Tag Archives: tourism

Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 1

26 Jun

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Arizona is brimming with enchanting places to explore including over a dozen national monuments. This is the first installment of a three part series on my favorites, including the pros and cons, best times to visit, and other key travel tips.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

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A gaping chasm of sandstone reveals a lush valley with zigzagging patterns of stately cottonwood trees. Hidden in this oasis are myriads of ancient ruins, linking the past to present. My strongest impression is indulging in the palpable silence of sunrise while standing on the precipice of a sheer 1,000-foot cliff. A whispering breeze slices through the stillness of this lonesome landscape. Carefully navigating the rocks only inches from certain death invigorates my soul. Occasionally I hear from a companion, a cawing raven struggling in the cross currents.

Canyon De Chelly is the premier national monument in Arizona and a top-shelf scenic attraction. Established in 1931, the Navajo Nation owns this national historic treasure. A series of roads surround it connecting unique vistas with interesting names and stories. Getting around may confuse first-time visitors as Canyon De Chelly actually comprises four canyons and features complex geology.

Many viewpoints feature wide, sprawling platforms perfect for scrambles and exploring. It is easy to find solitude among the many nooks, overhangs, and ledges. However, there is only one public trail in the park. A 1.2-mile route (Whitehouse Ruins Trail) leads down a winding rock passage from an overlook to the valley floor. Further exploring is prohibited without a Navajo guide. (Easily book a private or public sightseeing tour near the visitor center. Prices are negotiable.)

The most iconic landmark is Spider Rock, a lone, towering spire in a secluded basin that shimmers at sunset. A brief 10-minute walk introduces the best views but some sight lines are obscured by dense foliage and dangerous outcroppings. Local residents (a.k.a.) outgoing canyon dogs sometimes tag along for fun. The Spider Rock Overlook is about a half-hour drive (16 miles) from the visitor center and campground.

 

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Photo by Dean Hueber see more of his work here

 

In addition to the campground, other lodging options include an in-park hotel and several others in nearby Chinle, a town of about 5,000 people. The privately owned Spider Rock Campground adds the unique experience of staying in a Navajo hogan. A three-day stay is a perfect introduction to this spellbinding place. Canyon De Chelly is a true four-season park with fall colors usually occurring toward the end of October. It is a five-hour drive from Phoenix or about fours from Albuquerque, NM.

 

 

Top Internet Websites for Trip Planning

4 Jul

One of the questions I was asked in a recent interview about photography was in regards to how I did my research to  information for the places that I go.  We’ve covered this topic before and today I thought it would be helpful  to list the top websites that I use for trip research. Most of these are pretty obvious, but I’ll explain to you how I use them.

Google
There are a couple different ways to use Google for Internet searches. The web search is the obvious primary function. The search topics I look for are the names of hikes or places and pictures.  One useful feature of this site  is the Google Images. This is an excellent way to find information. Not only is the search done by pictures, but it takes the user to the landing pages of those images. Sometimes this kills two birds with one stone. Instead of searching for articles containing your keywords, you do a keyword search on pictures and clicking on the image takes you to information on the pictures.

Amazon
For online book or map purchases, I believe Amazon is the best retailer. The navigation features of the website are user friendly, they offer suggestions for related products, and the prices and customer service are generally very good. I almost always use Amazon to purchase maps and guide books for areas outside of my home state, where it is harder to find information at your local bookstore.

Flickr
Flickr is probably my favorite site for obtaining or viewing images on places I am interested in visiting.  It is not necessary to have a membership in order to search and see results on their site. You can see my Flickr page here.

You Tube
I like this site for hard to find areas, especially when it comes to backpacking trips. Videos often times give even more significant and realistic impression of the places you are trying to research.

Nps.gov
NPS has several useful features that are sometimes worth checking out depending on when and where you are traveling. Each park has its own website so the layout and usefulness varies from site to site. Thus some sites have information and navigation features that are easier to use and find than others. The top reasons I visit are for viewing general park maps, getting contact information for the ranger stations, useful links for the weather and activities, and checking the park’s webcams.

Weather.com
In the last ten days before a trip, there is no site that gets more use than this one. The only other site that has a longer extended forecast is accuweather.com Other weather sites that I frequent are weatherundergound.com, who also has the best mobile site for weather and weather.gov, which is the national weather service’s web page that also gives the most detailed information available on issues like forest fires and storm advisories.

