Bryce Canyon National Park: The Navajo Loop Trail

I visited Bryce Canyon multiple times from November through April.  It is a beautiful park and it is in an excellent location to visit multiple parks within a couple hours drive time.  

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Sunset Point is the center of the universe at Bryce Canyon National Park.  The panoramic view of the park is a photographer’s paradise.  If you head to your left, you can take the Rim Trail to Sunrise Point.  From there, you can continue to the Fairyland Loop Trail or the Queens Garden Trail which take you deep into Hoodoo country.  A shorter and easier trail which provides a healthy dose of Hoodoos is the Navajo Loop Trail.  This trail heads off to the right of Sunset Point and allows you an up close and personal experience that you can’t get from the pedestrian viewing areas next to the parking lots. 

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Bearing to your right, the trail will allow you to stroll next to Hoodoos via a series of switchbacks down to the bottom.  The trail is flat and well-maintained but the decline of this trail measures 550 feet so it is not necessarily easy if you aren’t used to walking at 8000-foot elevation.  It is important that you are careful when traversing the switchbacks.  Although they are a smooth surface, there are no railings or barriers to prevent you from falling over the edge. 

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The trail is 1.3 miles and offers an upward view of the landscape. Being below these structures and seeing the orange flavor of the sandstone against the blue sky and puffy white clouds offers a completely different perspective.  They are rightly perched on pedestals for us to pay homage.  The trail features boulders perched on high, trees growing in less than perfect locations and curious rock formations that have defied erosion. 

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At the bottom, you are awed by the majesty and sheer will of these formations which have withstood the test of The Big 3: climate, weather and time.  They stand proudly as a reminder of the past and a stubbornness towards the future.  They are defying The Big 3 as long as possible.  Someday, they will all have crumbled and humans will have nothing but memories and pictures of their grandeur. 

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The picture above has two stone structures that look like bridges, hence the name Two Bridges.  Can you see both of them linking the two walls of the trail?

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When you visit Bryce Canyon, I encourage you to walk this trail.  Take your time and enjoy the unique views and characteristics of this park.  Be safe and feel the impressiveness of the history of this land.  Imagine if you were the first person to see it this way.  How would you feel?  What thoughts would you have?  

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Have you visited Bryce Canyon National Park?  What was your experience like?  Please share your thoughts with us.

Bryce Canyon National Park: Woohoo for Hoodoos

Mossy Cave

Before we get deep into the heart of Bryce Canyon National Park, there is a small area down the road from Bryce Canyon proper called Mossy Cave.  If you drive about 3 miles east from the intersection of Routes 12 and 63, you will happen upon a small parking lot on the right.  Don’t skip past this quaint corner of Bryce Canyon.  This slice of the canyon is an easy way to get up close and personal with the Hoodoos that capture everyone’s fascination.  Hoodoos, pine trees and a small waterfall await your arrival.  This is an appetizer of what is to come. 

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What is a Hoodoo?

Here is part of the description from the National Parks website:

https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/hoodoos.htm

General Description:

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands.  At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of an average human to heights exceeding a 10-story building. Formed in sedimentary rock, hoodoo shapes are affected by the erosional patterns of alternating hard and softer rock layers. The name given to the rock layer that forms hoodoos at Bryce Canyon is the Claron Formation. This layer has several rock types including siltstones and mudstones but is predominantly limestone. Thirty to 40 million years ago this rock was "born" in an ancient lake that covered much of Western Utah. Minerals deposited within different rock types cause hoodoos to have different colors throughout their height.

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Formational Process:

Hoodoos are formed by two weathering processes that continuously work together in eroding the edges of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The primary weathering force at Bryce Canyon is frost wedging. Here we experience over 200 freeze/thaw cycles each year. In the winter, melting snow, in the form of water, seeps into the cracks and freezes at night. When water freezes it expands by almost 10%, bit by bit prying open cracks, making them ever wider in the same way a pothole forms in a paved road.

Rain is also the chief source of erosion (the actual removal of the debris). In the summer, monsoon type rainstorms travel through the Bryce Canyon region bringing short duration high intensity rain.

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Preservation Message:

Unfortunately, hoodoos don't last very long. The same processes that create hoodoos are equally aggressive and intent on their destruction. The average rate of erosion is calculated at 2-4 feet (.6-1.3 m) every 100 years. So, it is that Bryce Canyon, as we know it, will not always be here. As the canyon continues to erode to the west it will eventually capture (perhaps 3 million years from now) the watershed of the East Fork of the Sevier River. Once this river flows through the Bryce Amphitheater it will dominate the erosional pattern, replacing hoodoos with a "V" shaped canyon and steep cliff walls typical of the weathering and erosional patterns created by flowing water. Indeed, a foreshadowing of this fate can be observed in Water Canyon while hiking the Mossy Cave Trail. For over 100 years a diversion canal has been taking a portion of the East Fork of the Sevier River through this section of the park and already it's easy to see the changes the flowing water has created.

