For those of you who don't know, it'd been a goal of mine for some time now to see all the National Parks of the US. It started out as a wish to someday see Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons--thanks to my 9th grade earth science teacher--and eventually grew to an addiction. The first park I ever visited was Shenandoah--I went with my parents. And now that I've been to 27 out of 57 of the parks, so I think I can rest easy for a bit.
Visiting Utah was also a goal of mine in a way. Somehow, although I've been driving all over the country for the past 3 years, I always managed to miss Utah all together, meaning I was missing some significant parks in the Colorado Plateau area. I've already been to the Grand Canyon twice, and I saw Petrified Forest last December, which left a total of 8 parks in the area. So, I made sure I didn't miss it again, and I visited Arches and Great Basin this spring with Kristin and Constanza, and now Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capital Reef on my way home from Truckee. And I threw in Grand Staircase-Escalante for good measure (National Monument, very different but very awesome).
Remember I said I hate driving on roads I've already been on and I prefer the scenic routes? Well--that held true the past two days as well. And I'm glad I did, because it was probably the most beautiful drive I have ever driven. No kiddin'. Well, until I left Utah, then it just sucked again.
My pictures don't do any of the parks justice...my "good" camera is not functioning and my other one is ok, but probably just being there would be best! So I apologize for the weak photos.
First, lets chit chat about Arches. Cool little town of Moab just outside the park--I'm sure nothing like it was when Ed Abbey was there. He would have hated us, because we did the hop out of the car, see the arch, take the picture of the arch, and get back in strategy. But, we were on a time budget! Sorry Ed. But pretty cool, lots of arches...um, yeah, hotish. Desert like. Good views. Pretty crazy looking stuff. Hmm...yeah it was cool, we did it in half a day drive, but a hike might have been a good choice. And actually, we went up into a nearby canyon in the Manti-LaSal National Forest for a campsite --which turned out to be a beautiful drive-- we found a secluded spot way up the mountain to camp, had to get up in the middle of the night to put the fly on when it was snowing/sleeting on us, and the drive back down was awesome too.
Great Basin. This park is probably one of the least visited parks and least known--but that's just my guess. But it has a glacier, caves, and bristlecone pines! We made a quick stop here in early May, so the mountain (Wheeler Peak) was snow capped and beautiful (I have a thing for mountains). We didn't hike too much because of time constraints, but we did the scenic drive up the mountain until we could go no further because of closed roads. And we did visit the caves--Lehman Caves--which was pretty cool.
Zion. Everyone told me not to go to Zion, except my parents. I decided to go anyway, because why not, I was right there...and I have a goal to reach someday. And I was glad I did. Props to the Zion folks for being environmentally friendly. You gotta take a shuttle bus up the scenic part of the park--you just hopped on and off when you wanted. I could see it being crappy if crowded, but I had a nice breezy day with not too many people. And getting OFF the shuttle was key--because tourists like to ride it up and down, frantically pointing and trying to take pictures out of the bus windows...get out and take the damn picture! It won't kill you! I also noticed that everyone was fascinated by the fat habituated squirrels that wouldn't even move if you stepped on their tails. Is only a freaking squirrel people! (Ok, I admit, I used to do this too, in my first and second parks, then I got over it). I did a few nice hikes, the canyon was beautiful, the people were stupid, but overall I enjoyed it and was glad I didn't pass it up.
Bryce. I must admit, not as good as people made it sound. All the hype left me somewhat disappointed in this park--but part of it was due to my own stupidity: 1) I arrived in the afternoon after seeing Zion and driving, so I wasn't as adventurous as I was at Zion. 2) I did not hike into the canyon. 3) I missed sunrise the next morning because of too many hotels with No Vacancy signs and I camped and couldn't get my lazy cold butt out of my cozy sleeping bag. Bryce is pretty much like a more creative Grand Canyon, so you walk up to the view point, peer out, walk down a little ways, peer out, walk...hey...this is the same damn thing as I just saw, but from a different angle. Don't get me wrong, the views were great, but I've seen a lot of great views before. So, basically, I wimped out on a hike down into the canyon, which I think was the main reason for not being impressed. Maybe another time...with company to hike with. Sorry again, Ed.
Grand Staircase-Escalante. I decided to take the scenic route out of the area, and I drove right through this National Monument. This was the beginning of a beautiful drive--stunning views the entire way, very few people, and although it was long, winding, and slow at times it was well worth it. I took a video on this, so you can ride/sing along with me in the car! Its long, beware.
Capital Reef. What the hell is a Capital Reef anyway? I read it's named for a particularly colorful section that reminded early pioneers of an ocean barrier reef. I took the 10 mile scenic drive, otherwise you need to do some major hiking or off roading to see parts of this park. But, the view was great the entire way, and I kept stopping to get out and play or just stare up at the grandeur of it all. Good stuff.