Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Is There To Do in Page, Arizona?

When I mentioned to Betsy that we should stop in Page she said, “What is there to do?”  Good question.  I was just looking for a stop-over on our way to the Grand Canyon but the more research I did the more it looked like there would be a few things to do.  We turned our stop-over into more than just a one-nighter and decided to see what Page had to offer. 

 The story of the tiny desert town of Page began in 1957 when geologists determined the area would be a perfect location for the Glen CanyonDam – one of many located along the Colorado River.  Geologists surveyed the area, a Congressional Bill was passed and the Bureau of Reclamation went to work on a very ambitious project to tame the mighty Colorado River.  Water issues and allocation were the impetus for the dam and even more critical today in the southwest’s struggle over precious water.  Once the dam was built, the arid landscape turned to an azure blue watery mecca providing recreational opportunities and hydroelectric power to millions of people in seven states.  The lake was aptly named Lake Powell after John Wesley Powell who led the first water expedition through the area.  The second largest man-made lake in the country is now a playground for water enthusiasts.

The dam is administered by the Bureau of Reclamation but the surrounding area and Lake Powell are part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area operated by the National Park Service. 
For $5 you can get a 45-minute narrated tour of the dam and is well worth it.
The dam tour takes you hundreds of
feet below ground into the bowels of the
hydroelectric plant.

Lake Powell

As you travel south from the Glen Canyon Dam down the Colorado River you encounter a fantastic sight with an understated, but appropriate, name - Horseshoe Bend.  The river makes an incredible turn and shows its might as it has carved out a horseshoe in the Navajo sandstone.  The short hike down to the viewing area makes you feel like a lemming about to meet your maker.  Sheer cliffs (without a railing I might add) provide a dramatic look but we were not about to get too close for the optimal picture.

I was too scared to get any closer to the edge for a better photograph.
We could not leave the area without a visit to AntelopeCanyon - one of the most famous sights in Page and a photographers dream.  While the outside does not look like much, the carved sandstone is magical when the sunlight hits it.  Worn rock scoured by wind and water comes to life.  With the imagination you can see animals and other figures in the rock.  The canyon is on the Navajo Reservation and visitors must go with a guide.  The quarter mile walk through the 130-foot canyon is the easy part of the trip.  It is the three and a half mile drive though the sandy wash leading up to the canyon that will cause your teeth to rattle.    


Monday, October 29, 2012

More S'mores, Please

I think everyone has had a s’more at least once in their life.  In case you just crawled out from under a rock and aren't familiar with these delectable morsels they are a gooey combination of marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched between crispy graham crackers.  And, hopefully, the s’more has been cooked over and eaten next to a campfire and not in the microwave like some of our city friends. 

So you may have known what they are but do you know their history.  Oh yes, there will be a history lesson now.  The name comes from two words “some” and “more” which are often said because they are so good and you can not eat just one.  The treat was developed by campers in the early 1900’s and although the true originator is not known since camping recipes tended to be orally passed around, Loretta Scott Crew is credited with the recipe as she was the first to publish it in the 1927 Girl Scout Handbook entitled “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.”  I'm not sure that title would be approved for use today but it sure makes the Girl Scouts sound like fun.

The three components of s’mores are simple: graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.  Ironically, the first component, graham crackers, were invented in 1829 by the minister Sylvester Graham as a health food because of the high fiber content of the unsifted and coarsely ground wheat flour.  The next component, the marshmallow, dates back to the ancient Egyptians and later made popular by French confectioners.  Sap from the mallow root (later replaced with gelatin) was whipped and turned into a fluffy candy.  But the product was revolutionized when Alex Doumak created the cylindrical shape through a process of pushing the combined ingredients through tubes.  As they emerge, they are cut into pieces and packaged into perfect bite-sized pieces.  Chocolate has a long and complex history that would bore you to death and just make your mouth water so I won’t go there.  But just know that it was John Cadbury and his idea of emulsifying chocolate that led to the first solid bar.  Many people thank you Mr. Cadbury!  So now that all the ingredients are portable it is time to take them to the fire.  If you are lucky enough to have nice friends that buy you a S’mores Kit (thanks Nancy and Ginger) then you are ready to go.  Otherwise, head to the store and gather the goods before the sun goes down.

