UPDATE: I have to apologise regarding the photos. I had previously written this with a lot of links scattered through it to specific photos from the trip. Since the collapse of my Powweb hosted gallery I've had to relocate all the photos to my Smugmug account and to recreate the links would prove almost impossible. So use the above link to the entire gallery, browse it day by day, and enjoy this for the story.
Day 1: Neither of us are gamblers so for us, Las Vegas was really just a place to fly in and out of, and we flew Southwest from Islip, (very convenient, Islip is only 20 minutes from home and the long-term parking is walking distance from the terminal - a shame Southwest doesn't fly to England!), which got us into Vegas slightly ahead of schedule. I highly recommend Southwest especially now that I heard they changed their policy so that you have a better chance of a good seat if you check in early, without having to stand online and fight off the other flyers. If anyone from Southwest is reading this, I would be delighted to place ads for you on here, at a reasonable fee of course :) After landing in Vegas we had a short shuttle ride to pick up a rental car. I had planned on getting a Dodge Charger, but when we got to the counter I saw they had a Sebring convertible that got better mileage and was only slightly more per day, so I upgraded to that. An excellent choice as it turned out because we had almost perfect convertible weather for the entire trip, AND it saved me money, AND from what I've been told, it handled the "roads" I wanted to drive better than a Charger would have. Again, if anyone from Chrysler is reading, yup, ad space is available. One quick aside, if anyone from Dollar Car Rental is reading, I'm only kidding about the roads I took your car on, really ... I have no idea where all that dirt came from!|
Vegas is an interesting town but you all know that already so I'll skip the descriptions of the crowds and the noise and the lights. It's a great place to be if you're in construction though, I've never seen so much building going on in one place! We wandered around for a while, tried to get some photos of the lit up casinos without much luck - I think there's just too much going on for the cameras to be able to figure out what to focus on, so we both ended up with a lot of blurry shots we couldn't even recognize!
(That's my excuse, but if I were to be honest ... I'm never satisfied with my photography. No matter how much I spend on cameras, I don't feel that I get the crisp, clear, shots that I see others getting. Maybe I'm just too critical of myself though because quite a few people have told me that many of my photos are really good.)
It didn't come as a complete surprise to see the amount of people walking around the streets drinking, or the amount of "escort" services that were being advertised with cards, flyers and even magazines, very openly, everywhere. I was really surprised the next morning to find how clean the streets were though ... it looked like a completely different place!
After tracking down a local Walmart (I swear, I never usually shop there!) to grab a cheapie cooler and a case of water, we spent the first night at Arizona Charlie's Boulder Casino, where we enjoyed an acceptable all-you-can-eat buffet, and your basic standard motel room. The swimming pool was just shy of being an ice cube though, and the hot tub wasn't ... hot that is.
Day 2: After a quick walk around Vegas again we hit the road for Zion and beyond! We fully expected to be awestruck when we got to Zion, but it was actually quite a bit before that (still in Arizona), that we got our first sights. I-15 cuts through some pretty impressive mountains before it reaches Utah, so we were clicking away with the cameras well before we expected to be. Zion National Park was beyond our expectations, and I realized immediately that I had not allowed enough time to really see it, so another trip is in the future for Utah. We both wondered aloud how anything else could possibly top this for scenery! (The first of several DOH! moments)
Every turn in the road brought another WOW! and another stop for another photo. Because I had not planned for an extended stay at Zion, we decided to skip the 3 hour bus-ride that goes north deep into the park, and instead press on via Route 9 to the exit on the east end. This was DOH! moment #3, (yeah, I skipped one), simply because we missed so much, but as I said, there will be a return to Zion in our future. And, don't get me wrong - even missing out on the shuttle bus tour, it was still an extremely enjoyable and impressive road in itself with many more stops for photos, and some incredible climbs and hairpin turns and tunnels through the mountains!
At the eastern exit to the park we experienced DOH! moment #4. Assuming we had left behind all the amazing scenery for the rest of the day, one of us (I'm not pointing fingers but I'm pretty sure it was Deb), remarked how flat and green and so much like Long Island the landscape had become. And then we turned a corner and boom, canyons as far as the eye could see!
