Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas – May 2019 – Slot Canyon and Hoodoos

In addition to the national park there is a state park along the Rio Grande in west Texas called Big Bend Ranch State Park. While smaller than the national park, it is still very large.

Our morning in the park took us along the renown River Road, which is very scenic.

Our first hike of the day was through Closed Canyon. The trail through this slot canyon quickly becomes sided by 150′ cliffs.

Eventually you reach a point where you need rappelling equipment to continue over large erosions, so we had to turn around and return to the car.

The HooDoo Trail is another highlight of the park. Being able to get close up gives you a sense of how large they are.

Our time along the Rio Grande ended with this hike. From this point forward it will be north and east towards home.

Big Bend National Park, Texas – May 2019

Big Bend National Park is one of the more remote parks in the continental United States, but with some effort – we arrived!

The early morning drive down from Marathon provided an excellent sunrise, giving the mountains great coloring.

Eventually we made our way back down to the Rio Grande River Valley.

Our west Texas days constantly provided interesting cacti views.

The Rio Grande in this area is really just a decent size creek, but the kayaks were setting out for the day.

Our first choice for hiking along the river, the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, was closed due to wildfires, so we headed instead for the Boquillas Canyon Trail.

As we made our way along the river an elderly man on the Mexico side serenaded us with songs in an effort to get us to come down to the river bank so he could sell his wares.

The canyon walls continually closed in until we couldn’t go any further unless we went in the river.

We returned to cross the border into Mexico (detailed on the next post) passing more colorful mountains along the way.

With wildfires closing a number of the more popular spots in the park, we chose to go up into the basin and check out the Window View Trail. Again we were treated to interesting vegetation.

Being in the basin we were surrounded on all sides by the mountains.

This view is ‘The Window’.

While it was disappointing that the wildfires impacted the park, there was plenty to see and do for the day.

McKean County, Pennsylvania – May 2018 – Kinzua Bridge

The Kinzua Bridge was a railroad trestle that was constructed out of steel in 1900, replacing an earlier one that was built from wrought iron.

As with many things it was billed as an eighth wonder of the world, as it held the record as the tallest railroad bridge in the world for a few years.

It was in service until 1959, at which time it became part of a state park.





Rising to a height of 301′ above the lowest part of the valley it is an impressive structure.





Unfortunately in 2003 a tornado struck the bridge and took out a large portion of it.





The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania however had preserved it since they first received it in the early 1960s, and they had no intention of letting the rest come down.





When you hike down to Kinzua Creek you get the first up close view of the destruction.





Twisted steel is everywhere.





Huge beams came down, pull the rest of the structure with it.





From the bottom of the valley you get a real sense of how high the remaining structure is.






Taking a different path back up rewarded us with a great view underneath.





From back on top (and using a zoom lense) you get a sense of the impact of the tornado.





With one final look at the twisted steel.





The most impressive piece of the remaining structure is the skywalk – with it’s Plexiglas viewing spot of the valley 300′ below.





The Kinzua Bridge is a great place to visit and explore.



Arches and Canyonlands – National Parks Road Trip – Day 14

Our morning started at sun rise at Arches National Park. The entrance road leads through large stones and past rock formations named after items which they resembled such as the Organ, the Tower of Babel, Park Ave. the Courthouse and the Great Wall of Rock. We moved through quickly without traffic to get to the Window Arch and Double Arch, two recommended to see at sunrise.

The sun highlighted an area of rock and then instantly shadowed the same rock as it moved along the rock and shone through windows of rock. The gravel loop trail leads to three massive arches (North and South Windows and Turret Arch), with options for viewing the arches from all sides. As we passed the north side we were greeted by a number of jackrabbits hopping about the area.

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Also known as the Spectacles, the North and South windows stand side by side, though separated by some distance, cut from the same sandstone fin. A large “nose” separates the Spectacle arches visually from the southwest, made of a gigantic fin over 100 feet wide. Turret Arch is southwest of the Windows. The whole Windows area is full of unique and captivating stone formations, with many arches among them. As we left this area we passed the Parade of Elephants, a section of sandstone, the remnants of the fin to which Double Arch used to belong. The rock formation appears to be a herd of elephants, holding each others’ tails, traveling single file.

