Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Zion and Bryce National Parks

On Thursday April 16 we loaded our vehicles and took off South on I-15 for Zion National Park. it is about a five hour drive so we stopped for a picnic lunch at a wayside rest and didn't arrive in Zion until almost 3 PM. We waited in line to enter the Park, and when it was our turn to talk to the Ranger she thought there were only 10 camping sites left and wished us luck in getting one. It turned out that we did get the last electrical site in the Watchman Campground. (For some reason they wouldn't let us stay in the tenting area, no electricity, even when Jon told them he didn't need to have electricity for their camper). But we could only stay there Thursday night, as the sites were all reserved for the weekend.

We set up our camp which means we put up our tent, blew up our mattress, laid out our sleeping bags and moved our suitcase into the tent. Jon and Linda took only minutes to settle their camper so they put their tablecloth on the table to add to the occupied look of our site.

When we were ready we walked to the Visitor Center and caught one of the Park shuttles which drive up the canyon and drop visitors off at various sights along the way. (The shuttles run from March 21-Nov 2, and on weekends in Nov. When they are running no private vehicles are allowed in the canyon). We rode to the end of the line and took the Riverside Walk which was pretty flat along the bank of the Virgin river. It climbed 57 feet in 2 miles. We were not able to hike into the narrows as the river was high, filling the gorge, and there was a danger of flash flooding. On the way back down the canyon we got off the shuttle to hike to the lower Emerald pools,1.2 miles 69 feet ascent. Both trails had many hikers enjoying the beautiful day. By the time we got back to the shuttle, we could feel the day cooling down and were glad to get back to our campsite before dark. We were cleaning up supper as the sun set and enjoyed a small campfire before L&J retired. It was almost a full moon, so Wayne and I took a hike along the river a bit before bed. It was a cool night and we were glad we had our new sleeping bags to keep us warm.

The next morning, Jon and Linda broke camp and hurried to the South campground, which was first-come first-served sites, where they picked a nice place for us. We took down our camp, packed-up, and moved down the road to South and were set-up again by 10 AM. We decided on a morning hike just outside our campground up Watchman. It was a beautiful climb, 2.7 miles long and 368 feet ascent. There were warnings that it could get hot in the afternoon, and we did get a little warm, but the flowers were blooming all along the trail and we had great views of the Park entrance and campgrounds.

By the time we got back we were hungry for lunch and enjoyed a picnic at our campsite. Then we were ready to take on the most challenging hike of our weekend, Angel's Landing. It is a 5 mile hike climbing 1,488 feet and is expected to take 4 hours (Wayne and I did it in 4hrs,10 min with a long rest at the top). We had been walking the trails in about half the time listed so we thought we could do Angel's Landing in at least 3 hours. The first 2 miles were like most other trails except that we climbed constantly. Then we hit Walter's Wiggles which is a steep ascent of 21 switchbacks that end on Scout's point. We stopped there for a snack break (We stopped for water all the way up) and enjoyed the gorgeous view of the canyon. The last half mile of the Trail follows a steep narrow ridge connecting Angels Landing to Scout's Point with the end climbing up rock walls with a chain to guide and help you stay on narrow trail. The worst part was trying to pass hikers going in the other direction. J&L started out with us but after a particularly treacherous section of narrow slanted trail with sand and gravel adding to the danger, they decided they had had enough and eventually decided to meet us back at camp. It took Wayne and I an hour to do that last 1/2 mile and back with steep dropoffs down to the canyon floor, but the views from Angel's Landing and the adrenaline rush from successfully reaching the end of the trail made it well worth the shaky knees and thumping heart. I thought we would get down in about half the time as usual on these uphill climbs, but my legs were so sore from the last 1/2 mile of climbing both up and down, that when we reached the regular trail I found it hurt as much to brake going down as it had to push going up and so our descent was as slow as if we were still climbing. We had a nice visit with a UT man who visits the Park annually but couldn't talk his wife into doing Angel's Landing again. He shared with us other sites around the state which we should try to visit and kept us going, distracting me from how much I hurt. When we got back to the road I didn't know if I could climb the steps into the shuttle, but I surprised myself and got in and out without trouble.

Jon and Linda were waiting back at the camp. They had gotten back an hour ahead of us. We had a nice hot supper finished in the dark and then Wayne and I hiked the Pa'rus trail along the river in the moonlight before heading to bed and a little warmer night, but still grateful for warm sleeping bags.

