Monday, September 30, 2013

Navajo Nation

Today Caroline and I traveled across the Navajo Nation, from Page in the north of Arizona, south to Flagstaff. The trip took us directly past the Grand Canyon, so we were obliged to take some spectacular pictures.

Grand Canyon from the eastern Desert View.
Our first stop was in Tuba City. Never heard of it? Neither had we until we started looking into this trip. Actually, there is a very cool Navajo Museum there, but unfortunately it doesn't open on Sundays. Is it Sunday? We've lost track of time, date, day and even time zone on this trip. In fact, we go through a daily ritual of trying to remember things that have happened before on this trip. When we realise that we can't recall what happened the day before yesterday we give up and just go with the flow for another day. At the end of the day we check our journals, and ooh and aah about the things that we've done and learned.

The Navajo have an interesting philosophy on life, including the desire to learn something new every day. They feel that we are one with the earth and that life and death are all part of the same thing. When we die, we become one with the earth and help to rejuvenate the land. Their outlook on life is very organic, down to earth and reflects their surroundings. Navajo art and jewelry is equally representative of their surroundings, with animals and dreamlike stories depicted. Community is important and activities like weaving and rug making are deemed communal and therefore important.
Tuba City Navajo rug representing Storms
From Tuba City it is a short hop to Flagstaff which seems a really cool little town which I'll talk more about in days to come. Suffice to stay we're staying in an iconic hotel (thanks to Caroline's booking skills) which has housed stars like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Debbie Reynolds and Jon Bon Jovi. The Hotel is an amazing old building which is apparently haunted if you're into that sort of thing, and after passing through the spiritual Navajo Nation, one can believe almost anything. But before getting to Flagstaff we took a short trip to the Grand Canyon. Actually, we didn't go the whole way, partly because we were exhausted and partly because Caroline is freaked out by heights, But she braved some views from the eastern Desert View of the Canyon especially for me. It is an amazing spectacle, about 10-12 miles wide where we were, but getting up to 18 miles across in places. One of the bonuses of travelling in from the east is that you get to see the canyon of the Little Colorado River that, to me, was just as spectacular.

The Little Colorado River Canyon

Grand Canyon, grand view!

Watchtower at the eastern end of the National Park
What more is there to say about this trip? Well, I'm currently sat in the bar of the historic Monte Vista Hotel drinking another great American beer, oak amber creek. I'm absolutely exhausted physically, but totally invigorated spiritually and mentally. I remember saying about 2 weeks ago that this sort of holiday is not for everyone, but for me it has been perfect: stimulating, invigorating, challenging, educational, and spectacular from a sensory point of view.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Amazing Sights

Horseshoe Bend in the late afternoon

Caroline and I have spent the day in Page, Arizona. Page is situated on the edge of Lake Powell, a reservoir that was created in the 1960's and now a beautiful playground for water sports. Page is also situated on the edge of the Navajo Nation, and there are many areas sacred to the Navajo in the region. To top things off, Page is also right next to the Colorado River, and more importantly for tourists, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. So there is plenty to do for a day around Page.

Our first trip was to Antelope Canyon, an area sacred to the Navajo and one of the most photogenic areas in the world. It is illegal to go to the canyon without a guide, so we booked on to a tour and were driven along a dry river bed to the canyon. While there are tours going through the canyon all day, apparently, the best time to go for light is at 10.30 am. Photographers will understand what I'm talking about better than I do! We were very lucky to pick up 2 spots on today's 10.30 am tour, as I don't think there were many more left! Our guide Rob was excellent, showing us how to use our cameras optimally, and directing us to the best spots for taking photo's. Even a duffer like me managed to get some good pictures. Caroline, who is an amazingly good photographer would have some fantastic images, though we'll have to wait until she gets home and processes them before seeing them.

Colours and a glow in Antelope Canyon

The light shines through into Antelope Canyon
This excursion lasted about an hour and a half, though the time flew by as we were engrossed with the sights in the canyon. It truly is a magical place, worthy of worship and a must see for anyone who is visiting this area.

