Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Back at the Ranch...!

Our stay at Zion National Park was the final "tourist" stop on our trek to our summer jobs at Luton's Teton Cabins in Moran, Wyoming. This will be our second season, and it's a testament to how much we loved the area and our jobs that we broke our standing commitment to spend a year at a job and move on to a different area. This area has so much to offer between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and we still have so much to see, do and experience here. The fact that we landed in a great job with some of the best folks we've ever met is the icing on the cake.

Leaving Virgin UT we traveled to Salt Lake City, a drive of about 300 miles. We stopped here since the truck needed a service/oil change done, and since we were in the area, we wanted to take it to Young Ford in Morgan UT. This is the dealership that replaced the engine for us last year. Once again, they took good care of us, and the next day we were on our way to our final destination, a 340 mile drive to the ranch!

We did arrive about a week early, as there was some dental work I needed to get done and I figured it would be best to get the bulk of it behind me before I started in for the summer. I had made an appointment at Teton Oral Surgeon before I arrived in town, and in short order was scheduled to have a troublesome wisdom tooth extracted. They were really nice, and as I opted to have the "sedation" package (being a total wimp), it was all over without me even remembering anything! That's a good thing :-).

As it has been for much of the country, the weather here has been dismal. Rain, clouds, a little snow, hail, more rain....very gloomy. We have been out in the Park to see what we can find, and testing the new lens we ordered. We decided on the Nikon 18-300 mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX. This is replacing my prized 18-200mm that we drowned in the unfortunate kayak incident back in March.

This is the morning after we had snowfall. We took a ride over to Colter Bay and walked along the lake shore for a little while. It sure looks cold!

Last summer we kayaked String Lake on a beautiful sunny day. Looks a bit different now, but still beautiful.

We had reports from co-workers Elaine and Larry that there had been a moose mom and baby in a small pond near Jackson Lake Dam. We kept checking for several days, never saw the moose, BUT we did see this sub-adult black bear!  

One of the iconic views of Grand Teton National Park, Oxbow Bend. You'll see many pictures of this overlook in various stages of the seasons.

We started work this past Wednesday. There are five of us returning workers, and three newbies coming in by the end of the month. We have been finishing up the spring cleaning of our cabins, getting ready for a new season of eager guests. We have been pretty busy this Memorial Day holiday weekend, with 11 of our 14 cabins full. We've been refreshing our memories with the cleaning routine, and I've been learning my new duties as office staff. I had learned a lot training under my friend Jodi last season, but we have a whole new reservation system in place this year, It's pretty intuitive, and seems to be quite user-friendly, always a good thing. Al will be resuming laundry duties three days a week, and will also be training the newbies when they come in. We are looking forward to a great summer season this year, working with good friends and giving our guests an exemplary experience.

Casey has been in seventh heaven with the cows being so close. 

Of course, you know us, and things can never seem to go off completely without a hitch. With all his romping through the fields of the ranch, Casey has managed to cut his paw. We're keeping it clean and treating it with neosporin, and it seems to be healing. It sure doesn't keep him down! My extracted wisdom tooth is slowly healing, but I did develop dry socket, so I have this gunk that I need to cover the incision area with a few times a day until it heals over completely. I am also somewhat sad to report that I can tell anyone traveling to the area that the hospital in Jackson is very nice. Al developed severe abdominal/back pain Friday afternoon, and when he has pain that brings him to his knees its time to get it checked out. It turned out to be what we thought it was, a kidney stone. I have never had one myself (knock on wood!), but he has had them before. A CT scan confirmed it, and he was sent home, armed with hefty painkillers, to wait out the passing of the stone. Luckily, it was passed in about 24 hours, and he is fine again. It is astounding that a speck of crystal about 2mm in size can cause such excruciating pain.  

Lastly, we were able to meet our good friends Pat and Diana Brown for a late lunch as they passed through Jackson on their way to Alaska. We had an excellent time at Signal Mountain Lodge, and can't wait to hear about their journey when we meet again in Campbellsville in October.

As soon as the weather decides it would like to clear up a little bit, we hope to get out and hiking, biking and kayaking this gorgeous region again, Oh yeah, and there's plenty of work to get done as well!

Monday, May 18, 2015

"All This is the Music of Waters...."

Quote from John Wesley Powell

We arrived at the ranch a few days ago, but would like to write up a story of our visit to a simply amazing place, Zion National Park.

