Bryce Canyon National Park

Day 8 Soundtrack:

Morning - The Velvet Underground, VU

Lunch - The Pesky Alders, Heavy Meadow

Evening - Roy Orbison, The Very Best Of

Half of the enjoyment of road-tripping is the driving.  Not the act of driving itself, but the opportunity to pass through miles and miles of land that one would otherwise miss if they flew. 

 
Scraping out Vanny's wheel-well, after tackling the Rocky Mountains.

Scraping out Vanny's wheel-well, after tackling the Rocky Mountains.

 

Since leaving Ontario, the landscape has changed so frequently that it seems we are almost in a new land everyday. As we travelled South, the soil became lighter and lighter, slowly changing from the almost black, nutrient rich soil of Southern Ontario, to deep browns, to reds, to tans. The plants at first grew larger - in the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, everything seemed gigantic - and then slowly shrinking as we passed state after state. 

Snow capped hoodoos - winter in Bryce Canyon
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Red Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

As we get further from the Canadian border, the environment becomes "curiouser and curiouser" as Alice might say, and Bryce Canyon was the tip of the "curiouser" iceberg. The most photogenic and striking park we've been to so far, the bright orange hoodoos stood with strength on a bright blue skyline. 

We pulled into Bryce after leaving our motel, travelling the historic byway (passing several "Prospector" themed stops - "Prospector Gasoline" "Prospector Lodge" "Prospector General Store") and slowly following the changing landscape. After the blizzard the night before, the sky was bright and clear, but it was a chilling -12C, the coldest day we'd had yet.  

Bryce Canyon National Park
Navajo Loop Bryce Canyon

We spent a number of hours hiking into the amphitheatre of hoodoos, following the Navajo and Queen's Garden trail in a loop from one edge of the rim to the next. 

Few people ventured deep into the amphitheatre that day, so we enjoyed the peace of the wooded valley just the two of us.

Despite the frigid weather, the sun shone brightly, and we couldn't help but sit in awe of what existed on this planet, right in front of us. It's a big, big world out there - lots to discover, and Bryce Canyon is a must see if you're in the Utah area. We will be back. 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Day 3 Soundtrack:

Morning - AA Bondy, American Hearts

Afternoon - silence.

It didn't take long after leaving Denver for the Rocky Mountains to swallow us whole. They rose up in front of us, then consumed us as we climbed the steep and winding road into their depths.

View from the Moraine campground road

View from the Moraine campground road

Through the winter the park doesn't take reservations – instead you self register, and set up camp at whichever site you'd like. $18 a night, plus a $30 entrance fee. Not the cheapest, considering there is no running water in the cold months,  but the beauty of the park was worth the expense. We were one of only 6 sites occupied on the large loop of ponderosa pine forest. Our site was right on the outskirts, so a short walk up the hill and a view of looming peaks awaited us. We were surrounded on all sides. 

Cozy sleeping place. 

Cozy sleeping place. 

After setting up our tent and getting comfy for the night, we ate dinner over the firepit grill (did I mention that every single park has had emmaculate, super fancy grills?) and cuddled up in our sleeping bags.

And then the wind started.

When we arrived at the park, the ranger warned us they were expecting up to 2ft of snow over the next couple days – be prepared to dig yourself out.

Well, that first night it didn't snow, but the wind came down with GUSTO and shook our tent with an incredible force. We could hear the wind starting on the other side of the valley and slowly building in volume and speed as it made its way down the mountain and up the hill into our campsite. I enjoyed laying in the dark listening to its strength. But we  didn't get much sleep that first night.

The next day we didn't have to drive anywhere (HOORAY!) so we spent the day exploring the park. We started our hike at Bear Lake (9475ft) and trekked up to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes (1011ft) – a 4 mile round trip. The steep climb and icy hike across frozen lakes was worth it. The wind was wicked, but the views were spectacular – great open spaces surrounded by snow covered peaks, shaggy pines growing from the side of boulders, and more wind, whipping across the lakes and blustering snow in their wake.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

The climb.  

The climb.  

All bundled up. 

All bundled up. 

Overlooking the mountains. 

Overlooking the mountains. 

Dream Lake.  

Dream Lake.  

The hike down was easier on the lungs, but harder on the knees. By the time we got back to our campsite, we were ready for another big dinner over the fire.

Making Dinner on night 4.  

Making Dinner on night 4.  

Tea making equipment - the most important. 

Tea making equipment - the most important. 

It snowed over a foot that night. The sound of snow delicately sprinkling on our tent was peaceful to wake up to through the night. In the morning we had to dig ourselves out of our tent-turned-igloo before hitting the road.

Snow day. 

Snow day. 

Onwards to the next stop, (and the one I was most excited about seeing) the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Billboards, Corn and Cattle Piss

Day 1 Soundtrack:

Morning - Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin
Afternoon - Elton John, Greatest Hits

Evening - Pink Floyd, Meddle

 

Day 2 Soundtrack:

Morning - Chad VanGaalen, Soft Airplane

Afternoon - The Travelling Wilburys, Volume 1 + 3

Evening - Spiritualized, Acoustic Mainline

Late Night (to get us through the dark expanses of nothing but corn fields) - David Bowie, Hunky Dory

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

If I were to sum up the first two days of our trip, it would be "Billboards, Corn, and Cattle Piss" - we've seen (and smelt) an abundance of each, after 20 hours crossing the Central States.

We left Hamilton at 9am on Friday and by 7pm we had made it through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois to a small state park called Starved Rock. We pulled in from the I-80 in the dark, and haphazardly cooked some beans over the camp stove. We lost some beans when the stove fell over from the wind, but otherwise had an uneventful evening in the park with all of two other campers.

Cooking breakfast. 

Cooking breakfast. 

Yesterday was equally uneventful - though we made a pit stop in Iowa City so I could see AKAR Gallery in person (their online shop is known worldwide for their excellent selection of ceramics, and many of my favourite artists are represented there). After our quick stop we were back on the road, and decided to haul ass all the way to Colorado so today we could take it easy and enjoy some time in Denver while the sun was still up.

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

Our New Year's Eve plans were thus:

 

1. Stop for Instant Fresh Onion Soup at a rest stop just outside of Omaha NE while the sun sets.

2. Pull into the parking lot at Bush Municipal Park and get cozy. They had electricity (so we could plug our little heater in), and the park was free.

Bush CO Municipal Park

Bush CO Municipal Park

IHOP breakfast.  

IHOP breakfast.  

As a reward for finding a free place to crash, we had New Year's Day breakfast at the I-76 IHOP on our way to Denver.

We're now at (what appears to be) the hippest coffee shop in Denver CO "Thump Coffee" - where the exposed brick, industrial steel and raw wood furniture, excess of succulents and cacti, and bottled milk in the fridge are reminders of hipster cafes in the Hammer. The trends span far and wide, it appears. Great service, delicious tea, and a nice view of the Denver bustle.

We've got a couple hours of driving before we make it to our first "real" stop - the Rocky Mountain National Park where we will enjoy sub zero temperatures in our tent, very little public interaction, and lots of mountains. I'm stoked.

 

I hope you are all having a wonderful New Years.

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 

E.