11/05/2016 - 11/12/2016 70 °F
My final trip for a busy travel year is a tour of some of the Western National Parks including the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park and a few other sites that are in the same area. 2016 was the National Parks 100th birthday so I thought this would be a great final trip and allow me to help support the National Parks. I purchased a National Parks Pass that allows unlimited visits to all National Parks for an entire year and costs $85. Since each National Park entrance fee averaged $25 I knew I would more then make up the cost of the pass due to all the National Parks I visited in 2016. In all I visited 7 National Parks in 2016 and have several more scheduled for 2017.
My gateway to the west was Phoenix Arizona. I would fly in and out of there and use Phoenix as my "base camp" which really just meant spending the day there on my arrival day and the day prior to my flight back home. My list of sites I wanted to visit was as usual pretty aggressive and would entail driving close to 2,000 miles by the time I was finished.
My first stop was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which was approx 350 miles away and would take me thru Phoenix into Flagstaff and then continue north towards Utah. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is much more deserted and certainly much less visited then the South Rim of the Grand Canyon due to its limited routes that people can take. I had been to the South rim before several times so I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about with the North Rim. My schedule made it that it was "off season" for the North rim which really just meant that none of Visitor stations or Park Lodges in the North Rim would be open. I did not mind this one bit as it would mean I would pretty much have the park to myself and that was indeed the result. I ran onto no traffic at all and once I was at the North Rim there were times I did not see another single person for long periods of time. The weather was gorgeous which meant the main road into the park would be open and traffic could enter the park without any closed roads.
During my drive towards the North Rim I saw quite a bit of different scenery which included wide open fields, rivers, rock formations and mountain ranges that just appeared out of nowhere.
Once I arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I saw why it was the rim that was not viewed nearly as much as the South rim. The area that had good and "safe" viewing areas was pretty small and somewhat rough to navigate due to the drop offs and lack of barriers to keep you from falling off the "perches". Once you were able to find a good safe viewing spot, it did leave you speechless though I must admit.
My next stop would be Page Arizona which is where I spend the night. I had to back track thru some of the same scenery but I would also run across some new scenery which was also very eye opening.
At Page there is a very popular spot for pictures known as the Horseshoe. This is where the Colorado river forms a "Horseshoe" turn towards the North Rim. The best way to photograph this spot is with a wide angle lens, a tripod and the right time of day to catch the sun in just the right spot.
I pretty much just did the best I could with the equipment I had but it was still pretty cool. This picture is taken about 8:00 am and the place was already packed with people taking photos.
The Glen Canyon Dam is also located at Page and is used to regulate the water flow of the Colorado River thru the Horseshoe turn.
After seeing the Dam my journey continues north east thru Arizona and crossing into lower Utah thru Monument Valley. This is landscape made famous in all the old cowboy movies and the famous scene in the movie Forest Gump where Forest finally decides to stop running across the country. I was really looking forward to seeing this first hand as I had seen pictures and knew that pictures probably would not do it justice.
To see Monument Valley you could view it from the road on the way to your destination or you could actually enter the Indian reservation and drive thru the reservation for much closer views via your car on a 17 mile dirt road. The road hardly deserved the ranking of "dirt" as it was probably the worst kept road I have ever even attempted to drive on. I knew from research what the road condition was like and that was why I rented a new Ford Explorer 4x4 to ensure I could traverse the roads and get as close as possible to the sites within the Monument Valley park.
After my safe return from the 17 mile "dirt road" thru monument Valley I got back on the main road and headed further north to my next stop for the night in Bluff Utah. When I arrived in Bluff I saw a road sign for a historic fort and decided to check it out as I was not aware of any forts at that location. I stopped at the fort and learned its history and how it came to be. The fort was not a military fort but more of a civilian fort built at the time that Bluff was originally settled. The people that settled this area were from Colorado and other parts of the country and had to traverse some of the most difficult terrain ever seen. They had to cross the Colorado river and there was only one way to do this at that time and that was thru a small crevice they opened up and forged a makeshift path thru on the banks of the Colorado river. The fort was formed to protect the settlers from the various Indian tribes that were in the area and where not too happy with their new neighbors.
The next morning I took a short drive to Gooseneck State Park just outside Bluff to see another site that you can view the Colorado river and how it winds its way thru the valleys using sharp "horseshoe" or "gooseneck" turns. Very similar to the Horseshoe view back in Page Arizona and again its the Colorado River. Once again you really need a wide angled lens to capture the full effect but I did the best I could.
My next stop was Arches National Park located just outside of Moab Utah. The park is known for the rock formations shaped in the form of "arches". Those western settlers sure were sharp with their names of things!! Alot of the scenery and formations were very similar to what I had already seen, but there were some that were totally different.
After Arches National Park and located very close by is the next National Park I visited. Canyonlands National Park. My National Parks pass is getting a workout for sure this trip.
My final National Park was Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park located back in Arizona right on historic route 66. Located in the park is much of the same rock formations and structures I had already seen, but there was also alot of petrified wood that has been there for thousands of years dating back before the Dinosaurs. This area of the country had a large population of Dinosaurs and there were lots of markers and signs pointing to their tracks and places they were found and removed for investigating. They seemed to be a huge highway side attraction also as I passed quite a few of them trying to get tourists to stop and go thru their shops. I looked really hard the entire time I was in the park but I did not see a single Dinosaur myself. Apparently they are not fans of Funyuns like other creatures I have run into in the past in the national parks.
I finished up Petrified National Park and began my journey back to Phoenix via Holbrook and Winslow Arizona which travels right beside the old route 66 route. I was hoping to see a few of the old sites that still exist from back in the hay day of route 66.
My first site I found was the WigWam Motel where you can actually sleep in a Teepee.
Located before Winslow Arizona is the old Jack Rabbitt Trading Post that was very popular and famous when route 66 was used years ago.
My final day on the trip had my staying in Phoenix and not doing too much but I did hear what I thought was propeller driven aircraft outside and when I went out and looked up I saw a formation of WWII fighter planes very low and looked like they were coming in for a landing right beside my hotel. I looked on Google Maps and noticed there was indeed a small municipal airport 2 miles away. I did a quick search online and found that there was a World War II aircraft museum located at the airport. I grabbed my camera and drove to the airport to check it out. Sure enough, there was a huge museum located right beside the runways at the airport that was dedicated to World War II aircraft. I decided to take the tour and ended up spending 3 hours there and did not see everything there was to see. They had a huge hangar that was full of different aircraft ranging from World War I all the way thru the Vietnam era.
The 2016 travel year for me finishes up with the completion of this trip. I saw everything on my wish list and was able to add a few extras along the way. 2017 is right around the corner and I already have plans for a few possibilities including Russia, Alaska and possibly the Oregon coast line.
Stay tuned as I am excited to add more journeys to my completion list and who knows what will eventually find itself in the 2017 line up.