We arrived in Virgin, Utah after a short 140 mile drive from Lake Powell Arizona. This trip did require a little bit of research as the shortest way between the two points was not the best way to get there with a big rig :-). We started out going north on Hwy. 89 to Kanab, UT. If you continued north and got on Hwy. 9 going right into Zion, there would be a major difficulty: there's a tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road connecting the east side of the park to the west side. Vehicles over 13'1'' tall or a combined length over 50' are prohibited from the tunnel. We barely make it height-wise, but totally lose length-wise. So at Kanab you turn south again on Alt. Hwy. 89, and pick up Hwy. 389 going to the town of Hurricane, UT. I was quite amused at the name of Hurricane in a land-locked desert area :-). It's a good route to take, and gets you to Virgin and Zion without any difficulties.

Based on recommendations from other travelers, we stayed for a week at Zion River Resort. The campground was beautiful, sites were really nice, paved pads and thick lush grass. You could tell the facility is run well, and maintenance done all the time. The downside to staying here is that Verizon service, even with the booster, was virtually non-existent, and the shade trees completely blocked any satellite reception. It was also about a 20 minute drive from the west entrance to Zion National Park. I wish I had thought to investigate the campsites within the park itself. The Watchman Campground is very nice, has electric/water hookups, many sites with a clear shot at the southern sky, and Verizon worked great! I will definitely stay there when we return to the area, and it's about a third of the cost of the resort. It would also be more convenient with the dogs, as the only trail within Zion National Park that they are allowed to walk on, the Pa'rus Trail, is within walking distance of the Watchman Campground. 

It was apparent from our first foray into the park that we would need to make definite plans to see what we wanted to see. Individual car travel is allowed on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road, but in order to see the major "sights" you need to catch a park-run shuttle bus that travels between the Visitor Center and Temple of Sinewava, with 7 stops in between. The shuttle is free, and you can jump on and off as you wish. The reason for the shuttle was explained on one of the outdoor exhibits at the Visitor Center.

In the height of the summer season, over 5000 cars, RV's, and buses were trying to jam up into the canyon road. It was a traffic nightmare, and needed to be controlled to protect the land from such an invasion. The shuttle was instituted, and works great. The worst part is finding parking at the Visitor Center. By 10AM the lots are filled, and you need to park nearby in the town of Springdale, take a shuttle from there to the Visitor Center, and then transfer to a park shuttle. 

After picking up our park newspaper, brochures and information, we did the drive through along the Zion Mount Carmel road. Driving through the tunnels, all the way to the east entrance station, we were very glad to have taken the route we did to arrive. Not only would we have not fit through the tunnel, the steep grade of the road and twisty turns heading down from the tunnel would have given me a heart attack! We also noticed that any of the small parking areas along this route were completely packed up. Back at the campground, we made our "battle plans" to see the sights and do the hiking that we wanted to do. These plans involved getting up at daybreak every day to arrive in the park shortly after 7AM when the shuttles started running. We would do morning adventures in the park, then come back for lunch and do something with the pups in the afternoons. I had corresponded with Mark Johnson over at Box Canyon Blog about good spots to walk with the dogs on the BLM lands around here where there are no pet restrictions. I also had a couple of drives planned if the weather co-operated. 

Our first adventure was a hike to the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, with the return hike along the Kayenta Trail, making a loop that started at the Zion Lodge and ended at The Grotto area. Unfortunately, the day dawned cloudy, but wasn't supposed to rain until that night. After parking at the Visitor Center and hopping on the shuttle, we headed up the trail from Zion Lodge.

The trail is paved and wheelchair accessible up to the Lower Emerald Pool.

This is the Lower Emerald Pool. Or as Al said, "puddle"!

The "massive" waterfall creating the lower pool.

From the lower pool, the trail started ascending, until we reached the Middle Emerald Pool.

The middle pool was a little larger. This is where that waterfall is coming from. 

The sandy trail from the middle pool ascends more steeply until we reached the Upper Emerald Pool.

The picture is deceptive, the upper pool is larger than it looks like here. I guess to give it perspective, that large rock just off center in the picture is at least 20 feet tall. 

Looking up at the top of the surrounding cliff walls. I imagine there would have been a much more vivid emerald color if the sun had shown itself at all.

Heading back down the trail.

The prickly pear cactus was in full vibrant colors.

From the Kayenta Trail we had a great view down the canyon along the Virgin River. I still find it completely amazing that these ribbons of river were the force that created these massive canyons.

