Beauties in the Middle of Nowhere

After Grand Canyon we were heading north eastwards to Page, a small town near two famous sights called Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. We used it as our base to do day trips and camped there at Walmart for the next two nights (we just didn’t see the point of spending 50usd a night for one of those cramped campgrounds offering facilities we don’t need. Though we met two funny Frenchies sleeping in their car and an American guy called Mat from the South of Arizona travelling in his self-made campervan for six weeks). Besides the two famous sights the manmade Lake Powell was also a sight worth seeing. It took the people a few years to build the dam, and 17 years for the water to fill at Glen Canyon Dam which forms the lake. On one hand a good thing to have clean energy, but one the other hand we also learnt that most of the water was used for agricultural purposes. To produce an egg, for example, needs shocking 140liters of water! We wonder how long the Earth’s resources can last (we are not good examples of course with our flying-around-the-world but at least aware of it trying to do our share by not washing our car weekly, showering longer than 5mins etc etc.).

As Antelope Canyon is only accessible with tours, we had to book a tour for the resized_IMG_6557following day, hoping that it is at a good time. Tours at noon with good lights shining through the canyon are more popular so they sell out faster (and are more expensive).  We had some trouble getting a tour at such short notice but luckily after an hour of calling we managed to book two seats. We went with a Native American owned company which also did a short dance performance before the tour. It is indeed one of the most beautiful places we have visited, but one of the worst tours we have had as well. It was crowded with 1’800 tourists visiting the place daily and the tour companies had a tight schedule to adhere resized_IMG_6562to so it was quite a rush. We were driven to the place was in an open 4WD truck, the ride over dirt road bumpy and very very dusty. We were not so lucky and got a really, really lousy tour guide. He was a middle aged Indian man who only knew exactly how to walk into your photos while you try to take photos without any person, or who shouted “come over here” a gazillion times throughout the 1.5hour tour. Despite the sad fact that this place is overly commercialized and overpriced, we still thought this place is insanely beautiful. Nature must be a good artist to be able to carve such patterns onto the rocks. See for yourself.

Another famous sight in the region is the horseshoe bend, which earned its name as the Colorado River carved a 180degrees turn around a big rock, looking like a horseshoe. It must be a truly huge horse to have that size of a horseshoe;) it is a nice place to visit if you are not afraid of heights, because there is no fence and you are basically standing at edge of cliffs. We survived it! Once again it was hot. Even the short 2miles hike at 5pm nearly grilled us. As we had sort of enough of this heat where not even the wind brings relief (the gusts are so hot and dry that it burns on your skin at resized_IMG_6762dries our eyes out) and the dusty air (Roman produced some nice allergic reactions to it) we planned to find some cool down in higher altitudes in the east: Monument Valley. We did, almost by coincidence, meet one of Romans study friends, Marco, for dinner. It was good fun and we were a bit envious about the agile muscle car he had for his trip.

As we faced the setting sun on our visit to the horseshoe bend the evening before we decided to go back there again before driving towards Monument Valley. The light was resized_IMG_6773much better and worth the extra move, which we definitely did not regret later as we sat in the car for a few hours later on. We expected to drive to Monument Valley to be a leisurely 1.5hrs ride. In the end it took us almost double the time. As we entered the valley shortly after Kayenta more and more towering rock formations opened up around us. The park itself lies within the Navajo State (a land area given to the local Indian tribes by contract) and was operated by their own people so unfortunately our National Park Pass was not valid and we had to pay entrance fee (not too bad we thought – support the locals). The first glance at the famous red rock piles standing emerald within the valley was breathtaking and instantly let you feel like in one of those epic western movies. The only RV campsite (a simple line up of parallel parking lots at the rim overlooking the valley with a table for each slot, nothing more) cost us another 45USD. It started to get suspicious. As we wanted to drive down the valley to discover the park resized_IMG_6826late afternoon we started to plan our itinerary. We got informed that RVs are not allowed to drive on the dirt road in the park but the park operates tours. Being told that 1.5hr guided drives to the valley on open 10-people trucks start at a bottom rate of 75USD per person we got a bit upset. It seemed like the Indians here wanted to make easy money out of their visitors without bothering much about what services they provide. It was the same for Antelope Canyon. We decided not to take any of these tours and to try our luck by stopping one of the cars (normal size cars are allowed to drive on the dirt road) entering the area and promptly got two friendly Dutch guys who took us with them. After driving around in the valley with Tom and Nik for almost tworesized_IMG_6864 hours it was time for sunset magic. We took our chairs and watched the rocks gluing and their shadows growing. Roman liked the place that much that he even set his alarm to 5:45 to go and watch the sunrise the other morning (which of course was a jaw dropper but sleeping Yin Ru said she finds it not very special according to the photos shown…whatever…).

