Thursday, April 28, 2016

Zion National Park - Stop 4 in our Trek North to Alaska

Driving on Monday toward the next stop on our tour, Zion National Park, we encountered a snow squall near the North Rim of Grand Canyon.  Between the snow, wind, switchback turns and the fact Mom was driving, I was petrified!   But once again, Mom was a trooper!

Most of the towns we passed through before the North Rim were American Indian communities.  As we admired the pretty mountains of rock, I spotted a dust cloud in the background--it was a charging pack of wild horses!

Traveling from South Rim to North Rim (no snow yet)


American Indian Village Shop Entrance


Wild Horses

We arrived at Watchman Campground in Zion National Park and were greeted with torrential rain.  Nothing more fun than setting up in this weather—NOT!  Even worse, the back-in campsite assigned to us was ridiculously tight.  We knew we were in trouble when the gate ranger questioned the site number on our reservation and said “Really?  Well good luck getting in with this rig!”  The campground was at full capacity, so we had no options. Daddy’s exemplary back-in skills came in handy.  It might have taken 20 minutes to do it, but he got both the rig and Big Boomer crammed in to the site.  Luckily, both Claudia/Mike's and my family's slideouts didn't collide--we had just inches to spare with the back ones.

 Squeezing into this tight spot, not an inch to spare

Seeing the mule deer in the campground more than made up for this inconvenience.


These mule deer posed for me!


My Aunt Laurie, who I often refer to as “The Wicked Witch of the East” is visiting us here in Zion National Park.  And I’m a bit put out—she is staying with us in our rig!  Aunt Laurie and I have a love-hate relationship:  I love to hate her and she hates to love me (difficult to fathom how to not love me, I am so irresistibly cute!)  But somehow we manage to co-exist.  These are the concessions and compromises we make for family.  Anyway, I have to be nice to her—we both celebrate our birthdays in April, although I am an Aries and she is a Taurus.  But if you look at our negative character traits, we are very similar!   


Me and Aunt Laurie Celebrating Our Birthdays


Mormon settlers who referred to these lands as “Zion” surely got it right.  Zion National Park is truly a heavenly place!  In fact, many of the features in the park have religious names:  Temple of Sinewava; The Court of Patriarchs named for biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Great White Throne; and Angel’s Landing (said to have received its name from Frederick Fisher in 1916, when he exclaimed it was so high up “only an angel could land on it”).

The Narrows at Temple of Sinewava


Court of the Patriarchs

I am astounded at how lush the lands of Zion Canyon are—and yet it is a desert!  To me, the colors of the rock formations are more vivid than at Grand Canyon.  Maybe because we are in the Canyon looking up rather than being above the Canyon looking down, or perhaps due to the contrast between the earth tones and the greenery.   All I know for sure is that the area is GOR-G-OUS!

Picture Pretty as a Postcard!

It is amazing the power of nature and a sense of survival among all living things. Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock are prime examples of water always finding a way to flow, even if it must penetrate through rocks to do so.  The Hanging Gardens prove that all living things adapt for survival, even if it means growing out of stone walls or from canyon cavern ceilings.

Emerald Pools

Flowering plant at Weeping Rock Hanging Gardens


More "Hanging Gardens"

Rainfall averages about 16 inches per year in Zion, yet it rained at some point during every day of our visit.  Luckily, we completed all six hikes on our “to do” list during Tuesday and Wednesday before the rains hit.   We stuck to the trails categorized as “easy” due to the wet, slick conditions—don’t want to risk injury before we get to Alaska!  Thankfully, we were not subjected to any flash floods, despite the fact the Virgin River was roaring!

Virgin River

Riding through the Tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway was pretty cool!  We had to use Aunt Laurie’s car though.  Big Boomer was banned from entry—we exceeded maximum height and width!  Guess back in the 1920s when construction began, they didn't envision vehicles and RVs in the sizes they are available today!

Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel


A view from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

We also visited Kolob Canyon.  Though it may be smaller in area, it’s peaks/summits are comparable to those of Mt. Zion.  The snow and the clouds give the area a dramatic look!

There's Snow on Them There Mountain Tops!

The Wicked Witch flies back East tomorrow and we head to Bryce Canyon National Park.  See ya! 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Grand Canyon National Park - Stop 3 in our Trek North to Alaska