Back at The Grotto, we hopped back on a shuttle to the Visitor Center, and then back to the campground. After lunch, we took a peek at the radar and determined we still had a couple hours before the rains came, and we took the dogs out to a trail on BML lands called the Virgin Dam Trail. I have no pictures, as the batteries in the camera decided it was time to quit. We walked along the rim trail for about a mile and a half, encountering a black and white striped king snake along the way. This one is harmless, but on the return trip we did encounter a rattlesnake. We did have the dogs on leash, and Al heard the rattles before any harm came about. It was about three feet off the trail. We pulled back a distance, and gave it a very wide berth. This was our first rattlesnake encounter during hiking; I would very much prefer that it be our last!

Our next day was a close repeat of the previous day. Up early, on the shuttle and were dropped off at the end of the canyon, Temple of Sinawava, for a hike up the Riverside Walk. 
I thought I'd throw in a picture of the shuttle since we spent so much time on them :-).

Riverside Walk is a paved path 1.1 miles long that leads to the jump-off spot for a very popular hike known as The Narrows.

Water "weeps" down through the cliffs and creates what they call "hanging gardens" on the cliff walls.

Yellow columbines were in bloom.

As the sun was peaking out, the color of the water was beautiful.

We reached the end of the paved trail, and the end of Riverside Walk. From here the hike turns into "The Narrows". Hiking this means hiking in the Virgin River. 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking and sometimes swimming in the river. This hike needs to be researched and prepared for properly. 

After Riverside Walk, we stopped at the Weeping Rock  and took the short, steep path to view the hanging gardens.

This stop would be the end of a hike we had planned later in the week to Observation Point. More on that...

After lunch, our afternoon activity was a drive to a different section of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyons. Kolob Canyons Road is a five mile scenic drive through the northwest corner of the park, and was about a half hour drive from the campground. 

The scenic road ends at the Kolob Canyon Viewpoint. There is a short trail leading to an overlook here, but again, no dogs allowed. Being as there were signs up of recent mountain lion activity in the area, I didn't feel comfortable going by myself, especially as there were no other visitors to the area at the time. 

The next morning we had breakfast at the Zion Lodge, a nice buffet with several selections. After breakfast, we took the shuttle to one of the "essential" Zion views, the Court of the Patriarchs. These three formations were named in 1916 by Frederick Vining Fisher (a Methodist minister) after three towering figures of the Old testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We hung out here for awhile, waiting for the cloud cover to break so I could get a peek of blue sky.

We also stopped at Zion Human History Museum. They have a viewing platform behind the museum, many exhibits of the history of human existence in the canyon, and an orientation film to the park.

The Pa'rus Trail follows the Virgin River from Canyon Junction to the Visitor Center. This is the only trail dogs are allowed on in the park, and is a main bike path also. It is paved, as is many trails in the park. A sign along the trail here explained this is not just for accessibility, but to help prevent erosion due to so many people walking the trail.

So many beautiful sights along the trail.

One afternoon we took a drive along a "back way road", visiting the ghost town of Grafton.

The dirt road wound around, up and over Smithsonian Butte.

Nice views from up there as well.

Friday was a day off from the park. It was supposed to be cold and rainy, and we had an extremely early morning hike planned on Saturday. We planned to be shuttled by Zion Adventure Company to the East Mesa Trailhead, where it was an easy three mile hike to Observation Point. From there, it was a 4 mile hike down switchbacks, 2,148 feet down to the bottom of the canyon. It was quite an ambitious undertaking for us! Friday we did, indeed, wake up to a cold rain, and it lasted until after lunch. It appeared to be clearing up a bit, so we took a ride up another backway road, recommended by our friends Steve and Joan, Kolob Terrace Road to Kolob reservoir. It was indeed a very nice drive, but as we ascended Kolob Mountain, we started finding snow, and a lot of mud. We made it to the reservoir, but I never did get out of the car and take pictures :-(.

I was starting to get nervous about the weather and our hike the next morning. It just didn't seem to be clearing, and they were talking about really cold temperatures in the morning. At 8:00 that night, we got a phone call from the shuttle company, cancelling the hike the next day. Apparently the road to the trail head was impassable due to all the rain and snow. I was relieved because I was worried about the weather, but also disappointed since we were leaving Zion and couldn't reschedule if the conditions improved. Oh well, it leaves us something to look forward to for another trip there.

We had also found a nice city park in Springdale to walk the dogs, that had an off-leash area as well, which Casey quite enjoyed. Springdale was a neat little town, completely unexpected. Being used to the red rocks and canyons of the other Utah National Parks, I was surprised at the number of flowers and gardens. And grass! 
We strolled around town for a little while, admiring the cute shops and looking at all the things we don't need.

