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Road Trippin’ – part 9

Day 26

On my own again, with little agenda other than “get to Zion,” I slept in, repacked the car to be accessible for one, and headed off farther south.  I was honestly sad to leave Salt Lake City behind, and not sure how the next few days would go.  It was heatwave time in the Southwest, and 101+ temps were forecast, in addition to a number of forest fires already happening.  Camping and hiking in those conditions can be as dangerous as the colder temps were annoying.

Still, I was excited to get going.

Driving through Utah is… dry.  It’s pretty, but I have to say I missed the effusion of roadside wildflowers I’d been seeing.

Day 27

Knowing the heat was going to be an issue, I got up with the sun, made breakfast, and headed into Zion National Park from my campsite just a few miles outside the park boundaries.  The park had been full when I’d tried to book ahead of time, so I’d gone with a nearby private campground, glad once again for hot showers and other amenities.

The drive into the park from the west side is incredible.  Mesas of white, red, orange, and yellow rock rise up from the canyon floor.  Sheer cliffs, up and down bracket the road, and the striations in the rock from wind, water, and wear create fascinating patterns. Though Checkerboard Mesa is the first “site” to see, it’s not the first amazing rock formation, by far!

IMG_3369Soon, the road passes through a pair of low, narrow tunnels.  Finished in the 1930’s, these tunnels aren’t well-equipped to handle the size and numbers of today’s cars, and so passage is monitored by rangers on either end.  Only one side of traffic is allowed to go at a time, unless you hit the tunnels before 8am, as I did.

IMG_3370Inside the park, there’s a long, sinuous road down into the Virgin River valley and the more established part of the park.  Again, the sights are breathtaking.  The eastern entrance to the park is busy, and often packed by 9 am, and the line for the tram that takes visitors up the canyon proper is almost always long.

Not wanting to wait for 2 hours in line, and end up hiking in the heat of the day, I opted for some of the hikes centered at the visitors center.  I hiked up the steep, relatively short, Archaeology Trail to find outlines of early Native American buildings, and spent a good bit of extra time just trying to find the trail.  Once on the ridge-line, it blended in with the other bare, natural paths between clumps of desert plants and disappears at times. Still, the views from the ridge were amazing, and I always love a good pre-historic ruin.

After a little break and a water refill, I headed up Watchman Trail.  3.3 miles of steep, hot, nearly-shadeless canyon hiking to reach an overlook into the canyon.  So. Beautiful.

IMG_3397At the bottom again, I found a perch on the edge of the Virgin River and soaked my hot, tired tootsies in the chilly water while I finished off my 3rd liter of the wet stuff .  By then I’d done 4+ miles and the sun overhead was blazing.  I decided it was time for lunch, a quick foray into the tourist town of Springdale, and then back to camp.

Springdale was adorable, and the little, local supermarket boasted the friendliest staff I’ve met in a long time.  And on the way home, I saw bighorn sheep on the cliffs above me.  Yay!

 

 

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Road Trippin’ – part 8

Day 23

The drive from Glacier to Salt Lake City was long, tedious and uneventful. 12 hours in the car, 14 if you count a few stops for food, leg stretching, and bathroom breaks.

It was worth getting to SLC in one day though.  We had time Saturday to wander a farmer’s market, visit the Natural History Museum, eat delicious food, find some locally brewed beer, and let Hippie get flight-ready.  He was leaving for home on Sunday.

 

Day 24

I dropped Hippie off at the airport early in the morning, and decided since I was up and dressed I may as well do something fun.  Delicious breakfast at a local eatery- the Park Cafe, a wander around Liberty Park, and several hours spent at the Tracy Aviary, and finally a nap made for an awesome day.

 

Salt Lake City isn’t “home,” but I completely understand why people want to live there.  It’s beautiful.  The city sits on the edge of the mountains, on the hills above the Great Salt Lake, which shines in the distance.  In the historic city center, the streets are broad, very clean, lined with old brick houses, and dotted with parks and weekly farmer’s markets. There are a surprising number of hippie-folk given the Mormon background of the city, and far fewer homeless panhandlers than I’d expect for a place with such a mild climate. The city has a number of good programs to help support, train, and find employment for the homeless, and it seems to be working.  The snow-capped mountains are an incredible backdrop for an interesting, clean lovely city.

And did I mention the food???  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when we found a place that serves hand crafted beers, spatzle, and schnitzel!