We arrived at Trailer Village RV Park in Grand Canyon National Park right before noon on Thursday.  And what a welcome we received!  This “greeter” was grazing right near our campsite!
This is a very nice park with full hookups and spacious sites, including some pull-thrus like ours.  But apparently it is not easy to get reservations here—many folks we spoke with said they tried to book sites but were unsuccessful.  So if you ever want to stay at Trailer Village, make your reservations at least 6 months in advance like we did.  To top it off, this is the Centennial Anniversary for the National Park Service, giving free admission to National Parks all week long.  I don’t have to tell you the entire park is packed.
Even though we visited the Grand Canyon many years ago, I have no recollection of its cool “village” complex, complete with post office, general store, bank, historical lodges, train depot, and restaurants, with a free shuttle to transport visitors between all these places.   I was relieved to learn I was not losing my mind.  Our last visit was strictly to the North Rim—we never made it to this side!
After setting up, we jumped right into “tourist” mode, heading to the Visitor Center to plan our activities, take in the exhibits and enjoy the introductory film.
We even attended a ranger program called, “This Place Matters”, which I found fascinating.  I learned at the turn of the 20th century, the Santa Fe Railroad really developed the Canyon village place, not the U.S. Government.  And they did it with the help of Fred Harvey, a restaurateur/hotelier credited for starting the first restaurant chain in the U.S. (Harvey House), right along the railroad route.  His female workers, known as “Harvey Girls” were recruited as servers from throughout the nation.  These women, with their upstanding work ethics and moral values, brought prestige and respectability to the food service trade.
I admired the architecture of the village buildings, which blend in perfectly with the natural beauty of the Canyon.    Most of the interiors reflected the culture and heritage of the Native Americans and their ancestors who inhabited these lands for centuries.  My favorites were Hopi House and Desert Tower.

Hopi House


Desert Tower

Interestingly, a woman named Mary Colter designed both these buildings as well as several others.  What an accomplishment for a woman in the early 20th century, when it was very much “a man’s world”.  You go girl!
There were a few entrepreneurs who remained independent of the Santa Fe Railroad, most notably Kolb Studio, which took photographs of approximately 3.5 million visitors during its years of operation from 1902-1976, and Vercamp’s Store, which celebrated 100 years of business before it was purchased by the National Park Service in 2008 to become another Visitor Center.

Kolb Studio

We awoke by 3:45 a.m. on Friday to watch the sunrise from Trailview Overlook, then spent the day hiking about half of the nearly 13-mile Rim Trail.  Words don’t adequately express the magnitude of awe-inspiring beauty and wonder.

Sunrise from Trailview Overlook

What a spectacular, majestic panorama, from the vibrant multi-colored rock formations to the mighty aqua marine colored Colorado River!   


On Saturday, we did the 22-mile drive to the scenic points not covered by the Shuttle system.  Did you know that the Canyon was used/inhabited by people as much as 15,000 years ago!  Truly fascinating.  Later, we had a wonderful dinner at El Tovar Restaurant, with a table that looked out over the Canyon.  Our only complaint was that they did not offer bison on Saturday night’s menu—they had it on Friday, but ran out early in the evening!
On Sunday we got out our hiking sticks and headed down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point, about a mile down into the Canyon.  I’m convinced its name is reflective of the comments people make when they see the breathtaking view from this point (similar to the sounds we all make when viewing fireworks!).  We then hiked the balance of the Rim Trail, giving us a total of 5.7 miles.  Whew, PoPo is pooped!

Rambling RV Rat at Ooh Aah Point


Ooh Aah Point

I know you won’t hear this from me often (or from anyone else for that matter), but I extend kudos to the U.S. government on tax dollars well spent maintaining Grand Canyon National Park.
Tomorrow we leave the grandeur of the Canyon and depart the great state of Arizona.  Our next stop will be Zion National Park in Utah, which will include a visit from my Aunt Laurie!  Talk to you soon!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Petrified Forest National Park - Stop 2 in our Trek North to Alaska

Dumped our holding tanks, filled our fresh water and were on the road by 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday heading to Petrified Forest National Park.  The mountainous, twisting roads of Arizona Route 77/60 offered gorgeous scenery, but resulted in me having heart palpitations—yes, Mom was driving the rig! 


But I must say, she did a pretty darn good job with all the switchbacks and sharp curves.  Of course, by the time we reached the camping area, we had to pry her white-knuckled fingers off the steering wheel!


The camping area was the parking lot of the gift shop less than a mile from the Park entrance. A mere $10/night for 30 amp electric and a concrete pad with a picnic table.  A true bargain!  If you prefer to be like Fred Mertz of “I Love Lucy”, you can skip getting electric and boondock in the parking lot for free.


Parts of Petrified Forest remind me very much of The Badlands of South Dakota, with its “moonrocks” and grasslands.  The Painted Desert looks like sand art to me, with its layers of multicolored sedimentary rock deposits!


We hiked all of the developed trails in the Park to maximize our experience and see the best petrified wood specimens.   It is just amazing that trees transformed into stones with a kaleidoscope of colors!  And to think many of these trees once towered 200 feet in the air, and had up to 10 foot diameters!  What a difference 200+ million years of water, wind, and volcanic ash can make!



In addition to the petrified wood, the Park has fine examples of life among Puebloan peoples who inhabited the lands between 1250 and 1380 AD., including petroglyphs (Newspaper Rock has over 650 examples alone) and pueblo homes (Agate House was constructed from petrified wood!).



I would be remiss if I did not cite Historic Route 66.  Yes, the “mother of all roads” once cut right through the Park.


Petrified Forest National Park has much to offer.  So glad we had to opportunity to view this gem.