Saturday we had a hearty hot breakfast, and then drove 85 miles to Bryce National Park. The topography of this part of UT is like a staircase from Bryce to Zion to the Grand Canyon. The rock formations at the top of Zion are the bottom layers in Bryce, and the bottom layers of Zion are the same as the top of the Grand Canyon. Bryce and Zion are basically sandstone cliffs, what used to be giant several thousand feet sanddunes which cemented together over eons as the prehistoric lake covered this area, and then were carved by wind and water into the canyons we admire today.

Bryce seems to have the softest stone so it is carved into fantastic shapes called hoodoos that look like castle spires of white and pink and red Unlike Zion, the park entrance is on the top of the canyons above 10,000 feet so it was much cooler here. We started by walking the Queen's Garden/Navajo combination loop that was almost 3 miles and descended 580 feet. It was good to begin by going down, as I was able to start slow and gradually work the kinks out and get back to normal before climbing back out of the canyon. The colors of the sandstone carved walls as we descended and the gorgeous blue sky above were postcard perfect and enjoyed by all.

We had a picnic lunch by the general store and in the afternoon hiked the rim trail from Inspiration Point to Bryce Point, about 3 miles with many small ups and downs but probably less than 100 feet. The challenging part of this trail was the wind which tried to blow us off the narrow ridge near Bryce Point, and the snow which covered parts of the trail and made some slow going. The views all along the rim were breathtaking. We enjoyed visiting with fellow hikers going in the other direction, with accents from all over the world.

After our rim trail hike we got in the car and drove to the South end of the Park where we got out and took short hikes to Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. We saw mule deer and pronghorns on our drive as well as many predator birds, maybe golden eagles. We drove back to Zion as the sunset, stopping just outside to buy firewood from a house with a guarddog who reminded Wayne to leave money for the wood he was taking! It was a beautiful night for a fire and we enjoyed it before during and after dinner as the camp grew dark. L&J went to bed and Wayne and I once again took a beautiful full-moon walk along the Virgin river. When we got back to camp Jon was worried that we had not put the fire completely out and had gone to bed. He was relieved that we were back and could stir the coals and add water to make sure the fire was out before heading to bed.

Sunday morning was our last time to enjoy the park. We got up,ate, and took down camp and moved our vehicles to the Visitor Center parking lot before it filled at 10 AM. We climbed into the shuttle bus for one last drive and hike up Zion canyon. This time we took the Kayenta Trail, a mile long and climb of 150feet from the Grotto to the Emerald pools. It was a beautiful fairly level walk (once we climbed up the 150 feet) with many wild flowers and prickly-pear cacti alng the trail. Then we decided to climb up to the highest of the emerald pools. It was only .3 mile from the middle trail, but climbed another 200 feet and we were hot and dusty when we suddenly found ourselves going down to a beautiful little pool of water, getting sprayed by mist from the waterfalls feading our pool from the canyon rim, and feelin suddenly chilled as the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It felt wonderful to sit and enjoy this little piece of paradise hidden from the rest of the hot dusty canyon. We hiked back down to the middle emerald pool,(not nearly as nice) and took that trail a mile further down the canyon and descended the 150 feet back to the canyon floor.

We all got on the shuttlebus and Wayne and I got off at the museum. Jon and Linda left us there and they headed back to their van to continue on their journey through the Southwestern states. Wayne and I went through the museum, watched the short film and bought postcards before heading back to our car and leaving Zion by the SW entrance.

We only traveled on I-15 a short time before getting off and entering Zion at the NE Kolab Canyon entrance. We wound up through the canyon and ate a picnic lunch at the picnic grounds, then got back on the road to Salt Lake City and home

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Salt lake City with Linda and Jon

I had a wonderful time showing Linda and Jon around Salt Lake City. We had them as our guests for three days, and then we traveled with them to National Parks in Southern Utah.

Our first day was spent exploring our neighborhood, the Gateway complex, the TRAX system, and the downtown area. We had a gorgeous day with temperatures reaching 80 so our outer layers were shed, and despite lotion, we got a little sunburn in our trek around town. We ended our day with a climb up Ensign Peak to see the valley at sunset. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and a cold North wind almost blew us off the mountain top. This wind was blowing dirt everywhere so our views were hazy at best. It was impressive to see the grid of streets as lights came on and the sun set, but the cold hurried us down off the mountain.

