West 2015, The Itinerary, Part 7

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I entered the last week of my trip with a few factors working against me. First, I’d been on the road three weeks, and that’s a long time to be away from home, even for a seasoned traveler like me. Secondly, the extreme heat of the previous two days (124 F & 117 F) were becoming taxing. Thirdly, a late night in Vegas had left me sleep deprived. So, when I rolled into Zion National Park some 3 hours after leaving Las Vegas to find a sign telling me the parking lots were all full, I wasn’t a happy camper.

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Things improved quickly as I lucked out and found a parking spot right across from the visitor center. I quickly boarded the park’s shuttle and headed into the canyon.

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My first stop was one of Zion’s iconic sites, the three peaks known as The Three Patriarchs.

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I also stopped to take a short hike along the Virgin River. There were amazing views southward down the canyon.

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The one short hike I did was up to Weeping Rock, where water seeps through the permeable sandstone and drips down in front of an alcove in the side of the mountain. This view point also affords fantastic views of the enclosed canyon and it’s walls.

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I woke excited the next morning, because the first park of the day marked a milestone in my quest to visit all the National Park Units in the lower 48 states. I’d missed Cedar Breaks National Monument on all of my previous trips out west due to the fact that it is only open for a few months of the years. This gorgeous orange amphitheater is located at over 10,000 feet above sea level, leading the first snows in September to close the roads until late May or early June. Visiting here meant that I had visited all the parks of the West.

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I was lucky to be able to view a number of yellow-bellied marmots hanging out on the crater’s rim. There were even a few babies among their number. All of the marmots were a little thin, probably having only emerged from hibernation a few weeks before.

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Heading east from Cedar Breaks, I stopped briefly at Bryce Canyon National Park. I was shocked to find most of the park’s parking lots full, finding out later that the park’s annual Astronomy Festival was taking place this weekend.

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I resigned myself to finding parking a one viewpoint, so I could at least get out and photograph the abundant hoodoos that the park is know for. These spires of orange rock were formed through erosion and give the canyon it’s signature look and color. Hoodoos can be found all over the world, but nowhere else are they as prevalent as they are in Bryce Canyon.

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I spent the next few hours driving Utah Highway 12, the scenic Escalante Highway. The roads elevated viewpoints looked out over the canyons and badlands to the east and south.

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In the late afternoon, I came to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the Park Systems least visited and most underrated National Parks. The main purpose of the park was to protect Waterpocket Fold, a rugged up-thrust that extends over 100 miles through this portion of central Utah. The park contains a number of canyons and sandstone structures as well.

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The area near the visitor center is a fertile oasis amid all the rock and desert surrounding, and was the site of some early Mormon settlements. Their orchards still thrive under the NPS’ watchful eye to this day.

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The park also preserves a few historic structures as well- the most famous and well-recognized it the tiny, one room Fruita Schoolhouse. The building served as the community’s only school from 1894 until 1941.

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After staying overnight in the tiny hamlet of Green River, I set off the next morning early headed for two of Utah’s most spectacular National Parks. The first was Arches National Park, famous for containing over 2000 natural sandstone arches, as well as many other famous geological formations. I was glad I’d headed out early, as the day was to be the fourth in a row for me with temps exceeding 110 degrees.

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I started the day with a hike to the windows, two large arches standing right next to each other. My second stop was the overlook for Delicate Arch- Utah’s state symbol and probably the most famous arch in the park. The hike to Delicate Arch is moderate in difficulty and certainly was outside of my capabilities , especially on such a hot day.

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Despite the blistering heat I did make the couple mile hike to see one of the parks other most famous arches, Landscape Arch. This arch is over 290 feet long and is the longest in the park and the second longest in the world.

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In the afternoon, I drove out to the Island in the Sky district of nearby Canyonlands National Park. This is the most accessible of this large park’s areas, and the many scenic 0verlooks present a vast land plateaus, mesas and river carved canyons.

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Much of the park is accessible by steep mountain roads and rough paths only passible by vehicles with four wheel drive. These areas are a mecca for off-road enthusiasts, rock climbers and adventure sport nuts.

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I had a long drive the next day along I-70, which has to be one of the country’s most scenic interstate stretches, crossing the spine of the Rocky Mountains before reaching the Denver area. I didn’t quite make it to Denver, opting to take the longer route to Fort Collins, Colorado, to visit some of the area’s famous breweries that evening and the next morning.

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Fort Collins is home to New Belgium Brewing, which I visited the next morning. This unique, employee-owned brewery is one of the nation’s most famous microbreweries, and one of the first to start widespread brewing of specialty craft beer.

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And then, after a 1000 miles and two days of driving (with a quick stop in Lincoln, Nebraska to visit the Stueber Family), the nearly month-long trip was over.

West 2015- The Itinerary Posts

 

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