Tomorrow we travel to the Grand Canyon! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Santa Catalina Mountains - Stop 1 in our Trek North to Alaska

We left Quartzsite on Friday and were surprised by how many RVs were still in LaPosa South.  We thought we’d be the ones to roll up the carpet and turn out the lights!


Our first stop on our trek North to Alaska is Catalina State Park, just four hours from Quartzsite.  As we leave Interstate 10, the extensive development going on in the Tucson area is surreal!  Oro Valley, an upscale suburb of Tucson, has only been incorporated since 1974.  But it is overflowing with new housing construction projects.  Nearby is every huge department, clothing, and box store imaginable.  Walgreen’s isn’t kidding when it says it's on the corner of healthy and happy--it is literally at EVERY corner.  Having all these stores nearby comes in handy for us in Catalina State Park—we rode our bicycles (yes, bicycles--the motorcycles never left the truck garage) to pick up a few groceries.  Only 3 miles round trip!  We ate dinner one night at Zona 78, a locally owned and locally sourced Italian restaurant.  They cure their own meats and make their own cheeses, too!  These facts account for their higher than usual prices (For example, $16.50 for spaghetti and meatballs.  And everything is ala carte, even bread.  Back in the Northeast, it is almost a criminal offense not to get bread with your meal at an Italian restaurant)!   But it was money well spent.  The homemade mozzarella on my panko covered eggplant was outrageously de-lish-ous!  And the San Marzano tomatoes added just the right touch.  Decent portions as well—we all took home leftovers!

Catalina State Park is a welcome change from the desert of Quartzsite--we have electric and water hookups!  We can blast the air conditioner (something we did not do in Quartzsite with our solar/wind system) and resume doing laundry in our rig—no more laundromats!  It offers terrific views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and has some great activities included with your park admission fee.  For example, we attended a classic country music concert (the Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard kind of “classic”) on Saturday night.   Then on Sunday morning, we participated in a 7-mile hike, with our guide, Gaston, leading us on portions of every trail within the park.  Between the pace, elevation changes, and different terrains, we certainly got a good workout!


We visited Mt. Lemmon within the Coronado National Forest, which is the highest point within the Santa Catalina Mountains at 9,159 feet.  And wow, was it chilly!  The temperatures dropped 25 degrees when we reached the summit!  The aroma of pine cones, the feel of cool crisp air, and the thrill of throwing a snowball sure was a treat! The Sky Island Scenic Byway offers many magnificent vistas and breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below.

We also stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a National Historic Landmark known as the White Dove of the Desert.  The original church was completed in 1797 and maintains its original function:  to minister to the needs of the Tohono O’odham people, on whose reservation this landmark resides.  Many of the statues and paintings here at Mission San Xavier are originals, giving you a historically accurate portrayal of what this church looked like over 200 years ago.

We were told repeatedly that the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum was a “must see” attraction in this area, and I concur wholeheartedly!  It’s like a zoo, aquarium, natural history museum, and botanical garden all wrapped up in one wonderful place!  The docents are very informative and engaging.   Did you know the Sonoran Desert actually has five seasons, not four?  They have Winter (Jan-Feb), Spring (Mar-Apr), Dry or ForeSummer (May-Jun), Monsoon Summer (Jul-mid Sep), and Fall (mid Sep-Dec).  We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this place, including the picnic facilities with fantastic views.  We actually had the opportunity to see a new baby long-horn sheep!  The little lass was born in late March, and is pretty as a picture!  I was introduced to my first javalena, and really had fun watching the rock squirrels.   We even saw a momma hummingbird feeding her fledglings in the nest!  How cool is that!  I could go on and on about this place, but I won’t.  Suffice to say, it earns a 5-cheese rating from Rambling RV Rat!


Today we toured Biosphere 2.  Are you wondering (like I was) where is Biosphere 1?  Wonder no more—it’s our planet Earth!  Biosphere 2 originated as a closed environment experiment to support the possibility of sustaining human life for space colonization.  The first experiment in 1991 lasted for two years with eight participants who had to grow, harvest, and nourish themselves with foods grown right in their compound.  Nothing from outside the biosphere could be used.  (This Rambling RV Rat would never survive for two years eating mostly veggies)!   It was a privately-funded project, which, based on most accounts, did not achieve its ultimate goal.   It is now owned (gifted from a VERY wealthy Texan) and operated by the University of Arizona to serve as a research, outreach, and teaching center about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.  They have several biomes, including a savannah, rain forest, and “ocean” complete with simulated waves.  The construction and layout of the complex are a marvel in and of themselves!  7.2 million feet enclosed by 6,500 windows!  A “lung” to control the amount of air pressure to ensure against implosion and explosion.  A price tag of $150 million to build!  A truly unique place conceptually, scientifically, and architecturally.

"The Ocean"


"The Lung"

"The Rain Forest"


Well, we hit the road early tomorrow, so I need my beauty sleep.  Talk to you soon!