There are some DOH! moments that no photographic evidence exists for, and here is #2, the one I skipped back there. We decided to stop for lunch just before we got to Zion, at an Arby's, (yo, Arbys guys, ad, right here), off the highway, and because we didn't know the area, I put the top up on the car ... really cool to watch, completely automatic, you just press a button and the trunk opens, backwards, then the roof retracts out of it and swings up over the car and connects to the windshield! Kids love it .... especially when they see the previous day's swimwear that you left sitting on it when it was folded up in the trunk. (well what was I supposed to do with it - it was still wet from last night's cold tub so we sat it on top of the folded up roof in the trunk!) Smooth, real smooth. For our second night I had booked us in to the Red Rock Country Inn, in Kanab, Utah, originally for 3 nights, because it seemed like it was central to a lot of where we would be, and because their website sold it as a nice, clean, modern place with a pool, hot-tub and spa. Some truth in advertising would have been nice Red Rock ... no ad space for YOU! The pool and hot tub were closed for the season, the "relaxation center" with massage, aroma- therapy and oxygen bar had mysteriously vanished, the room was old and filled with beat up furniture, and the door only locked if you slammed it shut with enough force to wake the dead! Needless to say we found another motel, and checked out of this one after one night! Funny thing, the management had no problem with this and promptly refunded my payment for the additional 2 nights ... are they used to this?
Day 3: Starting a trend that we would keep up for the whole trip, we hit the road before the sun was up, checking out of the motel around 6.30am and heading south on 89 to Fredonia at the Arizona border, and then Jacob Lake on 67 to the Grand Canyon North Rim. What can I say about the Grand Canyon that hasn't already been said? Remember back up there where I said that we doubted anything could impress us more than Zion? Yeah, right! And yet, it wasn't better ... that's the amazing thing about this trip, everything we saw was a huge WOW! and yet, after it, I can't pick a "winner" .... they were all spectacular in their own right, and each new place was a different WOW! that did nothing to diminish the previous days memories.
Having said that, I did prefer the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the south. It is wilder, very natural and unspoiled and far less commercialized. Oh yeah, and it's in Arizona, which is NOT Utah, and therefore is NOT in the same time zone as Utah! DOH! :) It's still 6.30! ... no wonder we got in free! A brief aside to this ... the National Park Service charges $25 each to get into Zion, the Grand Canyons, (north and south), and Bryce, or you can get an annual pass for $80 that covers all the National Parks in the country. We got lucky and saved money by getting to the North Rim before the park officially opened, but I bought the annual pass anyway (I plan on using it again next year), and recommend getting it. Unfortunately there are also numerous state parks in Utah whose fees aren't covered by this National Park pass, but it's still a real bargain.
There are lots of trails you can hike and we chose a couple of relatively short non-strenuous ones to explore while we were there, including a very cool, not to be missed walk out to Angel Bright Fault. The pathway meanders around with some heart-stopping sections where there is about a 2 foot wide path with pretty much NOTHING on either side of you but air, and when you finally get to the end of the trail there are more stunning views. Oh yes, and an information board that tells you you're standing in an area that was formed by earthquakes millions of years ago, and is still active!!
On the way back out of the park, completely by chance we decided to take a right onto Cape Royal Road and found a bunch more places that might well be missed by a lot of people visiting the Canyon. Oddly there are no signposts telling you this, but this road leads to Cape Royal, Roosevelt Point, Imperial Point and several more. If you ever go, do not miss this really nice drive through aspen and pine and more amazing views when you reach Cape Final and Angel's Window. At the end of a long day, we packed ourselves back in the car and headed off to The Horizon Motel. A quaint little roadside motel in Panguitch, we had booked a room with 2 queen beds and that's what we got - in 2 separate rooms! I don't think I've ever seen a motel room like that before. An unexpected surprise was that they had free wireless internet so Deb could get online and check her email, football stuff, etc. The bad news was that the room only had ungrounded 2 prong outlets, but the owner was more than happy to loan us an adapter so it wasn't a problem.
