The first park we visited was Capitol Reef National Park. We only drove and hiked near the entrance though and never went into the actual park. One of our tires had a blow out; finding a shop and then waiting to get a replacement ate away the hours. By the time we reached the entrance, it was late. None of the campgrounds had any open sites so we had to drive to the town of Escalante to find a place to stay. To get to Escalante we drove through Anazasi National Park and it was incredible. The sunset was absolutely breathtaking.
Such a beautifully colored sky over a vast land. Awe inspiring!
We stayed the night at Escalante Outfitters and the coffee the next morning was fabulous. It was just a lucky find as we hadn't booked anything ahead. :)
The next morning we drove out of town a very long way on a dirt road that said it was impassable during times of rain (ha!) to Escalante National Monument.
Then it was back the way we came on the dirt road through the town of Escalante again and onto Bryce Canyon National Park.
All those interesting formations are called "Hoodoos" and they are created by "frost wedging". When the snow melts it seeps into fractures in the limestone then re-freezes. As the water turns to ice it expands causing the limestone to crack. I have thought about trying to do a painting of this landscape but I think I might go crazy getting all the details of the Hoodoos!
Fortunately there were a few tent sites left when we arrived in Bryce Canyon so we were quick to snatch one up and pitch our tent before doing any further exploring.
But then we drove to every viewing point from one end of the park to the other. We started at the furthest point south, Rainbow Point. Stephen never minds being on the edge of the world. :)
At one of the view points about midway, we watched these birds of prey riding the thermals. Always a very cool sight.
We stayed one night in Bryce Canyon. It was a very chilly night, at the elevation of almost 9000ft the temperatures drop pretty drastically. I needed all the blankets and sleeping bags we had plus my jacket with the hood up!
The next day it was further south and into Arizona. Though the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most visited side, we opted not to drive the extra miles and satisfied ourselves with the North Rim views. Pretty amazing.
The haze is from air pollution. A clear view of the canyon is a rare experience (according to the sign posted nearby).
We ate lunch at the lodge restaurant with a wall of windows looking out to the canyon, then took a short hike. There were some narrow passages and plenty of edges. I stay as far from the edge as I can but Stephen never minds being right there. There were no rooms at the lodge and no available tent sites within the park so we drove out to Point Imperial for the most spectacular view of the day before driving on. The enormity of the landscape is too much to fathom!
After the Grand Canyon it was Zion National Park.
We took a hike up from the visitors center at the west entrance.
I did the best I could with my painful plantar fasciitis. Hiking was one of the things I had really looked forward to enjoying on our trip. Sadly my injury often held us back. But in Zion I just had to get up in those beautiful rocks even if just a little ways.
At one point Stephen went ahead for awhile more and I stayed where I was and took photo after photo of these beautiful cactus flowers.
After our hike in Zion we drove to Las Vegas for dinner. Stephen remembered a Brazilian Steakhouse from a previous work visit. The way it works is you have a card, one side is "go" the other side is "stop". Waiters bring around different kinds of meat and if your card is "go" they stop at your table. It was all delicious so of course we ate too much. :) But such a fun experience.
That night we slept in our tent in the Mojave Desert. It was the only night I didn't freeze. :) We were late checking into the KOA but we had reserved our spot so the information brochure was waiting for us. Hand written next to the X that marked our site was the warning, "watch out for snakes"!! I was extremely cautious when I had to get out of the tent in the middle of the night to walk to the restroom. Thankfully I didn't run into a snake. :)
We drove across Nevada into California to get to our next park: Sequoia National Park. There we stopped to walk by the most beautiful river I've ever seen: Kaweah River.
It's hard to get a grasp on the size of the Giant Sequoias, but with Stephen's tiny form at the base of these two it gets a little easier. :)
And then there's General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world (by volume).
Our tent site that night was at the edge of the KOA property and we had a visit from one of the neighbors. :) I think I heard them grazing all night.
The KOA campground was just outside of Yosemite Park so it was a short drive to get in. The hike to see both upper and lower Yosemite Falls was near our tent site.
We lucked out and took the last spot at Camp 4, the climbers camp. We had to park in the lot and haul everything in. Lots of tents but it was still quiet for the most part. This camp is so sought after that people camp out in line hours in advance each day hoping to get a spot. We stayed here two nights.
There are so many things to do in Yosemite but I just had to float down the river in a raft. There's a nice view of the famous "Half Dome" in the background.
As we headed north again, we stopped in Stephen's home town of Sacramento and then to a KOA at the base of Mt. Shasta. Our US national parks tour was at an end. Wow, did we ever see some wondrous sights.