The next day we spent exploring Temple Square, taking the main tour as well as one of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (the old Hotel Utah), and enjoying all of the gorgeous flowers and water displays that decorate the square. We enjoyed the acoustic demonstrations of the Tabernacle and got to hear the organist warm-up for the noon concert. We enjoyed our young tour guides who enthusiastically shared their knowledge of this special place with interesting tid-bits of the history of their church as well as insights into their faith.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints has made a huge impact on the state of Utah, and visiting their church headquarters at Temple Square is a glimpse into the history of this religion as well as the birth and growth of the state of Utah itself. The Mormon people who work there are welcoming and eager to share their beautiful square and their faith with guests from around the world. We had a perfect day to enjoy the outdoor gardens (one of my favorite places in SLC) and the views of the city from the 10th floor of the old hotel.

We ended our day with dinner at Crown Burgers, a Greek fast food-like restaurant, and a stroll through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill. Wayne joined us late and he ate while we enjoyed a few games of Farkle and and then we watched a movie to end our day.

The last day we visited two new places to me; the Hogle Zoo, and This Is the Place, Heritage Park. The cold winds had continued and brought freezing temperatures and a little freezing rain/snow as we toured. We visited the zoo first and got in free with our reciprocal memberships to the MN Zoo. The cold weather kept most of the animals indoors, where we could see them but in much more confined spaces than their outdoor habitats. We did see the elephants outside which surprised us. They were fun to watch.

I also enjoyed the wild turkeys who were all puffed up and strutting around the place. A middle school group was there with us and it made me want to scold some of the kids who came to the zoo without jackets, and some even in sandals! The tropics building held a large group who were just trying to warm up but succeeded in blocking many of the walkways.

The history park was just across the street, so we headed there for lunch and to walk around. Although the park opened April 1, they wouldn't have actors on site until the 15 of May so we couldn't go into most of the buildings. There was a school group there so they had a few places open and we were invited in to see one of the homes that was getting a new paint job in preparation for the new season. We had fun hiking around and reading the plaques outside of the buildings. Most of the buildings were original, and moved to this sight from pioneer Mormon villages all over Utah. A few were replicas of buildings still standing at the original building site.
Together they told a story of the earliest Mormon pioneers who came to the Great Salt Lake valley and built thriving communities out of the desert. It was interesting to walk around the 50+ buildings, peeking in windows and imagining what pioneer life had been like for them. We were disappointed that we didn't get to go in more and listen to the actors tell about their life.
We enjoyed the little play village they made for children and took some pictures for Brynn and Charlotte of these special kid houses.
We ended the day with a hike up city creek canyon and by the Capitol building, and then back to our condo where we met up with Wayne.

We ended the day with a take-out Mexican meal from Rancheritos. We had hoped to eat at The Red Iguana (supposed to have the best Mexican food in SLC) but the line was long outside the building both before and after grocery shopping for our camping trip, so we ate at home instead and made plans for our camping adventure to the National Parks which will be the subject of my next post!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Golden Spike National Historic Site

On Saturday April 12, Wayne and I headed North on I-15 to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site on the North end of the Great Salt Lake. Wayne had heard from a co-worker that we could ride our bikes on the old rail beds so we packed our bikes on top of our car and headed out to learn a little history and enjoy a beautiful sunny day on our bikes.

At the visitor center we ate a picnic lunch and then followed the ranger in a car caravan to the engine house where they keep the replicas of the 2 steam engines that met at this sight on May 10, 1869 completing the trans-continental railroad. They are called the Jupiter and #119

In the summer season, from May to October, these engines are driven out on the track each day to be photographed and admired by tourists. In April they are still kept in the engine house where dedicated volunteers clean and prep them for a new season. Our tour guide escorted us inside and gave us a few facts about the engines, the tracks, the workers who made the rail lines, and the two rival companies who worked hard to complete the rail system across the country.

While he talked, volunteers worked on varnishing cars that will be pulled by the engines in May.

Their families flitted around the engines while we tourists stayed safely behind the ropes, taking pictures and asking questions. We learned that this rail route was changed during WWII and now trains cross the Great Salt Lake at a causeway over Promontory Point. The rails that were on these northern rail beds were dismantled and re-used as part of the war effort.

Wayne and I returned to the Visitor Center, toured the museum, saw a short film, looked at the remaining tracks where they run the two engines in summer, and then drove our car with bikes to a parking lot for the 1.5 mile walking trail called the Big Fill Walk.