Road Trippin’ – part 7

Day 19-20

By the time we had packed up and were on our way out of Yellowstone, I was in full-on “F**k this shit” mode.  I was cold.  I was damp.  I was COLD!  And I was done.  If it weren’t for plans and the promise from my weather app that Glacier would actually be warmer, I’d have just headed south already.

I’m so glad we didn’t.

After a long but beautiful drive, we arrived in Glacier National Park.  It took us two days to get there, because we had to find a cellular store and replace my phone (which had also said “f**k this shit” to the cold, developed a case of internal condensation from the temperature changes, and died). When we arrived there were no in-park campsites available, and we ended up at a KOA just outside the park’s St. Mary entrance.  In the long run, hot showers, cell signal, and other convenient services, we were better off.

Day 21-23

It seems we hit the park about 2 weeks too early to actually be able to access the glaciers.  When inquiring about hiking trails, the ranger told us we could only go about 3 miles up the trail before it was roped off.  “After that, it’s icy and you die,” he told us in no uncertain terms.  The Going-to-the-Sun road was also blocked off about 12 miles up the pass, for the same icy reasons, so we were limited to lower altitudes.

It didn’t even matter.  Glacier was breathtaking. We spent the vast majority of the day(s) just walking, eyes and mouths wide open at the beauty of the land; the shocking, blue clarity of the water; the animals with no fear of humans; the colors of the rock; the vivid masses flowers everywhere; and the peace.

We took it easy, given my intermittent (minor, don’t worry) altitude-related nose bleeds and the fact that Hippie took a nasty tumble on a wet trail early on and twisted his ankle, but we still averaged 4+ miles of mountain hiking a day.

The nights were cooler than either of us really wanted, but warm, sunny days made the chill evenings bearable.  So did the masses of tiny, sweet, wild strawberries growing everywhere, and tons of wildlife.

Oh, and BEARS!!!!  We saw at least 7 in the 4 days were were in Glacier.  Two grizzlies, a pair of fussy black bears, and a mama black with three wee, fuzzy cubs.  I wanted to squeeze them all… but I also like living and kept my distance!

 

Road Trippin’ – part 6

Yellowstone… Meh.

Day 15-18

I’ll be honest, I found Yellowstone to be over-rated.  If you know me well, you’re probably thinking that had to do with the cold. Highs in the 40’s make for one angry, achy, unhappy Evie, to be sure, but that’s only a small part of my assessment. Some things were awesome.

But a lot of the things were not so awesome, or were even downright unpleasant

  • IMG_2756Tons of dumb tourists. In spite of the signs in every building, on the back of every bathroom door, on notice boards, in paperwork, etc., tourists in Yellowstone stop in the middle of the road to take pictures and walk right up to wild animals, without thinking of the consequences. They bring into camp children who clearly don’t want to be camping. They ignore warnings and leave food and utensils out instead of secured in bear boxes. They park in “no parking” areas or drive far slower than the already-slow speed limit. In short, they’re rude.
  • The size of Yellowstone is actually inconvenient. It’s HUGE.  No matter what campground you start out from in the park, wherever you want to see is at least 30 miles away.  Combined with stupid tourists and 35mph speed limits, it takes at least an hour to get to anything.
  • Hiking trails are present, but not well mapped, and have limited places to park near them. This park is made for the traveler who wants to just drive around and walk on boardwalks, rather than hiking into real nature. It made me sad.
  • IMG_2731It’s Cold!!! At least in mid-June when we visited, there was snow in thick patches in every shaded area, including near our camp site. Snow blanketed the hillsides as we drove to our destinations. Each night we were there, shivering in our tent, the temperature dropped to the mid 30s. Gray clouds and drizzling rain plagued us as we tried to hike, and of the 4 days we were there, only one was truly sunny.
  • It feels touristy, not naturey. Every campground and interesting sight has a gift shop, lodge, gas station, and restaurant or two. It just feels very artificial and theme-parkish, especially given the crowds, which drastically reduced my enjoyment of the natural area.
  • Trees! Okay, this may be silly, as I generally love trees, but there’s only one tree in all of Yellowstone.  Tall, dark, skinny lodgepole pine.  Millions of them. Crowding the roadway, blocking pretty views, shading campsites. Monotonous and eventually claustrophobic.  If you have to drive 30 miles to every destination, and 20 of those miles are nothing but an unbroken forest of the same blasted tree, it feels like you’re not getting anywhere after a while.