Dad at work
I think the key to a good s’more is melted chocolate and a soft gooey marshmallow that is NOT burnt.  But it seems not everyone agrees on the desired degree of burness and some people just stick it directly in the fire and wait for flames to shoot out of their skewer.  One thing is for sure, you need nice hot coals (not only for the s’more but to keep your feet warm while this process is going on).  My dad put the chocolate on the graham cracker and set them by the fire while he was gingerly toasting the marshmallow.  This allows the chocolate to start melting which is just enough of a head start before the hot marshmallow lands on top of it.    
Note the chocolate melting softly while the marshmallows are being cooked.  With four hungry
women hovering around, Dad was cooking two at a time.
No campfire?  Next best thing is to make them indoors by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.  Or if you are really desperate and want to disgrace the Girl Scout Handbook, use the microwave.

Betsy your marshmallows are done!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Moving On to Arizona

Who wouldn't want to hike to this view?
Our last day in Zion was pretty low key and not as action-packed as many of the others.  The day involved breaking camp, grocery shopping, and doing RV maintenance.  Yes, not every day is filled with fun and relaxing activities - sometimes we have work to do.  We had to flush the water heater, lubricate things, put fluid in things, and clean other things.  All of which we learned how to do on You Tube. 

Despite our busy day we did manage to break away from the mundane and go to Zion NP for one more hike.  A hike that turned out to be one of our favorites.  The Canyon Overlook Trail is not long, not too strenuous, and has great views so you get a lot for a little bit of effort.  The highlight of the trip was watching a flock of desert bighorn sheep that were a mere fifteen feet away.  As oblivious hikers watched their footing on the narrow rocky trail the sheep flitted around the rocks and munched on the shrubs.  Their movements are graceful and fluid as they bound up and down rocks effortlessly without missing a step.  Accustomed to hikers, they did not pay attention to us except to pose gracefully as we directed our cameras towards them.  What a treat to see them so close and watch their behavior.

Spirit had one last day at the Doggy Dude Ranch – her home away from home for a couple of nights and days when we were deep in the park.  She came home covered in red dust that let off a cloud when you patted her.  But she was happy, they took great care of her, and she was tired.

Bye, bye Zion!
What dog wouldn't want to be a "doggy dude" for a few days?
Doggy Dude Ranch is a great place to board or day care your dog if you are in the area.  Wonderful people and great pet care.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

More for Us In Zion National Park

We can’t seem to pull ourselves away from Zion NP.  Our one-week stay has turned into two and we are still going full speed.  Zion is captivating from the moment you drive into the canyon.  What strikes you first is the soaring red rock landscape and looking up at the towering cliffs certainly makes you feel “small” - Betsy’s favorite word to describe how the western landscape makes her feel. 
Zion offers lots to do.  We are making the most of it and will see if we can conquer our “smallness.”  One of the great features of Zion is the myriad of hiking trails that immerse you in the landscape.  Whether you are wading through the watery Narrows, perched on a cliff at Angels Landing or wandering around the cool emerald pools, everyone will find something that appeals to them.

My Dad and sister even found time to carve pumpkins.
Betsy and I were thrilled that we got to spend last week with my family exploring this natural wonderland.  After spending our days hiking and exploring the park, we readily retired to the RV for an adult beverage, some chow, and a warm campfire for toasting marshmallows.  This cushy camping is a far cry from the camping experiences that eventually led my mother to veto all family camping trips when we were kids.  It seems years of leaky tents, unruly kids, rising river waters, tipping over canoes, rushing rapids and cold nights turned her off of tent camping.  Fortunately Betsy and I were able to lure her to our campground with the promise of gin and tonics and s’mores.  

Zion NP is famous for two trails – the Narrows and Angels Landing.  One leads you through a deep slot canyon where you are wading through water about 60% of the time and the other takes you high up to a rocky outcropping where you cling to the rock hanging on the embedded chains.
The Narrows

Mom, Lora, and I dawned the dry pants and canyoneering shoes and braved the 50 degree water in the Narrows.  The entrance to the canyon is inviting and beckons you to get your feet wet and enter the watery river to see what is around the bend.  The cold water chills your legs and sinks to your toes but the excitement of hiking through the canyon propels you inward.  The hike is spectacular and it is hard to remember to stop and look around at the wondrous spectacle that hugs you.  You are surrounded by rising walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and lush hanging gardens of hardy plants.  Once again we felt "small"!  While the hike is not particularly strenuous, rocky boulders and swift currents present challenges.  We were all glad we made the journey and equally glad that Lora brought along a bag of yummy trail mix. 

