Capitol Gorge & The Tanks

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While visiting Capitol Reef National Park this year, we decided to start our hikes with the Capitol Gorge Trail.  It is listed in the park materials as an easy one-mile trail.  Somehow, we managed to do four miles, and scampered all over the universe.  We should have relied on the Live and Let Hike trail guide for a better description, but forgot to look at it before heading out.

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This trail has wonderful views, is very level (without the optional side trips), and we marveled at the historic signatures.  How did they reach up that far?  We looked it up, but I’m not going to spoil the secret!  We managed not to find the petroglyphs, but still enjoyed the main trail.

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An available side trail is climbing around on the The Tanks.  I believe the little sign is on your left as you hike the main trail.  This is a cairn trail – the way is marked by small piles of rocks.

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And sometimes a helpful lizard.  Cairn trails always make me feel like I’m exploring where few people have gone before.  Please never knock over a trail marker, but feel free to repair them or add a rock.

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The main attraction of this side trail is a series of small pools.  There was not a lot of water for our hike, but we hear that they are sometimes larger.  We did get to see “tadpoles” which are actually shrimp.

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Bring your sunscreen for this one.  There are areas of shade for resting, but the entire hike was exposed during the middle of the day.  We were confused about where to stop (since it was advertised as a one mile trail).  Surely, we’ve gone a mile already!  We stopped when we were hot and tired and headed back.  On the return trip, we accidentally frightened off this nesting swallow while shade-seeking.

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I felt terrible!  She returned fairly quickly and allowed me to get this shot from across the trail.

Next stop – Grand Wash Trail, Capitol Reef NP!

Capitol Reef National Park

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Our all-around favorite park on our recent Utah trip was Capitol Reef National Park.  See our itinerary here.  The landscapes were amazing, and the trails were not crowded in mid-May.

Disclaimer #1 – Do your research about the rainy season.  I would not want to be on these trails in the rain, and flash floods are a concern in many areas.

Disclaimer #2 – If you prefer structure and the company of your fellow man to a little gentle isolation, then Zion and Bryce are your parks.  And they are gorgeous parks.  That said, the trails in Capitol Reef are clearly marked, there enough fellow hikers to help keep the mountain lions away (yep, I said mountain lions), and there are very convenient rest areas.

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We parked and walked down to a boardwalk view of petroglyphs.  This was my first view of drawings done by ancient peoples, and these were designed between 600 and 1300 C.E.  Apparently, things have changed since my school days, and we are using C.E instead of A.D. now (had to look that one up).

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We saw strange human figures, lots of bighorn sheep, and we saw dogs and horses at other sites.  Going in search of a snack, we visited the Gifford House for a huge cinnamon roll and old-fashioned bottles of soda.  For safety and convenience, we also traveled with six gallons of (cheap Wal-Mart) spring water and trail mix.  I always make our own trail mix so that I don’t have to remove all those pesky raisins.  I hate raisins.

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Mini marshmallows are much better.  We love our Nalgene bottles, but Zion had these great reusable bottles for the filling stations at the national parks.

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Our two main hikes at Capitol Reef were the Capitol Gorge/Tanks trail and the Grand Wash trail.  I’ll link over to them as soon as they are posted.  Happy travels!

Kenai Fjords

The southern coast of Alaska makes it ridiculously easy to take good pictures.  Seward is a wonderful postcard of a town.  I highly recommend eating there and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center.  This is the view from our restaurant – the flowers are in a box outside the window.

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While on the coast, we took a couple amazing hikes.  The first was the famous hike to see one of the few accessible glaciers in the area.  Never ask an Alaskan if a hike is easy.  “I’m an old woman, and I have no problem!”  It’s not easy.

Day 6 (48 2)But it’s worth it.  You can see the glacier from the parking lot, but the trail is a series of switchbacks with a constant incline.

Day 6 (110)There are some worthy sights along the way (if you’re not preoccupied blaming your husband for dragging you up the mountain).

Day 6 (48)We passed several trail runners (awesome crazies) carrying absolutely nothing but their spandex.

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I almost got blown off the mountain photographing these cutie hoary marmots.

Day 6 (113)And then you get to the top.

Day 6 (208)Day 6 (131)And then you remember that going down is always much harder than you think it’s going to be.  Fortunately, our next stop was the boat trip departing from Seward.  Make sure to make reservations ahead of time.

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We started seeing sea otters right away.

Day 7 (14)Several colonies of Stellar sea lions.

Day 7 (169)Mountain goats way up on the cliff side…

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My first whale sighting (only got a short video), and a glacier falling into the ocean.  The boats take turns getting close to the glacier, and it was nice to get some alone time with this force of nature.

Day 7 (128)The boat was a good size, and I really appreciated the option to go inside and sit down.  We spent most of the time on deck, but the wind gets to you after a while.  We also heard that the boat’s dinner was not worth the expense, so we packed snacks and sub sandwiches.  Neither of us felt left out at dinnertime.

Next stop – Ferry ride to Kachemak Bay State Park

Denali

Chronologically, I should start with our travels in Minnesota and Canada.  Or with the Mega-honeymoon.  Could we have a destination honeymoon?  No.  We had a coast-to-coast, visit eleven national parks honeymoon.  How we managed it on our salary, I still have no idea.

I’m going to start with Alaska.  For our ten year anniversary, Jon and I planned to go to Peru.  I still have the travel books, and I would love to travel there someday.  But Jon has always wanted to visit Alaska.  Did I say visit?  Jon has always wanted to move to Alaska.  I suggested a change in plans, and it did not take much convincing.

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Alaska is a big place, and we had to focus.  Jon wanted Denali.  I wanted the coast.   We settled on Denali and Kenai.

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When you drive north from the airport in Anchorage, you start to get used to the mountains.  Everywhere mountains.

Day 2 (223)Could this be “the Mountain”? (This is not the mountain).  People in Alaska talk about Denali like a person.  “The Mountain did not come out today”, like it did not feel like visiting us.  Turns out, Denali is covered in clouds most of the time.  When it came out, we felt very privileged to see it.

Day 5 (48)See that mountain range in the front?  We saw those huge monsters for days.  Denali appears twice as big (rear of same photo).  The Mountain indeed.

Day 2 (208)Everyone who travels to Denali hopes to see the Big Five – Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bears, Moose, Caribou, and Wolves.  We were warned that it is difficult to see bears and wolves, but we would probably see moose.  We hardly saw any moose (not a huge disappointment after four years in Minnesota), but we saw 23 grizzlies!

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Day 4 (90)You can get off the bus anywhere, unless there is wildlife present.  They have conditioned the animals to ignore the buses.  Watching the bus drive away, knowing you are on your own for at least a half hour, was an interesting experience.

Day 4 (214)Some visitors were not brave enough to do it, and were impressed when we flagged down the next bus.

Day 4 (321)We took a challenging ranger-led hike and had to take a detour around this male grizzly.

Day 3 (25)The visitor centers are a good place to warm up, and they have some beautiful artwork.

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It is a long drive to the northern end of the park.  It’s worth it.

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Next stop – Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park.