Friday, December 28, 2012

Vegas, A Fake Eiffel Tower, and Home

by James Walker

Days 11 and 12 - Friday and Saturday, June 29-30th, 2012

Our last days were simple. We came down to Las Vegas for a reprieve before returning home, and we got some Chipotle and checked into our hotel. We also found a little video blackjack machine down at the South Point Casino that made us feel like we were winning, but ultimately took all the money we fed into it. A note about the people at The Silverton Casino: I was absent-minded enough to leave my wallet on top of a slot machine. A few minutes later I realized what I had done and went back to get it, but it was already gone. Reminding myself not to get worried too quickly, I talked to the security there and they raised their eyebrows and smiled at me saying I was one lucky guy because they had just found it! Apparently, moments after leaving my wallet, the janitor picked it up and turned it in, with nothing missing. I was so lucky!

The next morning we went to a few other casinos, really just to browse more than anything else, and stopped at the Paris Hotel to ride the elevator up to the top of the fake Eiffel Tower. It was fun to be at the top of even a false Eiffel Tower, but the hot desert air was determined to remind us that we were far from France and we didn't stay long.

The last leg of our Grand Adventure was the same as the first, but instead of stopping momentarily in Las Vegas, full of excitement about the days ahead, we were taking our time in the city of neon lights, making the most of our last few hours of vacation. Soon we would be returning to work, the monotony of our daily lives replacing the constantly changing landscape of the last two weeks on the road. Despite the relative shortness of a 12 day vacation compared to the countless days spent at home, we had found a new normal, one that we were not excited to let go of. We had trekked across the United States in a nice little SUV and it had been good. The hikes, the sweat, and the sunburns had made us stronger and we felt healthier and happier than we ever had from the comfort of our soft beds at home. We had by no means been on an adventure as wild as the likes of Christopher McCandless or John Muir, but we had found our own bit of adventure and our own bit of home out on the road during those two weeks. We had always been wanderers at heart, stuck in a town we didn't like, hoping for something new. But those days spent driving across the United States reminded us that we aren't stuck and we weren't without hope, but we can find something different and new if we really want to. Someday we'll settle down and I'm sure that place will be full of tall pine trees and mountain tops. Someday we'll find a true home of our own. But we'll always travel.

Our Route:

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Great Salt Lake and The Avett Brothers

by James Walker

Day 10 - Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Our stay in Park City wasn't really planned. Due to the fires throughout Colorado, we had changed our plans so we would spend less time there and more time in Utah at the end of our trip, giving us time to see something we hadn't considered before. This was great because instead of running into Salt Lake City as fast as we could, then running out again the next morning, we had time to roam. The only down side was that for our extra night in Utah, we chose to stay in Park City. While it was clean and had some great gluten-free pizza, we were in another Ski Resort town in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record, and there was nothing to do.

While that's not entirely true (Alpine Coaster, Park City Museum), we chose to spend our time in Salt Lake instead. The drive is pretty short and we soon found ourselves cruising confusing streets like East 500 South and South 700 East. Look it up and you'll find that those are the cross streets where Trolley Square and Whole Foods are located. Drive down these streets as a newcomer to Salt Lake City and you'll definitely make a few wrong turns.

Today was an open day, though, and we had time to get lost. Our only solid plan was an Avett Brothers concert that night, so we wandered around town, seeing a few of Salt Lake City's biggest landmarks. First, we stopped at Trolley Square for a bite to eat at Whole Foods, and afterward walked through the courtyards at Temple Square. Here sits a massive temple for those of the Mormon faith, surrounded by a complex of buildings associated with the religion. While we were not here for religious purposes, the temple itself is amazing and well worth a visit.

Sitting behind the temple is a great hall with the Mormon Tabernacle Organ inside. By chance we came when the organist was performing a recital, so we went inside to see the big pipes play. Next we found ourselves at the Hogle Zoo, watching everything from giraffes to polar bears suffer through the hot June sun. Here's a little video. Eventually the time came to check in to our hotel and make our way over to the Avett Brothers show.

At this point, Erinn and I were both fans of the Avett Brothers, but neither of us had heard too many of their songs. Erinn had somewhere around 20 of their songs and we listened to them throughout the trip in anticipation of the show, but we knew going in that most of the songs we'd hear that night would be new to us. What I hadn't anticipated was how much fun the show would be or how much I'd like all of the rest of their songs. It was an absolutely fantastic show down at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City. The venue had a big concrete stage surrounded by grass with big steps to sit on and while it was nice to lounge on the grass before the show, everyone stood up and started dancing once the Avett Brothers came on stage. Those songs we did know, Erinn and I sang along with. Those songs we didn't know, we fell in love with.

It was a great show and a wonderful way to end our trip (sort of). While this wasn't the last night of our trip, it was the last new city we would see on our adventure. The next day we were going back to Las Vegas, where it all began for us just ten days before. Neither of us were excited to head south toward home, but ending our adventure with an amazing concert in Salt Lake City one night and some random gambling in Las Vegas the next was a fun way to bring it all to a close.

After the show we walked back to our hotel, singing songs and dreaming of anything but home. Many months later, we're still listening to the Avett Brothers, partly because the music is great and partly because it reminds us of the time we spent on the road and all the amazing sights we were able to see together.

Our Route:

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Scenic Drive Past the Grand Tetons

by James Walker

Day 9 - Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Before Yellowstone, our trip had been nothing but hot. Whether we were walking around the dry, red rocks of Utah, checking out the shops of Boulder and Denver, or camping in the shadow of Devil's Tower, we had been constantly hot. Everything changed the moment we entered Yellowstone. The first night was chilly, but nice. Bundling up in sleeping bags had been comfortable. But each morning brought the kind of cold we were not used to in late June. I love the cold, but our bodies had been conditioned to endure the hot and the humid, and this sudden coldness made our joints freeze up and our fingers so numb it became nearly impossible to force them together hard enough to pull up the zipper on a jacket.

And this last morning in Yellowstone we had to break down the tent. We had to push through the cold and ignore the pain of numb fingers just long enough to pop out the poles and shove the tent into a bag, nevermind all the dirt and mud.

It was worth it, though, to get an early start on the day and enjoy a morning driving through Wyoming. We set off south from our camp in Grant Village heading toward Grand Teton National Park. It's a quick step from the borders of one National Park to the next. One moment you're in Yellowstone and the next you're being greeted by another big wooden sign announcing your entrance to the Grand Tetons. Not much changes initially, but soon after the entrance, you leave the covering of trees and came upon a beautiful view of Jackson Lake and the Grand Tetons themselves. There is a turnout here where I'm sure countless people have taken their own Grand pictures and we joined all the other travelers, capturing our own memories.