I should mention here that absolutely everyone we met in Utah, from the motel owners, to the restaurant staff, to the gas station clerks, were some of the nicest, most down-to-earth, friendly and helpful people I've ever met, and I don't think it was just because we were tourists ... I didn't get the same impression in Nevada or Arizona, or in just about any other place I've traveled now that I think about it!
Both nights we spent in Panguitch we ate at the Flying M restaurant. It's an odd, very homey little place, but the food was good and the service was excellent. Night one we walked in and seated ourselves immediately. On the second night we went into town to try something different but found the only other place in town was so crowded it was overflowing out the door. Usually a sign of a good restaurant but we were tired, and hungry, and didn't feel like waiting. Back at the Flying M there was a coach load of French tourists there and we had to sit at the counter to eat. No biggie, and we got to sit next to the (also French) coach driver who told us that he hated the French because they were so cheap!
Day 4: Continuing our early morning routine, we headed out at daybreak to Bryce Canyon, which is off Route 12, a National Scenic Byway, also known as "the All-American-Road", and definitely one of the best roads I've ever driven. Shortly after turning onto Route 12 we came upon Red Canyon, beautiful at dawn with the sun bathing the red rocks in light. A right turn onto 63 and we were entering Bryce Canyon. Ok, so you know how on day 2 we thought nothing could beat Zion, and then we saw Grand Canyon and revised that statement .... well, I think I have to admit that I do have a favorite after all, and it is Bryce. The elevation is higher than Zion or Grand, which probably helps a lot of the views, but aside from that, the colors, the natural sculptures that are going on everywhere are just unbelievable. Obviously we have photos, but the photos just don't capture it the way it was in real life. YOU MUST GO THERE! EVERYONE on the planet needs to see this before they die! Bryce Canyon is truly awe-inspiring in every sense of the word! Unfortunately we didn't have the nicest weather so we had to cut the day short since the trails were getting slick and muddy. On the way back to Panguitch we decided to take a lunchbreak at Ruby's Inn, and am I glad we did! What a great buffet! Bought myself a western belt (made in China) in the gift shop there too. Back in Panguitch we downloaded the days photos to the laptop, and then just decided to take a ride around the area to see what else was there. Well, for one thing, to the west is Lake Panguitch, which on a sunny day would have been really cool. We also saw what looked like an old wild west town off the side of the road and the only thing we could think of was that perhaps it was used by the local law for target practice. One thing we missed (I found out later when tracing our route on Google Earth), was that we came very close to Cedar Breaks National Monument and Brian Head which is a huge skiing destination, and looks pretty nice during the rest of the year without snow. Another Utah trip is definitely a must!
Day 5: Checking out of the Horizon early, we hightailed it back up to Bryce for daybreak and the few spots we skipped yesterday, and boy am I glad we did! There's a really good reason that this is called Sunrise Point! Yeah, it was a little chilly but the sun came out full force and started the day perfectly. I'm a little annoyed with myself that I was perhaps too eager to get on to the next part of the trip and didn't take the time to hike down into some of the trails at Bryce, most notably the Queens Garden trail, but I'm hoping I can correct that on a future visit.
Day 5, continued: Today was one of the high points of the vacation for me, because I had heard a lot about Route 12 being a really great drive, (see the video below), and it was where we would be spending most of the day. There is some confusion in the gallery as to the order of things, since there were so many pictures from so many places, but I'm working on that! To call it 'Scenic' Route 12 has to be one of the understatements of all time ... we must have stopped pretty much every 15 minutes for yet another photo-op! Back on 12 but before we were even 5 minutes from Bryce, we stumbled on Mossy Creek trail, a lovely little cove with several waterfalls, streams of crystal clear (and icy cold) water, and a cave.|
I found this awesome video of Route 12, created by some Australian bikers! It's a 9 minute clip, watch it all ... it's worth every minute! Now I have to go back and do this again on a bike!