We drove by Balanced Rock which is probably the second most recognized feature in Arches National Park. The big rock balances on the tip of its base and can be seen from the main road. Weathering created this odd formation in which the rock above the base tip is the size of three buses.

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We drove out to the trailhead for Delicate Arch to climb the trail to the top. The climb was a bit strenuous for a three-mile trek. We made it to the top of the slickrock following the cairns (a small stack of rocks used as a trail marker) to reach the 480 ft. summit then scooted along a 200 yard ledge above a steep canyon to get to Delicate Arch posed centered above a large bowl canyon. A steep drop straddled each side of the arch. We were proud that we accomplished this daring and long trail which took us about 3 hours to complete.

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As we drove through the park we came upon a rock formation that reminded me of a hand with a pointed finger. On a previous trip through Nebraska we stopped at Chimney Rock where she posed with her index finger simulation the look. Since this rock look like a middle finger raised, I recreated the moment with my middle finger. From here we walked the trail to see Sand Dune Arch hidden behind a sandy beach of shrubs and trees tucked away in a niche of larger rocks. Our voices echoed within the large rocks and we kissed under the Sand Dune Arch. It was fun to hike through the sand and crawl between the narrow passages of the tall pillars.

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Our adventure continued as we made our way to Devil’s Canyon but could not find a place to park so we drove to a campground and walked behind the amphitheater to see Skyline Arch. It was nice to absorb the view without anyone else around. We took photos of the rock formations near the entrance of the park since we had little chance to see these in the dim light of the early morning. One standard for us is to take a photo of each National Park sign. Having missed this in the early morning, we stopped at the park entrance sign on the way out, but had to wait about 15 minutes to get a photo of the sign while a woman had her boyfriend do a photo shoot of her at the sign. It was very weird but, waiting we did, and eventually had our sign photo.

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The drive from Arches to Canyonlands was void of any options for lunch, so we ended up snacking on what was in the car. The Canyonlands visitor center is directly across from the Shafer Canyon overlook, with an amazing view of the vast canyon of red rock making us anxious to see the rest of the park.  We drove the roads along the rim of the Island in the Sky, a large mesa with overlooks of the canyon. The canyons in Canyonlands went on and on, providing views of up to 100 miles in any direction from the Island in the Sky.

Canyonlands is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon with its deep cuts through rock, being the largest national park in Utah. The Colorado River and the Green River meandered through the bottom of the canyon. The confluence of these two rivers was visible from our viewpoint and large mountains draped the background of the canyon providing a majestic vista.

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Our first significant hike at Canyonlands was to see Upheaval Dome. We hiked up a hill but got off the trail slightly ending up on a rocky perch to look down into Upheaval Dome that looked like a big crater, providing an excellent location for a snack as we gazed out over the dome. Geologists are unsure how the dome was formed, with various theories including a meteor slammed into the earth at this spot or the collapse of a salt dome. The inside of the dome had different layers of rock and colors of white and brown stone surrounded by sandstone. Returning to the trail to get to the main overlook provided a slightly different view.

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As we continued out the drive we came to the Buck Canyon viewpoint staring out miles into the canyon. The short trail leads to an overlook at the edge of these sheer, 1,000 feet high cliffs, illustrating the vastness of this staggeringly beautiful National Park. A huge landscape of cracked and fissured sandstone stretches all the way to the horizon. It’s one of those places where the scale of what you’re looking at is as impressive as its beauty. –

We moved on to the Green River Overlook and saw the Green River run through the canyon. This overlook view, from 6000 feet elevation, looks out across Soda Springs Basin towards the Green River. Here, the Green River is a tiny ribbon of water in one awe-inspiring canyon. An incomprehensible distance, the vista stretches out for a hundred miles to the horizon. A sandstone viewing area, sparsely decorated with juniper, marks the canyon rim and signals where a 2200 foot drop-off begins to the river far below. About halfway down into the canyons you can see the White Rim Trail which follows the river for miles.

