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Zion National Park

A Narrow, Straight-Up Walled Canyon

semi-overcast 68 °F

Getting to Zion National Park from our overnight stop at Richfield, Utah was an easy 2 1/2-hour drive through the desert and through some off-and-on rain. We stopped at Hurricane, Utah, a few miles from our campground, to drop Deacca off at a very nice board facility, On The Spot Play and Stay, because Zion River Resort bans pit bulls and rottweilers. We considered bringing her into the campground anyway and just walking her at night but even though she is the sweetest dog, she does bark and growl a lot, meaninglessly, but the noise is still there, so we thought it best for everyone's peace of mind to just board her for two days.

Once we set up camp, the campground shuttle took us to the national park, about 10 miles away, and we got started exploring. The nice thing about Zion, besides the amazing views, is that they have a free shuttle system that takes you to all the locations in the park from the visitors center. Since it was about 3:30 in the afternoon, we chose to go to the last stop and do an easy two-mile walk on the Riverside Trail:

Riverside Walk


When we got back to the visitors center, we called Dan, the Uber man in town, to take us back to the campground. That's because the resort shuttle only runs from 9am to 3pm. Talking to Dan on the way back we learned that he is also a work-camper at Zion River, getting his site for free in exchange for eight hours of work at the campground each week. He told us that work-camping is actually a burgeoning cottage industry with its own website for news and recruitment. No, we're not interested in joining that trend, but we may know some who could be!

It rained all night, and with the campground right on the banks of the Virgin River, I kept waking up thinking we might be swept away in a flash flood. But no worries, nothing happened. Our shuttle driver (into the park) told us that the river had only risen a few feet overnight and that they have a complete monitoring system with all the warning bells and whistles. It had only happened once where the river rose over 20 feet and washed away the wall protecting the campground, but they had plenty of advance warning and moved everyone to safety.

Once we arrived at the park, we embarked on the Watchman Trail, where we walked about 3 miles and 400 feet in elevation to some amazing panoramic views of Zion Canyon. Along the hike we saw a family of bighorn sheep up on a ridge. They kicked a few small boulders our way then went galloping down the ridge, across the trail and toward the other side of the mountain. It was really cool to see and I wish I could have gotten my camera out before they disappeared. A ranger on the trail told us later that we were lucky to see them because they rarely come onto the trail side of the mountain.

Watchman Trail


Afterward, we took the shuttle to Zion Lodge and enjoyed some pizza and beer at their outdoor cafe. During lunch, a big piece of the mountain cliff next to the lodge broke loose and crashed nearby causing lots of gasps and oohs and aahs. Once again, the camera wasn't fast enough! After lunch, I ambled down the Lower Emerald Pool Trail across from the lodge while Maggie stayed and watched the horseback riders head out. Just past the waterfalls at the lower pool, the trail to the upper pool was closed due to a big rock slide. The pool and the Virgin River were far from "emerald" or clear because of all the rain overnight.

Lower Emerald Pool Trail


Campground Review

We really liked this VERY NICE campground. Their free shuttle service to the park was handy for folks like us who don't tow a car. We wish they would consider changing their dog policy though, because most pit bulls, etc. are very nice, harmless dogs. It's just bad owners that ruin it for the rest of us.

We picked up Deacca (who had a great time without us, apparently - would definitely recommend the boarder-very nice folks) and headed to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Red Rock Canyon

National Conservation Area - Las Vegas, NV

overcast 62 °F

The most amazing thing about our drive to Red Rock Canyon was coming through Las Vegas, a mega metropolis, now the 28th largest city in the Unites States, and after turning onto the last highway toward Red Rock, we drove through some subdivisions, the road went down to two lanes and all of a sudden we were in the desert again. Maggie and I looked at each other and said, "Wow, that was weird." I mean, we were just looking at all the homes, some still unfinished, the road narrowed, and everything was gone! Anyway, five minutes later we were at the Visitors Center at the Canyon. We asked about the campground availability and they said we just had to go there, a mile back down the road, and see if anything was available. The web site said they only had six RV sites so we were expecting to have to look somewhere else because, after all, it was Friday afternoon and we've noticed that the number of outdoor enthusiasts seems to be growing exponentially the farther west we got. But we picked up some Vegas luck and snagged the last space available...that is, we thought it was luck until the camp host came over to tell us that we could have also taken any of the tent spaces that had covered picnic tables (and those were actually nicer!) and there were several of those available that could have handled our 38-footer. So if you go, now you know, because the web site didn't mention that useful fact.

After securing the campsite, we drove the RV around the 13-mile, scenic drive, one-way loop through the canyon. We stopped at a few of the pullovers, took some pictures, did a small amount of hiking, watched a few rock-climbers (the first time we've ever seen any in-person - hard to see on the photo though, can you find one?), then headed back to camp. Maggie served up some delicious pan-seared scallops, jalapeno-cheese grits, and a kale salad. Yumm! There was a nice, small hill/plateau next to the RV, about 50 feet high so we took a couple chairs up and enjoyed the sunset, watched planes coming and going from Vegas International, and even saw a shooting star!


