17 April 2015

O Is For Outstanding National Park Moments

During April, we're participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day (except Sundays), we’ll be doing an alphabet themed post starting with “A is for Adventurous” and ending with “Z is for Zinc”. We've got a theme for every letter sorted except for Y. If you have any ideas for the letter Y, please leave a comment or email.
One of Scott's favorite words lately is outstanding, always said with a slightly sarcastic tone. Scott is from North Dakota. I don't know if you know anything about North Dakota, but the folks there aren't exactly known to be effusive with their praise about anything. Ask Scott what he thinks about something and he is likely to say something like, "Could be better, could be worse" or "It's fine" or "It's okay" etc. So when he says that something is outstanding, I get pretty confused. Does he really think it is outstanding or is he just being sarcastic?

While we were touring some of the National Parks in the western part of the States towards the end of last year, we did have some amazing experiences. Things that even Scott would say were outstanding. So here they are - just a few of our outstanding National Park moments. There were so many outstanding momemts, that I'll probably have to do another installment at some point.

Death Valley: Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch

Many people who visit Death Valley do the Golden Canyon walk. Its two miles round trip and is classified as an "easy" hike with a gradual and steady uphill grade on a rocky trail. And if you're a Star Wars geek you can see where some of the scenes from the original movie were filmed (check out this amazing site for more details!) Even if you're not into Star Wars, the Golden Canyon walk is well worth doing as it gives you a great insight into the geology of Death Valley. Once you get to the end of the Golden Canyon trail, be sure to continue on for 1/4 of a mile to see the Red Cathedral. 

After you're done seeing the Red Cathedral, rather than go back the way you came, you really should continue on to the Gower Gulch loop which turns the whole thing into a 4 mile round trip hike. We saw spectacular painted hills, hiked across a narrow divide which led to some amazing views of the badlands, walked through main drainage of the Gower Gulch and scrambled over rocks before making our way back to the Golden Canyon parking lot. 

We weren't really prepared for the hike, only having the vaguest idea of the trail from a map at the Golden Canyon parking lot, and I think that's what made it so outstanding. We had absolutely no idea what to expect. Every turn brought something new and unexpected. And the trail was marked very poorly in parts, so we had to guess which way to go at some points, which made me feel so adventurous! Definitely worth going those couple of extra miles beyond the Golden Canyon and exploring Gower Gulch. 

(You can find more details about the trail, including a very useful map, here. And you can read more about our adventures in Death Valley here.)

Yosemite National Park: All Of It!

Yosemite Valley

Jaw Dropping Wow. That pretty much sums up Yosemite National Park. The place is truly outstanding. I wasn't sure if it would live up to the hype and it did. Big Time. There is a reason Ansel Adams spent all that time in Yosemite taking photos. There is simply so much stunning beauty that it would take a lifetime and more to ever do it justice. I don't even have the words to describe it, so the best thing you can do is go there yourself and see what I'm talking about. I think you'll agree - it is outstanding.

(You can read more about our time in Yosemite National Park here.)

Petrified Forest National Park: Blue Mesa Trail

We weren't originally planning on going to the Petrified Forest National Park, but I'm sure glad we did. While the petrified wood is interesting, in our opinion, the real stars of the park are the brilliantly colored badlands on the Blue Mesa trail. The colors are really as amazing as those in the photo above. You can view the badlands from up top at a viewpoint, but they're even more stunning if you walk down the moderately steep path and do the 1 mile loop trail. Sure you might huff and puff a little bit as you walk back up the hill to your car, but totally worth it.

While the Petrified Forest National Park (and the adjacent Painted Desert National Monument) might not be on your bucket list, if you're in the area, its worth a visit. Not only can you see enough petrified wood to last you a lifetime, you can also take a step back in time and see where the historic Route 66 once cut through the park, as well as visit the historic Painted Desert Inn which has been lovingly restored. But, whatever you do, don't slip any of the petrified wood into your pocket. Just one little sliver and you're looking at hefty fines and possible jail time. I've never been able to figure out why people might think it is okay to steal stuff like that, but I guess it takes all kinds. 

Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon

When we were at the Grand Canyon, we splurged just a little and stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge. There is something to be said about staying right in the middle of the park in one of the historic lodges. Most of the lodges in the National Parks are actually pretty pricey and you have to book well in advance. Fortunately for us, we were able to do a last minute booking and it actually wasn't too much of a splurge, compared to the other lodges in the park and hotels outside of the park. Bright Angel Lodge is one of the more affordable lodges at Grand Canyon. If you're looking to do things on the cheap, you can share a room with three other people and use a communal bathroom. (We chose to just share a room with each other and opted for a private bathroom.) And if you want even less privacy, book a room next to ours with connecting doors. I saw a door in the little hallway in our room, assumed it was a closet and peeked in. Instead of finding a closet, I found some guy changing his pants. Oops.

Bright Angel Lodge was designed in the 1930s by Mary Jane Coulter, a famous Southwest architect. Today it is a registered National Historic Landmark which has preserved historic features, such as the Buckey O'Neill Cabin where one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders stayed. It sits right in the middle of the park on the edge of the South Rim. During the day, it is popular stop for the folks on tour buses, but during the evening things quiet down nicely. And, if you like baked enchilada pie, head to the Bright Angel restaurant. Delicious!

(You can read more about our adventures at the Grand Canyon here, here & here.)

Joshua Tree National Park: Camping

We camped in a number of National Parks, but my favorite spot was at Joshua Tree National Park. We had a great campsite - pretty spacious with great views and surrounded by Joshua trees. I'm not sure why I liked it so much, but for some reason I just had a real sense of peace that night sitting around the fire and looking up at the stars. That is until some unidentified creature ran across our feet. A bit unnerving to say the least. We never did figure out what it was.

(You can read more about our adventures at Joshua Tree National Park, including an encounter with evil tribbles here.)

Have you ever visited any of the National Parks? Which one was your favorite and what was your most outstanding moment?

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  1. There are so many outstanding National Parks in the States, love the ones you picked. That black and white photo of Yosemite is really beautiful, as is the petrified forest.

    1. If you go to a National Park, you're guaranteed to love it. I can't imagine any of them being disappointing. They're all different, but they're all wonderful treasures. So glad we protect them. Scott gets all the photo credits :-)

  2. Haven't found an uninspiring national park yet! Some of my faves include Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Glacier NP in Montana (are you sensing a mountain theme here?) and a handful of desert parks -- Bryce and Zion in Utah, Capital Reef (is that a park or a monument, I don't remember) also in Utah, the whole 4 Corners area, and of course Grand Canyon. So many wonderful spots! My **ONLY** disappointment about living on a boat is missing time in some of those inland places.

    1. Wow - you picked three that I've never been to - Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Glacier. Would love to see all of them. Maybe on our next road trip when we put our new boat up on the hard for hurricane season. I'm kind of liking this idea of ours to split our time on land and on the water for the first couple of years. There's so much to see in North American inland.

  3. We have been working our way around some of the National Parks. Of the ones you've mentioned I've been to Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon. Our best time, though, was S Utah where it's just one park after another! Awesome.
    Anabel's Travel Blog

    1. Oh yes - southern Utah is amazing. So many great spots right next to each other. We loved it!

  4. I live fairly close to a lot of these places. Still need to visit Yosemite, though. :)

  5. I've been to Yosemite. One of these days I should go to Death Valley as that sounds like a great hike. In the winter.

    Liz A. from Laws of Gravity


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