Trip Advisor.com
This is my default site for doing research on hotels and places to stay. I think Trip Advisor has the best and most honest reviews online. To books the hotels, it usually works best if you just go to the hotel’s actual website. Another useful site that I usually refer to for reviews is hotels.com, although I don’t trust the reviews on it nearly as much. It has a useful search feature of organizing hotels by cost, which is normally very accurate and current, and includes last minute deals.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and found this information helpful.  If there are any websites that you love to use that I didn’t include please feel free to let me know. It always rewarding to hear from users!

Lost in the Desert Part Three – The Rescue

15 Feb

Sometime during the day, one hearty traveler ventured into the camp while I was attempting to summit Mica Mountain starting from the campground. I don’t recall the individual’s name, but he traveled alone and did not use any kind of shelter – he just slept in his bag. I thought this was unusual because it was quite cold and windy. He also told me that winds the preceding evening were strong enough to knock over one of the oldest and largest saguaros in the area.  We spent some time talking and getting to know one other that night and discussed traveling out together the following morning.

I can’t remember exactly how the events  unfolded, but I believe the following morning this individual decided to break camp earlier than we had planned. Unfortunately, I was still in the process of breaking down my camp and wasn’t able to accompany him. I think I left approximately an hour after he did. That’s really when the trouble started.  In and around the campground, there are a number of use trails, and it is difficult to discern which is the main trail leading out of the camp. I am not exactly sure where I got lost, but I think it happened pretty quickly.

One of the  interesting things about Saguaro NP East is  housing developments abutt the park boundaries. So when traveling in and out of the mountains,  many of the distant views are of residential areas. I think this gives the traveler a false sense of security because everything looks closer than it is, and it is impossible to tell the lay of the land.  At times, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch the houses, but they are much further off than they appear. Another major mistake I made was using these homes as a guide point to determine which way I should be traveling.  I’ll try to describe to you what happened next….

Instead of following the ridgeline down and off the mountain at approximately a 45 degree angle, I descended straight down a 90 degree angle.  Needless to say, before I realized  I was traveling in the wrong direction, I had already passed the point where it made sense for me to try to turn around and retrace my steps. I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way back if I tried. Part of the problem was there were a considerable amount of game trails in the wilderness and I was deceived into believing that I was traveling on an actual hiking trail. I saw an astonishing amount of deer during this adventure.  At one point, I must have spooked a herd of nearly 50, right in the middle of day, just galloping through the groves of giant saguaros. It was really quite a site.

Once I realized that I was lost, my game plan was to follow the washes down and out of the wilderness. Often times, the washes represent the path of least resistance. Occasionally, they cliff out and you are forced to circumvent around. That happened a couple of times, and I basically resorted to bushwhacking through some nasty desert terrain. By this time, my water supply was quickly dwindling. I had a couple different plans for my water. One strategy that I’ll sometimes use is to hold the water in my mouth for as long as I can without swallowing, which keeps your breathing passages hydrated and moist. If had completely run out of water, I knew that I could probably find some stored in the park’s many barrel cacti and would not hesitate to cut one open if my life depended on it.

That ended up not being the case, but I was a complete mess by the time I wandered off the mountain. I never saw a single soul during the entire length of my descent, which took about twice as long was what it should have taken. My thighs to my ankles were completely covered in scratches ranging from one to five inches in length. It literally looked like I had been attacked by a wild animal. By the time I reached the base of the mountains, I ended up in a remote section that had just a single trail. That trail eventually led out and I ended up soliciting a neighbor for some water and the use of their phone.  As it turned out, I was a good 15 mile drive from my car when I should have been able to walk right off the trail and throw my gear into my trunk. I called the park for assistance, and they sent a ranger out to drive me back. After searching all my stuff for “petroglyphs,” he returned me to my car. It was the only time I had to be “rescued” and I was thankful  I made it out in one piece. It was quite the adventure!

Tucson Barrio

27 Jan

Joyce and I are back from an awesome weekend in Tucson. I have to say that here  in Phoenix, the city of Tucson sometimes is portrayed negatively and unfairly (in my opinion) by many of the local print publications. It is unfortunate because Tucson has a ton of character on its streets that  really isn’t as evident here in the valley. Although it has grown dramatically in the past ten years, it still maintains the feel of its Spanish roots. Tucson has also down a good job of preserving historic sites. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac just south of the City is a shining example painstaking preservation efforts. In addition, Tucson has some killer mountains on all four sides and probably the best saguaro forests in the country. Saguaro National Park is a must do trip on any visit to the Tucson area.

