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!

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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!

Utah – The Plan

We had a hard time deciding how to divide our time in Southern Utah.  You could easily spend a week in every park and go home happy.  We tried the usual research methods – park websites, maps (Jon loves maps), and a few books on the area.  I came across this video advertisement about Highway 12.  Utah tourism claimed to have the most beautiful highway in America.  We focused our travel plan around Highway 12, and I’m so glad we did.

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Since we enjoy hiking (and try to avoid the more crowded areas), our best information came from a local blogger at Live and Let Hike.  He writes amazing and detailed trail guides for southern Utah, and I will link up with his pages as we explore each park.  Another great resource is Rick Stinchfield’s book, Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide.  Of course, we found this literary gem while eating lunch on one of our last days, but it did help narrow down our last-minute choices.

On some of our previous trips, research was necessary to make sure that we saw something worthwhile.  For this destination, you need to do some research to prevent getting overwhelmed with choices.  Once you see this landscape, you’ll want to do everything!  Settling on an itinerary was a challenging task, so I hope that including ours will help you in your future journeys to Utah.  More photos of our trip soon!

Day One

  1. Flew into St. George (coming from another direction, you may end up in Vegas).  Rental car and Wal-Mart for supplies.
  2. Zion National Park.  You can bypass the park (and its fees) but the drive through the park is really something.  We stopped in for a bit and did the common shuttle stops.
  3. Checked into the Bullberry Inn B&B.  We really enjoyed our stay with Bella (the dog) and her family.

Day Two – Bryce Canyon National Park

  1. Mossy Cave and waterfall, 0.4 miles from the inn
  2. Visitor Center, overlooks
  3. Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail
  4. Sunset at Sunset Point

Day Three

  1. Escalante Visitor Center in Cannonville (there are two VC’s)
  2. Cottonwood Canyon Road and Grovesnor Arch
  3. Kodachrome State Park including Shakespeare Arch

Day Four

  1. Escalante State Park (Petrified Forest)
  2. Main Escalante Visitor Center
  3. Anasazi State Park
  4. Checked into our Airbnb home stay in Torrey.  Always read the reviews, but we had a great experience.

Day Five

  1. Highway 24 to Capitol Reef National Park
  2. Gifford House for cinnamon rolls and old-fashioned soda bottles
  3. Capitol Gorge trail
  4. Grand Wash trail
  5. Sunset at Panorama Point

Day Six

  1. Breakfast at Castle Rock Coffee & Candy (looked like a gift shop, but peek inside)
  2. Visitor Center for flood warnings (rained overnight and this afternoon)
  3. Notom-Bullfrog Road to Red Canyon trail
  4. Went back very wet, but great hike.

Day Seven

  1. More rain overnight ruined our plans for slot canyons, but chased us to Arches National Park.  Great day trip.  If you’re in moderately good shape, don’t let the park publication scare you away from the arch trails.  We saw a ton of arches in one day and only had to skip the strenuous hikes.
  2. Supper and shopping in Moab, Utah

Day Eight

  1. Tour of our host’s property and fossil collection
  2. Highway 12 and Zion National Park on return journey to St. George

Utah is Amazing

Do you live in Utah?  I am so jealous.

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Have you been thinking about visiting?  Stop thinking.  Go.

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Last month, Jon and I spent 8 days in southern Utah, and it was amazing.  Every expectation for our trip was met and blown out of the water.  Tons of new birds.

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Incredible hiking and views.

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Petroglyphs of adorable ancient puppies (far left).

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And possibly the best vacation location in the United States.  I look forward to sharing our photos with you!

Blue Springs Gap

For this trip, I did not want to go tent camping.  Jon’s compromise was a Virginia cabin in a secluded area with no water.  But it did have a toilet.  Toilets are not guaranteed in our adventures.

IMG_5524The drive through the Virginia countryside has gorgeous views of farms, horses, and unique houses.

IMG_5578Many of the farms were growing Christmas trees.

IMG_5540Our cabin on Mount Rogers NRA was great (US Forest Service), even if occasionally frequented by zombies.  Thank you, random creative guest.

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IMG_5799We planned to spend some time in the Mount Rogers area, and I do recommend a quick visit to Homer’s Rock for the amazing view.

IMG_5481Those plans quickly changed when we discovered Grayson Highlands State Park.  We were more impressed with this park than many of the national parks that we have visited.  Grayson Highlands has an amazing mix of wooded trails (including a section of the Appalachian Trail), wild ponies, streams for wading, and rocks for scrambling.

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IMG_5753IMG_5816Next Stop:  Where it all began… Continue reading

Kachemek Bay State Park

Our last stop in Alaska was a ferry ride over to Kachemek State Park (other than the awesome Bear Tooth Theaterpub in Anchorage while waiting for a very late flight).

Day 10 (29)You have to hire a private boat company, but the process was very easy.  Disclaimer:  this was not their busy season.  We saw more sea otters, and really, can you have too many sea otters?

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The ferry staff was happy to help us choose a trail, and we arranged our drop off and pick up point.  This was a little more structured than we like, but we did not want to miss the boat and spend the night with the bears either.

Day 10 (47)The Grewingk Glacier Trail is beautiful, and the glacier is about halfway around.  We were able to stay by the lake for a nice rest and lunch.  Not a bad view!

Day 10 (162)Pieces of ice are continually breaking off, and they form really interesting shapes as they melt.  I particularly liked Puff the Magic Iceberg…

Day 10 (204)The trail back to shore was steep in places, but it was lovely.

Day 10 (300)I hope you enjoyed our trip to Alaska.  Our travels will continue in no particular order…

Next stop:  The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

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