Jillian & Bob

European adventures 2017

Grand Circle of Canyons

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31 May – 02 June – After making our way into Winslow, spent these days kicking our heels whilst waiting for the Ford Agency to perform our pre-booked vehicle service. We had previously ordered new rear tyres which didn’t arrive when they agreed, hence our wait.  Fortunately Wallies was right next door so they provided our accommodation for three nights.  The town of Winslow, which in days gone by was on the old Route 66 didn’t have a lot to offer – Bob did manage to find a notary without any trouble to get a signature witnessed, followed by the highlight of the day, morning tea in the local diner.

03 June – Wanda now sports a brand new set of rear tyres and shocks all round, as well as new brake pads, so it was on towards the Grand Canyon, toute suite.  148 miles of very straight roads, but again the landscape kept changing so it wasn’t boring.  We went through Flagstaff on the I40 and then at Williams came to the end of our long pilgrimage following Route 66 and turned north towards the Canyon.  Flat ponderosa type ranch land up to Williams then you hit a line of altitude at which the prairie grasses turn into 2m high bushes and then another band at around 6,500ft where the pines kick in.  Battled strong winds all day today, especially on the interstate, which are made worse by bow waves from all the large trucks that fly past.  Stopped off at Walnut Canyon for lunch and a walk along the way, but with the wind worse than Wellington on a good day, didn’t hang around at the viewpoint for too long.  Just before Tusayan we spotted a National Forest Ten-X Campground and went in for a look see, found it to be very much to our liking so stayed put.  It was a large well spaced out camp and being a NF Camp, just the usual vault toilets and for the princely sum of $5 was good value.  These camps are non-reserveable so it is just pot luck whether you can find a site; had we arrived much later we would have been plum out of luck (we did have a backup option of boondocking nearby). With the lovely dry air of the desert, managed to get the washing done and dried before dusk. We were also greeted via email with the good news that we have a buyer for Wanda – a couple from KeriKeri will take over her reins in September.

04 June – GC here we come.  We only had a short drive up to the Canyon Rim through Tusayan which is the hub of all accommodation and food outlets for the area.  Thought we would have difficulty parking as there was plenty of traffic going into the Park, but some dedicated RV spots were still free, so in we popped.  First up a short walk out to the rim for our first glimpse of the canyon which is quite breathtaking – the only problem is the hazy atmosphere which doesn’t make for such good pictures.  A fantastic service is offered by the park – a series of three different regular shuttle bus routes take you to different areas along the rim with plenty of stops along the way so that you can get off and view the sights, wait for another bus or walk to the next stop. We did all of the bus routes interspersed with some nice hiking along the rim.  One of them was like that horrific Alpine Road we did all those months back – a narrow path with a sheer dropoff in places, but being on foot it wasn’t nearly as scary.  As we progressed westward along the canyon rim the views kept changing – at parts we could see right down to the Colorado River 5,000ft (about one mile) below.

Grand Canyon (51) (800x600)Grand Canyon (26) (800x600)Grand Canyon (12) (800x600)
Back to the Visitor Centre where we were parked for a bit of a break before heading out on the Eastern Loop bus.  Had intended to watch the sunset from the last point on this run, but the wind got up and it turned rather cool, so it was back to Wanda for dinner and then out to the lookout nearby to try and catch the sunset there.  Didn’t quite get the colour on the canyon walls we had hoped for due to cloud effects, but the sunset itself was very stunning.  With the Canyon done for the day it was back down to the Ten-X Camp – you have to be watchful after dark of the elk and deer that are in this region.

Grand Canyon (71) (800x600)

05 June – Returning to the Canyon Village, the Orange shuttle took us to South Kaibab trailhead.  The weather all around us was not too inviting with black thunder clouds to the west and rain clouds to the east so we waited for about 10 minutes to see what would eventuate and it turned out that we seemed to be in a clear area with both fronts passing around us, so started on our descent down into the canyon.  What a neat trail – first it descended down a sheer bluff by way of a series of switchbacks and then it was just downhill under towering cliff faces until we came to our target – Ooh Aah Point – some 800ft below the rim.  With rolling thunder echoing off the canyon walls it was quite an experience to stand on this exposed point while more ambitious hikers passed quickly onwards.  They certainly look a little more circumspect on the return journey!  To see the canyon from inside gives you a different perspective and it was very enjoyable.