Today I want to talk about the Tucson barrio.  As many of you may know, I volunteer for Friends of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. It was through the Friends organization that I first learned about this  amazing place. They do a workshop there in the spring and reading about this place captured my imagination.  I’ve always been interested in photographing doors and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The brilliant colors and unique architectural features in the barrio are mesmerizing.

With a weather forecast of clear, blue skies all weekend long I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to capture some urban art in the heart of the “Old Pueblo.”  Joyce and I spent several sunrises there capturing the colors and atmosphere of the unique barrio. Below is one of my favorite images from the trip….

I prefer the distressed look on the abandoned properties as opposed to the cleaner presentation of many of the remodeled homes in the area

Joyce captured some fantastic shots too. Even though this home is remodeled, I think the light shining in the middle of it really makes this shot for me. It is definitely one of my favorites…

The barrio is a really cool place if you are interested in this type of photography. We felt the best location was in the vicinity of Stone and Cushing streets in downtown Tucson. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a look. My next post will most likely be on Monday, until then, have a fantastic weekend!

Tucson Road Trip…#3 Wild Moments Preview, and the Super Bowl

20 Jan

I am leaving tomorrow for a four-day road trip to Tucson aka, “The Old Pueblo”. We have a full itinerary planned starting with an afternoon stop at Saguaro National Park West, where I’ll hopefully shoot sunset.

It is supposed to be clear all weekend, keeping that in mind, I have some ideas to expand my portfolio.  These include photographing some of the city’s old buildings, structures, and churches as well as possible stop at the Biosphere 2. Tucson is full of activities and there is no shortage of other places to visit as well (Sabino Canyon, Chiracuhua National Monument, Bisbee to name a few) Saturday afternoon we plan on returning to Saguaro National Park East – The Rincon Mountain district to shoot sunset. It will be only my second time in that district of the park, and my first since a solo 3 day/2 night backpacking trip there in December of 2004.

It was that trip which inspired Wild Moment #3 entitled “Lost in the Desert”.  Together we’ll revisit the highlights and lowlights on that adventure sometime next week, probably around Wednesday or Thursday!

On Sunday, we have mostly an open itinerary and we want to get back to our hotel room sometime in the afternoon to watch the NFL Championship games. And since this is my blog,  I am going to talk about the games a bit. Both should be excellent. I am going against conventional wisdom and picking the Bears vs Steelers in the Super Bowl.  Personally, I think the Bears are getting a bit disrespected as a 3.5 point home dog, although I can’t say that I trust Jay Cutler to win a big game.  Not only that, but Aaron Rodgers looks practically unstoppable. He is an amazing quarterback.  Somehow, with a slightly better running game, more team playoff experience,  and home field advantage I think the Bears pull this one out by a field goal 23 – 20.

In the AFC, I think the Jets have been running their mouths too much and I expect a bit of a let down from the Patriots game last week.  Both teams played one another about 6 weeks ago and it was the best game I saw all season. The Jets pulled it out as time expired on the Steelers and I just can’t see that happening again. I think the Steelers pull through at home and beat the Jets 19 – 14.

We’ll be watching the games, but if sunset looks good I am skipping out and heading back to the park for another photography session. I sure hope that is the case. Please check back early next week as I should have some new images up on the website and my next blog post “Lost in the Desert” by the end of next week. Have a wonderful weekend and God Bless.

Day Three – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

19 Sep

Today, we are going to examine the creation of one of my favorite images of last year called “The Master of Light”.  This is certainly not a personal reference, but a divine one.

Fading sunlight illuminates the huge meadows surrounding the Bechler River in Yellowstone National Park.

