Bird’s-eye view of arches and canyons – Moab, UT

Comments 8 Standard
confluence of the Green River and Colorado River

2016-04-23-UT-1200572.jpgOne 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!

Moab Plane Tour

Off we go into the wild (and windy) blue yonder

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.

Arches National Park

Approaching Arches NP

Devils Garden

This section of fins is called the Devils Garden

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.

Arches National Park

A closer view of the massive fins in the Devil’s Garden

To show the sheer walls of just one of those sandstone fins, here’s Steve gawking at Private Arch up-close:

Private Arch

Private Arch – one of several arches within Devil’s Garden

Tower Arch

Tower Arch within Klondike Bluffs

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Tower Arch is impressive from the ground

Windows Arch

At the Windows area, trails can be seen leading to the Spectacles and the Turrett

Spectacles

Here’s little ol’ me at North and South Windows – AKA the Spectacles

When we headed over Canyonlands NP, it felt like we were looking down at another planet with all its interesting patterns and textures:

Long Canyon

John and Pam drove us out here through Long Canyon in their Jeep

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:

confluence of the Green River and Colorado River

Confluence of the Green River and Colorado River.  On the right is the Needles district, in the top middle of the “Y” is the Island in the Sky district and at the lower left is the Maze district

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!

Chocolate Drops

Chocolate drops and maze canyons

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”:

The Maze District

What an amazing maze!

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:

Needles District, Canyonlandss

The Needles district

Island in the Sky is the highest and northernmost section of Canyonlands.  As the most accessible, we visited here twice – first with John and Pam, and then with our friends Vic and Pam.

Dead Horse Point Overlook

Dead Horse Point overlook and along the rim is where we hiked

Monument Basin, Canyonlands NP

Looking down at Monument Basin

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:

Upheaval Dome

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.

Moab, Utah

The hub of all outdoor adventures in the area – Moab

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.

Lowes Travels

Steve was a happy passenger, despite a slightly upset tummy!

 

Next up:  Hiking and Socializing in the Land of Moab



 

Our turn to be tour guides – Moab, UT

Comments 6 Standard

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.

Arches National Park

Pam, Vic and Steve at the Park Avenue viewpoint in Arches NP

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!

Arches National Park

Approaching Courthouse Towers

Salt Valley- Arches NP

Free-standing fins formed by erosion created a scenic backdrop at Salt Valley

We drove to several of the most accessible arches, and hiked among others as we continued along the scenic route:

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch – the one on Utah’s license plates

Windows Arch

At Windows Arch

Landscape Arch

A friendly conversation near Landscape Arch, which at 306′ long is the longest natural rock arch in the park

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.

Canyonlands

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!

Canyonlands

Each viewpoint afforded us different perspectives of the stunning landscape, and capturing their scale in photos is totally impossible.

Monument Basin

Vertical fractures in the sandstone have caused these rocks to erode into step-sided walls, columns and pinnacles

Island in the Sky is a broad mesa wedged between the Colorado River and Green River, both of which have deep, excavated canyons.

Canyonlands

Taking in an almost incomprehensible vista

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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:

Green River

The meandering of the Green River in the distance

We ended our day at Dead Horse Point State Park, watching the sun cast shadows into the canyons and onto the La Sal mountains:

Dead Horse Point State Point

The late afternoon sun casts my shadow as three weary travelers enjoy the view

On our way home we captured a pink cast over the La Sal mountains:

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.

Colorado River

Colorado River on a gray day

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.

Rafting the Colorado River

The happy rafters

Amphitheater

On a short hike by the river, Richard educated us about Moab’s Monument Valley

Moab's Monument Valley

Moab’s Monument Valley

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:

Morning Glory Arch

Hanging out at the bridge

Steve got a great butterfly capture during their journey:

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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!

Warm Quinoa

Organic Rainbow Quinoa served warm with agave, fresh fruit, almonds and almond milk

Finally, we drove to Corona Arch and hiked over slickrock to see the awesome formations and landscape:

Corona Arch

Slickrock 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:

Corona Arch

Steve and Vic under the 140′ x 105′ foot opening of Corona Arch

Bowtie Arch

Bowtie Arch was an added treat on our hike

Best Buds

Best buds take a break

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



 

Zip, Float, Hike – Lake Mead, NV

Comments 11 Standard

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.

Steve packing our equipment to the top, as I carried my not-so-heavy camera

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Just moments before our first launch

Click below to see our first zip down the mountain at 60mph:

Zip Line Bootleg Canyon

When you see flags out to the side it means get your legs apart and prepare for a quick stop!

Lizard

When I looked around after the first run I noticed a lizard had been watching me – he doesn’t seem impressed!

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.