South Kaibab Trail (9) South Kaibab Trail (21) South Kaibab Trail (30)

The uphill return leg looked to be demanding at this altitude, but it turned out to be quite manageable – 30 mins down and 1 hour to get back up.  Got to see a mule train coming up the trail which had come from the bottom – 5,000 ft below and probably 13 miles of trail.  Feeling quite energised from this little hike we decided to walk a bit more of the rim on a nice paved trail with spectacular views along the way.  With a change in weather from yesterday, there was less haze around so the other side of the canyon was more clearly visible.  Every time you get a glimpse of the canyon it is from a different perspective and just as awe inspiring.  Got the shuttle back to the parking lot for lunch, followed by a look around the visitor centre and a film about the park before heading off to find some showers and finally back to our campground for a relaxing evening.  The radio suddenly sounded the weather warning alarms for a severe thunderstorm, which then started to rotate which means that there is a tornado possibility.  It turned out to be for counties to the south of us.  Internet access allowed us to look at the weather radar just to double check, which just showed rain on the edges of the system for us, but that didn’t reach our location either.

GrandCanyon (1) Desert View (8)

06 June – Time to move on around the canyon – just waited until a thunderstorm passed ahead of us before setting off.  Back through Canyon Village and out to the east towards Desert View.  The road skirted the rim for the 25 odd miles, with many lookout spots along the way and more glorious views.  A ruined Indian pueblo from 1100AD and it’s detailed museum display occupied us for a while – it was only a tiny one housing around 30 people.  Outlines of the rooms were excavated out so you could get an idea of what their living situation would have been like.  They had their gardens with corn, squash and beans which they preserved for the winter months.  The junipers and pines provided berries and nuts, and there were various bushes used for herbs or medicine.

GrandCanyon (8)
At Desert View the Parks Service have a campground – we managed to grab one of the last spots and this was only just after lunch.  Another lovely campground – this one among the contorted pines and Utah junipers, just a short walk away from yet more impressive canyon views.  At the Desert View lookout a short walk from the camp, a 4 storey watchtower built in the late 1920’s was the focal point.  You could climb up to the top for expansive views of yet another part of the canyon.  The Colorado River was clearly visible from here as well as the North Rim.  Stopped off for an ice-cream at the store and met up with our neighbours from the campground, so spent a pleasant afternoon chatting with them.  A nice walk back to the campground and more nattering before the chilly evening started to set in.  Took a quick walk back to the canyon to see if the sunset would provide any nice colours on the rocks but it was in the wrong direction – might try and see the sunrise instead (Yeah Right!!).

Desert View Sunrise (25) Desert View Sunrise (8)
07 June – I did it!! Up at 5am and a short walk down to the canyon rim to watch the sunrise and the light effects on the canyon walls as the sun climbed higher into the sky.  Nice clear day but still hard to get decent photos as the canyon walls are too far away; it was perfect though to sit in the peace and quiet enjoying the surroundings.

Desert View Sunrise (4) Desert View Sunrise (2) Desert View Sunrise (19)

Set off along the eastern rim with another neat drive – first through flat open mesa, or it looked that way until you came across the deep canyons everywhere.  We were in Hopi and Navajo country and all along the road were dotted little handcraft stalls.  We stopped at one larger area which had about 20 stalls right above the Little Colorado River.  Had a chat with one of the Indian stallholders who made all the jewellery on her stand and I was persuaded to purchase a nice little necklace.  Pottery, woodwork and jewellery were the main items on display for sale.  We were in for another surprise as we carried on – cliffs started appearing on either side and we were back into the Painted Desert with stunning rock formations and colours, followed later by the Vermillion Cliffs.  These took us over the Navajo Bridge across the Colorado River and into the Glen Canyon Recreation area.  At Lees Ferry up a dead end road we found an idyllic serviced campsite run by the Parks Service overlooking the Colorado River, with red cliffs rising up behind it.  A perfect spot and all for $8 – it doesn’t get much better.
08 June – Started off the day with a walk along the river trail to the original location of the Lees Ferry, which was the only place to easily cross the Colorado for 600 miles.  John D Lee, for whom Lees Ferry is named, came to the crossing in 1870 with the goal of setting up a permanent ferry service for Mormon settlers heading south to Arizona. In 1857, Lee had taken part in the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which a group of Mormons and Native Americans attacked a passing non-Mormon wagon train from Arkansas, killing about 120 people – the few survivors were small children.  The ill-conceived attack was the result of animosity toward Arkansanians after the murder of Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt near Van Buren, Arkansas. Years after the massacre, Lee moved to the remote Colorado River crossing to take refuge from the law.  He arrived in September with two of his wives and his children, and created a small settlement named Lonely Dell. The ferry was formally established in January 1873, with the launching of the Colorado, the first of many boats that would cross the treacherous and fluctuating river at this point.