After Antelope Cnyon we took a walk to Lake Powell, and then to Horseshoe Bend. The road to Lake Powell had been broken, probably by flooding, so we had to walk the 4 mile round trip, and it was pretty hot. Catching views of the lake was worth it. Then it was another hike to Horseshoe Bend, an overlook into the Colorado River from way up high. Today has truly been a day of spectacular views, which I don't think can be topped. I suppose the Grand Canyon tomorrow might stand a chance.

A rocky road to the beautiful Lake Powell

Saturday, September 28, 2013

And Into Arizona

Today, I read in a brochure "Most people come to this part of the World to see the Grand Canyon, but there is so much more". We have a couple of days before we're due to see the Grand Canyon, and it better be all it's cracked up to be, because we've seen some wondrous things so far. Today we started off in the town of Springdale, Utah, which is a gateway town to Zion National Park. To be honest, I wasn't too fussed about this part of the journey before we left Australia, but today I saw the light. Zion is a beautiful combination of rocks and valleys, a blend of colours that bring nature vividly to life. The only down side to the area was the lack of running rivers. We're at the end of a dry summer and things were looking pretty arid. Saying that, it was still magnificent.
Multicoloured mountainsides of Zion National Park

The rivers in Zion were very low
Beautiful fir trees cover the lower slopes in Zion
We then headed back east to Page in Arizona. Page is situated next to Lake Powell, a reservoir created in the 1950's and 1960's after the building of Glen Canyon Dam. We had to cross the dam today, and got our first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River running through enormous red faced cliffs. Tomorrow is our main day of exploration around Page as we're staying here for the day. Moving out of Utah, we have headed on to the borders of the Navajo nation, which we'll enter tomorrow. It is very obvious that Page has been shaped by the Navajo culture.

Sitting in front of 'Checkerboard Mountain'

The Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Have I Learned Today?

Today was a longish drive in a transition day of our holiday. We had one of those before where we expected to be fighting the boredom all day. However, that day, when we drove from Fresno to Winnemucca turned out to be quite interesting, and today was also. We left Moab heading west on the next stage of our trip which will take us to Arizona. We left Moab after breakfast in a diner, where Caroline made the mistake of ordering pancakes. The waitress turned up with a plate load that could have fed a family of 4. Caroline tried valiantly, but was unable to clean her plate!

The road through central Utah was across high lands, and with varying landscapes. As a slight change from previous days, we skirted great canyons, one of which was a notorious hideout used by Butch Cassidy's gang, among others. There were also stark red mountains, forested mountains, and lush green valleys flanked by sedimentary rocky mountains. There were also some weird almost white rock formations that contrasted vividly with the mostly red mountains.

Secret Mesa, the canyon was a hideout for Butch Cassidy, among others
Our planned stop for the day was at the Fremont Indian State Park, where we learned about this Native American culture. There is a small, but very informative museum and walks which show off the massive amount of petroglyph's in the area. The visitor centre is situated a bird's eye view from the largest Fremont Indian settlement to be found. The Fremont culture is about 800-1500 years old and little is known about their way of life (I have learned that this culture invented moccasin's). They were a settled people, rather than nomadic as were some other native American peoples, they farmed, and were skilled at tool making but their wall paintings, and etchings are what Caroline and I (and countless others, no doubt) were there to see. The State Park, around the area of Clear Creek Canyon in Utah is filled with these wall etchings, We had to walk about 50 yards from the visitor's centre to start seeing them, and they are amazingly clear taking into account they are the best part of 1000 years old.

Fremont Indian Petroglyphs

Fremont Indian Petroglyphs

Fremont Indian Petroglyphs
The Fremont Indian State Park was over half way on our journey and left us with only about 2 hours of driving. The driving conditions were tiring as there was severe winds blowing across the state of Utah today. In fact, they are expecting snow next week according to a guy I was talking to in the amusingly named town of Beaver, Utah. Our final destination was Springdale which sits by the entrance to Zion National Park which we'll be exploring tomorrow. The road into Springdale was beautiful, rising from a valley near the interstate, up into more rocky red mountains along the Virgin River valley (this post is beginning to develop a theme!). We're staying at a place called Bumbleberry Inn, and I learned that this is named after the collection of numerous berries to be put into a pie, probably by some bumbling cook.