Red Mountain

We saw two bikers coasting down the mountain

Lake Mead, Nevada

Looking down at Fortification Hill at Lake Mead

Las Vegas Skyline

Las Vegas skyline with Mount Charleston as the backdrop

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.

Power Plant, Hoover Dam

The powerhouse at the dam

 Hoover Dam

This was a slow float downriver through historic Black Canyon, and it passed rock walls that rose up to 2,000′ above water level.

Black Canyon National Water Trail

The canyon’s name comes from the black volcanic rock in the area, believed to be between 20-40 million years old

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.

Double Crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants on the cliffs

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.

Hot Spring

One of the hot springs spouting on either side of the river – and VERY hot!

Emerald Cave

Inside Emerald Cave where the water glimmered like emeralds

Black Canyon National Water Trail

The volcanic dike to the left is named Dragon’s Back, and just to the right of it can you see Abe Lincoln’s profile?

Black Canyon National Water Trail

Our lunch spot on a sandy beach

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.

Colorado River

The station could only be reached via a small cable car pulled across the river by the worker

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.

Colorado River

Catwalk along sheer cliffs that the workers navigated

Colorad River

Cable car used to transport the gauger to the station located on the Nevada side

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

White Rock Canyon gets its name from the many huge white boulders that were carried down the canyon by flash floods from Wilson Ridge.

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Once in the canyon we followed the riverbed a ways to Hot Springs Canyon.
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Just before the springs we reached a 20′ dry waterfall with a ladder, the only way to continue to the springs.
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Not sure we want to go into the hot springs that badly!

Upon arrival we discovered several people were already bathing so we decided to head back.
Arizona Hot Spring

Peekaboo, anybody home?

The towering volcanic canyons cooled us off, and the blooming wildflowers brightened the muted desert landscape.  There were so many different kinds and colors that Steve shook his head while waiting patiently for me to get photos.
Near the end of the hike we met Mike, a retired volunteer who hikes trails in the area to pick up trash thrown on the trail by thoughtless idiots.  A real nice guy, and in excellent shape for his age due to his long daily hikes.
Arizona Hot Spring

Male version of a bag lady, and he is really carrying trash! Thank you, Mike

We did a lot on this stop, but we’re already planning to come back and explore more of the trails.  For now, onward to a lesser-known Nevada gem!

 

Next up:  The Valley is on fire!



 

 

Flying high before leaving Arizona – Parker, AZ

Comments 17 Standard
Cessna Corvallis Tt

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.

Buckskin Mountain State Park

Yup, that’s California over there!

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.

Buckskin Mountain State Park

A great view from the nearby hilltop

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.

Buckskin Mountains

This guy is happy to be back on the trail again!

Amidst this rugged desert landscape were a few budding Beavertail Cactus, some Creosote bushes and a lone Saguaro.

Beavertail Cactus

I spotted a lone Beavertail Cactus bloom

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus full of buds

Interruption Point Trail

Steve is always way ahead of me, and here he is arriving at Interruption Point

Lonesome Barrel Cactus

Buckskin Trail

The Buckskin trails are well maintained and provide a good workout

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.

Buckskin Trail at Highway 93

Pedestrian Bridge aptly named Buckskin Trail crosses Highway 93

A few weeks from now these dainty wildflowers will spring up everywhere to give the copper-colored mountains some beautiful color contrasts.

Notch-Leaf Phacelia

Notch-Leaf Phacelia

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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.

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Is this thing gorgeous or what? Twin-turbocharged and over 300 horsepower!

Steve was blown away by the the all-glass cockpit and over-the-top features of this plane. What a thrill it was to take a ride around the area.
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Steve takes the controls for our tour, the first time he’s done so in several years

We flew over Parker Dam, the “deepest dam in the world.”  What makes it the deepest is the fact that 235′ of its 320′ height are sunk beneath the river bed.
Parker Dam
It’s a concrete arch-gravity dam built between 1934 and 1938 by the Bureau of Reclamation.  It’s a hydroelectric power dam that created Lake Havasu.
Parker Dam, Arizona
 We also did a flyover of our RV park…
Buckskin Mountain State Park
 …and tried to zoom in on Betsy – but she was well-hidden in the trees
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A selfie of Rod and the happy passengers

Thank You, Rod for the ride, We had so much fun!

Thank you for the ride Rod, we had a great time in your fantastic plane!

It was a short but exciting last stop in Arizona, and now we’re moving from a river to a lake…

 

Next Up:  Hello Nevada!



Time for a good cleaning and a Happy Thanksgiving

Comments 17 Standard
Road Runner
75 mph Speedlimit

Wow, we can zoom by here!  But no, we keep it around 55 all the time.  What’s our hurry?

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. AZ sign

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

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.

RV Wash

It took these guys just over an hour to wash the coach.

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!