The road continues on along the eastern side of the lake with more beautiful views of these great peaks. We stopped at a visitor's center around the middle of the lake, picked up a map, stopped at a store to pick up some gluten-free cupcakes, and continued on. Soon after, we reached a point in the road where we could continue on the main highway or take a right on the smaller Teton Park Rd. Here, the highway veers away from the lake while Teton Park Rd gets nice and close. This trip wasn't about speed, but about enjoying the journey, so we took the smaller road and soaked in the views of Tetons.

It's a good thing, too. We had been writing down all the animals we had seen so far on our trip. Bunnies, squirrels, snakes, goats, bison, elk, foxes, and even bears. We had seen so much out in the wild, but we had not yet seen a moose. On this detour, though, we stopped at another viewpoint and talked to a couple who asked us to take their picture. Somehow our lack of moose sightings came up and they said they knew just where to go. Just after passing the exit to the park, there should be a tiny little road, they said, called Moose Wilson Rd. All we had to do was keep a watchful eye as we passed a few of the ponds and we should see a moose. We took their advice and headed down a skinny road we weren't completely sure about and stopped at every pond we saw hoping to come across this evasive mammal. We soon learned that we didn't need to try so hard to look. Just as it was in Yellowstone, when there's a big animal to be seen on the side of the road, there'll be fifty cars piled up with people falling out of their windows to get a picture of it on their iPhones. We were happy for the traffic jam, though. It gave us reason to leave our car in the middle of the road with all the rest and snap a few pictures of our own. Eventually we made our way out of the mess and found the main road again.

Jackson, Wyoming is beautiful. There are mountains all around it and the city itself is charming. We stopped at an Albertsons to get some food and see if we could find some gluten-free beer and even the Albertsons was adorable, all covered in wood like a giant cabin filled with veggies and toilet paper. But as charming as it was, we continued south, our destination still many hours ahead.

We followed Highway 89 down toward Utah, saw a lot of farmland and barns, took a quick drive through a bit of Idaho, and drove up into Park City, Utah. It's another nice city, full of beautiful hotels, surrounded by mountains groomed for skiing. We stayed at a weird condo/hotel where each room is owned (and decorated) by someone else. It was a very nice hotel, but the room we started with had doors that didn't lock, so we switched rooms, the concierge upgrading us to a room that had a door to the pool we weren't going to use. At this point, we were pretty tired, so we found a local pizza place and got some gluten-free pizza with fake cheese on top and took it back to the room to watch TV and kick back. It was a delicious end to a beautiful day in Wyoming.

Our Route:

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Monday, December 10, 2012

A Day in Yellowstone

by James Walker and Erinn Crowder

Day 8 - Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Good morning Yellowstone!

Boy was it cold when we woke up! And I don’t just mean chilly. I mean get dressed in your sleeping bag and run to the warm car every 5 minutes to warm up so your fingers don’t break off while you brush your teeth, cold.

Well, of course our first stop was the Old Faithful visitor's center. When we got there we saw a sign for the next eruption, which was about an hour and a half away. We decided to wait instead of trying to come back later so we walked around the visitor's center and then walked past Old Faithful himself. As eruption time was getting nearer, more people began to show up and we went to grab a spot to watch the famous show.
It started. And it ended. 

It was less impressive than I thought it would be. All that hype, all those pictures. We did think it was cool and definitely something that needs to be experienced, but we also did start referring to it as Ol’ Unimpressive. We saw a giant raven in the parking lot, which I believed was choosing its next prey. Yes, you saw that right. We saw a big raven. And I wrote it down. It was nearly as impressive as the geyser. That's how unimpressive Old Faithful was. Sometimes famous things just don't live up to their hype. And we drove off to see the next stop on the list. 

Guess what? More bison! And closer than the previous day! Would the surprises never stop? I sure hoped not. Next place we parked (barely… the parking lot was crazy! Keep this in mind for the remainder of the story…) was the Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin! We loved this! Way cooler than Ol’ Unamazing. The Grand Prismatic is the crowd pleaser, but it is accompanied by Turqoise Pool and Excelsior Pool, which you'll pass while walking the pathways to Grand Prismatic. We walked up to these boardwalk pathways that led to giant steam clouds. I really can’t describe it. The water was bright blue with streaks of orange running from it. The steam rising from it took on the color of the spring below it. It was way more impressive than my description. We awed at the various springs along the path, snapping pictures. The wind was very strong, blowing the steam from the spring in constantly changing directions. One moment you would be soaking up the warm air from the spring and the next you'd catch a chill from the cold morning air. One of the funny and kind of sad bits is that the wind was so strong up on this hill that it had blown dozens of hats off of people's heads and many were now sitting in the springs. It's hard to imagine how anyone would be able to clean it all up without damaging the springs themselves.

Then we returned to the parking lot…. And there was a bus. This bus was sitting in front of our car, obviously wanting us to move so it could park. People were gathered around the front of the car. We ran to the car and got in. No one said anything to us until we started to pull out. The man said something about how he wrote our license down and gave a snarky smile. I guess we parked in a bus area (but so did 50 other people). Well, being the guilty person I am, I worried for the next 10 minutes of our drive, sure that we would be hunted down and sent to prison, if not publicly executed.  

We stopped at a waterfall… or the scenic area for part of the waterfall (a big one, Firehole Falls). Then a few more springs (very smelly). And then we hit traffic. We didn't mind this so much when we found out it was due to a bear and her cub! But we really didn't see much except for part of the mama bear and a little fluff of a a baby bear. It was still exciting! We added that to the list of animals we’d seen on our trip and continued on. We stopped at a store near Tower Fall, grabbed a Yellowstone root beer, took in the view of Tower Fall and continued up the path to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was cool! It begins with a huge waterfall, Yellowstone Falls, and continues on as a winding river weaving through a canyon. And of course… there were rainbows. I don’t remember the exact details of the rest, but there was a lot of getting in car, driving, getting out of car, walking, repeating. At one point we walked past a field with a bison standing in it. So close. It was the closest one yet and James decided he wanted a closer look. Despite my efforts to not have him gored, he began to approach it. Luckily another silly man was closer and James ended up turning back. 