The next morning, we returned to our seats on the hill and watched the sunrise, the planes again, and this time several hot air balloons rising over the skyline (If you look close at the bottom right corner of the photo showing the dramatic sun beams coming through the clouds, you'll see some small dots: those are the balloons - sorry but I all I have is an old iPhone 5 camera!). Then, I took off for a 20-mile round-trip bike ride back through the canyon. It was a nice, but difficult at times, ride, with the first half spent climbing some steep grades in thin air, followed by the rush back down. There were many cyclists inside and out of the canyon with a 58-mile cycling event happening in the area. Lot's of cool air on a nice overcast day, perfect for cycling. Although we were told to be on the lookout for wild burros and (if you can believe it) desert tortoises, we never saw any. Maybe next time!


Campground Review

Would definitely recommend the Red Rock Canyon campground. The location was great, excellent for bicycling, and really enjoyed taking the fold-up chairs up onto the hill next to our site for sunset, sunrise, and star gazing.
Refer to our first paragraph of this entry for more tips on this campground.

Next stop: Death Valley National Park in California.

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Death Valley Days

The "Low Point" of Our Trip!

sunny 87 °F

I'll have to admit, we were a little bit nervous about staying a few days in a place named "Death Valley", and so some trepidation was happening as we began entering the valley, first at the western summit of 3,000 feet, then again at the 2,000 and 1,000-foot signs but when we reached sea level, we could see civilization, and I think it was the sight of all the palm trees that helped us finally relax. We coasted into Death Valley National Park's Furnace Creek Visitors Center at 190 feet below sea level and were not surprised to see the $5-a-gallon fuel prices at the only service station next door. We had reserved an RV space at Fiddlers Campground for two nights, which is a gravel lot, part of the Oasis at Death Valley, a pretty fancy hotel and golf course (the hotel was still undergoing renovation) for only $18 a night. No hookups, so completely dry camping. The national park campground is right next door but it's first-come-first-serve until Oct. 15th and it was full when we arrived. However, the next day a space opened up with full hook-ups so we immediately grabbed it. With Maggie's lifetime national parks senior pass, it was only $25 for the night. I don't know if I mentioned this, but if you are planning to see some national parks and are age 62 or older, buy the $80 lifetime pass because you'll have free admission to anything in the national park system, including monuments, conservation, and recreation areas and big discounts on the camping spaces. And the one pass worked for both of us, I did not have to have one.


The first night we just relaxed and watched the sun set over the mountains while enjoying the results of Maggie's wonderful culinary skills: pan-fried pork chops, baked sweet potato, and grilled zucchini.


The next day we drove the RV 57 miles north into the valley (and through strong winds and a dust storm from the sand dunes field-yeehaw!), first to Stovepipe Wells Village where we picked up a few souvenirs and some local Mojave Red beer, then on to Ubehebe Crater, an extinct volcano way out in the middle of the desert. We hiked to the upper rim and then I ventured alone to a smaller crater known as Little Hebe. Maybe they left the "r" out of "Uber" Hebe (hyuk, hyuk!) but standing over the back rim with a view of both made me think they should be jointly named: the Heebie Jeebies". I finished the one-and-a-half-mile rim hike and then we drove 74 miles back to the other end of the valley, first to visit the abandoned Harmony Borax Works (remember the 20-mule train borax commercials during the Death Valley Days TV show?) and then on to the lowest elevation in North America (282 feet below sea level) at Badwater Basin, basically to where all the desert water drains, ending in a very briny, "bad" water hole in the middle of the salt flats.

Sand Storm at Stovepipe Wells


Ubehebe and Little Hebe craters


Harmony Borax Works


Badwater Basin


That night it was my culinary skills' turn to shine with a perfectly-grilled NY strip steak, accompanied by Maggie's famous jalapeno mac-n-cheese, and a salad. Later that evening, as we relaxed around the campfire, a freaky, strange light shone in the sky, causing screams of "OMG!" and "Aliens!" and "It's the end of the world!". Here's the best picture my old iPhone 5 could capture:


This went on for about 20 minutes changing shapes and colors. Then a lady went by, walking her dog, and said to our ground-dropped jaws: "Isn't tonight's SpaceX launch amazing?" So no aliens, no end of the world, no need to call Donald's Space Force. Just Elon Musk carrying on. Click here to see the story and much better photos from the launch at Space.com.

The next morning, we headed back the way we came and stopped at Zabriskie Point for another photo op and some ooohs and ahhhs on our way to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Hoover Dam.


A great time at Death Valley National Park and highly recommended!