Lees Ferry River Walk (11) Lees Ferry River Walk (5) Lees Ferry River Walk (20)

The location of the ferry upstream from the Paria River confluence required passengers to traverse a dangerous incline nicknamed “Lee’s Backbone” on their ascent up the south wall of the valley. Four years later, Lee was finally arrested by the US government and tried for his role in the massacre.  Found guilty, he was executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows on March 28, 1877. He was the only participant in the massacre to be tried and executed out of the over fifty men who had taken part.  Nice trail alongside the river with red cliffs on both sides – even though we are in the desert it it so green and full of flowers at the moment.  Saw a little fox right on our trail as we were coming back – it stopped and observed us for a moment or two then took off up into the rocky hillside. By11am the heat hit us and it was a perfect excuse to do nothing for the rest of the day (almost nothing – I did take advantage of the nice dry Arizona sun and heat to wash everything in sight and get it all dried in no time at all).  Sunset on the red cliffs here was more what I had hoped to see in the Grand Canyon.
09 June – Retraced our steps a bit and crossed back over the Navajo Bridge stopping off to view the 1928 bridge running alongside the new one built in 1995.  Our route was then up and over an interesting pass through a slot in the hills towards Page.  Amazed at the terrain that roads get put through here – this road up the mountain side had really unstable rock formations to deal with and looked like they constantly have to battle with them – not just little rocks either.  Down the other side we were back on to a flat plain.

Navajo Bridge (2) (800x600)

An observation point to Horseshoe Bend gave us a nice break – the walk down to the canyon was shared with loads of tourists (it is quite a change for us to be back in ‘the season’ after having roads and sights to ourselves for such a long time).  Anyway, the walk and the view were worthwhile.

Horseshoe Bend AZ (7) (800x600) Horseshoe Bend AZ (2) (800x600)
Wallies in Page provided us with a stock-up of supplies and finally wine is available at the supermarket again.  Out of Page, we stopped off at the Glen Canyon Dam and booked onto their dam tour down to the power station.  A huge dam just a tad lower than Hoover Dam but wider across. The dam was constructed in the early 1960’s for irrigation, power and recreation – concrete was poured continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3 years and 3 months – enough cement to pave a 4 laned highway from Phoenix to Chicago.  The new adjacent road bridge over the gorge was constructed first to aid with project transport, so the dam crest has never been used for traffic. We took a lift down 53 floors to the power station, where Bob was disappointed that we didn’t get to see any more than a brief overlook of the turbine hall and the 8 x 165MW generators.

Glen Canyon Dam AZ (5) (800x600) Glen Canyon Dam AZ (2) (800x600)
A little further on we drove down to Lake Powell to have a look at the shoreline camping on the lakeside – it was so busy that we decided instead on a piece of free BLM land just opposite with a stunning backdrop of eroded cliffs.  Made it just before the rain started and looks like it has set in for a while.  The rain is very unseasonal here right now, but the desert plant life is really lapping it up – outside my dining room window I even have daytura plants flowering.  A few locals came in for a fireside get together – not exactly great weather – they were all sitting there under umbrellas to keep the rain off, but soon gave up and we just had one other vehicle for company.

Boondocking near Lone Rock (2) (800x600) Boondocking near Lone Rock (4) (800x600)
10 June – The rain had cleared in the morning and our only other neighbour left quite early. We spent a little while exploring the intriguing rock formations around us before setting off.