We next stopped at another one of those "scenic view" points that overlooked a valley. There were lots of people gathering and this usually meant there was an animal nearby. After getting out and straining our eyes for wildlife, we asked around. Some people were saying they could see a bear, but I am betting it was a bison in disguise. We drove a bit more and hoards of bison were just standing there. With no tourist paying any attention. Across the street there was another outlook and there were deer or elk in the far distance. Then we stopped at Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcano in Hayden Valley and it reeked. Worse smelling thing all day! Well, we didn't stay there long. I am not a fan of sulfur. Next, we stopped at Dragon’s Breath, or something that sounded like an ingredient in a wizard’s potion, where a hot flow of steam is continually streaming out of a hole in a rock.  There were hot springs scattered around this area, putting off a lot of steam. It was neat and pretty fun to see. We ran into a local guy just hanging out and laying in grass, taking a nap. I should mention, it was a bison, even closer than the ones before. We were positive that Yellowstone planned their appearances to prepare us for the vast numbers and closeness of the species. I was sure the next one we would see would be in the back of our car, complaining about the radio. We hopped in the bison-free car and began to drive.

F-O-X. Fox, the next animal to be added to the list! Cute lil guy was just running around a grassy area, waiting for us to take pictures (how thoughtful). We turned the corner and saw an ELK, the animal with the largest population in Yellowstone (of the large animals). And where had they been this whole time? Here apparently. We got out and looked at the handsome guy. James, once again, got too close. We drove around another corner and MORE ELK! I see what you’re doing Yellowstone… We went back to camp, relaxed, made dinner, and went to sleep.

Click here for a detailed map of Yellowstone Park.

Here is the route we took during our adventures in the park:

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Devil's Tower to Yellowstone: From America's first National Monument to its first National Park

by James Walker

Day 7 - Monday, June 25th, 2012

Waking up with Devil's Tower in your face is a unique experience. Opening the flap to my tent I was reminded how very close our campsite was to the monolith. So after packing up our car, the drive to the base of the rock was a very short one. From the KOA we were camping at there's a road that takes a short loop around and up the tower, leading to a small parking lot and a visitor's center for the national monument. We made a quick stop in the visitor's center to read about the monument's history. The myth of the tower's creation goes like this:

     According to the Native American tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota Sioux, some girls
     went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them.
     In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and
     prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made
     the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach
     the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides,
     which had become too steep to climb. (Those are the marks which appear today on
     the sides of Devils Tower.) When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the
     star constellation the Pleiades.

A popular geological explanation is that the Devil's Tower formation is all that is left of a massive volcano. The neck of the volcano filled with liquid hot magma which cooled and formed into rock. Then, over time, the surrounding layers of earth eroded away, leaving just the hard igneous rock we call Devil's Tower.

Whatever the case, it's an impressive sight. While we were walking around the base, we spotted two people climbing the tower itself! The formation is made up of these gigantic squarish columns, some of which have spaces in between them. We saw one climber on the top of these massive columns while another was climbing between two columns to join the person on top. It was pretty amazing.

Just below the visitor's center, on the road out of/into the monument, there is a large field that is overrun by prairie dogs. This field is a protected area for the animals, but there are many trails through the field and the prairie dogs themselves seem to invite you to walk around with them. There were so many of them running around, poking their heads up, and barking at each other. We took a bunch of pictures of the prairie dogs and just a few more of Devil's Tower, and then headed west to Yellowstone.

Slowly the black hills of eastern Wyoming gave way to the massive mountains of Bighorn National Forest. Highway 14, just outside of Sheridan, WY took us quickly up the mountains through a series of switchbacks and gave us some amazing views of the valley below. I always viewed our trip as a long scenic drive and this route through the mountains of Wyoming was a perfect example of that. Our day wasn't going to be packed with gondola rides or walks through farmer's markets as with previous days, but it was full of beautiful views all seen from the comfort of our car. If I had known ahead of time how pretty this area was, I might have wanted to camp in Bighorn National Forest, or plan time for a hike, but I enjoyed at least being able to drive through it. We stopped once to make tuna and ate it with chips while we drove. We still had many miles ahead of us!

As we made our way down the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains, the trees become more scarce, the rock takes on a reddish color, and the creek running beside the road looks muddy and quick. The scenery on the west is dramatically different from the east. I loved seeing these changes as we drove hundreds of miles in a single day. The landscape levels out quickly after this and we didn't see much of mountains until we got closer to Cody, WY, the land of Buffalo Bill. But the skies were blue and the fields were golden. As we passed Cody, we came through the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We passed Buffalo Bill Reservoir, barns and hillsides, this strange mansion, and we followed the big, strong river into Yellowstone.

I must admit, Yellowstone was not what I expected. Perhaps all my experiences with National Parks in California have left me a bit biased, but I went in expecting some huge mountains and towering trees and I was a bit let down. That's all ridiculous, of course, because Yellowstone is covered in amazing features just a bit different than I had anticipated. First, Yellowstone has mountains, but its biggest feature is the massive lake. Our campsite was on the west side of the lake, so we had to drive all the way around the lake to reach it and it took ages. Secondly, Yellowstone is littered with odd, sometimes smelly, but beautiful geothermal features unlike any I had seen before. And lastly, there are animals everywhere!

At first, entering the park we saw only a few bison next to a pond and we jumped out of our car and got as close as we dared, which wasn't close at all. We took a few pictures from a few hundred feet away and ran back to our car, excited about the bison, but eager to get to our campsite. However, not long after, we came across more bison, and more, and more! Eventually we got bored of bison and almost ignored them.

For this first day in Yellowstone, we were already pooped and decided to just set up camp and see everything the next day. So we had a quick dinner of squash and sausage and we hit the sleeping bags early.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mount Rushmore and Devil's Tower

by James Walker

Day 6 - Sunday, June 24th, 2012

It's a long drive from Denver to Mount Rushmore and then to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. It was also another day of dramatic landscape changes and three different states. We left Colorado, took a quick drive through South Dakota, and camped out in Wyoming. It was pretty great.

After a few hours we made it across the border to Wyoming and stopped in Cheyenne to take a quick break. It surprised me how small the town was, considering it is the state capital. My expectations for such a place is based on cities like Sacramento and recently Denver and it doesn't really compare. While Cheyenne is the capital and the most populous city in Wyoming, at 56,466 people, it is tiny compared to Sacramento's 472,000. Nevertheless, Cheyenne is quite charming. The buildings are understandable older and have a lot of character. Probably because it was Sunday and all the government buildings were closed, there weren't many people downtown and it was easy for us to drive around and take in the scenery.

We had quite a ways to drive that day, so we didn't stay for too long. At this point, we were basically sitting on the northwest edge of the America's Great Plains, so most of our views consisted of vast expanses of flat farmland, with a barn and a windmill here and there and the faint suggestion of mountains in the distant north. We came across what looked like a rodeo, a fake cowboy sitting on top of a bluff, and lots and lots of big, blue sky.