Location:  Yellowstone National Park, WY

Technical Info:  Canon 5D Mk2, 24 – 105 F/4,  F/22,  ISO 50, 4 second exposure

Filters:  Hoya Warming Polarizer, .9 Singh-Ray GND (Soft), .6 Lee GND (Hard)

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Creative Process: I arrived to view this scene shortly before sunset after a day of backpacking through Bechler River Canyon. It was a virtually cloudless day until I saw a storm developing in the distance around the Grand Tetons. We had crossed this meadow on the way into the canyon so I was familiar with the area. I knew I wanted to condense the size of the massive meadow and try to  make the mountains an integral part of the composition. I framed the back side of the Grand Teton between the trees and used the cattail as the foreground to frame the river. I maxed out the focal length on my lens and loaded on several filters.

I used the polarizer to reduce the glare of the water and bring extra contrast to the sky. I then used several graduated neutral density filters to reduce the brightness in the sky into a manageable dynamic range. Because the light was the best almost immediately when I arrived upon the scene; I didn’t have much time to work. I was able to capture two different frames before the meadow fell completely into shadow.

I used the low aperture and ISO to lengthen the shutter speed as much as possible, wanting to smooth out, yet show movement in the water. Because the storm was gathering quickly, you can also see movement in some of the clouds as well. Overall, it was one of the better scenes I captured in 6 weeks in the park and I am looking forward to spending more time in this area in the future. If you have any questions regarding this image or any others please feel free to contact me anytime.

A Sure Fire Way to Improve Your Landscape Photography….

21 Aug

I am feeling compelled to share this tip with you before the weekend and my hope is that you’ll find this advice solid, useful, and rewarding. Before we start, I’ll admit I am guilty of skipping around on my blog posts and this one is no exception. As a result, I will continue my last series about sharing your photographs online next week.  Allow me to briefly provide you some context  for this post and where the inspiration came from. Lately, I have returned to many images already in the archives or previously posted to reprocess in hopes of a better result.  So far, I am very pleased with the results.  This has been a season of less travel for me, and  I haven’t taken what I consider to be a major trip (more than a week in the wilderness) pretty much all year. 

Being grounded in society like this really helps provide perspective on my time outdoors;  it is something that I cherish, relish, and value very much. Sometimes, when you out there so long (at least for me) one can get a little desensitized to the special meaning of their surroundings. While reworking some of these older images and through feedback from posting them online, I’ve seen once again how incredibly spectacular some of the places are that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. 

That brings me to the topic of this post:  Want to be a better landscape photographer? Well, besides enrolling in a photography workshop (another post at a later time, improve your research skills.  It dawned on me that I rarely just show up and luck into a great photograph. For me, it is much more than that – it takes time and efficient planning.  For your convenience, I am including a list on the steps I go through when planning a trip, and the questions that cross my mind and that I need to answer in order to move forward. (Not all steps will be applicable to everyone) 

1. Dates: When are you going to go? How much time can you spend on this trip?  This is pretty much my first step in planning a trip. I’ve got to decide when and for how long. We all have extenuating circumstances that help dictate or shape the dates of our trip – so I normally don’t precede any farther until I can confidently answer both these questions. 

2. Location:  For me, the location is always determined by the date and the amount of time I can spend on the trip.  Most of the time, I drive. For instance,  if the trip is less than three days, I won’t go out of state. If it is for a week, I’ll drive further to parts of a neighboring state like California, Utah, Nevada, or Colorado. If it is two or more weeks, I’ll consider driving somewhere like Northern California or Wyoming. The second part of this equation is the time of year: Obviously, we aren’t taking any backpacking trips in the Sonoran Desert in July and I am not planning on driving to Wyoming in January either. I generally try to maximize the season. That means go where the going is best….     

3.  Specifics:  The first two steps are pretty obvious. This step is where the rubber meets the road. It’s good to get a little dirty here.  I start with maps. Normally, AAA state road maps work best as the wilderness areas are well-marked in green. For instance, if I am going to Yosemite, I might look also at the areas around Yosemite to see if there is any interesting worth checking out. For some parks, like Yosemite, a lot of your options are decided by which way you’ll be driving so I like to determine that first so it gives me a clearer path of direction. (Excuse the pun) 

Along with all my maps my hiking book collection is an indisposable resource for my photography. This is just part of the collection...

 

 

So now you now where you want to go, when you want to go, for how long you are going, and which way you are going to be driving. Now the hard part; what are you going to do when you get there? For the sake of time, here’s a list of recommendations, advice and questions to think when planning this important leg of your journey. 

1. What are my physical limitations and what do I feel comfortable doing? 

2. If backpacking, do I need a permit and should I reserve one? Where do I get the permits? What are the best campsites?  What are the camping restrictions? 