Near Lone Rock AZ (13) (600x800) Near Lone Rock AZ (4) (800x600)

First stop the BLM office to check out the dispersed camping.  The ranger advised against going on any of the marked BLM sand roads due to all the rain they have been having, making them unsafe for a heavy vehicle.  Picked up some info on Utah as we had crossed the state line yesterday, and enjoyed looking at their dinosaur fossil displays.  Wow the size of some of the skeletons found in this area was stunning.

A little further up the road we stopped off to do a hike that the ranger recommended, into the Toadstools.  The colours of the rocks as we entered into the big basin was so pretty – very distinct bands of red and white and bluish hues as well.  The toadstools were just that – large freestanding rocks which had eroded over time into toadstool shapes. Tall grey sheer cliffs towered up one side of the basin with shallow caves worn our by constant wind and water.

Toadstools Grand Escalante (9) (800x600) Toadstools Grand Escalante (10) (600x800) Toadstools Grand Escalante (15) (800x600)

Wandered back to Wanda for lunch and then we only had another 20 miles to go before we found our campsite.  Have been able to follow our Frugal RV guides now we are back in Arizona and Utah, which have plenty of off-the-beaten-track places to stay.  We knew this one was only a half mile off the main road and didn’t have any worries about the state of the road in.  An absolutely perfect spot in a small bowl – sage brush all around with a nice flat area for parking.  With the awning up and the wine out, we enjoyed the late afternoon sun with the company of jack rabbits.

Coral Pink Sands SP UT (4) (800x600)
Bob’s birthday today so it was dinner a-la-desert, a gourmet meal of creamy chicken and mushrooms atop a bed of fluffy rice, with carrots and broccoli on the side (it’s a hard life out here!) washed down by Walmart’s best Merlot.  After the sun went down the clouds started massing out on our horizon followed by distant growls of thunder.  They moved closer to us during the later part of the evening putting on yet another sound and light display. Fortunately they stayed several miles away from us and we just got a bit of rain.

BLM near Kanab UT (7) (800x600)

11 June – Another short hop as we headed first into Kanab to refuel with gas and propane then up the highway to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (what a mouthful) where we saw … coral pink sand dunes.  Did a little interpretive walk and surprised yet again just how green everything is at the present time.  Shrubs and cactus in flower and the trees thriving.  Still have stunning scenery as we drive along – forever changing around each corner.  Found a lovely little Recreation Area campground for our night’s stay and with only four others it was really peaceful.  Had a nice long chat with a German couple who were just doing the Colorado Plateau on a short holiday, but they had been very well travelled so it was nice to hear of their exploits.

Coral Pink Sands SP UT (6) (800x600) Coral Pink Sands SP UT (9) (800x600) Coral Pink Sands SP UT (18) (800x600) Coral Pink Sands SP UT (16) (600x800)

12 June – Zion here we come – wow these roads just blow you away.  The entrance into Zion is via a 1.5 mile tunnel through the mountain and when you come out the other side it just takes your breath away.  Because we were over 11.5ft high we had to pay $15 so that we could have the traffic stopped at the other end to enable us to straddle the middle of the road and not wipe ourselves out on the sides of the tunnel arch.  We had climbed up quite high and the way down after the tunnel was full of switchbacks until we got into the Canyon proper.  At the park entrance notices stated that the campgrounds were full but we asked anyway on the off-chance and managed to get the last site.

Zion NP UT (18) (600x800) Zion NP UT (42) (600x800) Zion NP UT (35) (800x600)

Different from yesterday, with a full campground of 60 sites and a very busy visitor’s centre.  The same deal as the Grand Canyon – free shuttles run to take you up the canyon road with stops along the way.  We opted to ride the 40 minutes out to the end and do a riverside walk into the gorge, which had quite stunning views but loads of tourists.  We couldn’t even eat our lunch in peace beside the river as squirrels were a real nuisance – there are notices everywhere about not feeding the wildlife; just doesn’t percolate down to the masses, as these little beggars obviously get loads of food and don’t like taking no for an answer.
Back on the shuttle, made a couple of stops for viewing and then I left Bob on the bus at the second to last stop and did another river walk back to the campground – it was much nicer as I had the track to myself although it was out in the open and the heat was quite intense.  Had to get a wriggle on towards the end as the thunder was getting a bit too loud for comfort and you don’t want to be exposed should a storm come through.  Made it back with no rain to find that we had electricity on our site, so a nice cool RV awaited.