After many hours of driving, we turned east and began our adventure in South Dakota where we finally started seeing more hills and eventually the farmland of Wyoming turned into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Our route to Mount Rushmore took us past the Crazy Horse Memorial, which you can spy from the highway, but we weren't planning on stopping. We kept on driving through more mountainous roads and only got a little lost. I remember neither of us being too excited about Mount Rushmore. It was really just an item to check off our list of things to see in America. It seemed silly to not to see it if we were going to drive thousands of miles across America anyway, so we put it on our list. However, as we got closer to the mountain and could almost see the tips of their noses through the trees, we began to get excited. I had to focus on the road, but Erinn would say things like "Ooh! I just saw George Washington!" and I would try to sneak a peek. The next thing I knew, we had turned the corner to park and there it was, one of the most famous American landmarks: Mount Rushmore! There's something truly grand about the place that simply cannot be conveyed through the countless pictures, postcards, calendars, and whatnot that I had seen before. It's a place that has to be experienced firsthand to really understand why it remains such a popular work of art. Put simply, it's a large stone sculpture of four American presidents, and that doesn't sound impressive by itself. But sit yourself in front of it and you can feel the sheer magnitude of the place. It was impressive.

There's a long walkway from the parking lot to the observation area with gift shops and bathrooms and the walkway itself is called the Avenue of Flags and each state and the year it was admitted into the United States is etched into a pillar along this walkway. The observation area provides the view most people are familiar with. It's a perfect spot to see all the presidents from, but there is a path that goes much closer to the base. From here you can see up the presidents' noses and appreciate even more how large the sculpture is. The path to the base also leads to the Lincoln Borglum Museum and sculptor's studio, which has a number of different small versions of the presidents that were used to aid in the carving of the mountain.

After taking lots of pictures, we popped into the gift shop to find a Mount Rushmore t-shirt. Our plan for the trip had been to get a shirt for each state we visited and we even had extra money set aside so we could do this, but it was just too hard to find a shirt that wasn't horrible. I was even prepared for my shirts to be super touristy and silly, but most of the ones we came across on our trip were horrible. When it came to Mount Rushmore, we were both determined to get something, but we were again disappointed. The gift shop had hundreds of different shirts, but we just couldn't get ourselves to buy any of them. If you wanted Dale Earnhardt Junior driving on top of Mount Rushmore with the American flag waving in the background, they probably had it, but if you were looking for something simple like a picture of the mountain with "Mount Rushmore" written underneath it, you would be out of luck. I settled on a sweet pocket knife with Mount Rushmore carved into it and we got back on the road.

Although we had already driven six and a half hours, we still had a while to go, but we quickly got lost again. We were following directions from our car's GPS and it was determined to take us on some sort of short cut through the woods. From Mount Rushmore we were supposed to go back the way we came and then go north through Rapid City, SD, but the GPS first took us to a parking lot for a campground/trailhead which definitely had no road going through it. Next it tried to get us to go through a Kampground Of America, insisting there was a road that went directly through the center of it. While the GPS was wrong, it was still fun to come across this KOA. It was massive; certainly the biggest one I had ever seen. There were several stores in a sort of Disneylandish old-country style, a pool, a huge park, bike rentals, a small water park with water slides and kiddie pools, and acres of land for RVs and tents. We stopped for a while, picked up some beef jerky, and continued to Devil's Tower.

The land slowly changed from small mountains to hills to sloping farmland and it was quite beautiful. Some of the hills reminded me of those Charles Wysocki puzzles you can buy from Target with iconic country houses, barns, and farmland all over the place.

The sun was close to setting by the time we finally made it to Devil's Tower, Wyoming. If you've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you'll know the place. If you haven't seen that movie, you'll probably recognize it anyway. Devil's Tower was almost as big of a surprise to us as Mount Rushmore. Our stop at Devil's Tower came more from a need to find a place to sleep that night than it did from of a desire to see the place, but once we got there, we were sure glad we picked it. We were still many miles out when we first spotted Devil's Tower and we got pretty excited. We were coming up over a big hill and there was Devil's Tower, rising up from the mist of the farmland. Over the next few miles we watched as the rock disappeared beneath another hill and then reappeared even larger over the next hill. This continued for the next fifteen minutes or so until we reached our KOA, which was almost at the foot of the tower. This particular KOA wasn't nearly as much of an amusement park as the KOA we passed outside Mount Rushmore, but it had tons of room for camping and the view was fantastic. We set up camp in the shadow of Devil's Tower, made a dinner of sausages, squash, and soup, and enjoyed sunset beneath the massive rock. Aside from the bugs, we had an easy night of camping and I really enjoyed being so close to Devil's Tower.

Our route:

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Denver, Boulder, and a Heat Wave

by James Walker

Day 5 - Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

There were fires all over Colorado, and even Utah. During our trip it seemed like we were bringing bad luck with us. Everywhere we went seemed to be affected by fires. Later on in our trip, driving from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City, there were fires behind us, one popped up to the east as we were driving, and there were a few more in southern Utah that were threatening to close the road ahead of us. We did our best to avoid them, but we had to make a few major changes to our plan. Initially, we were going to be staying inside Rocky Mountain National Park, camping there for two days after our night in Denver. But there was a massive fire just east of the park, so we stayed an extra day in Denver and added another day to Salt Lake City. It all worked out quite nicely.

So that Saturday we awoke in our hotel, ready for another day in the mile-high city. We headed downtown to see the Capitol Building and City Hall, but quickly realized they were closed for the weekend. The buildings were beautiful and were built in that same neoclassic American style that many federal buildings are built in. The Capitol has a large, gold dome at its top and faces a long, green park with City Hall at the other end. While we were walking to City Hall to look around, we ran into some hobos who were a bit feisty for 10 in the morning, so we didn't stay long. We decided to head to Boulder.

Boulder, CO is a beautiful city with a very cool downtown area featuring the Pearl Street Mall and Central Park which runs along Boulder Creek. Pearl Street Mall is a pedestrian mall with lots of trees, mini parks for kids, sculptures, and lots of local shops and restaurants. About halfway down, there was a big street fair with lots of shops, a big tent full of dancing people, and tasty smelling food. One thing I love about street fairs and farmers markets is that there's always someone selling beef jerky and they're always giving away free samples. Don't mind if I do, sir! Well, we walked up and down, checked out a few shops, bought a frisbee, and finally got a gluten-free pizza, this time at BJ's Brewhouse! At BJ's we picked up a map of the local area and used it to find somewhere else to go. This is how we found Central Park and Boulder Creek.