One store had tons of yard art. It was all so pretty.

Our time at Zion National Park came to an end, and it was time to resume our trek northward to our summer jobs. Even though the weather did not cooperate very well for us, we managed to get out and see quite a lot. The beauty of Zion Canyon is amazing, a sight that sets your heart racing. My advice for visiting this National Park would be to really look into what you want to do, be prepared for the more strenuous hikes that you might like to do, stay closer to town, and take lots of pictures!

Friday, May 8, 2015

"A Curious Ensemble of Wonderful Features..."

One "attraction" that has been on my bucket list since we set out on our journey over four years ago has been Antelope Canyon in AZ. The pictures I've seen from this canyon have been amazing, and we've wanted to experience it for ourselves. The closest town to Antelope Canyon is Page, AZ, and I reserved five nights at Wahweap RV and Campground on Lake Powell. It is a short, 140-mile ride from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and we had a beautiful day for the drive. Of course, our GPS Samantha was screaming at us because we took Highway 64 out to Highway 89, rather than driving back down to I40 which would have added an hour and a half to the drive. We had driven 64 along the rim to the Desert Watchtower and saw that it would be fine for towing the trailer, so we ignored Samantha :-). If anyone happens to be traveling towards Page on Hwy. 89, it is now re-opened after the landslide that took out part of it last year. No need to take the bypass any longer.

Wahweap RV and Campground is in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, right on the shores of Lake Powell. There are 90 full hookup sites, 112 dry camping sites, and 6 group camping sites. Run by the concessionaire Aramark, the campground is nicely laid out, paved roads and sites, and very clean restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. We were in loop D, which was hardly even half full while we were there, and we never had any other campers directly next to us. We did like this campground, it was quiet and clean, and would recommend a stay here. We did feel like we jumped straight from the ice box to the frying pan however; it was sunny and HOT during our stay here!

Early in April I had booked a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken's Tours. The canyons are on Navajo Nation lands, and you must go through the canyon with a guide. There are two different canyons, Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, run by different companies. In my research, I had read that the Lower is usually less crowded, as you must enter the canyon on a series of steep ladders, where you are able to walk in to the Upper Antelope Canyon. Ken's Tours also had very high ratings on TripAdvisor, so I decided to take that one. I had also read that the best pictures come mid to late morning due to the position of the sun, so we took the 10:00AM tour. They take groups out every twenty minutes. Once we arrived to check in, we could see it really wasn't necessary to have a reservation, almost everyone else there were walk-ins. Maybe it would be busier as the summer season progresses.

Checking in, we paid our fee of $28.00/each ($20.00 for the tour, $8.00 Navajo Park fee)and headed off. Side note: If you check out the Ken's Tour website, you'll notice there are two different types of tours: general and photographers. We are on the general tour. I would have loved to have gone on the longer, smaller photographers tour, but they are very strict about who goes on it and that the proper equipment is used, ie, SLR or DSLR camera. Being that ours is DOA at Nikon, we were not able to take that tour. I do have an spare Nikon D50 body, but I have been mostly using my Nikon Coolpix on this spring trip. Since we didn't both have a DSLR, I didn't want to take separate tours. For these pictures, I used the D50 camera with a Nikon 12-24mm wide-angle lens. One of our guides, Larissa, was also extremely helpful in recommending the proper settings and pointing out special areas for pictures.
We headed out, a group of about 15 people and two guides. It was a short, maybe 1/4 mile walk across slickrock to the ladders leading to the canyon.

One of our guides waiting for the group to gather before heading down.

The ladders heading down. 

A totally different world. 

Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time, the passages eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing the hard edges , making the "flowing" shapes.

Lower Antelope Canyon is called Hazdistazi,"spiral rock arches", by the Navajo. In 1997, the Navajo Nation declared the lands a Navajo Tribal Park, and are only accessible via a sanctioned tour company.

Al was in deep conversation with our guide Larissa during our hour and a half tour.

This is called the "Rocky Mountain Sunrise" shot

We were lucky enough to catch some light beams coming down.

The Twin Peaks.
All too soon it was time to leave this wonderland of sand, stone and light. All of my Lower Antelope Canyon pictures can be seen here at Flickr.