Great views on the road into Springdale

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Arches

I have had another day of sensory overkill as Caroline and I spent the day in the Arches National Park just outside Moab, Utah. What amazes me most is that a year ago, I'd never even heard of the Arches National Park, and now after being there, I'd say it is one of the most stunning places I've ever been to. It is full of stone stacks, unusual rock formations, and the feature after which it is named, the naturally formed stone arches.

The Windows
The Arches landscape was created by sedimentary rock formation over millions of years. Rock erosion occurs by water and wind moving the stones around, depositing them on each other, and then pressuring the stones to form new shapes. The stacks in the park have some odd features including rocks precariously balanced on the top.
Rocks balanced precariously on top of stacks, like this group called "The Three Gossips"
We saw first hand how the elements can blast the rock as it was incredibly windy. Still, the sun was shining and it topped out at about 27 C today. Most of where we've been on this roadtrip has been high above sea level, and today we were about 1500 metres up. Still the rocks towered above us, and the varying colours of the rocks was, at times, absolutely beautiful.
The Fiery Furnace is multi-layered but predominantly red in colour
Traveling to see the features can be as hard or as easy as you want. There are tough hikes around the park, with some climbing involved. some easy and medium level walks, and even some viewing spots that don't require anything other than getting out the car. We did a combination of all of these and spent about 7 hours exploring the park in total. My personal favourite was Sand Dune Archway which is approached through a canyon between the stacks.
First you walk through here

Then you see the Arch.
Unfortunately, the sunset wasn't spectacular this evening which would have topped off an absolutely magnificent day. That didn't deter from the overall feeling that today saw another set of  memorable images that will stick with me for a very long time.

Broken Arch in the late afternoon

Park Avenue

The Organ

Posing at The North Window

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The stunning Red Fleet State Park, near Vernal, Utah
This holiday has allowed Caroline and I to do and see some amazing things. Seeing Sequoia that are over 2000 years old was very cool, as was visiting Yellowstone where we saw Geysers and had a magical moment leaving the National Park. We saw some cars stopped by the side of the road, and we pulled over to see why. There was an enormous male elk in the trees by the side of the road. I was driving so Caroline quickly lowered her passenger window to take a snap when he bolted. We thought we'd scared him until we heard wolves howling in the background. The thrill of just hearing wolves was amazing and something we really weren't expecting.

Caroline touches a 150 million year old Stegosaurus leg bone
Well today things just carried on with amazing happenings. We stopped in the northern Utah town of Vernal overnight which is a gateway to the National Dinosaur Monument. This is a large area of land in southern Wyoming, northern Utah, and western Colorado where amazing dinosaur finds have been unearthed. The main place to go is the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall which is a building encompassing a massive archaeological site which holds masses of large dinosaur remains. As you walk around you are allowed to touch the dinosaur bones. This is just fantastic, touching the bones of something which lived about 150 million years ago. Just a short hop away, the local historic culture of the Fremont Indians is visible in Petroglyphs that date back 1000 years.

Quarry Exhibit Hall is built over the rock face that encases the dinosaur bones
1000 year old Fremont Indian Petroglyphs
From dinosaur land we headed east into Colorado and went further than we really wanted to which was my mistake as I was navigating. We stopped in a town called Craig (coincidentally, my nephew's name!) where a friendly waitress in a bar helped us to find our way again. We'd gone too far east, and added about 80 miles on to our journey today. Should we perhaps invest in a GPS? Yes, to the disbelief of some we are travelling around with no GPS in a foreign country, and have managed just over 2500 miles getting lost once, and even then we weren't that lost! In fact, getting lost allowed us a friendly chat and the road we took to get back on track was absolutely stunning cutting through the Colorado River valley east of Grand Junction. Our "mistake" turned into a blessing.
Sunset just north of Moab, Utah
The last part of the journey was back into Utah and into the town of Moab. Now Utah has some pretty strict drinking laws, so we were a little surprised to find a microbrewery in Moab, serving excellent beer, and decent food. I had a couple of Scorpion Pale Ales, and they tasted great with a decent strength. We felt a good beer to finish the first week was well deserved. The holiday so far has been unbelievable and tomorrow we head into the Arches National Park which is situated just 5 miles from where we're staying.