Campground Review

As mentioned above, we stayed at two campgrounds. If we had our choice, we would definitely stay at the Furnace Creek campground inside the park again, which was literally right next to the Fiddlers Campground we stayed at the first night. But fut hook-ups vs. nothing. Furnace Creek does take reservations now between Oct. 15 and Apr. 15 so take that, if you can. Driving through the park, the Stovepipe Wells campground also looked nice with the exception of the sandstorm that was blowing through it that day. It is more in the center of the park but right near the dunes, so not good on a windy day.

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Lake Mead National Recreation Area

A Dam Nice Place!

sunny 80 °F

Driving into Boulder City, Nevada and seeing Lake Mead for the first time was quite an experience. This beautiful, blue, massive lake sitting afloat in the middle of the desert is surreal.


In fact, Maggie and I used that "s" word several times while were were there. Lake Mead is a National Recreation Area and we certainly agree with that moniker. There's an excellent trail system around the lake, both for walking and bicycling. And then there's Hoover Dam, which was our first stop in the area.


We toured the power plant, 450 feet down into the Nevada side of the dam, where four of the seven giant turbines were operating at the time. We took loads of pictures inside and outside and then headed back to our campsite for the next two nights, Lake Mead RV Village, where we had a front row seat right on the lake with terrific sunrise views.


The next day, we hiked with the puppies, 5 miles round-trip, to the Lake Mead Visitors Center for some more wonderful views and the following day, I biked about six-miles round-trip past the visitors center and up onto the historic railroad trail, through several old tunnels, almost to the dam.


We decided that this is definitely one of those places that we would come back to for an extended stay. Next, on to the Grand Canyon...but in the meantime, we received a few requests for more pictures of our puppy dogs, so here you go:


They are SO RELAXED! What a pair of travelers!

Campground Review

The Lake Mead RV Village is affiliated with the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and right next door to the NRA's very nice dry-campground. We were thrilled to get a lake-view site even though we waited to make the reservation only two weeks earlier. The staff were wonderful, the site was great, the location was perfect for rest, relaxation and cycling and highly recommended!

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The Grand Canyon

The Grandest!

overcast 58 °F

OK, so we've all seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but if you haven't been, there's nothing that can compare with the real thing. We have seen many canyons on this trip and so far those in Canyonlands National Park were the standard we held them all up to. Then we saw the grandest of them all, and indeed maybe this park should be renamed the "Grandest Canyon" because, as far as what we have seen, this is it. And what is really nice is that the Rim Trail all along the South Rim is a wonderful and amazing walk. I say "walk" because that's what it is: a mostly flat and some miles paved, incredible walk. Every one hundred yards or so, you are drawn into a new and jaw-dropping view of beauty.


But boy, were we shocked when we climbed out of the RV at the campground park office and a 40 degree temperature slapped us in the face! We experienced 30-degree nights and 50-degree days while we were there. Great for hiking but brrrr! at night. There are two RV campgrounds, one without hookups: Mather Campground, and one with full hookups: Trailer Village, where we stayed. Huge, wild elk and mule deer wandered through the campground and along the rim trail so we had to keep our eyes peeled whenever we walked our dogs. There are several miles of the rim trail where you can bike and take your dogs. And the horse-sized elk surprised us every time.


We arrived around dusk on Wednesday, checked out the visitors center and the amazing views at Mather Point behind the visitors center on Thursday morning, then some cold rain set in for the rest of the day and forced us back to the RV for a double feature movie night with stove-popped popcorn and hot chocolate...VERY relaxing! Then, Friday, we walked ten miles of the rim trail, doing various segments from Hermit's Rest to the train depot to Verkamp's Visitors Center to the Hopi House to Pipe Creek Vista, some with the puppies, who thoroughly enjoyed seeing the elk and mule deer.


Then there was the really cool vintage Chrysler pulling a vintage AirStream trailer a few doors down in our campground.


That night, we dined at the famous El Tovar Lodge and forced ourselves to partake of their delicious jalapeno corn chowder, Wiener Schnitzel, spaetzle, roasted carrots, and apple streusel pie. YES, we loved it all! I brought my black cowboy hat on this 5-week trip through the southwest but had yet to adorn myself with it, so this seemed my last chance, and what could be more appropriate than an evening at a classic western lodge dining room perched on the rim of the Grandest Canyon? And Maggie was so sweet to put up with me running out of the lodge a few times to try and capture a photo or two of the canyon at sunset. With my cowboy hat on, of course!


Campground Review

Trailer Village, inside the park, was definitely the place to stay. The first national park campground we've visited that also had cable TV hookups! It was a great location, easy walk to the visitors center and the South Rim trail, staff were very helpful...we really enjoyed our stay there.

Tomorrow, on to the Meteor Crater National Landmark just outside Winslow, Arizona (where I have never stood on the corner, much less seen a girl in a flat-bed Ford)...

Posted by travelswitz 09:47 Comments (0)

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