Instead of walking we took our bikes off the roof and headed back out on the road and up and down a big hill to reach the start of the North Auto Tour one-way road that drives on the old rail bed. It was great riding our bikes along the rail bed, stopping at markers along the way to observe the last cut, blasting sites, and a natural arch used as a rest stop by workers and so called "Chinaman's Arch". The road made a gradual turn and then descended a little faster than usual. This section of track was the sight of derailments when trains tried to take the hill too fast.

We then crossed the road and after a snack, took the walking trail (on our bikes) to the big fill and beyond. The two companies, Central Pacific from the west and Union Pacific from the East were both trying to go the farthest before meeting in Utah. The gov't was encouraging the laying of track by advancing money to prepare the grade. The advance crews were sometimes 200 miles out in front of the rail laying crews, choosing routes and preparing the grade. Because the exact spot to join was not chosen until close to the time of meeting, the advance teams prepared beds right along side of each other.

Unfortunately we didn't think to bring our camera on our bikes so this is the end of the pictures.

On the Big Fill Trail, we rode on the Central Pacific's rail bed which was eventually chosen for this part of the route, and could see what was left of the Union Pacific rail bed that was used for only 6 months before dismantling. We rode gradually down hill for a long ways, way beyond the informative sign posts of the walking trail. We saw a group of mule deer, hunting birds, and the largest rabbits I have ever seen. These Jack Rabbits were 2 feet tall sitting down and their ears added another foot above their heads. It was fun to watch them bound over the hills.

When we felt we had used half of our time, we turned around and began the big ascent. The nice thing about riding on a rail bed is that we could hardly tell that we were going uphill instead of down. As we rode across the Big Fill, a giant ridge of earth hauled in to support the rails between two plateaus, we could see that the Union Pacific rail bed beneath us just stopped at both ends of the canyon. They had built a temporary trestle bridge over the same gorge which was later torn down.

The walking trail had us switch to the Union Pacific bed after seeing the big fill, so we took our bikes down a steep rocky trail to follow the UP trail back. One of the informative plaques pointed out how much the UP rail bed had deteriorated in the 140 years since it was built. It was obvious walking, but even more obvious on a bike, as the trail changed from about a 5 foot wide trail on a 10 foot wide trail bed, to a one foot wide trail on the top of a ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides of the narrow trail.

Too bad we didn't have the camera for this part!

Wayne kept reminding me to keep up some speed as it is easier to travel straight, but it was un-nerving to be able to look down over both sides at the same time, knowing if I hit a rock in the trail it might send me over the edge. The narrow ridge lasted only for a few hundred feet and then I could relax and notice the scenery once again.

It was interesting to learn how the first trans-continental railroad was made, and fun to ride the rail beds on such a beautiful day. But by the time we got back to our car, I was ready to get off my bike and head for home and supper!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ogden Canyon

Last Saturday, April 5, Wayne and I took advantage of a beautiful day, and after managing our chores, we set out in the Prius to visit Ogden and hike along the Ogden river.

The trip to Ogden was uneventful and traffic flowed smoothly on I-15. We found our turn easily. It was the last of 4 exits for Ogden. I had been searching out my window for something to distinguish this city from any of the other northern suburb/cities of Salt Lake City.

But there was no difference that I could see from the freeway. Just houses, businesses and strip malls running parallel to the mountain range on the east, the Wasatch mountains that define the valley. (There is an old main street that has been restored for tourists but we couldn't see it on this trip.)

As we drove east, I could see large homes built above the city, clinging to the side of the mountain, and could imagine the gorgeous view of the city and the Great Salt Lake beyond which those owners had built for themselves. All the cities in the valley north of SLC are hemmed in by the Wasatch mountains to the east and the Great Salt lake to the west.

We were looking for a 3 mile long paved trail along the Ogden river, but when we found it, it was more like a city park than the hike we were hoping for, so we traveled further up the canyon. As we were driving, Wayne commented that we had been here before. Sure enough this was the road we took from our camping site on the Great Salt lake to the Heinrich family reunion in Huntsville Ut in 2002.

We stopped at one of the many National Forest campgrounds along the highway (that was still closed for winter) and hiked around a little taking a few pictures of the creek and the snow.

When we reached Huntsville, we decided to go on as signs were posted that the road closed in 15 miles. We had driven over that pass on our way home 6 years ago and we were curious to see it in winter.