After this incredible experience, we headed back to the campground for the afternoon. It was extremely hot  with the sun beating down on you, and we just relaxed at the campsite in the afternoons. We had an early dinner, as another one of our "must-do" items for the area included sunset at Horseshoe Bend.
Horseshoe Bend, one of the highly prized photo sights in Arizona, is a horseshoe shaped meander of the Colorado River. We reached this viewing point by hiking a 3/4 mile trail up and over a pretty large hill of sand. There were a lot of people there besides us :-). It's a little dicey up there as well, there are no railings to protect viewers from the 1,000 foot drop over the edge. I'm not really as close to the edge as it looks...the miracle of a wide-angle lens :-). It did make for a beautiful end of the day, and I will say it was quiet....most folks there seemed to feel the reverence such a site deserves.

Our next day was slightly less exciting, although interesting adventures. We spent the day at the Carl Hayden Visitor's Center, about ten minutes from the campground. This visitor center is set at the Glen Canyon Dam, The dam was completed in 1964 by the Bureau of Reclamation, and created Lake Powell. This project provides necessary water and electricity for people throughout the southwest. Today the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by the National Park Service. We signed up for the 45 minute dam tour.
Glen Canyon Dam is 710 feet high above bedrock, the second highest dam in the United States behind the Hoover Dam.

Lake Powell, formed when the Glen Canyon Dam was built here across the Colorado River. Lake Powell's surface area is 266 square miles when filled.

The generators at work inside the dam.

Now, I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the building of the dam, it's necessity and efforts to dismantle it. Those arguments can be read here. Since we are in the area, I wanted to visit the area and see the exhibits and movies. It was very interesting, and not meant to provoke any political discussion :-).

Our last adventure in Page was rafting on the Colorado River below the dam. No whitewater, just a quiet float trip. While in the Grand Canyon, Al was quite interested in the multi-day rafting trip. I saw on the NPS website an entry for rafting trips with Colorado River Discovery. Where he would like to do the whole canyon raft one day, that is not a possibility for this trip :-), but I saw this company offered half day floats out of Page. So we booked a morning float, and we had a great time.

The raft trip departed from the base of the dam. Our shuttle had to drive two miles through the access tunnel on the right side of the dam to get there, and then we had to wear hard hats for the short walk to the rafts since the walkway went under the bridge!

It was another beautiful morning. As we floated along, our river guide Alyssa talked about the geology and history along the river.

The canyon walls surrounding us are between 700 and 800 feet high. If you were floating through the Grand Canyon itself, these walls would be FIVE times higher! Can you imagine?

The canyon behind our guide is full of wrecked autos. Apparently many years ago, kids in the area thought it was great fun to take junked cars and push them over the cliff edge into the canyon below. Hard rains will still to this day wash car parts out into the river. 

This rock formation is called "the monk'....do you see it?

It was so calm and peaceful just floating gently down the river. There are plenty of spots along the sides for camping, and families boat up river and camp quite often. The river is very popular with the fly fishermen as well.

We stopped at a beautiful sandy "beach" for a short time.

The reason for the stop is a wall of ancient petroglyghs a short walk from the shore. 

You can click on the picture to enlarge it to see the petroglyphs.

This lizard was hanging out on the rocks near the petroglyphs, posing for his photo shoot.

Back in the rafts, we floated down and around Horseshoe Bend; two nights ago we were on top f those cliffs, taking pictures down!

A final shot, and we were motoring our way back upriver, and back to the dam. It was a really nice float trip, and we would recommend this trip to anyone visiting the area. 

Our last day in Page, Saturday, was a rest and chore day. We had had problems with our Directv receiver box, and had a replacement box sent to us. Al picked that up at the post office, and got it up and running. Now, that actually sounded easy, but happened in a roundabout fashion. Directv will only send the receiver to the address of record; in our case, Homosassa Florida. Luckily, we had changed the address two years ago to Florida, as we had originally had it put in when we were still in New York. THAT would have caused all sorts of major issues. So, it was shipped to the house in Florida, and Al's sister had it mailed to the Page AZ post office under general delivery. It actually worked quite well; we had never used general delivery before and were happy it worked the way it should. We also needed to have an oil change done for the car, so Al took that down to Walmart and waited for that, while I packed up our laundry and got that task done. It was really cheap here at Wahweap; it cost me three dollars for two loads! 

Sunday we headed out of Wahweap, saying a fond farewell to Page AZ. Our next destination is Zion National Park, where we are staying for a week. So stay tuned and see what adventures we found here :-)

The quote for my title was from Major John Wesley Powell, describing Glen Canyon during his famous 1869 expedition down the Colorado River.