Hoodoo colors are more vibrant after a rainstorm. Viewing hoodoos in the winter is especially rewarding. Not only does melting snow enrich the colors but the blanket of white adds another dimension to the beauty under the crisp blue sky.

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The elevation of Bryce Canyon ranges from around 7,000 to 9,000 feet. Taking a hike into the canyons can mean a drop of several hundred feet.  Well constructed paths make the hikes relatively easy but you must take your time if you are not used to walking or hiking at high elevations.  

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I highly recommend Ruby's Inn for lodging and food.  During summer and fall months, they offer a buffet that will fill your belly for hours and give you plenty of fuel for those hikes through the Hoodoos.  Performances run Wednesday through Saturday at 7pm from late May through mid-August.  

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I visited Bryce Canyon multiple times in the fall and winter.  There wasn't enough snow to make a huge difference in the view but I have seen other pictures which make the park seem magical in winter.

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Have you been to Bryce Canyon NP?  What was your experience like?  What advice would you give to people who are planning to visit the park?  For more information about Bryce Canyon National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Big Bend National Park: A Vast and Beautiful Wonderland

Big Bend lives up to both words which make up its famous name.  It is bigger than big and features grand vistas and wide valleys.  There are stunning rock formations, an infamous river and adventures on land and in the water. If you want a more extreme adventure, I recommend driving a four-wheel drive/high center vehicle on some of the dirt roads or take a kayak down the Rio Grande River. 

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This is not a barren desert.  The landscape has many different species of plants and cactus.  It is a thriving ecosystem in a place that doesn’t get a ton of precipitation.  In fact, this area averages about 14 inches of precipitation per year.  Obviously the Rio Grande river basin helps but some of these areas like Panther Junction and Chisos Basin produce vibrant foliage. 

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Sunset watchers have some choices at Big Bend.  The patio at Chisos Mountain Lodge is pretty wonderful.  If you enjoy a more 360 degree view, Gano Springs Road or the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive give you ample opportunity to see shades of light and shadows against mountains, mesas and rolling hills. 

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On a clear day, you can see mountains for miles and miles.  Main Park Road which takes you from Panther Junction to the Persimmon Gap visitor center is a long drive so be prepared.  The road features the Fossil Exhibit which I featured in another article and I highly recommend.  Big Bend is a big park, measuring over 800,000 acres, and this drive covers a huge chunk of land. 

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Have you visited Big Bend National Park?  What was your experience like?  For more information on Big Bend, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

Big Bend National Park: Boquillas Canyon and Santa Elena Canyon

Boquillas Canyon and Santa Elena Canyon are almost at opposite ends of Big Bend National Park.  Boquillas is a dead end on the eastern arm of the park whereas Santa Elena is a dead end near the western tip of Big Bend.  Both are very remote areas that share the Rio Grande River as their southern border.  The surrounding landscape is equally as beautiful. 

There are a dozen tributaries that feed the old Rio Grande.  Generations have navigated its flow and used its water to farm the land.  You can see the lush vegetation that thrives in the river basin.  It is a shallow river that is lazy at times and swift at others. 

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Boquillas Canyon’s jagged walls have been carved by the water.  You can either walk about 1.4 miles roundtrip on the trail along the river or take a 2-4 day rafting trip that will float you 33 miles down the canyon.  Whichever adventure you choose, be sure to wear sunglasses as the steep limestone walls of the canyon reflect the bright sunlight like a mirror. 

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Rock formations on the road through Castolon have been shaped by volcanic eruptions occurring over millions of years.  The volcanic remnants protrude through grass, cactus and desert shrubbery.  The land is calm now, awaiting the next volcanic episode. 

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Santa Elena Canyon is a grand presentation of how water always wins.  The miniscule waves of the Rio Grande seem to be laughing at the massive rock that has been cut in half by millions of years of water assault.  The river no longer thrashes the limestone walls of the gorge, it is much more peaceful now.  Crossing the 80 feet or so of the Rio Grande is a federal crime as the grasslands at the foot of the cliff is Mexican land.  (Please no comments about immigration). 

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Have you visited Big Bend National Park?  What was your experience like?  For more information on Big Bend, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

Canyonlands National Park: The Southern Trails

Canyonlands is a park with borders.  There’s the Northern portion of Canyonlands which is mostly encapsulated by the White Rim Trail, a 100 mile route that is only fit for 4 wheel drive vehicles.  Then there is the Southern Canyonlands Park which is separated from the north by the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers and features the Needles.  

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Ironically, both regions unfold stunning landscapes just outside their borders.  Rock formations that are no less spectacular than what can be found inside the park are not included within the park’s borders.  The Mineral Road is north of Canyonlands and was featured in this article.

https://www.midlifecrisistraveler.com/national-parks-blog-1/2017/12/30/canyonlands-national-park-mineral-bottom-a-treacherous-trail

This article focuses on the southern area of the park which can be reached via Route 211.  Route 191 starts at Interstate 70 in central Utah and runs south to within a mile of the Mexican border.  Moab is the largest outpost in Utah on 191.  Driving south features the La Sal Mountains on the left and the Abajo Mountains on the right.  Route 211 appears to be your everyday run of the mill access road until around mile 6 when it reveals huge rock formations and glorious valleys bathed in sunlight.  Any 1950’s western could have been filmed here, it is that picturesque.  

