The Canyon was magical! Another one of those ‘this isn’t real’ places for sure. I was slightly disappointed to find out that the glass bridge over the canyon everyone talks about wasn’t actually here but in the Hualapai Indian Reservation which was a 4 hour drive away. But the National Park was probably more spectacular because it didn’t have the tourist attraction to take away from the views. We stayed at the south rim of the canyon, mainly because it was somewhat closer to drive to from San Diego. Our day was spent hiking into the canyon and along the rim, taking in our surroundings and visiting a few of the visitor centers.
|The tough part on the South Kaibab Trail|
|An appropriately names view on the South Kaibab Trail|
|Inside the Desert View Watchtower|
Next on the list was Zion National Park in Utah. Another first-come-first-served campground, we got there early enough to snag a good spot by the river. The site also happened to be right along the bike path leading to the visitor center, so we had a lot of people stopping by asking about the camper! Zion was like another world from the Grand Canyon even though it was only 4 hours away. The temperature was also intense! Though it wasn’t crazy hot – 95 to 98 degrees usually – the radiant heat from the sun was oppressive. We did some amazing hikes in the morning (Angels Landing!) but spent both afternoons hiding out by the campsite in the shade and sitting in the river to cool down.
|Angels Landing Trail|
|Resting at the top of Angels Landing|
By Friday the 7th we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park, 2 hours East from Zion. It is completely different and if you go to one, you have to go to the other! Bryce is known for Hoodoos, pillars of rock created by erosion, and the canyon is filled with them. It is unreal and the colors of the rock are amazing going from red to white and every shade of tan in between. Walking through the Hoodoos was a completely different experience and this turned out to be one of the most fun days we’ve had on the trip.
|Bryce Canyon Amphitheater|
|Do you Hoodoo?|
We woke around 6 the next morning to be on the road before the sun came up. Arches Nations Park was next on our itinerary and again had a first-come-first-serve campground. This was a longer drive, about 4.5 hours and we had our first almost ran out of gas experience on the trip! There was a long stretch of nothing along interstate 70 through the San Rafael Desert. The car was telling us we had around 110 miles until empty which was great since we had about 80 or so miles until the next town. Then we went up a giant hill and we were going the speed limit of 75… so our miles till empty suddenly dropped to 60 and we still had a long way to go! The empty light came on when were about 35 miles away from the nearest gas station so every time we came to a downward hill we shifted into neutral and crossed our fingers. By the time we pulled in the tank was reading below E so we were very lucky and we filled our spare gas can which was empty up until this point! Whew!!
When we got to Arches shortly after, we found that the campground was full but we decided to spent the day hiking knowing there were other camping options nearby. Another stunning landscape, the ground and all of the arch formations were a vibrant red. It was very hot and I eventually succumbed to the heat and decided it was time to head out. But it was a gorgeous park! We went to the Moab Brewery that night for dinner which was near the park. While there we figured the next park on our list – Mesa Verde – wasn’t really that far away, about 2 hours. So we made a reservation over the phone at a KOA just outside the park for the night. Then we could hit up Mesa Verde in the morning and make it to Great Sand Dunes for the afternoon! Wahoo!
|One of the many huge natural arches|
|The Grand Arch|
Mesa Verde National Park is a small park that is made up of the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestrial Puebloans of the area. There are a number of different dwellings throughout the park and we opted to do a ranger guided tour of ‘Balcony House.’ It was really fun climbing up and down ladders on the cliff face to access the dwelling and our ranger was full of information and really passionate about telling the story of the Natives. After lunch we got back in the car and headed out toward Great Sand Dunes National Park. Though the park has more than just the dunes, that really is the best part. We got there around 5:30 and after securing our campsite, headed out onto the dunes to watch the sun set. It was amazing! The dunes are vast and at the base the of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The colors and shadows cast by the sinking sun were spectacular and being out there really brought out the kids in us. It was basically playing in a giant sand box and was so fun!
|Spruce Tree House|
|The sand dunes and mountains in the distance|
|Having way to much fun in this giant sand box!|
When we were in Zion National Park, we decided that our journey should include a trip down to Florida to visit with one of Darrell’s Aunts. So from Great Sand Dunes, our driving continued East and then South towards Florida on Monday the 10th. We figured the easiest way to get there was through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and into Florida – and we gave ourselves 4 and a half days to get there so we wouldn’t feel too rushed Kansas wasn’t too exciting, but we managed to stop at the world’s largest easel in Goodland, not far over the border from Colorado. Other highlights along the way included a stop at Meremec Caverns in Missouri (which unfortunately didn’t live up to my childhood memories – so hokey!), a trip up the Arch in St. Louis, a pit stop in Metropolis Illinois to see the giant statue of Super Man, a night at Cloudland State Park In Georgia and finally a hotel stay in Atlanta, Georgia.
|The world's largest easel!|
|The best part of Meremec Caverns|
|St. Louis Gateway Arch|
I thought it would be fun to do a day in Atlanta and spend an afternoon at the Atlanta Aquarium, which I had heard was really amazing. The aquarium itself was okay (I liked Monterey Bay much better) but it did have an enormous 6.3 million gallon tank that dominated the aquarium and held a huge assortment of fish, sharks, manta rays (my favorite!!!), great hammerhead sharks, and even 4 whale sharks! It made the stop worthwhile and we spent the most amount of time near this exhibit watching the sea life.
|Manta Rays in in the Big tank - this viewing window is 23' tall!|
We drove into Florida on Friday the 14th. It was really nice hanging around with Darrell’s Aunt since we don’t see her very often. She took us to some amazing restaurants, one of which was called 4 Rivers Smokehouse. OMG… amazing barbeque! And attached to the restaurant is a bakery/ice cream spot that gives you the option to add a cupcake to any milkshake. Darrell may or may not have done that and it may or may not have been awesome. On Sunday we decided to take in one of the parks and went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We had been listening to the audio books for most of the trip so it seemed appropriate. Normally I don’t like amusement parks, but this one was really fun and I finally convinced myself to take on some roller coasters. I now know I love them! We had a great time.
|Hogwarts Castle - so well done!|
|My first roller coaster - The Hulk!|
We decided to spend an extra day with Darrell’s aunt to figure out our last leg of the journey – North to home! We knew we wanted to do the Great Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park, but we needed to figure out timing and who else to visit. It was also a good excuse to spend one more day sleeping in and relaxing!