Central Park is a long strip of land with lots of trees, hidden pathways, Boulder Creek running down the middle, and a big library at the end. People were everywhere that day, no doubt trying to get some relief from the heat by jumping in the creek. Despite my hope that we would be able to enjoy cooler climes as we drove north, we were in the middle of a heat wave and Colorado was pushing above 100 degrees while we were there. Everyone at Central Park was either splashing around on the banks of the creek or riding down on inner-tubes. The library sits on the south side of the creek, but has an indoor bridge that connects it to an art gallery on the north side. The bridge had windows along its entire length with chairs and tables where you could sit and enjoy the view. It was a very nice library. They had a self-checkout! On the way back to our car, we took a secret-looking path along the creek, got a little lost and ended up a bit past our car, but we made it out safely. We popped a few postcards in a nearby mailbox, and drove back to Denver.

We made a quick stop at our hotel for that night, a TownePlace Suites in Aurora. After staying at the Burnsley the night before, we hadn't anticipated having another nice hotel, but this one was pretty great. The Burnsley might have been swankier, but the TownePlace Suites was much more appropriate for our needs. The Burnsley was more like a luxurious studio apartment, whereas TownePlace was the perfect hotel room. Whenever I'm in a hotel room that's too big, I always feel like I'm wasting my money. "Look at all this space!  We could fit four more people in here," I think to myself. But this hotel was nice, clean, comfortable, and exactly the amount of space we needed. I think I liked it better than the swanky Burnsley. Anyway, we threw our bags in the room and went to 16th Street, downtown Denver.

It was yet another pedestrian mall, but on a massive scale. It's about 1.25 miles, but feels even longer than that. There are hundreds of shops and restaurants, big and small, and there's a free shuttle that runs the span of it. I still haven't gotten the hang of finding parking in big cities like this. It's always a challenge and this time I managed to turn the wrong way down a one-way street in search of proper parking. Thank goodness the cars were still far away! I quickly turned down another street. Well, we eventually paid way too much for parking and began walking. The whole place has lots of character with big old buildings and tons of local restaurants. There were street performers here and there and some guy dressed up sort of like Iron Man with a giant afro. About every hundred yards there was an upright piano it seemed like anyone could use if they wanted to and usually someone was on there playing pop songs or rocking out on Rachmaninoff. I started getting a bit cranky from the heat and it was getting late, so we jumped on a shuttle and took it to a park at the bottom of the mall. It was a beautiful area with a big green field and lots of expensive apartments around it. In the distance, you could see the tops of the rollercoasters in Elitch Gardens Theme Park just a mile away.

We were always torn between wanting to see everything and wanting to enjoy the few things that we could realistically see. I was usually the one pushing for more and Erinn was the one keeping us balanced. There are so many different neighborhoods I wanted to check out, but we limited ourselves to 16th Street. Even then, there's way too much to see. Before leaving downtown, we stopped at Larimer Square, which is just off of 16th street, accessible from one of the shuttle stops. It's a very pretty street, this time with cars running down it, but also with strings of lights hung across the street giving it a cozy feel. It's a bit upscale and the cafes and restaurants were definitely out of our price range, so we just got a drink from Starbucks and went back to our car.

For dinner we found a Chipotle near our hotel and took it back to the room. We rented Thor from the hotel lobby and settled in for the night. It had been a very hot day and we were both pretty worn out, but we had a lot of fun and were dreaming of a time when we could live in a place like this.

Our route:

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Monday, August 13, 2012

San Francisco, A Few Months Ago

We went to San Francisco back in May and I had been planning on making a video for it. Well, I finally did it! Here's a snippet of our fun. For more info, go to the post called San Francisco, May 11-13, 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grand Junction to Denver

by James Walker

Day 4 - Friday, June 22nd, 2012

     At this point, we were flying by the seat of our pants and didn't know where exactly to go. We knew we had to get to Denver, but because we left Arches NP early, we had a little more time to mess around than we had anticipated. We decided to see Aspen and Vail, CO. They had been on our list early in the planning of the trip, but we cut out Aspen due to time constraints. But now we had time!

We left Grand Junction early and got back on I-70, crossing the Colorado River many times and following it through the Rocky Mountains. Something about the Colorado River is so exciting and we took lots of pictures from the car as we drove next to it. It's such a famous river, one that I had seen many times before down at the Hoover Dam and once from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. But here we were in Colorado, driving next to it as it winds its way through the mountains.

We continued to Aspen, turning south from Glenwood Springs. At some point on the drive that morning, we had decided to see the old ghost town of Ashcroft, about ten miles outside of Aspen. Erinn had never been to a ghost town before and I love seeing them, so we were both excited to check it out. We were using our phones to find cool places to go to and plugged an address for Ashcroft that we found online into the GPS. That, combined with the occasional goofiness of navigation systems, made us a little worried when we took a turn down a lonely road with no signs telling us whether or not Ashcroft was ahead.

(I really do like road signs.)

However, the drive was beautiful and our concern was drowned out by the green mountainsides, tall birch trees, and flowing creek beside the road. There were bicyclists everywhere! Some were riding faster than we were driving. Just as we were about to get really worried (is it really that hard to say "Ashcroft ahead!") we found a tiny, little shack that said Ashcroft on it. Hooray! We had found the Visitor's Center and inside was a girl manning her post inside this little room, selling trinkets and postcards. When we walked in I remember the wind rattling the tin roof and the girl said she liked my Doctor Who shirt. We paid her a few bucks for entrance into the ghost town and walked down a wood-lined path.

From the Visitor's Center, we couldn't see much of anything; trees block most of the town from view, but then we turned a corner and found ourselves walking down main street. It was such a beautiful area. The buildings were so small compared to today's houses, bars, and hotels. At this ghost town, there were only about ten buildings left, but it still gave us an idea of what life was like in this area. There was a store, a number of houses, a saloon, and at the end of the road there was a hotel, which was certainly the grandest of the remaining buildings. Each building had a marker with some information on it telling a story of the area. One of them mentioned that a common practice was to plant berry bushes next to the houses for people to eat. While many of the buildings had been demolished, you could still see many berry bushes scattered throughout the valley, indicating how many houses there used to be.

We followed the trail past the hotel and into a field of trees next to the creek. There were flowers and butterflies everywhere! We walked back through the town and back to the Visitor's Center where we bought a couple of postcards to add to our collection. We were about to make sandwiches when one of the park rangers, an older guy, came and talked to us about the place. He said they don't have running water or electricity so he usually takes a dip in the creek to wash off. I asked him if it was cold, but he said he used to live on one of the islands next to Seattle and he used to do the same thing there. Seemed a bit too cold for me, though!