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This land was formed 300 million years ago.  Twenty-nine different times this area was flooded with sea water. But each time the water  drained back to the ocean, leaving a legacy of beauty and history.   

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The interior of the park is a collection of scenic views, camping sites and hiking trails.  Beware, some of the ravens can be aggressive.  I saw a couple of them sitting on people’s cars while they were hiking.  There are a few roads but much of the land is only accessible via four wheel drive or hiking.  The Needles is the prominent area of this section of the park.  Many boulders can be seen sitting atop rock formations exposed by millions of years of erosion.

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The southern portion of Canyonlands National Park is beautiful, but the grandiosity that exists just outside the park is the highlight of this journey.  I hope you will enjoy both areas.

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Have you visited Canyonlands National Park?  What was your experience like?

For more information about Canyonlands National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
— Lin Yutang
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On an overcast and extremely windy autumn day, Grand View Point Road is a lonely, winding trail curving left and right through the desert.  There is no indication of the dramatic wonderland that is simply a few hundred yards to the left or right.

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Reaching the end at Grandview Point reveals only 3 other vehicles with visitors exploring the trails.  The weather has intimidated the tourist crowd today with 40-50 mile per hour wind gusts.  Who in their right mind would step near the edge of a thousand-foot ledge when the wind is that strong?  Of course I would. 

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Canyonlands not only reveals one drop in depth but multiple drops.  It’s a canyon within a canyon.  Visitors are given the choice to peer over the edge from vantage points along Grand View Point Road down at the canyons or drive around the park on the White Rim Road which requires a four-wheel drive vehicle.  The White Rim Road is 100 miles long and the park service recommends that you take two days to complete it.   

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The canyon reveals levels of erosion from the last 320 million years or so.  Multiple colors and structure of rock have been carved from water and wind.  The Colorado and Green rivers both cut through this park and meet further south of Grand View Point. 

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Mesa Arch is one of the most famous places to photograph the sunrise.  Alas, the clouds have spoiled this luxury today.  The arch still holds its value as a scenic wonder.  Its precarious perch defies gravity for now.  Sometime in the next billion years it may face its ultimate demise. 

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Climbing near-vertical mountains isn’t easy so a series of switchbacks allows vehicles to slowly inch their way to the top safely.  It is imperative to maintain attention to the road as guardrails and barriers are nowhere to be found.  This is the wild where only the strong and smart survive. 

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For more information about Canyonlands National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

Have you visited Canyonlands National Park?  What was your experience like? 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Fire and Waterfalls

Fire

One cannot visit the Great Smoky Mountains and ignore the reality of what took place between late November and mid-December 2016.  Forest fires started and spread throughout the area of the park and Gatlinburg as well as some other towns several miles north.  Fourteen people died and 134 people were injured.  Here are some pictures of the areas that were burned.  Many of these areas have already started to recover.  You can see that the fire came dangerously close to a good number of hotels on the edge of the park. 

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Waterfalls

There are various waterfalls throughout the park.  These two falls: Juney Whank and Tom Branch Falls are in an area southwest of Route 441.  Upon leaving the park on Route 441, take Route 19 South until you reach Bryson City.  Drive north past the Smoky Mountain Campground and you are within walking distance of three waterfalls.  Due to the late time of the day, I was only able to capture two of the falls in pictures and video.  This is a very secluded area.  I only saw two people while I spent an hour or so there.  The Juney Whank Falls are up a rather steep hill whereas the Tom Branch Falls are a short, flat walk from the parking lot.  If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg or Clingman’s Dome, this is the place.  Enjoy.

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Tom Branch Falls

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Have you visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park?  What was your experience like?  Which waterfall is your favorite?  You can read more about this National Park by clicking the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The Heart and Soul of the Park

Please be patient, it may take a minute for all of the pictures and video to load.

East and Southeast

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Interstate 40 is the eastern border for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It doesn’t afford a lot of scenic views so you might want to get off the highway and take either Route 339 or Route 32 for some picture taking opportunities.  The east side of the park is not as developed as the central area of the park.  There are many old residences on the back roads here and sometimes you might just end up on someone’s driveway.  I don’t recommend spending much time in this area of the park because of the limited scenic overlooks that have been established.  The Cataloochee area in the southeastern block of the park has herds of elk that you might be able to see but be careful, they are very large animals and could attack if you get too close.

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Central

Route 441 literally cuts the park in half.  This is the heart and soul of the park.  There are many scenic overlooks and hiking trails where you can enjoy the environment and make memories with your camera.  This is also how you can reach Clingman’s Dome (you can read more about Clingman’s here ( https://www.midlifecrisistraveler.com/national-parks-blog-1/2017/12/12/great-smoky-mountains-national-park-clingmans-dome ) and the Fontana Lake area. 

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