Our western states national parks adventure

Big beauty and magnificence; where stunning vistas abound

Bighorn sheep are among a variety of animals to live in Colorado National Monument. Submitted photos.

Bighorn sheep are among a variety of animals to live in Colorado National Monument. Submitted photos.

We went on a road trip out west in late March. Our departure date was delayed because television crews kept warning us about tornadoes and blizzards storming across the country. Local television stations were also scaring us about possible flooding of basements in our area and we were unsure if we should even leave home. We considered delaying our plans for several weeks, but finally decided we should just venture out.

Our drive to Arizona was pleasurable and we had a great time staying with my son and his daughters. The first morning the girls wanted us to have a picnic. The 11-year-old packed a basket with fresh fruit, beverages and cardamom bread and potica that her dad had baked for us. Oh, how we enjoyed the tasty treats, the sunshine and the company of our granddaughters! The week continued with morning to night board games, cards, kite-flying, visiting friends, delicious meals and a couple birthday celebrations.

When our visit came to a close and we left Arizona we decided to drive north to Utah and visit some national parks. Along the way we bumped into a traveler who had just been to Zion National Park. She advised us to stay at a motel in Springdale and take the free city bus to the park early in the morning before it became crowded. Great advice! We called and reserved a room. We found that to get to Springdale we had to drive through the park. Immediately we were struck by the beauty of nature.

Betty Pond is pictured at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. “Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent, but here is the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.” —www.nps.gov

Betty Pond is pictured at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. “Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent, but here is the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.” —www.nps.gov

In Zion, you may drive your car on the main road, but only the park buses are allowed to drive on the road that goes down into the canyon. Since it was already evening, we thought we should drive right through the park and get to our motel. However, we found the park buses were still running so we hopped on. This gave us a good opportunity to see the park and plan our next day.

In the morning we realized we hadn’t brought a backpack, so I dumped out my knitting bag and used it to carry water bottles, apples, and oranges. After taking the free city shuttle, we stopped at the park visitor center where a park ranger suggested that—to avoid crowds—we should ride the park bus to the end of the line and work our way back since most people do the opposite. More great advice! (In the summer as many as 50,000 people visit this park each day.) It was chilly in the morning, but we had left all our warmer gear in our car at the motel parking lot, so we were slightly uncomfortable.

Randy Pond is pictured in front of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park in Utah. “Balanced Rock, one of the most iconic features in the park, stands a staggering 128 feet tall.” —www.nps.gov

Randy Pond is pictured in front of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park in Utah. “Balanced Rock, one of the most iconic features in the park, stands a staggering 128 feet tall.” —www.nps.gov

We stopped at various sites to hike and enjoy the views. We hiked nearly seven miles that day. A person could easily get a crick in the neck because all the viewing is from the floor of the canyon, so you are always looking up at the very high, sheer cliffs. We found the park to be astounding, beautiful, magnificent! From the park film we learned that the park was originally called Makuntuweap—Paiute Indian meaning “straight up land.” The difficult pronunciation is one reason the name was changed to Zion. I think Makuntuweap would be a more appropriate name since the walls of the canyon are indeed straight up! Very daring people climb the steep canyon walls.

We were told that if someone scales a wall that has not been climbed before, that person gets to name it. Supposedly last year a person spent eight days ascending a wall, sleeping on small ledges, eating, and taking care of bodily functions as he could so he earned the honor of naming the wall.

The canyon was partially formed from erosion by the swift-flowing Virgin River. Sometimes huge boulders fall into the river changing its course, thus the park is always developing and changing. The brilliant reddish colors are mainly from iron oxide in the sandstone. Zion is a great place to take your family. The trails are well marked, there are plenty of modern restrooms and several water-bottle filling stations.

Since our next stop was Bryce Canyon National Park, we found a motel room near there. The elevation is very high, so when we drove into the park there was still plenty of snow on the ground and with all the pine trees it resembled Minnesota. Once we walked to the rim and looked down into the canyon, all thoughts of similarity to home vanished. The beauty in Bryce is indescribable! The canyon is filled with red, orange, yellow, white and brown towers of rocks called hoodoos. A hoodoo is described as being a free-standing column of rock created by erosion of ice, winds, snow and rain.

Although there are hoodoos on every continent, Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Several native tribes lived in Bryce and consider the area as sacred grounds; they ask visitors to treat it with respect.

Hiking was more difficult in Bryce, because, although there are good trails, they were covered with about two feet of hard-packed snow. The temperature was close to 50 degrees so the snow was wet and/or muddy in spots causing it to be slippery, especially on the steeper slopes. And wouldn’t you know, my walking stick was left in our garage in Mt. Iron! The breathtaking views were well worth the effort. Parts of the park were closed to cars because the roads were unplowed, but we walked over the snow to get more views of the canyon. So ended another beautiful day at another beautiful park. If you ever go to Utah, I strongly urge you to visit Bryce.

A park ranger told us if we came to Utah to see the scenery, we should avoid the freeway and take the scenic route, which we did. Highway 12, which was partially built by CCC workers, is indeed very scenic with winding curves up and down mountains, colorful rocks, canyons, and hoodoos. Utah’s Highway 12 is designated as an All-American Road. (Only a third of America’s scenic byways are so designated.) It took us to Highway 24 which went right through Capitol Reef National Park. We enjoyed the scenery in the park but stopped only to view Chimney Rock and to look at petroglyphs. We didn’t do any hiking because the day was getting short and we still had to find a place to rest our heads.

Arches National Park was next on our agenda. Oh, what a beauty this park is! If you plan to visit this park, bring some food with you. The only edibles for purchase were candy and trail mix, so we spent $17 on it and called it lunch. As we were marveling at Balanced Rock, a 3,577-ton boulder sitting on top of a tall natural pedestal, a fellow visitor told us we should see the balanced rock at Colorado National Monument, so we added it to our agenda. With more than 2,000 arches, Arches Park has the greatest concentration of natural stone arches in the world.

For a formation to be called an arch, it has to have an opening of at least 3 feet. Arches are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges and, therefore, are up high and exposed. What is great about this park is that with little effort you can get very close to the formations such as Double Arch and North and South Window Arches. The trail to get a better view of Delicate Arch was steep and somewhat challenging, but the sun was shining and it was shorts weather so it was enjoyable. The trail to Landscape Arch was longer, but when surrounded by such beauty, I hardly noticed.

Landscape Arch, with an opening of 306 feet, has the longest span of any arch in North America. Children seem to love exploring this park with all its beauty, many easy trails, sand to play in and rocks to climb atop. We also noticed many kids taking part in the Junior Ranger programs at all the parks we visited.

We spent the night in Moab and the following morning we bought box lunches from a diner and headed to Canyonlands National Park. For me, the most impressive part of this park was called Upheaval Dome. Photos do not do justice to this phenomenon and it is difficult to describe, but I’ll give it a shot. It is a huge crater about three miles wide and 1,000 feet deep. Most of the crater is the reddish color of sandstone, but in the center is an area of huge dark gray rocks that appear to have been heaved upwards by some gigantic force. There is a theory that the crater may have occurred 60 million years ago when a meteor crashed into the earth.

We hiked along the very scenic White Rim trail, where I took a tumble and bruised my hands and skinned one knee. It was nothing major, but makes one realize that it would be handy to have a first-aid kit along when hiking. We also hiked to the beautiful Mesa Arch. This is another park that is well worth seeing.

As we drove out of Utah and into Colorado, we remembered someone suggesting we see Colorado National Monument and since it was right in our path, we did. I always thought a National Monument was an object such as the Statue of Liberty, but apparently it can also be a place similar to a national park. (I looked at several websites to try learn the difference between the two, but didn’t really understand what I read.) We found the Colorado National Monument to be very beautiful and we enjoyed the canyons, rock formations, and another balanced rock. Randy especially enjoyed the three big-horn sheep we spotted alongside a mountain road. This is another fabulous spot in God’s world.

We are so fortunate that there are so many beautiful and astoundingly different places in our country and we are so fortunate that our government has the wisdom to keep these unique and wonderful parks preserved for everyone to enjoy.

Betty Pond and her husband Randy live in Mt. Iron, MN. Betty is a frequent contributor to Hometown Focus.

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