We then drove to downtown Aspen. I have to be honest, my expectations for Aspen were a little skewed. Whenever I hear about Aspen, I immediately think of Dumb and Dumber and I picture Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels on a tiny moped, driving down a snowy road. Aspen, in real life, in the summer, is much more beautiful than I had imagined. We stopped at a park on Main St. called Paepcke Park and walked around, took a few pictures at the gazebo, and jumped back in the car in search of the downtown area. We probably should have stayed at that park, but there was a big sign that said "Parking for park users only" so we drove around in search of appropriate parking. But it did not exist. We found downtown, saw the gondolas that go up Aspen Mountain, drove around those buildings way too many times, and ended up at another park that also said "Don't Park Here", but we parked anyway. Don't tell anyone! We were both a bit worried and walked through the park hoping no one would get wise to our act and realize we weren't there for park use! "Oh, these tables are nice" we said to each other. "This park is very pretty" I said, just in case the trees were listening. We snuck out the back of the park and walked to downtown.

One of the things on my list was to ride a gondola up a mountain at some point on our trip and since we had made it all the way to Aspen, we decided to do it here. It was so much fun! I mean, it's really just a fancy ski lift, but to be able to ride it up the mountain and take in all the views was so cool. The gondola we were in had a radio that played some playlist with pretty good music or we could plug in our iPods or phones to listen to our own music. It was fun watching people as they came down the mountain in their gondolas. Most were couples, like us, but for whatever reason there was one lady who was juggling bowling pins on her way down. It was so unexpected! After that I remember holding my camera out, hoping I'd catch another strange gondola rider, but no luck. We continued on our ride. The elevation of the city is around 8,000 feet and we rode the gondola up to about 11,000 feet! At the top of the mountain there is a fancy-looking restaurant, some outdoorsy things for kids to do, and an amazing lookout point. We snapped some pictures and hopped back on the gondola to go down the mountain.

Soon after, we got back in the car and continued our drive to Denver. We weren't too far past Glenwood Springs when we saw a sign that said "Hanging Lake Next Exit". Somewhere in the whirlwind of information I went through in preparing for this trip, I had come across a suggestion that Hanging Lake in Colorado was a cool place to see. So in that moment, not remembering anything about the trail, how long it was, or how high it goes, I said "Hey, Erinn. I hear this Hanging Lake place is a delight! Why don't we take a gander?" So we took the exit not knowing what was in store for us. We were both a bit worn out from the previous two days of hiking in the heat so neither of us wanted to hike very far, but for some reason I was sure the hike was short. We got to the visitor's center, but there didn't seem to be any information on how far the hike was so we still weren't sure, but kept on. We walked about a mile from there down a paved path to the point where the hike goes up into the mountains and we still weren't sure, but kept on. We started walking up into the mountains and still weren't sure, but there were so many kids and old people on the trail so we thought it must be a pretty short hike. But half an hour later we were still hiking upwards and were getting very tired and we were just about to give up when someone near us started talking about how much further it was to the lake. The trail follows a creek up the mountain and occasionally we crossed over a bridge. A lady nearby said that the lake is just past the seventh bridge and when we realized we had only crossed four bridges, we both knew it was time to turn around. Too much!

I think we were both pretty bummed. We had never turned around on a hike before, but we were just too tired and we hadn't planned on hiking that day and still had many miles to drive. Defeated, we walked down the mountain. We did see a snake on the path back to the car, though. Wooo!

Our next stop was Vail, CO, but it was a very quick stop. The city of Vail is right off the highway and, while it is beautiful because it's in the Rocky Mountains and there are trees everywhere, it's kind of a boring town. It's a ski resort town and we were there neither to ski nor to resort, so we didn't know what to do with ourselves. Erinn was driving and we ran into our constant enemy: parking. We somehow went down a tiny street that ended abruptly at a pedestrian walkway and we had to do a 50 point U-turn to get out. We kept getting frustrated trying to find someplace to park so we just left.

About an hour or so later we finally made it to Denver. It's such a big city with a lot of suburbs and other smaller towns all mixed in to the general area. Around 8 we made it to our hotel, had more trouble with parking, checked in, figured out where to park, and walked up to our room.

As Erinn puts it, our hotel was swanky. It's The Burnsley All-Suite Hotel and let me tell you, it is fancy. Looking at right now, it would be $209 if we were to stay this coming Friday night, but they were having a sale when we booked it, so we got it for less than half that. It's basically a large studio apartment being used as a hotel. For us, it was so much nicer than we expected and it was way bigger than anything we needed. The past two nights we had been sleeping in tents. We didn't even know what to do with a 600 sq. ft. apartment! But we loved it. It had a full bathroom, huge bed, dining area, small kitchen, and a balcony which looked out on downtown Denver. It was so cool! It was easily the nicest place we had ever stayed. We were super dorky and took lots of pictures and videos just so we could remember it.

We settled in and started thinking about what to do for dinner. Pizza! There's never a time when I don't want pizza and it's usually pretty easy to find a place that does gluten-free crust in a big city like Denver. It was getting pretty late, though, so we knew we had to hurry. We placed an order online asking for gluten free crust, but just as I was about to walk out the door to go pick it up, we got a phone call from the pizza place saying they had run out of their gluten-free crust.

At the end of such a long day and after getting excited for pizza, we were quite upset that we couldn't get it. The thing is, it's kind of tough to find a restaurant that serves food that doesn't have cheese or gluten in it and gluten-free, cheese-free pizza was our go-to order for restaurant food at this point. What was worse was that it was almost 10 o'clock and restaurants were closing up. Our options were getting slimmer by the minute. I thought we might be able to get something at Whole Foods, but they were closed too! The only thing that was open was a Safeway, but I was determined to have a tasty dinner. I got some chicken, corn tortillas, and salsa and we went back to the hotel and cooked up some tacos in our tiny kitchen. Thank goodness!

It was a very long day and we flopped down, watched Back to the Future, and fell asleep.

Our route:

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Arches National Park: Beauty in Utah, pt. 2

by James Walker

Day 3 - Thursday, June 21st, 2012

The next morning we packed up camp and drove north to I-70. I remember leaving Cedar City quite clearly, even a month from now. We had just completed the first major day of our trip and were headed toward another big day in Utah. We stopped at a gas station north of town and I remember the sense of excitement as we began our day. The plan was to drive to Arches, see the sights, and camp again in Moab, which is just south of the park. But, plans change. We'll get to that soon.