The drive up through the mountains was gorgeous, the road climbing and turning up through the canyon. We passed turn-offs for Wolf Mountain and Snowbasin ski resorts. The road was narrow with snow still piled high on either side and fewer and fewer homes. (Although we did pass a number of new buildings, not yet completed. It seemed as though people were converting vacation cabins into year-round retirement homes)

Just before the road ended abruptly in a pile of snow, we came out onto a large plateau. The deep snow was carved with snowmobile tracks. Two large parking lot areas had been plowed on either side of the highway. Here were parked a few pick-up trucks pulling snowmobile trailers. (We had passed many such vehicles on our ride up the canyon.)

Signs told that the highway was closed for the next 65 miles. Another large parking area was on the east side of the pass. In between were listed more than 15 destinations that snowmobilers could travel to with posted mileage. Or you could stay close and just create your own trails up and down the mountain ridges surrounding this plateau as the many tracks proved. (Wayne's favorite was this machine- some kind of homemade snowmobile!)

We backed the Prius around, staying on the plowed road, and headed west, back down the canyon. We could feel the temperature warm up as we drove, and by the time we passed the Pineview Reservoir at Huntsville, most of the snow along the highway was gone.

We stopped to look at a waterfall of melting snow and found a trail along the river which we followed until it ended at private property.
We retraced our steps, enjoying the noise of the tumbling river and appreciating our walking sticks which gave us one more balancing point as we crossed the uneven terrain.

We stopped to take pictures of the imprompto waterfall at the end of our hike.
By the time we climbed back into our car, we felt comfortably tired and ready to return home, so we skipped the paved trail in town and just headed home to a nice dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and a movie.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Moving Day, Sunday March 30

In the hopes that we would have guests visiting us in Utah, we moved from our one bed-room to a two-bedroom, one floor below in the same building. Besides the second bedroom and bath, there are some nice differences about our new place:

The living room has a bay window and a corner gas fireplace that add a nice touch to the room. This room also has a stereo which Wayne was able to hook up to our computer so we have much better sound when we listen to MPR or our music.

The door to the deck is between the living and dining room, and it leads to a small fenced patio with a gate out onto the larger patio space shared by the complex. Now we can leave and return to our condo this way instead of taking an elevator.

The owner has several green plants that give the place a touch of home instead of a hotel. He also has a few games in the closet and magazines on end tables. There are also more dishes so we can use the dishwasher, bake things, and entertain at home.

The next door neighbors are very nice and have already brought us flowers to enjoy, (as the owner had explained to them that we were moving in).
We put the flowers on the kitchen counter, and still have 10 feet of free counter space. It is in the shape of a v with 4 stools against it.

But nothing is perfect and there are some things that we will miss:

The view is non-existent from our new place, as all our windows look out at 6 foot walls, giving the patio privacy from the complex. We do have a view of our old balcony(if we stand in the bay window and look up), as well as the very top of buildings and just a peak at the tops of mountains over the roofs.

The old place had cannister lights in the kitchen that shone on the counters. This new place has just a center light and we seem to be always standing in our shadow. (We did turn 2 spot lights that had been shining on a hall mirror to light up the counter.)

The old place had fewer square footage but more useable space.
It's bathrom cabinet had six drawers where we stored our personal things.
The bedroom closet had built in drawers and shelves as well as 5 hanging areas.
It also had a linen closet. Our new place has none of these things.

The appliances in our old place were also top of the line (although I won't miss cleaning the stainless steel finishes). I enjoyed using the front loading clothes washer but now am back to a regular top-loader stacked under a dryer.

There is a lot more furniture now with more seating and sleeping space for guests, but it is all older (except the 4 bar stools) from the owner's mother's home. The dining chairs are wobbly, and the living room furniture is soft but homey, reminding me a lot of my parent's place. The carpeting is off white and has many dirty spots that the owner has not been able to successfully clean. He has placed 2 rugs over spots in front of the coach and by the rear entrance to the patio.
But mostly we are happy to be here and looking forward to our first guests, Jon and Linda, who will arrive in mid-April. We will have to find a new place for our bikes when they move into the guest room.

There is a storage space on the 2nd floor of the complex but the owner has it filled with more furniture, etc. He was able to make a small space where we put our camping gear so it no longer sits in our bedroom.! Instead we have a small organ in our room which we are welcome to play.

As you can see our new place is a little old-fashioned but sunny, warm, and welcoming if any of you wish to come visit!