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Later we went to Grand View Point where we could see nearly the whole canyon from that overlook. The canyon is so massive that roads and rivers looked like tiny lines from the overlook; it is repetitive but still it is hard to fathom its actual size but so it is spectacular.

Our final stop was a loop trail to see Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch is, undeniably, one of the spotlight attractions in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, standing high above a canyon with a thin bridge at the top of the arch, providing an excellent backdrop for someone underneath the arch. The Canyonlands National Park web site describes the Mesa Arch Trail as a “mild walk,” a very accurate description of this very short loop. This loop travels across slickrock and dirt, but unlike other slickrock trails which are usually only marked by stone cairns, this trail has a fairly easy to spot path along it’s entire route. There are stairs carved into the stone, and the trail is is hemmed in by desert driftwood. The trail rises over a low hill and you’ll immediately begin to see some phenomenal views looking east toward the Colorado River.

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We left Canyonlands National Park and paid to enter Dead Horse Point, a state park, with another excellent visitor center with a great view. We drove to Dead Horse Point at the end of the park and saw the most wonderful view of Canyonlands from the opposite side of the canyon. From Dead Horse Point, we had a closer view of the rivers and mountains from a large pavilion and stone wall that stretched along the edge of the canyon.

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Since we were tired we moved on and drove thirty miles back to Moab. We got the car washed and then went to dinner at the Sunset Grill at the top of a hill. Our meals were fine but the service was poor. Krista, our waitress, never checked with us during our meal. We had to ask a busboy to get the waitress thinking she had forgotten about us. Krista added a 20% tip to our bill without any notification. We had no choice but to paid the bill but tried to phone the manager later only to get no response and disconnected. He phoned again and again the line was disconnected. Needless to say if you find yourself in Moab, Utah do not get sucked into the appeal of the restaurant high up on the hill, lousy service and an arrogant attitude makes for a poor experience. We decided to let it go since we were so tired from our busy adventure of the day.

Bryce National Park & Capital Reef – National Parks Road Trip – Day 13

We left Zion National Park early in the morning while it was still dark; so dark that as we entered the Zion-Mt Carmel it took a few seconds to realize we were in a tunnel. Emerging on the other side, and making our way on up the steep road, the drive became very picturesque as we saw mountains appear in a shadowy sky. As the sun rose, we saw more beautiful overlooks and a fog and haze over the Utah desert.

The 85 mile drive to Bryce Canyon National Park took us into the Long Valley, which follows the Virgin River throughout south central Utah. Immediately after turning east on Utah 12 we began to see interesting geological formations, including a small natural tunnel that the road went through. As we reached the park entrance booth there was a sign indicating visibility was poor, no refunds would be provided – but we had a pass so we went on it.

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As we drove the 18 miles to the end of the canyon at Rainbow Point. Rainbow Point is the highest point in the canyon and was completely encased in a cloud with a windy rain and a drop in temperature at 9,000 ft elevation. We worked our way back to the next overlook to get our first glimpse of the canyon at Black Birch viewpoint. Here we saw a wide canyon with spires and rock formations. As we drove to the next point at Ponderosa Canyon, it was still raining and cold. We continued along the rim of the canyon and stopped to see the natural stone bridge.

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Fortunately as we drove back to Bryce Point the sun cleared the sky and the temperature began to warm. As the sun moved across the canyon we saw beautiful colors and shadows on the rocks. Our brief hike lead us to the most spectacular view of Bryce Point with hundreds of spires and rock formations to Inspiration Point which was also a gorgeous vantage point of the hundreds of hoo doos throughout the canyon. We agreed that Bryce Park is the most amazing natural attraction we have ever seen, even more so than the Grand Canyon.

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After a nice buffet lunch we went to see Sunset Point. Again the view was so fabulous that we ranked Bryce Canyon National Park as the most beautiful national park of all.

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Leaving  Bryce we continued east on Utah 12, stopping at the Escalante Visitor’s Center where we learned that Escalante is not a single feature but a two million acre park. A 12 mile drive down a dirt road (complete with some washboards), we made our way to Devil’s Rocks. Here we got a close-up of hoo doos (rocks balanced on thin spires) and got to climb on the rocks. We had fun exploring and it was well worth the 24 mile detour.