3. What dangers do I need to be aware of and educated on?  (Wild animals,  flash floods, creek or river fording, unmaintained trails,  precarious climbs) 

3.  Which camera equipment should I bring?   

4. Where are the best places to stay should I need a hotel? 

5.  What is the elevation gain/loss of the hike? How many miles will I be traveling? 

1. Buy and study the guide books – the more research you do the better. 

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – don’t be too ambitious in your planning, allow for layover days and for days just to explore the area (just make sure you have the right area) 

3. Monitor the weather reports 

4. Spending time learning the topography of the land and learn or read about when are the best times to shoot. 

5. Get there early and stay late if possible. 

6. Schedule layover days for scouting expeditions 

7. Make safety a priority & have fun!!

What Would John Muir Think of Yosemite Now? Part 1

16 Jul

Anyone who has ever visited Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park knows how crowded and potentially dangerous it can be during peak tourism season. Today I am starting a series of essays chronicling my personal experiences in Yosemite National Park as they relate to the iconic naturalist and conservationist, John Muir.

Most of you probably are cognizant of who Muir was and what he represented, and you probably already know that he was literally the person responsible for putting this classic park on the map.  Often times I wonder what he would think about Yosemite in its current state; a place much different from the one he knew and loved. This especially pertains to Yosemite Valley, the thoroughfare and commercial hub of the park, and for that matter, just about any park. After recently viewing a fine art photograph of the area, I was inspired to begin these essays, which are for everyone, whether you’ve been there once, never visited, or know it like the back of your hand.

Most visitors to Yosemite enter either through the South or West entrances. Both can be accessed from the California city of Fresno. Both entrances are fairly similar in scenery and length…In terms of this essay, either one of these entrances could apply.

For many, the City of Fresno represents the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, you normally can’t see the mountains from there because the area is so hazy. I imagine it’s probably a combination of the pesticides and chemicals used on the farms in the area along with the California smog that seems to permeate everywhere. The journey to the park begins here, past the fruit and vegetable stands of the rural surroundings. Eventually the city gives way to the Sierra’s rolling foothills. Slowly, subtly, and steadily you begin to climb, passing small towns along the way. The trees get bigger and the road gets steeper as you venture further into the mountains. Soon, you are in a full-fledged, unmistakable mountain forest with rushing streams and larger than life-sized trees.  After several more miles of driving you round another blind, sharp turn and out of the corner of your eye you catch the glistening highlight of a whitewater of gushing steam. What the heck..you think…its worth a couple of minutes of your time and pull off to check it out.

Immediately it’s the sound that catches your attention. This stream is no joke. As a matter of fact, its more like a rushing torrent and upon closer inspection, you realize that one false slip into that and its certain death. You also realize that the stop was well worth your time.

As you continue up the mountain your natural appetite for scenery magnifies as the journey continues. After a short time, you reach the park entrance, a nondescript area in the forest where they take your money, give you a brochure, and let you in. The idyllic drive continues and you eventually you start to descend weaving your way down the mountain towards the valley below. Soon you begin to catch glimpses of what you’ve been longing for all along. As you continue your descent, the views get better and better.

After going through a tunnel, the scene completely unfolds before your very eyes. Massive waterfalls, monolithic towers of granite, sweeping vistas, and an absolutely pristine river meandering through a tranquil meadow surrounded by trees literally takes your breath away. God willing, it’s only a matter of minutes now before you enter this fairytale landscape. The road continues downward and soon you reach an intersection…

It is now onto the valley and its record-breaking spectacles of nature. All at once, the traffic picks up significantly. You notice this curiosity immediately at your first stop, the elegant Bridalveil Falls. Here the whipping, free-flowing, waters of Yosemite Creek gracefully plunge over 600 feet to the valley floor, making it one of the largest waterfalls in the park. The mist is everywhere and the rainbow it creates is a pleasant, natural surprise. The sound is unmistakable, like an oversized snake hissing and beckoning in the distance.

Never mind the scenery though, it’s the traffic that gets your attention first. The parking lot is packed with people running around as busy as bees. Meanwhile there are vehicles coming and going, pulling out, pulling in, backing up, turning and parking. This all reminds you of some sort of strange mating ritual of man and machine here on the concrete and black top, with a gargantuan waterfall as a backdrop. They act like they are the only ones there. Oblivious to any kind of danger, they walk out in front of moving vehicles while shouting and yelling to their friends and family.