Road Trippin’ – Part 5

Day 12:

A long day of driving was made much easier by sharing it with Hippie.  Now that he had joined me for part of my trip, I was happy to have a co-pilot and get to put my feet up for part of the trip!

We left Denver and our ultra-clean Airbnb fairly early and headed north and west again, this time into Wyoming.  Finally, a state I hadn’t set foot in!

Wyoming in early summer is beautiful.  It’s a hard landscape, with wide open hills covered in coarse grass and flowers.  Antelope truly do play across the landscape, and cattle dot the valleys and ridges. In some places, there are glittering lakes with barren verges crusted in salt and mineral deposits.  In others, great, white sheets of salts and minerals shine in the sun.  Big Sky Country it is, indeed, even as you climb higher into the mountains.  It is beautiful, but unforgiving. It’s hard to imagine how settlers found their way safely across this land.IMG_2656

 

As we headed toward our camping destination in Grand Teton National Park, the sky grew dark and wind whipped my little car around on the road like a soap bubble in the breeze. We struggled against that hard, blowing wind for a couple of hours, stopping in the tiny hamlet of Jeffrey City (pop. 51) for a late lunch to take a break from the beating.

By the time we reached Dubois, about an hour down the mountain from the park, we started to have doubts.  The wind was a steady 20mph, with gusts even higher, the temperature was dropping, the clouds had started to drop a drizzle of rain and ice, and poor Hippie was starting to feel sick.  A quick consultation with a weather app showed us below freezing temps and a strong possibility of snow higher up.  We weren’t prepared to pitch a tent in that weather, and decided to stop in Dubois to spend the night in a hotel.  Very glad we did.  Hippie started running a fever in the night, and it was clear a stomach virus had taken hold. Plus, it was freezing cold and blowing hard all night and well into the next day.

Day 13

Hippie slept in while I puttered around the hotel room and the small village of Dubois.  He had run a fever all night, and the weather wasn’t going to clear for another 24 hours, so staying another night in the hotel seemed wise.  We spent the afternoon wandering around Dubois, first enjoying the truly interesting Dubois Museum, then popping into the surprising number of art galleries and shops in the two-block downtown area.

The museum gave a great overview of the area’s geology, flora and fauna, and history. From the Sheepeater Shoshone tribe of native Americans to the early settlers to the rail-road-tie hewing residents of the early 1900’s, everyone seemed to be represented and honored, and the small exhibits were interesting indeed.

Interesting or not, Dubois proper offered only about half a day’s worth of things to do, and by the end of the day I was ready to get on the road.

Day 14

With Hippie feeling better and a sky filled with sunshine (if not warm temperatures), we set off through the Teton range toward Grand Teton National Park… only to pass right through it’s beautiful scenery and on to Yellowstone.  We already had reservations at Yellowstone for the next day, and pitching a tent for one night without really having time to hike or see the park in Grand Teton seemed like a waste of effort.

As we drove, we both marveled at the deep snow in the mountain passes, made deeper by the previous two days. We oooh’d and ahhh’d over the white-blanketed fields and ice-crusted ponds.  We stopped and threw snowballs.  We shivered and ran back to the car. We drove from one end of Grand Teton to the other, amazed at the high mountains, sharp crags, green valleys, occasional elk, and bright flowers, then went straight into Yellowstone.  Where there were green valleys, occasional elk, bright flowers, and snow-pack still several feet deep beneath the trees and anywhere else shady. IMG_2714

Road Trippin’ – part 4

Day 9

On this blustery, blowy morning, it was time to pack up and move on.  It took far longer than I wanted to pack up my gear, because the wind was gusting 15mph or better, making it nearly impossible to fold up the tent neatly.  I managed, after much cursing and struggling, and was on the road by 11.

I hadn’t had a lot of time in Estes Park the evening before, so I decided to stop at some of the spots I’d missed, take a few photos, and have a leisurely stroll around town before heading to Denver.

IMG_2586I definitely love Estes Park.  It’s a little place, maybe 5000 residents, but it’s quaint, artsy, and friendly, with a swift river running through the heart of it and more ice cream shops per city block than you can shake a stick at.  Yay!IMG_2593

After leaving Estes Park behind, I took the 2 hour drive to Denver.  It’s a big city, and I’m not really a “city” kind of girl most of the time.  However, my visit happened to coincide with the visit of one of my longest-held, most beloved friends, so my first evening in the city was spent in laughter and a little booze.