Continuing through the Grand Staircase, stopping briefly for lunch at a cozy little coffee shop hidden under the rocks and hills, we finally got to the sign I had been waiting for. Hell's Backbone! I'm going to take the liberty of quoting from another website here: "Hellís Backbone Road is one of the most dramatic stretches of road in Utah as it travels along a ridge with a sheer drop on both sides. Hellís Backbone Bridge spans a crevasse on a narrow ridge no wider than the bridge itself." That ain't no lie, and that bridge was single lane! This road actually managed to scare me, and I kept the speed down to around 15 mph for most of this white-knuckle ride!
Somewhere around the middle of Hell's Backbone is the road to Posey Lake, another beautiful scenic spot. Heading back down the gravel road to Escalante and Route 12, we made our way to our next overnight stop, a really nice little motel, Pole's Place, in Boulder, Utah. Or did we ... :) Just before the turn for the motel is one of the other roads I wanted to check out, and as it happened we had just enough daylight left to do it - Burr Trail Road is 75 miles of paved road winding through some of the most picturesque landscape imaginable.
A little side note here - when I win the lottery (which I should really start playing one of these days) I think I'll buy a summer house here in Boulder - I really liked the town, and the proximity to Route 12, Hell's Backbone and Burr Trail, etc. make it a perfect spot to spend summers! Sadly I'm not sure the folks living there would be as thrilled about this though, since the "summer home" crowd is driving up the prices of real estate to the point that the locals are finding it tough to be able to afford to stay.
Dinner was a delicious burger at the Burr Trail Grill, just a quick walk down the road from the motel. Incidentally, if you're planning a vacation in the Boulder Mountain area, I can highly recommend Pole's Place as a very clean, friendly, and conveniently located place to stay during your trip, and Burr Trail Grill is a great place for food. (Make sure you try the local brews too - Polygamy Porter is a very tasty beverage!) I've heard that the Hells Backbone Grill is also an excellent restaurant but we didn't get a chance to find out ... this time :)
Day 6: Originally I had planned to drive Burr Trail Road all the way down to Bullfrog and Lake Powell as the route to Monument Valley, but I learned that after the 75 paved miles there is about 100 more of dirt road, not even gravel, and a high clearance 4WD is recommended ... NOT a cute little convertible, especially one day after a rainstorm! So instead, we left Pole's Place at dawn heading north on Route 12 to Torrey and the intersection with Route 24 east. While driving through yet another beautiful but completely different landscape from previous days, (one of the greatest things about southern Utah is that you can take a drive every day, and find a whole new type of scenery each time you do), we got a glimpse of some wildlife we hadn't seen before in the form of a whole family of elk. At Torrey we stopped to gas up and grab a coffee and breakfast at Castle Rock Coffee & Candy, a local gourmet coffee house, and I have to say that was probably one of the best cups of coffee and definitely THE BEST strawberry muffin I've ever had. Speaking of breakfasts in general, 7-11 could take a tip from the gas stations in Utah - the sausage, egg and cheese biscuits they have down there put 7-11's to shame! Oh, if my doctor is reading this .... I was kidding, really, I'd never put that junk in my body!
Anyhow, back to the trip ... After stopping for gas and breakfast, we continued east on 24 towards Capitol Reef National Park, which got it's name from the rock formations that look so much like the Capitol building in DC. Additionally there are some Indian petroglyphs that lead me to believe they were visited by aliens! At the Capitol Reef visitor center we were told that we should take a quick detour to Kodachrome Park, which looked cool, but didn't really fit into our plans today - we still had a lot of driving ahead of us. Crossing the Dirty Devil, and then the Colorado River we continued south on 95, stopping numerous times for photos, as the scenery continued to amaze and delight us. A short time later, we turned onto 261 south, where we saw the sign for the third road I'd been dreaming of. I'm not sure why but Deb was surprised to see this sign, had for some reason thought she had a couple more days to ready herself for it, and still to this day thinks I pulled a fast one on her! One of the really cool things about this section is that there is really no indication that you're about to fall off the end of the earth! You drive for 23 miles of pleasant but unremarkable road, then wham ... you're there. The heart starts to beat a little quicker, the knuckles clasp the wheel a little tighter, and away you go :) At the bottom of the Moki Dugway (I've seen this spelled a ton of ways and I think my way is right), is the Valley of the Gods, and a little way further down the road, Goosenecks State Park. Following that stop we wind through the town of Mexican Hat, and then straight on to Monument Valley. From Monument Valley it was a relatively quick drive to Page, Arizona, (honest, we probably didn't stop more than 3 or 4 times for photos!) where I had booked us in at the America's Best Value Inn. We went for a drive, watched the moon rise over Lake Powell, and found a decent restaurant, the Dam Bar & Grill, with dam good food and an interesting dam theme. Did I mention the town is near the Glenn Canyon Dam?