My sister in the Narrows

My sister and mom taking a break

While Angels Landing is on many visitors “must do” list of Zion hikes, Betsy and I were apprehensive as our fear of heights was beginning to show its ugly head.  However, we decided to hike up to Scouts Lookout (2.5 miles) – the launching point for the trail Angels Landing – and see if we were brave enough to look over sheer drop-offs.  The trail to Scouts Lookout is paved but the long steady climb up numerous switchbacks reminds you of how high you are climbing.  Those who make the journey to Scouts Lookout are rewarded with incredible expansive views (and a firmer backside).  But one look at Angels Landing and Betsy and I were headed back down with our sights on a beer at the Zion Lodge.  After all people have actually died climbing Angels Landing.

Switchbacks help you climb the 1400+ feet in elevation.
Hikers on their way up to Scouts Lookout and Angels Landing.
Look closely on the jagged rock and you can see hikers on the Angels Landing trail.  We were sitting on a rock with the chipmunks.
"Walters Wiggles" a serious of short switchbacks.
Awesome view from Scouts Lookout.
With only two days left at Zion, we still have a trail or two left to try.  The weather has been great and the cool morning air is perfect for hiking.  Spirit has spent many days hanging out down the road at Doggy Dude Ranch and had more fun romping with dogs in the dirt than trailing behind us on paved trails.  Everybody is happy.  "Spectacular" is the new word we have been saying!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon NP is famous for its bizarre geologic features called “hoodoos” - a name that sounds more like a cartoon character than a unique geologic feature.   Since Bryce was also on my sisters bucket list, we thought why not cross off two bucket list items while she is out here.  The drive from Zion to Bryce was an hour and a half and well worth it.  We were sorry that we only had one day to explore this unique national park.

A "hoodoo."  The word means rock or
pinnacle left standing by the forces of erosion.
The park lies in southern Utah on the eastern edge of the Paungaugunt Plateau and the park’s wondrous landscape draws visitors from around the world who come to marvel at the serious horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters.  The amphitheaters are the setting for the amazing landscape of hoodoo spires, slot canyons, rocky fins, and curious windows.  What first appears to you as a deep canyon of red rock forms a very complicated picture when you look closely.  The powerful forces of ice and rainwater have eroded the fragile limestone and created colorful and whimsical formations that captivate the eye.

Technically, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon as it was not carved
by flowing water.  Freezing, thawing, and rainfall do most
of the sculpting of the limestone.
When you first see Bryce Canyon the question “who would live here” comes to mind.  It looks so inhospitable, uninviting, and unproductive.  And while the park was named after the early Mormon Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, a recent archaeological survey showed that people have been marveling at Bryce's hoodoos for at least 10,000 years.  Many just passed through finding the land unsuitable.  But it was the Mormon pioneers that manipulated the environment in order to make the land productive by diverting water from the plateau top into the valley making the dry valley an oasis.

Natural "windows" dot the landscape

In 1924, Congress designated Bryce as a national park but access was limited and visitation was almost non-existent.  The combination of the Union Pacific Railroad and the development by the Civilian Conservation Corps transformed Bryce into a national destination and later an international "must see." Today the park attracts more than 1.5 million people. Bryce Canyon National Park truly is a remarkable place.

More pictures from Bryce....
Mom and Dad posing with the breathtaking landscape.
The Rim Trail allows visitors to walk along the edge of the Amphitheater and get an expansive view of the remarkable scenery.  
The Paiute Indians believed the hoodoos are "legend people" that were turned to stone by a coyote as punishment for bad deeds. 
Bryce Canyon Lodge was constructed in 1935 and is a National Historic Landmark.
Completion of the lodge saw the influx of visitors who were eager to explore the area.
Lora, my sister and I, felt compelled to have our picture taken in front of the sign - just like when we were kids.