Zion NP UT (6) (800x600) Zion NP UT (12) (800x600)
13 June – Decided to move from the busy park and left Zion, down the valley through Springdale and stopped at Hurricane to pick up a few supplies, before blatting on along on the freeway for a short distance to St George and then northwards to Veyo.  What a change again – leaving behind the majestic red mountains of Zion we hit a very hot and much bleaker desert area around St. George.  Right up the valley the vegetation had turned back to sage brush and sand.  After Veyo the road led up a narrow valley and climbed into paradise.  The desert disappeared – pine trees and green meadows unfolded as we climbed up to nearly 7,000ft and Pine Valley settlement.  At the end of this valley were several National Forest Campgrounds and we were lucky to find a vacancy for a couple of nights – being the weekend this is a popular escape for the the folks in St George, with a much cooler temperature than down on the flat land and a lovely little lake for fishing.  Although the camp was full – the space between sites was very generous making it feel much less crowded than Zion.

Pine Valley Campground UT (1) (800x600) Pine Valley Campground UT (3) (800x600)

14 June – Another day in Paradise.  We did a pretty walk following the Santa Clara River further upstream – in among the pine trees, cottonwoods, oaks and firs it made for a very pleasant 2 mile stroll.  In the late 1800’s this little river had over 200 portable sawmills busy cutting the timber felled in the vast pine forest that must have been here.  It is still very wooded – but the current trees are probably only around 100 years old.  Back at home base, it was time for a bit of reading and cleaning as the weather got a little cooler. So nice to be able to sit outside and not be bothered by mossies – our only little visitors were hummingbirds making the most of my little feeder.  Gobbling turkeys could be heard in the distance, but that was about all the noise for the day.

Pine Valley - Santa Clara River Walk (3) (800x600) Pine Valley - Santa Clara River Walk (2) (800x600) Pine Valley - Santa Clara River Walk (1) (800x600)

15 June – Moving on today – back down the valley and through the Dixie National Forest to Enterprise and wi-fi coverage.  From here to Newcastle we came onto a very large fertile plain with acres upon acres of hay fields and the smell of freshly cut hay was a nice treat for the senses. Had a break at Cedar City for supplies and more internet catch up, as wi-fi coverage is fairly sparse through these mountain areas.  Turned on to Highway 14 for a fairly good climb up to 8,500ft to another basic forest campground at Cedar Canyon.  Hummingbirds and chipmunks entertained us for the afternoon.  At this elevation there is not too much inclination to get overactive.

16 June – Up and away – we still had further to climb and at 10,500ft came to the Cedar Breaks National Monument with yet more stunning rock formations – this area consists of a huge hillside amphitheatre with well weathered and eroded red limestone formations.  Decided that we would have a good cardio workout here and take the two mile hike out to  Spectre Point viewing area – still snow in the shady places along the trail and some steep dropoffs far down into the canyon below.  Many alpine flowers in bloom and with some gnarly spruce trees, made for a very enjoyable walk.

Cedar Breaks Monument UT (6) (800x600) Cedar Breaks Monument UT (3) (800x600) Cedar Breaks Monument UT (12) (800x600) Cedar Breaks Monument UT (23) (800x600) Cedar Breaks Monument UT (32) (800x600)

With our little bit of exercise for the day complete we carried on along a high level plateau with green meadows, mountain streams and more lovely scenery.  Dropped down to Panguitch before heading towards Bryce Canyon, stopping 7 miles before the entrance at Red Rock Canyon campground, at a slightly lower elevation of 7,900ft.  A bit warmer here than at the Cedar Breaks but it should cool off nicely overnight.  With over 60 sites, we were lucky to find a spare one for us and will use this as our base for visiting Bryce over the next couple of days.

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2 thoughts on “Grand Circle of Canyons

  1. Beautiful photos! I’d like to ask permission to use the image of Lee’s Ferry for a family history book for non-commercial purposes. I have ancestors who crossed at Lee’s Ferry and that location is of historical significance to our family. Thank you.

    • Hi Marianne – you are most welcome to use the photos. How fascinating to have ancestors who crossed there – the history throughout that area was so interesting. Best of luck with your book.
      Jillian

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