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Continuing east on Utah 12 we crossed over Boulder Mountain, an 11,000 peak, with our pass topping out at 9600′. As Utah 12 makes it’s way down the northeast side of the mountain there are overlooks with views all the way to Capital Reef National Park. Utah 12 ended at Utah 24 in the small town of Torrey. I have driven many roads throughout North America and Europe and Utah 12 ranks up with the very best even though it is only 123 miles long.

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Eventually we made our way to Capital Reef to see massive sandstone formations, towering arches, ancient writings, and a valley of red rocks. The petroglyphs were easily seen and neatly done by the Fremont Culture dating back to 1300 C.E. After stopping at the Visitor Center we hiked a short way to get a better look at Chimney Rock, followed by a brief stop at the Goosenecks Trail to hike a few minutes to the overlook. We were able to see a great canyon and looking back we could also see Chimney Rock.

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The drive east/northeast on Utah 24 then I-70 continued to provide great geological views, seemingly ever changing. Eventually we reached Moab, Utah, tired, hungry and in need of gas for the car. The Broken Oar provided a great dinner, the local Comfort Inn some well needed sleep, and the next morning we were ready to head out again.

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Zion – National Parks Road Trip – Day 12

Zion National Park is 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, so despite our early start we didn’t arrive until mid-day. The drive down I-15 was punctuated by intermittent rain showers which did give us a number of excellent rainbows, as well as strange sights along the way like the Providence Lighthouse, in the middle of the Utah desert nowhere close to any water.

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There are two main visitor centers for Zion, the first as you come down from Salt Lake City is directly off off the interstate at the entrance to Kolob Canyon. After a brief stop here with the realization we weren’t quite there, we continued on through the small town of Touquerville and up the initial mountain until we arrived in Springdale, the main service town for the park, and location of our very overpriced hotel for the night

Because the canyon that makes up most of Zion is so small, and the park is so popular, personal cars are not permitted into the park unless you have reservations at the lodge. As we didn’t, we left the car at the main visitor center and took the shuttle bus. At first I was not in favor of this, but in the end it was very nice, as there is no traffic to speak of in the park, so car free we literally walked down the middle of the road for a couple of miles, moving over only for the occasion shuttle bus.

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We decided to take the shuttle to the end of the line of the six mile canyon. There were five stations for shuttles and each station had trails to explore the natural beauty of the canyon. Furthest up the canyon is the Temple of Sinawava, where we walked the riverside trail that was mostly paved until it reached the Zion Narrows Hike river trail. The Zion Narrows is the most narrow part of the canyon with steep cliffs lining the river that takes you trekking through the river as the trail. This trail is dangerous if it rains and can quickly change a calm stream into a raging wall of water. Sadly the day before 7 hikers had gone up the canyon before heavy thunderstorms arrived, and they didn’t make it out.

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The day we were there showed much evidence of the heavy rain and flooding that had occurred the day before. The aforementioned showery weather of the day continued on and off as light rain fell as we made it to the narrows.  The Narrows River Trail normally has pockets of chest deep water for hikers to maneuver as they wade through slippery rock along a challenging hike but this day the river was rambling fast so the narrows hike was closed to all hikers.

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Coming back down the canyon we took the park shuttle to Big Bend, entry point to a short but steep trail to a very tall waterfall on the eastern wall. As noted, without traffic we could then walk down the road to the next shuttle station at Weeping Rock. This walk, essentially by ourselves in the middle of this canyon was spectacular, with canyon walls soaring 2000′ above us. One surprising feature of Zion is the vegetation was the amount of cacti present, reminding us that despite the rainy weather we were in the desert.

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After a brief lunch at the lodge we hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, which lead to a muddy trail that led behind an upper and lower stacked waterfall; hey we have panchos, what’s the worst that could happen? Getting us drenched, but well worth it, even though in hindsight it was likely a bit dangerous. It started to rain again so we took the shuttle back to the visitor center’s gift shop to buy some items. Hiking in the mud and rain was exhausting and we were still wet when we got back to our overpriced hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express.

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Dinner was at the Bit and Spur Restaurant. We had ribs and tilapia for dinner and Oreo ice cream pie for dessert. A good ending to a very tiring but great day.