Day 7: Another big travel day ahead of us, we left Page at sun-up. Totally unaware that I was passing Horseshoe Bend (a section of the Colorado River) and more photos, we headed south on 89 toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Stopping only a couple of times for photos, we got there around 2 hours later.
We started at the visitor center near the Watchtower for tips on the best places to see, There were already a lot more tourists around on this side of the canyons, even with all the snakes and tarantulas around, (we didn't actually see a single snake, and that might not be a Tarantula), so it was tougher finding parking spots than anywhere else we'd visited.
Sadly, there also seem to be a lot more idiots around who can't follow simple instructions, as we saw soda cans, cigarette butts, and other garbage tossed over the edge in several places, and people climbing over railings to go further out onto rocks where it was clearly marked to stay on the paths to avoid causing harm to the environment, not to mention signs all over the place showing the number one cause of death in the Grand Canyon is from visitors who ignore the signs and go beyond where it is considered safe. This wasn't the only place we witnessed this. At Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon we saw a group of tourists who made no attempt to stay on the clearly marked walkways, and one family who had us close to calling the authorities by taking their 2 very little girls extremely close to the edge to take photos! I don't mind telling you, my heart skipped a beat or two thinking something horribly tragic was about to happen, but fortunately nothing did. I have no doubt a Darwin award is waiting in their fathers' future somewhere.
Putting all that aside though, it was another extremely good day for views. As I mentioned earlier, the South Rim is far more built up than the North, and even has it's own library, which we found, and Deb managed to get online for her daily internet fix! With that done, we said goodbye to the Grand Canyon and started on the long drive back to Vegas.
Of course you can't get from the Grand Canyon to Vegas without passing a couple other places, and you know what that means, so first there was Lake Mead, then we found some more wildlife, and then the Hoover Dam. which is pretty impressive itself. A new bridge is being built, expected to open in 2010, but until then you have to drive over the dam. As soon as you've done that, if the timing is right, you get a spectacular moonrise coming up over the mountains to the east. From there, it's a short drive to a scenic overlook with views of Lake Mead from the Nevada side.
After this last photo stop we headed back to Vegas, and insanity! No kidding, I have NEVER seen people driving that fast in my life! Coaches passed me doing at least 90 on a 5 lane highway (I'm pretty sure the sign said we were on I-215, although from what I saw that could have been the speed limit!)
We checked into the last motel of the trip, America's Best Value just 2 blocks off the strip, and headed into town to catch some of the lights and activities, and get a meal, (a delicious steak at Outback), before calling it a night. Tomorrow we need to get the car back to the rental place, and ourselves back to Long Island.
Google Earth - This free program from Google is the best trip planning tool you will ever find!
The links - These websites were very helpful in planning the trip.
Second opinions - Other people's stories and photos.
And while I'm at it, the car had Sirius satellite radio - we drove almost 2000 miles and we had perfect reception everywhere .... tons of great choices to listen to, (at least one channel for every conceivable genre of music there is), and on Sunday, all the NFL games. Sirius kicks ass!
Finally, I have a killer get rich quick deal for any plumbers reading this .... EVERY motel we stayed at in Nevada, Utah and Arizona had absolutely HORRIBLE showers! Go start up a business there, you'll make a fortune!