A great place for a deserved beer after a week of driving and experiencing some wonderful moments.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Catch Up Time...Not!

Every holiday has high points and low points. We had planned for our high points to coincide with short stop off's at various places along the way. At other times, we are just staying a night somewhere before moving on. The previous 2 days were spent arriving in Jackson Hole, Wyoming then touring around Yellowstone National Park. Today we left Jackson and headed into Utah to a town called Vernal. Yesterday I was completely overloaded with experiences from Yellowstone, many of which I intend to relate in the coming day's blog posts. Today was a transition day as we head towards the landscapes marked by the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona. However, today turned out to be quite interesting in its own respect.
Tourist shopping in Jackson Hole. This bronze carved chess set costs a mere $12000 US
We spent the morning breakfasting and schmoozing around the shops of Jackson Hole which is a typical tourist trap in the shopping respect. As a town it reminds me somewhat of Queenstown in New Zealand. In the late morning we drove south out of Teton National Park and toward Utah. We were lucky because it was just one road so the navigation wasn't difficult. The road, US-191 is a bizarre mix of landscapes. In the north, the mountain valleys following the Hoback River are absolutely spectacular. Apparently, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone from Cody, Wyoming was the most beautiful drive in the World. If it's better than the southern road in, then it goes on to my bucket list of things to do in the future, because the southern road, through Jackson, and toward Utah is amazing.
Sculpture at Museum of the Mountain Man

Battle headdress artifact, Museum of the Mountain Man
After leaving the Teton National Park, the landscape changes to a surreal emptiness as it crosses high plains country. Around here we stopped in another tacky sounding museum which turned out to be remarkably good. In the town of Pinedale, Wyoming is the Museum of the Mountain Man which is an educational centre, and repository of artifacts relating to the trail blazers of the American West in the early 1800's. Men like Jedidiah Smith who was the first to cross the Sierra Nevada, and to travel overland into California. A short look in the door turned into about an hour of fascinating discovery for Caroline and I.

We left Pinedale continuing south, and after some more sparse plains, hit the most amazing scenery where Wyoming meets Utah. When you cross the border, along US-191, you are in the middle of Flaming Gorge Park, a stunning rolling countryside with lakes, rivers and mountains of various colours. It is also a natural wildlife area with Antelope, Elk, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Mustangs running free among many other animals. We saw lots of deer, but not much else on our drive through. The park runs almost into Vernal where we are stopping for the night. Vernal itself is situated on a paleontologists dream, with fossils and dinosaur footprints found near here. Tomorrow, we will be passing a town named Dinosaur!

Sunset over Flaming Gorge where dinosaurs once roamed


Yellowstone is a must see. It has everything. Whatever you have on your bucket list, make room for Yellowstone. Established back in 1872, it is America, and (probably) the World's oldest National Park, an area of natural conservation. And natural conservation was needed, and even after the establishment of the park, poaching of species that were becoming endangered continued. National Park status has enabled scientific and environmental research to define issues that were previously unknown. Our understanding of the lives of bears is a case in point where research has established that hibernation is not undertaken by bears and a number of behavioural patterns have been recognised.

We only had one day to drive around the park, where one month would probably be just enough to satisfactorily scratch the surface. So we started early and finished late and drove a loop around the southern part of Yellowstone only. However, in that time we drove through the spectacular Grand Teton Mountain Range, saw Geysers erupt, smelled and observed boiling mud springs, followed beautiful river valleys and came close to some amazing wildlife. All told, we were out for about 14 hours, and what follows is a photo blog of the day.

Mt Albright lookout, Grand Teton National Park
Caroline at the entrance to America's first National Park
Lewis River, Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful Geyser eruption can be as big as an 18 storey building
Excelsior Geyser
Animals roam free like this Pronghorn Antelope
The wierd and immensely smelly, mud volcanoes
They may roam free, but do not approach! Buffalo are protected in the National Park and can be dangerous
Lake Yellowstone at sunset
"World Peace Table" at Jackson Lake Lodge used by Baker and Shevardnadze to sign deals in 1989. Yellowstone lodges are used for summits. We were pleased to see a "Great Ape Summit" happening while we were there
Wolves at Gizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre, West Yellowstone

Grizzly Bear at Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre