Leaving Flagstaff at 7,000′ elevation, we knew Betsy would get a good workout on the way to our next destination at Jacob Lake. Following US89, we climbed steadily and then continued onto US89A for a drop to 4,000′. Finally, we climbed back up onto Kaibab Plateau and followed the curvy road to Jacob Lake, at 7,921′. Lots of ups and downs, but what scenery along the way! We were so captivated by the gorgeous views at Marble Canyon that we vowed to go back with the car after getting settled in. Continue reading
One activity that always gets Steve’s blood flowing is airplane tours. Since he stopped flying several years ago so we could pursue our travels, he has missed it but he always jumps at a chance to watch a pro when we take an air tour. So I knew there would be no argument from him when I commented about how cool it would be to see the arches and canyons we had been visiting from the air.
We booked the Arches and Canyonlands tour through Redwing Aviation at Moab airport. On our tour day, winds were particularly high, over 40mph, and we knew it would be a bumpy ride. However, the pilots were ready to go so we could hardly back out. After all, we had been through many bumps during our flying years!
Capturing the arches, fins and other intriguing rock formations below as the plane jumped around was very challenging. But in hindsight I think keeping busy taking pictures alleviated any motion sickness we may have felt. The other couple with us didn’t fare so well; the poor woman was sick throughout the flight and she got no pictures, relying on her husband to get them all – and he was looking a bit green himself!
We first flew over Arches NP, then Canyonlands NP during our hour and fifteen minute flight. We gained a new perspective of both Parks’ awe-inspiring landscape, and seeing the geology of the area from above really showed how large areas were created in their own unique ways.
Because of the bouncy ride my aerial photos are not the best. I included some pictures taken at ground level to show how some formations looked from both perspectives.
According to geologists, Arches National Park lies atop an underground salt bed that is responsible for the sandstone arches, spires, balanced rocks, fins and eroded monoliths.
To show the sheer walls of just one of those sandstone fins, here’s Steve gawking at Private Arch up-close:
When we headed over Canyonlands NP, it felt like we were looking down at another planet with all its interesting patterns and textures:
Canyonlands is home to a scenic mosaic of mesas, plateaus, and canyons with profound geologic and archeological significance. Its centerpiece is the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.
The Y-shaped river system dissects the park into three equally enchanting and distinct sections:
To the west of the rivers is known as the Maze – rugged, remote and the least accessible. And because of its remoteness the Maze made a great hideout for the notorious Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. It has been called one of the most remote and unreachable regions in the U.S. You don’t want to get lost out here!
From the air one can see a tangled web of dry stream beds and passages between spires, knobs and canyons described as the “30-square-mile puzzle in sandstone”:
In the southeast corner are spires, pinnacles, and grabens that formed the Needles district. The dominant landforms are the “needles”, rock pinnacles banded in red and white that stand upright in a tangled formation:
On the ground, an enigmatic 1.6 mile-wide circular depression known as Upheaval Dome can be viewed by taking a short hike from an overlook:
Canyonlands is a wild and rugged showcase of sedimentary geology.
For a geologic explanation of Canyonlands NP, click here.
To learn why there are so many arches in Arches NP, click here.
After what seemed like endless jarring and bumping around, we were glad to get back on the ground. Steve said the turbulence was light to moderate, but it seemed pretty severe to me! Despite the feeling of discomfort during the flight, it was worth it and we enjoyed our new perspective of this amazing place.
Next up: Hiking and Socializing in the Land of Moab
After catching a ride over Moab’s famous red rock fins and being chauffeured on dirt roads by friends, it was our turn to be tour guides for our BFF’s from California. Vic and Pam made a road trip to Moab to hang out with us for a few days, and since we’d explored the area prior to their arrival we were confident we could show them around.
Just down the road from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and surrounded by stunning scenery, Moab offers so many outdoor activities that it was only a matter of prioritizing the “must-see” items on their list.
Like many tour guides, we met our guests early to beat the crowds – especially since it was Centennial Week (here are the free national park entrance dates for 2016). Arriving early allowed us to get good parking spots and to avoid some of the obnoxious folks who seem to think they own the place.
First up was a visit to Arches National Park. It has the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world, 2,000 and counting. Complementing the arches are mind-blowing arrays of towering spires, fins and balanced rocks. This was our friends’ first visit to the park, and we gladly took them on an end-to-end scenic drive. After all, this is definitely a place we never get tired of!
We drove to several of the most accessible arches, and hiked among others as we continued along the scenic route:
Our next destination was Canyonlands National Park. This park is so huge and diverse that it’s carved naturally into three districts; Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles. We took the scenic route into Island in the Sky, which is the most accessible and easiest to visit from Moab.
We viewed multiple canyons stretching across the horizon, about a hundred miles distant. Being a clear day, we caught a glimpse of the Needles and Maze districts in the distance. What a fantastic place to enjoy with our friends!
Each viewpoint afforded us different perspectives of the stunning landscape, and capturing their scale in photos is totally impossible.
Island in the Sky is a broad mesa wedged between the Colorado River and Green River, both of which have deep, excavated canyons.
Close to the mesa’s edge is White Rim, a continuous sandstone bench 1,200′ below. It’s a hard layer of white sandstone that forms a sharply-defined rim above the lower level canyons. Another 1,000′ beneath that rim are the Colorado and Green rivers. The views are quite striking:
We ended our day at Dead Horse Point State Park, watching the sun cast shadows into the canyons and onto the La Sal mountains:
On our way home we captured a pink cast over the La Sal mountains:
One of the must-do activities for Vic and Pam was a rafting trip on the Colorado River. We arrived on a chilly morning to float along a 13-mile stretch that paralleled scenic Hwy 128.
We cruised past Fisher Tower and Castle Valley as our guide Richard gave a geography lesson and entertained us with stories about the river. He told us about a 60-pound redbone hound dog named Blender that lived on a ranch alongside the river. Blender sat on the shore and watched the river all day, and when he spotted a raft of tourists floating by he would jump in the water and swim to the raft, hoping to get a snack for his efforts.
On another day we completed two hikes on the list, Negro Bill Canyon and Corona Arch.
The boys went on their own to hike the 4-mile Negro Bill Canyon Trail. According to Steve, the trail winds along a stream and through an oasis of Cottonwood and Willow trees that are cut off from the desert above by towering sandstone cliffs. The reward at the end of their hike was the sixth-largest natural bridge in the U.S., Morning Glory Natural Bridge which spans 243′.
They stopped to watch folks rappelling down behind the bridge:
Steve got a great butterfly capture during their journey:
While the boys hiked, Pam and I went into Moab for a little shopping and breakfast at the local cafe, Love Muffin. I had a healthy (and pricey) breakfast – warm Quinoa!
Finally, we drove to Corona Arch and hiked over slickrock to see the awesome formations and landscape:
Corona is a partial free-standing arch connected to a sandstone cliff on one side, while the other end stands freely upon the slickrock:
We tried to make sure Vic and Pam’s short visit was fun without being too harried. With so much to see and do in the Moab area, the choices can be overwhelming on a short visit. Regardless, it was great to see them again and we enjoyed spending time together and being their tour guides.
Next up: Arches and canyons from a birds-eye view
We had thought a week at Lake Mead National Recreation Area would be long enough – wrong! Being active in the Nevada heat induced us to take a couple of days off to just lounge around and enjoy the view from our site (Steve’s review of Lake Mead RV Village here). But what is it that wore us out, you might wonder?
First we spent a day walking over 14 miles on the Historic National Railroad Tunnel Trail (if you missed that story, click here). On other days we zip-lined over the top of Bootleg Canyon, drifted lazily down the Colorado river, and finally we hiked out to the Arizona Hot Springs. Between all of those activities and trying to explore the area a bit, time flew by.
Zipping over Bootleg Canyon
When Dave and Faye visited us last Christmas, they mentioned that they’d had a great zip-line experience at Boulder City. That was enough for Steve to list it as a “must do” while at Lake Mead. Steve had zipped over the Royal Gorge in Colorado, and he’d been ready for more ever since. And I must have been feeling a bit crazy myself, as I decided to join him!
The 4-segment course run by Flightlinez boasts over 1.5 miles of zipline cable running different lengths and at progressively lower elevations down Red Mountain.
The day began with a scenic van ride to the top of the mountain, with a light-hearted narration containing historical, geological and ecological information along the way. That was followed by a short but fairly strenuous hike to the 3,800′ peak of the mountain, with Steve carrying the trolleys we would use for our zips. The views of Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the Eldorado Valley were awesome from up there.
Click below to see our first zip down the mountain at 60mph:
Our fun lasted for about three hours and covered 8,000′ on the cables. Between runs we relaxed and enjoyed the vistas, and even spotted a trail that John and Pam had followed here. Red Mountain is known for its Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, an internationally renowned venue for mountain bikers with different types of trails designated as “epic rides.” We saw some bikers hitting the trails below, but we’re pretty sure zipping down was a lot easier.
It was quite a thrill and we had a blast!
Floating through Black Canyon
The following day we embarked on a 12-mile river rafting trip. It followed part of the river’s 30-mile section designated as the National Water Trail of the Lower Colorado River Black Canyon. We learned that it’s one of only 16 National Water Trails, the only one in the southwest and the only one that passes through a desert.
Our adventure began near the base of Hoover Dam, and almost under the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, giving us a different perspective of these man-made marvels from below.
This was a slow float downriver through historic Black Canyon, and it passed rock walls that rose up to 2,000′ above water level.
Our informative guide taught us to note that the east (Arizona) side of Black Canyon, which has steep volcanic cliffs, was cut by water – while the west (Nevada) side has more gently rolling hills formed by erosion and basalt flows.
Floating along, we saw several sandy beaches, stopped to examine active hot springs and rode into Emerald Cave, one of several caves on both sides of the river.
In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built a gauging station in the Black Canyon on the Nevada side. It’s purpose was to determine the impact on the environment after Hoover Dam was completed. Engineers measured the height of the river, water flow rates and water purity. But the most interesting story was how the workers commuted across the river to work each day.
Gaugers would spend months at a time in isolation monitoring the river. The gauger’s house was on the Arizona side and getting to work involved a strenuous hike followed by a self-propelled pull across the river. The station was in operation for 10 years, and the remnants of this crude method of water testing demonstrate the endurance of the human spirit in isolation and remoteness.
Who knew that just a few miles from the neon lights of Las Vegas is such a quiet and refreshing place to recharge and get away from it all? This area is really a great place to kayak, and we saw several folks doing just that. Our tour ended at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river.
Hiking to the Arizona Hot Springs
There were many trails to blaze in the Lake Mead area, but we pick one that John and Pam had followed because it had a reward at the end. The Arizona Hot Springs consisted of thigh-deep hot pools in the bottom of a deep, narrow slot canyon near the Colorado River. To get there we took the White Rock Canyon route, following a wash downhill to the river with the canyon towering over us to provide welcome shade.
White Rock Canyon gets its name from the many huge white boulders that were carried down the canyon by flash floods from Wilson Ridge.
Next up: The Valley is on fire!
As we begin our trek north, our final stop in Arizona was at Buckskin Mountain State Park, scenically located between the Buckskin Mountains and the Colorado River. It’s also situated along the Parker Strip, an 18-mile stretch of land that runs between Parker Dam and Headgate Dam. The stay here was shortened due to our 10-day detour to Mexico, but it turned out to be a delightful respite with excellent views of the river and surrounding mountains, plus a special surprise.
We didn’t waste any time exploring the park, and followed a connecting trail that led to a nearby overlook. From the top we had a commanding view of the Colorado River that separates Arizona and California, and the mountains that line the river on both sides.
With the short time we had here, we decided to combine several trails to create an excellent hike – the Lightning Bolt, Buckskin, Abandoned Mines and Interruption Point trails. It added up to just over four miles, but was good enough to give us a decent workout with interesting views.
Amidst this rugged desert landscape were a few budding Beavertail Cactus, some Creosote bushes and a lone Saguaro.
We were impressed that an overpass had been built just for hikers from the campground who want to check out the interesting trails and old copper mines.
A few weeks from now these dainty wildflowers will spring up everywhere to give the copper-colored mountains some beautiful color contrasts.
But the highlight of this stop turned out to be a flight aboard the sleek Cessna Corvallis TT owned and piloted by Rod, Steve’s pilot buddy who stopped by on his way to Scottsdale from northern California.
Next Up: Hello Nevada!
After an exciting night at a Casino parking lot, we purged our water tank of the mineral water from Tecopa and continued on with Arizona as the next destination. The southwestern states were very much in our minds as we experienced a wet and cold summer in Alaska. Every time it rained there we longed for the dry, sunny and mild winters which can be had in the southwestern states. We longed to be in Arizona this winter to hopefully bask in the sun and stay dry. Don’t get us wrong, we had a fantastic summer in Alaska, despite the almost-constant rain. So after trekking southward for the past two months, we have finally arrived at the Grand Canyon State.
Weaving thru the fringes of Nevada and California, we crossed into Arizona and immediately “lost” an hour of our day. Arizona is the only remaining state to not follow the Daylight Savings Time (DST) change. That means it stays light out a little later, so it’s ok by us!
Our first stop was Bullhead City, located on the Colorado river across from Laughlin, Nevada (where the casinos are). Arizona and Nevada are bordered by the Colorado River and we found the location of both cities (Bullhead City, AZ and Laughlin, NV) interesting. When we crossed the Colorado River we either gained or lost an hour, depending on our destination. So, if you live in Bullhead City and work at a casino in Laughlin, you must leave for work an extra hour early – bummer! But ok, you also get home an hour early every night.
Bullhead City was named for Bull’s Head Rock, an old landmark located along the Colorado River. In the era of steamboat travel up the river, it was used as a navigation point. Unfortunately, we did not see this rock formation as we were told the water has covered it and only a small, undistinguishable part remains.
But first things first. This stop was mostly for Betsy. The mud, bugs and grime from Alaska and Canada, coupled with a recent sand storm have accumulated over time, and she was very dirty. Figuring that it probably wouldn’t rain on her again for quite some time, we thought this a good opportunity to do a top-to-bottom spick-and-span cleaning job. At the Ridgeview RV Park we learned that a couple of guys from the local cleaning service would make a house call to our site and give Betsy a good scrubbing and washing. The cost was $100, far less than would be required to make Steve get out of his chair and do it himself. We scheduled them immediately and the next day Betsy was looking much better.
Enter Steve…during the next three days he labored with the pleasure of protecting the roof and polishing the entire coach until Betsy gleamed like new. Then he cleaned and lubricated all of the compartment doors. In the meantime, my contribution in this beautification project was as the interior master-duster and wheel polisher (8 wheels – Steve said I did such a great job on the RV wheels that I could do the car wheels, too. Whoopee!). Finally, we cleaned all of the interior windows and removed the screens for a good washing. Wow, the old girl looks like new!
This stop was also a time to reconnect with my cousins, Merla and Estela, who live in Bullhead City. We met their families and spent an evening with them over a delicious Thanksgiving meal and some playing of Texas Holdem. We also played the dice game LCR (Left-Center-Right), since it was a fairly large group. If you want to have a simple game that is always a smash hit at a party, pick up this inexpensive game at a toy store – it rocks!
Before strong winds kicked up we managed to walk quite a bit, but got in only one decent hike. On this hike I saw for the first time BeepBeep – RoadRunner. I loved the cartoon about the adventures of the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, so I got very excited, snapping pictures like a maniac. Look, isn’t it cute! This was the first time I had seen in person the bird that always outsmarted the hapless coyote.
After spending a very productive Thanksgiving week here it was time to move along to another place that we have heard good things about and been wanting to visit for some time – Lake Havasu and the London Bridge. Stay tuned!