We stopped on the side of the road at a "vista" or "scenic view" or something after experiencing miles and miles of scenic views from the car. We figured it must be good if they built a parking lot just for taking in the views. So we stopped at this "vista" and took in the vast landscape of northern Utah, this part being dominated by miles of bluffs and canyons. At the turnout, there were a few people trying to sell jewelry laid out on blankets. We drove down the road a few more miles and came across another turnout and saw more beautiful landscape with more jewelry laden blankets. We stopped one more time at a rest area to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and it would have been a forgettable stop, but when I opened the peanut butter, the oil which had separated from the peanuts came flying out at me and got on my Star Wars shirt and my shorts. I smelled like peanut butter all day.

Eventually we got to the middle of nowhere, at which point we turned south toward Moab and the arches. We initially missed the entrance to Arches National Park because the sign was so inconspicuous. I suppose they don't need to advertise it too much since there's little else in the area, but it would be nice to have a slightly larger sign. The road into the park begins at the base of a hill which hides the rest of the park from view. To enter the park we drove up and around the hill and were treated to spectacular views of bright red rock formations. It was amazing coming around each corner to each new dramatic formation. The first few miles are full of these rocks, but soon levels out. Our visit here was similar to our experience in Zion in that we hadn't planned out specifics and only began putting together our afternoon once we got the brochure for the park. The map revealed how large the park really is and how spread out the main attractions are so we decided to drive as far out as possible before stopping and we would check out things on the way back out of the park. Our thinking was that we would get an idea of what's in the park and stop at the best bits on our way back out to our campsite in Moab. We would be very wrong.

Based on the map, we had decided to go to an area called Devil's Garden, which is at the furthest point in the park. This area has a lot of different hikes and a number of arches to see so it seemed like a good starting point. What we thought was interesting was that the Devil's Garden Campground which we had a reservation for that night had the same name as this dirty, very hot-looking campground we passed as we pulled into the Devil's Garden area. Go figure! That campground has the same name as ours, but we're down in Moab, right?


We had unintentionally booked a night of camping inside Arches National Park and it did not look very inviting. There was nothing terribly wrong with this campground, but it was bare, the weather was 100+ degrees, and we were still newbies to camping. We weren't ready for it.

Our first hike was to Landscape Arch. It's a relatively easy hike from the Devil's Garden parking lot. It's mostly flat and only about 2 miles, round-trip. Our mistake, though, was planning to visit some of the hottest parts of Utah in the middle of June. The rocks on this hike jut up from the ground like they've been buried underneath the earth and have been excavated like some gigantic dinosaur bones. The rock is an orangeish red and all the sharp edges have been smoothed down by years of strong winds. Sometimes the area reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Anyway, the rock radiates heat and we were feeling it.

Landscape Arch is the end of the road for one of the hikes and it is an amazing sight. Apparently visitors of the park used to be able to hike up underneath the arch and look at it from below, but a large chunk of the arch fell in 1991 and the area directly beneath it was closed to hikers. But the view is still amazing from 50 feet out. When we reached the viewpoint, another guy offered to take our picture. After the picture we chatted for a bit and he mentioned that he had a thermometer on him and right there, right then it was 102 degrees! It certainly felt that hot so we headed back down the trail in search of shade and eventually some air conditioning in the car. Before the hike, we were still talking about whether to stay at the campground. On the way back to the car we had decided for certain that we wanted to sleep somewhere else.

Enjoying the shade
One of my favorite parts about travelling is when we change plans on the go. It's always nice having a plan to follow, knowing that you'll have somewhere to sleep that night, but sometimes it's fun to just figure things out as you're going. We eventually settled on a KOA in Grand Junction, moving us into Colorado a day earlier than expected.

But for now, we still had more arches to see! I remember both of us being quite drained from that first hike, as short as it was. The sun really sucked the energy out of us, so we weren't planning on doing any trails longer than a mile. Our next stop was at Delicate Arch. On the map there are a couple of places to stop for this arch. One of them is a 3 mile hike to the base of the arch and the other is a half mile hike to a scenic view of the arch. Of course, we opted for the shorter hike. This one was a bit more strenuous than we had anticipated, because it goes up a large hill for the whole hike, but we made it.

The hills around this area are a beautiful mix of colors. The base of the hill is a grayish blue, the middle is orange, and the top is a mix of deep red and brown rock. The viewpoint for Delicate Arch is some distance from the arch, but it is still quite a sight. It's easily the most famous of the arches here and I can see why.

Heading down the trail, back to our car, we were both getting hot and tired, but every spot that had even a sliver of shade was occupied by people, so we kept moving.

Our next stop was the best part of the park. We chose it mostly because of the number of arches in the area and the shortness of the hikes to those arches. This area is known as the Windows District and has short hikes to some very cool arches, such as Double Arch, Windows Arches, and Turret Arch. After seeing Landscape Arch and not being able to walk underneath the arch, I had assumed I wouldn't be able to walk under any of them, but here in the Windows District, the arches are pretty much free game. We first hiked up to the North Window. I was so excited to be able to walk underneath it!

We walked up to the base of the arch and snapped a few pictures, but I wanted to get as far up the arch as I could. Looking up into the arch, there is a section on the right that has a gradual slope that can be climbed fairly easily. Erinn didn't feel like climbing rocks so she was planning on taking pictures of me, but she said an old man offered to take a picture of the both of us so she got tricked into climbing up the rocks with me! It was great. The view was wonderful and it was exciting just to be underneath the arch, looking out into the valley, looking at the other arches in the area. From underneath the North Window, you can see both the Double Arch and Turret Arch. It was amazing.

By now, we had been sweating for hours and were covered in red dust, but we couldn't just look at Double Arch from a distance, so we hiked just a bit further. Double Arch is even more dramatic than the North Window. It has a short trail leading to the base and an area of rock underneath the arch that is easy to walk around on, but I really wanted to get as far up the arch as I could, so I climbed up into the second arch. It was so cool! It wasn't too hard of a climb up the rocks, but it was an area that no one else was going to, so it felt like a unique spot to be in. It was a great feeling.

This would be our last hike of the day. We got back in the car, blasted the AC, and settled in for a long drive. We were both covered in dust. Erinn took off her shoes and, looking at her feet, thought she had gotten a nice tan from the day's hike, but we realized it was just a thick layer of red dust.

On the drive out of the park we tried looking up the names of some of the larger formations as we drove past them. Some of them were easy to spot, but others weren't very distinct. We ended up giving silly names to the rocks we drove by.

The road north from Moab back to I-70 is pretty boring and heading west on I-70 is equally as boring until you get into Colorado, but then the mountains begin to take shape. We reached Grand Junction in the early evening, set up camp at the KOA, and headed for downtown, where we found a cool little farmer's market. There were lots of booths with tasty-looking fruits and veggies, mini playgrounds for kids at every block, and a statue of Dalton Trumbo sitting in a bath tub. It was a very cool downtown. We got a big cup of lemonade and wandered the street a while. Around 8pm, we went back to our campsite, cooked some veggies and sausages, and went to bed.