Day 10-11

IMG_2606I picked my boyfriend up at the airport late Saturday morning, and we had a lazy weekend of food and micro-breweries, highlighted by catching Wonder Woman at the theater, and visiting the fascinating Buffalo Bill museum just outside of town.

Denver is still just a big city, and not one that called me into it’s embrace, but I do have to appreciate the number of delicious restaurants and creative little breweries to be found.  I can recommend Dad & Dudes in Aurora as my fave!

Road Trippin’ – part 3

Day 5:

I woke early, eager to get going.  I was packed and out of my Zapata Falls campsite by 8am, headed back down the rough Zapata road one last time.  Whew!

On to Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_2235It was mostly a driving day, but I took it easy and stopped to take a few pictures along the way.  I wasn’t impressed passing through Denver on the interstate, but Boulder was lovely and Estes Park is delightfully quaint, if touristy. Even with a few stops, I had my tent up in time to make it back down to the local library.  My computer battery was nearly dead, and I hadn’t had wi-fi in days.  Gotta make theselovely posts somehow!

Also, I saw elk.  ELK!!!!  I think I may like it here.IMG_2258

Day 6:

Still struggling a bit with the altitude, I took it slow and easy in the morning, sleeping in a bit, cooking breakfast, reading in the sunshine.  Not until after noon did I get my hiking shoes on and hop a shuttle to my first Rocky Mountain hiking trail. It was probably a good thing, all things considered.  As the shuttle bus climbed the road, clouds rolled in on the mountain top, and thunder started to roll.

Just as I stepped off the bus at the Bear Lake trail head, lightning flashed and rain started to fall.  Wind. Thunder. Pouring rain. Dropping temperature.  And then more hail than I have ever seen before in my entire life. People who had been on trail began streaming back toward the bus stop shelter, hunkered down against the cold, wet, and ice, some prepared with rain gear and long sleeves, some not at all.  Together we crowded in under the shelter, warmer from body heat and steaming from warm breath and wet clothes alike, to wait out the storm.  Pea sized chunks of hail covered the sidewalk, piled in cracks, and slushed off the roof in great, wet fist-fulls.

IMG_2288After about 45 minutes, the waves of storm seemed past, and I headed off.  Bear Lake was gorgeous, and cold.  Steam rose from the water, snow-pack still covered about half of the trail, and water from the recent storm dripped and ran everywhere.  Still, in spite of the snow, green abounded.

IMG_2292After the half-mile loop around the lake, I headed down mountain following the Glacier Gorge trail.

3.5 miles of muddy trail, stream crossings, towering pines and aspens, flowers, birds, and slowly warming air.  The farther I went, the less snow-pack there was, and the easier the hiking got.  The upper reaches were, by far, more beautiful though.

Day 6

IMG_2394I woke up to a gray, chilly day, still not loving the altitude or the off-and-on nose bleed that kept plaguing me.  But I’d learned a lesson the day before: hike earlier rather than later, as thunder storms roll in around 2 every day.

I started a little ways up mountain, where I’d left the trail the afternoon before, and hiked down to my camp site.  Pretty but not as lovely as the higher elevations, and the gray day seemed to keep most of the animals out of sight.

 

After lunch and a relaxing hour of reading at my campsite, I hopped another shuttle and picked up a trail near the Moraine Park area, and spent another few hours hiking the hills and forests.

Day 7

The sun rose bright and warm, and I headed out after breakfast, planning a short hike around Moraine Park before heading into town to check out Estes Park.  I’d seen a ton of cute shops and restaurants when I’d passed through before, and I wanted a little civilization after several days of camping.

IMG_2553What started as a short, flat, 2-mile hike ended up a 6-mile trek around, up, and then back.  I couldn’t help it, though.  About the time the trail forked and I should have headed around the meadow of Moraine Park, I saw elk in the distance.  I was pretty sure it was a mama and babies, and I couldn’t turn away.  So, up I went.

 

It was a grueling climb, but so very worth it.  I found my elk, and then some.  A whole herd, enjoying the lush grass and cooling waters of the upper meadows, frolicking in the lake, chasing geese for fun, and lounging in the sun.

And then there were flirtatious chipmunks and more birds than I could count.

I didn’t make it into Estes Park until dinner time, but I didn’t care.