mile into Canyonlands assured us it was.  Our first stop, Arches, wowed us with carved-by-the-wind openings and unimaginable vistas.  But Canyonlands offered above- and below-ground splendors entirely different.

Many viewing points allow you to see into the distance as well as into the deep crevices at Canyonlands.

Many viewing points allow you to see into the distance as well as into the deep crevices at Canyonlands.

The Colorado and Green rivers take credit for much of the creation of Canyonlands‘ formations.  But wind and natural erosion of layered sandstone have above-ground and below-ground beauty that is remarkably different from any other national park.  Because we’re not as hale and hearty as we once were, we mostly see national parks from our car windows and the well-marked designated trails, like those offered in the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands, a park that boasts over 20 miles of paved road leading to scenic vistas.

Looking up, we could see buttes from miles away:  towering, sometimes lone formations that reach to the sky, forming “monuments” of enormous size and scope.

Rugged land, some vegetation lead your eyes to the main attraction: the buttes of Canyonlands.

Rugged land, some vegetation lead your eyes to the main attraction: the buttes of Canyonlands.

We found more “up top” beauty by taking a short hike to one of the most photographed spots in Canyonlands:  Mesa Arch. And it was there that we found we were not alone!  (The word is out, by the way, that this is the spot to see, if you only see one.)

You have to wait your turn for a shot at Mesa Arch, but it's worth it!

You have to wait your turn for a shot at Mesa Arch, but it’s worth it!

But just as we found to be true at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, if you wait your turn, you can either pose for the folks back home or you can hold on to the spot so your partner can snag an “unpeopled”  shot. It took us about half an hour, but we did both!

Beautiful Mesa Arch at Canyonlands.

Beautiful Mesa Arch at Canyonlands.

You can even move in closely to see what’s on the other side.  Worth it!

Looking through Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Looking through Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

To continue our tour along the route suggested in the Canyonlands brochure you can pick up at the Visitor Center, we hiked the Shafer Canyon area, along with families, lovers, and thrill seekers, anxious to climb the structures.

Climbing the rocks at Canyonlands

Climbing the rocks at Canyonlands

And some who braved it more than others, edging outward on any jut-out available. It’s a thrill you can’t find just anywhere, of course.

Just like the commercials: lovers sealing it with a kiss in Canyonlands!

Just like the commercials: lovers sealing it with a kiss in Canyonlands!

For a “look down” view of Canyonlands, we drove to the area known as Grand View Point where standing in awe at our own smallness and focusing on distant landscapes meant that we needed to stay a while.  It was a view, for us at least, reminiscent of our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon — a stare-down, if you will, into the interior of the earth. And a spot where you naturally think of your own place in the universe, albeit a small one.

Looking out and down at Grand View Point, Canyonlands

Looking out and down at Grand View Point, Canyonlands

It’s here at Grand View Point that sandstone monuments rise from finger-like chasms knows as Monument Basin, and old trails wind their way around the openings.  It’s a “look down” we won’t forget!

Canyonlands supports all that our friends told us and more:  It really isn’t like any other national park.  And just maybe, it has the most to offer with its highs and lows. It’s definitely worth a visit, so take advantage of its can’t-beat hours:  open year-round, 24 hours a day.

Capturing the "lows" of Canyonlands -- a selfie with the canyons in the background!

Capturing the “lows” of Canyonlands — a selfie with the canyons in the background!

We’re hoping for a return trip.  And if we go back, we’ll be staying ’til dark.  After all, we’ve heard the view of the night sky from Canyonlands is the best anywhere in North America. We gotta see that!

Friends were right: Canyonlands is unique -- and different from any other national park. Don't miss the highs and lows you'll find here.

Friends were right: Canyonlands is unique — and different from any other national park. Don’t miss the highs and lows you’ll find here.

For more information:

Canyonlands National Park official website: https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

Visit Moab/Canyonlands website: http://www.discovermoab.com/canyonlandsnationalpark.htm

Tips:

  • No lodging is available in Canyonlands.  We recommend a stay in Moab, about 32 miles from the entrance to the park.
  • For boomer travelers:  Islands in the Sky region is easily navigable by car.  Hiking to scenic spots is quite “doable,” but some trails may have slippery sand or elevated stairs.  A walking still makes a great companion.
  • For photographers:  Sunrise and sunset are the best times for photographing the red rocks at any of the Utah national parks.  And you’ll love a telephoto lens to catch the distant vistas.

For more posts on Utah’s national parks, visit our Travel Series:  We Saw Utah!

 

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