Suddenly, you find yourself making a hasty exit from the oversized parking lot of craziness thinking you’ll catch the next one instead.

To be continued………….

ATV’s and Landscape Photography Like Mixing Water and Oil

9 Jul

Just so you know, there won’t be any pictures on this post as I don’t like to shoot four-wheel tracks. This is a spontaneous blog as I wanted to write about Utah’s crown jewel today, but I changed the topic while doing research on my top 10 parks for summer travel  series while coming across this newspaper article. Instead, we are discussing a particular state park located just outside of the eastern entrance to Zion National Park near Kanab called the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

I’ve been fortunate to visit dunes like the Mesquite Flats in Death Valley National Park as well as the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Desert National Preserve , and let me tell you the coral pink dunes are every bit as scenic and grand as those. These dunes are extremely impressive. Honestly, they don’t really look pink until about ten minutes before sunset, but there are some spectacular trees, plants, and flowers, amongst the large, rolling dunes with excellent distant views to boot. This is one cool place. Unfortunately, there is one large non-geological difference between these dunes and the aforementioned ones in California. It has to do with rules and regulations… yep, you guessed it at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes ATVs and their drivers scurry across the sand like ants on ant hill.

Here is my issue with this: I believe the state is allowing a relatively small group of individuals to basically ruin the experience for most other people. (And I am not even talking about the environmental and physical impact and consequences these machines have on the land) At the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, it’s not just a small, designated area for the ATV riders to enjoy; it is pretty much the whole darn park, including its highest and most scenic dunes. Can you believe it? Clad in helmets and racing suits they zoom up the sides of the dunes like skateboarders on a half-pipe. For an avid nature lover, experiencing this is very annoying and frustrating; you can forget about doing any hiking in the park because you’ll most likely get run over and killed.  

What’s even worse is the noise pollution, so not only can you not do any exploring, one can’t even sit back and peacefully enjoy the views because there is so much unsettling noise. Before I went to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, I thought areas like this were for natural relaxation to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and technology; not listening to what sounds like a high-pitched lawn mower screech across the desert. Now that I think about it, while they are at it, why don’t they just set up a shooting range there and let all the gun-toting enthusiasts come in and blast things up too.

On the flip side, there is one group in particular that I feel especially bad for, who I think get the real short end of the stick here. If you have ever been to a national park in Utah then you’ve probably seen lots of these folks. Its out international friends from Germany and other countries that predominately come to these places. Seriously, these people are paying a lot of money to come to this country specifically to visit these out-of-the-way places. Small town, locally owned businesses around these parks absolutely depend on these types of tourists for their existence.

 My guess is anywhere between 40 – 60% of park visitors at any point in time in Utah are from a countries other than the United States. Now, I know these people aren’t towing ATVs over from Europe and my unsubstantiated hunch is they probably aren’t renting them much either. I just can’t image the aggravation of traveling (that’s flying and driving) literally thousands of miles to come a place to enjoy its natural beauty – only to have it ruined by the rules and regulations of that country’s or state’s government. Were not talking about a 3rd or 4th world nation here, but the good ol’  US of A. The country who invented the idea of a national park.

This again leads me to my point for the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – why bite the hand that feeds you?  Why give so much power and authority to the ATV users? Well, anyone who has spent some time in the area will notice what a huge marketing ploy ATV use and rentals really are. My guess is the consumer market for this brand of entertainment is a totally different type of person. It’s unfortunate because it appears that ATV riding is extremely popular. Now I am wondering how long before the government takes this to the next level and allows them in national parks too. Now, that’s a scary thought! In conclusion, trying to allow ATV users and photographers/hikers to simultaneously enjoy the same tract of publicly owned land just doesn’t blend –  is like mixing oil and water  and it is unfortunate at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes my group is on the wrong side of the equation.

Top 10 Parks for Summer Travel #8

18 Jun

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Pros: Breathtaking Views,  Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location,  State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly

Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water

Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09,  May ’10

Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.

Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon

The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.

Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and  Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.

There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons:  1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.

There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.

The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon

The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..

Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.

A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.

At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare:  salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.

So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell:  indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.

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