Zion is highly recommended (which attests to the more than 3 million people a year that go). It is on my list to return some day in drier weather and hike the Narrows.

Idaho and Wyoming – National Parks Road Trip – Day 10 – Yellowstone to Jackson Hole

Another early start found us at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. As usual the early start allowed us to avoid the crowds for some excellent views, along with the other dedicated morning photographers. Why buy a postcard when you can take the picture yourself.

Since we missed it the day before we returned to the Norris Geyser Basin and began our hike along the boardwalk through the back basin. Steamboat Geyser fumed so high and huge that it could be seen from most of the back basin. This geyser erupted last year and it was evident of the violent destruction that was left for us to see. As we toured we found many other geysers vending significant steam. The hot water from the earth combined with the cold air of 35 degrees created a steamy low-lying atmosphere.

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The loud gurgling sounds of the geyser from Puff N Stuff was a visitor’s favorite as well as ours. It is caused by steaming vents in the earth among the dead trees in the white sulfuric basin gave an eerie feeling and a creepy setting. The tour continued on the other side of the basin where there were more geysers in the Porcelain Basin. This basin is more open and the area was crowded with tourists, along with a number of geologists and park rangers hiking back to where we had been carrying technical equipment for analysis.

Warning sign inform tourists not to toss debris into the geysers (morons of the world unite) as exemplified in the Minute Geyser located in Porcelain Basin, which was damaged by tourists and now no longer erupts as it once did nearly every minute. Over the years, tourists clogged the geyser with twigs and stones that they tossed into the geyser.

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The Artist Paint Pots turned out to be our last stop in Yellowstone. The loop surrounding the paint pots was disappointing due to the lack of variety of colors that decorate the pools, primarily due to the overcast day. You could however see a variety of pools, or paint pots, nestled in a hillside with mountains in the distance.

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Our plan was to go to Midway Geyser Basin while heading out the south exit toward Grand Teton’s, but instead we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. Sunday was much busier with tourists than the previous days. After an extended period of no movement I gave up, turned around and exited the West Entrance.

As we proceeded on the West Drive we came across a magnificent elk wading in the river. Everywhere in Yellowstone you see wildlife you see traffic jams, including our last as we were exiting, this one caused by a bison  walking in the middle of the road and refusing to move aside. As motorists inched around the bison, it came to be directly in front of us so we shot a photo from our windshield of the bison’s butt moving very slowly almost as if it meant to do this just to say he owns the place. Eventually the bison moved off the road allowing us to leave the park.

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We ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana at noon and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. From here we drove south across the Continental Divide again and west into Idaho. The view of large mountains was spectacular and we passed many, potato fields which I had not seen before. We followed Idaho State Route 32, also known as the Grand Teton Scenic Highway.

We crossed Teton Pass back into Wyoming to reach our hotel in Jackson Hole. Since there was still plenty of daylight we drove into Elk Range outside of Jackson Hole to spot wildlife but were unlucky on that adventure so we went back to explore the town. The center of Jackson is Antler Park, named for the unusual arches made of elk antlers at the four entrances into the park.

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Surrounding the park are a number of art galleries. Life-size bronze sculptures of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, George Washington, and elk stood outside a gallery and seemed to be a popular spot for tourists to pose with the statues. The town is well known as a resort for its outdoor adventures but our stop was to take in a short visit and overnight on our way to Salt Lake City.

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We chose to have dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House fitting for the western aura of Jackson Hole. The restaurant use to be a western museum and taxidermy shop and it shows from the many animals mounted on the walls. The restaurant also had a full-sized stuffed bison named Wyatt, and a 1800’s buffalo coat owned by Hank Williams, Jr. We were game to try the game on the menu so we had a sampler of elk steak, bison prime rib, and venison bratwurst, as well as elk medallions; I had mixed results with my dinner. Game meat is not fatty and needs to be eaten slightly rare so half of the medallions were overcooked and tough. The waitress brought two more medallions and only one of them was tender but I had enough to eat and it was a good experience to have eaten in a nice restaurant. The evening was cool, but the day had been long so we called it a night.