It was another grand adventure in Utah.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zion National Park: Beauty in Utah, pt. 1

by James Walker

Day 2 - Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The southern tip of Nevada isn't what I would describe as beautiful. And it's hot. Usually it's really hot and the morning of June 20th was no exception. The first night of our trip was full of anticipation, but without any real excitement. We had made good time so far, but into a city neither of us cared for and we were eager to get to sleep so we could hit the road. So there we were, really bursting at the chance to get into Utah and see something amazing, but we were stuck in Las Vegas for the night.

The drive from Las Vegas to Zion is a relatively quick 3 hours. One of the cool parts of this drive is going through that little bit of Arizona as you head into the southwestern corner of Utah. Between Mesquite, NV and St. George, UT the I-15 highway goes through a bit of a canyon or gulch and the rock is red and jagged (video). The highway runs along the Virgin River, the same river that runs through Zion National Park, which we were headed to. The river here is slow, but pretty, and sets a contrast against the hot, red rock and the blue sky. But the drive is short and soon we were in Utah, passing through the town of St. George and switching highways to head into Zion itself.

The entrance to the park is right next to the Visitor's Center, which is also right next to the primary parking lot. June is tourist season and we were advised to find parking outside the park in the neighboring city of Springdale, but we got lucky and found a spot in the parking lot. However, one thing we hadn't counted on was leaving our propane tanks in a hot car all day. We worried about this for a while, but decided to throw the tanks into a collapsible cooler with a bit of ice to keep it cool. We figured it'd be better to have cold tanks than exploding tanks! After settling that, we jumped on one of the park's free shuttles and started our tour of the park.

The views start immediately upon entering the park; even from the parking lot we could see some of the prominent features of Zion. Being able to ride a shuttle was great because neither of us had to drive and we could both enjoy poking our heads out the window without being distracted by the road. At this point we had to start thinking about what we wanted to do while here in the park.

While we (and by we, I really mean Erinn) had planned out the big parts of our trip, we hadn't planned out the specifics, so when we got to Zion we didn't have a set itinerary. The attendant at the entrance had given us a packet and a map for the park so we picked out a place that sounded nice to stop at and went from there. We decided to stop at Zion Lodge, which is around the center of the shuttle loop through Zion Canyon.

Before we got to Zion, we had been considering a more ambitious hike up to Angel's Landing. This is a 5 mile round-trip, very strenuous hike which goes up a couple thousand feet to a beautiful lookout point. It all sounded amazing before the trip, but when we stepped into the hot weather of southern Utah in June, we decided to take it a easy and opted for a hike to the Emerald Pools. This trailhead can be accessed from the Zion Lodge shuttle stop and leads across the road, across a bridge over the Virgin River, and up just a bit into the walls of Zion Canyon. It's an easy hike, mostly on a paved road, and it led us to a beautiful trickling waterfall (video) that flows into the Lower Emerald Pool. We would have gone further on the trail, but it was closed for construction. The middle and upper pools look beautiful in pictures and I'm a bit bummed we couldn't see them this trip, but I'm sure we'll get there next time.

One nice surprise at Zion was that at various locations throughout the park there were "water refill stations" where you could easily pop your water bottle under a faucet and get some fresh water. We had packed lots of water, but we still went through it faster than we had anticipated and it was nice being able to fill up throughout the day.

After our trek up to the Emerald Pools we got back on the shuttle and continued our tour up the canyon. There are many stops along this route and even more hikes accessible from each stop, but we took the shuttle to the very top of the canyon and got off at the Temple of Sinewava. Here we took another easy hike on a trail called Riverside Walk which is known as the gateway to The Narrows. At this point, I think we were both drained from the heat, but we were pushing each other to go further and see more Zion. The walk to the beginning of The Narrows isn't much longer than a mile, but the sun was zapping our energy and it seemed to take quite a while, but we would hit a nice stretch of shade and remember how beautiful everything was. One of the cool features of this area were the hanging gardens along the canyon walls. Water flows constantly down the walls of the canyon and at certain points where there is an outcropping or ledge some plants will grow, creating this wet, green garden on top of hot, red rock. It's pretty and they're all over Zion, but you can see them up close here on your walk to The Narrows.

The name for The Narrows is pretty obvious; this is the top of the canyon where the walls get very close and the passage gets more and more narrow. Also, you may have seen pictures of The Narrows without knowing what it was. It's a beautiful area where the close canyon walls have been carved out by wind and water and have this very smooth, curved look. The hike through The Narrows is actually a hike through the Virgin River with you wading through water up to your stomach. It's a lot of fun, especially after hiking around in 100 degree heat all day, but we hadn't planned for getting wet so we had to turn around when the water reached our knees. I think we would have been fine getting our clothes wet, but we both had phones and cameras on us and we didn't want to risk damaging them. So there's another hike for next time and a reminder that it might be a good idea to bring a bag or something to protect your electronics from water. We had a lot of fun, though, and we treated this whole trip as a learning experience. For example, on the way back from The Narrows, I saw a bunch of long, sturdy hiking sticks leaning up against a wall that people had been using to keep their balance while wading through the river. Over time, people had collected them, used them, and left them for future adventurers of The Narrows. Note to self: be observant. Erinn and I had been using each other for balance along the slippery rocks even in the shallower areas when we could have been using some big, heavy walking sticks. At this point, we were both worn out and although it was already late afternoon, we hadn't had lunch, so we got on another shuttle and headed back to our car.

When traveling through places with a lot of tourists, it's always fun to watch people and the shuttle back to the parking lot had a lot of people to watch. One was a three year old kid sitting with his parents. They were Asian and didn't speak much English and the kid was adorable. He had a toy phone and people around him kept pulling out their cell phones, pretending to call him and he was eating up all the attention. He was happy and having a good time and he made the long ride back seem pretty short. Eventually we got to the parking lot, made some sandwiches, and drove to Cedar City where we stayed at a KOA for the night.

I think both of us were excited and exhausted from our first day. We got to our campsite relatively early and made some sausages and squash, which became a staple for dinners on our trip, and went to bed. The only bad part about the whole day was that this particular KOA was on a very busy street and it was really hard to get any sleep. Even late at night, a huge truck would drive by every thirty seconds or so and pull you out of whatever sleep you had managed to get. I love the convenience of KOAs, but they're not always so friendly to the tent crowd. But as it was, we'd had a very successful first day of our Grand Adventure and we couldn't wait for more.