The place of Monument Valley marked the eastern most point of our loop. As we were unsure whether places like Arches-, Canyonlands or Capitol Reef National Park were worth the extra few hundred miles detour to the north east and there were not many roads to shortcut or get back in this area we decided to drive back the same way to reach our next bold agenda point: Bryce Canyon. Yin Ru did her share of driving for more than 2hrs that day which means that she drove more hours on this motorhome than on any other vehicles together on our round the world trip. The day was also father’s day with many family’s spending some time at Lake Powell to have fun with their dads. We found it interesting that the only fresh water source for ten thousands of acres was open for hundreds of boresized_IMG_6875ats to play. We also saw a huge coal power plant hidden behind the dam. We were wondering how honest these stories about the green way of this country is sold at the Dam’s visitor center we heard a few days before and how people are going to compensate the emissions caused by their play boats which easily burn 200 liters of diesel in an hour…

Since Bryce Canyon is an incredibly popular spot this time of the year and we didn’t reserve a campsite, our strategy was the same as the one we had for Grand Canyon: Drive as close to the Park as possible, stay the night before at a nice spot outside the park, get up early and grab one of the first come first served spots in the park in the morning. So we had a long driving day and ended up camping just 10miles out of Bryce at a neat place within Red Canyon Forest Park grilling steaks, corn and veggies on wood fire. Our strategy worked out well once again and we got to choose one of the better spots the next morning on Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park for the next two nights.

We then did the scenic drive in the park in the afternoon. And wow, wow, wow was the first reaction whenever we stopped at a lookout point. Simply amazing. Hundreds of thousands of “hoodoos” (the rock formations), each one unique. Halfway during the self-drive we got our own self-drive guided tour by following tour buses and listen to resized_IMG_7053their guide. At sunset we had a short walk into the canyon which was like an appetizer for our hike the next day. The main hike the next day was one of the best hikes ever: though not as strenuous as we imagined, the view was beyond imagination. We basically hiked through wonderland. We did not find Alice but hundreds of thousands of Hoodoos. We were amazed by how fast landscape changed and how wonderful it felt to walk through all the pillars: from deep red hoodoos with white toppings to orange colored cliffs and brown sands. It is a different sensation than just looking at it from the top (which was nice too) as you walk around them. We had wood fire BBQ again because with sun setting at 9pm, you have plenty of time to grill and spend time outside. During our stay at Bryce Canyon we had a funny young couple as neighbors in camp. We were pretty entertained by them: first eresized_IMG_7056vening we wondered why they were not talking to each other at all, and the second evening their car keys were locked IN the car so rangers had to come and rescue the keys. So now we know how to unlock a car without keys, watch out everyone! We left Bryce Canyon after a lovely 2night stay with beautiful memories.

Our initial plan was to visit the Zion National Park after the Bryce. As we realized we might have more time than we needed, we thought why not do something different? So we decided to do the scenic By-Way 12 before going to Zion. We knew nothing about it resized_IMG_7336before, but now we would definitely recommend it to everyone. It was a beautiful drive through Canyons, bushland, riverwashes and in the end a 11’000ft high mountain (beautiful view, but not beautiful for our elephant motorhome to climb uphill). We camped at a small campsite with 5 capacity called Pleasant Creek at over 9’000ft elevation where deer shouted goodnight around 9pm. We grilled (again!) some beef for dinner, and ironically we saw cows walking just 10meters away from us (we did say thank you to the cows for the meat though). The scenic drive continues all the way to the Capitol Reef National Park, a less renowned National Park compared to its cousins aka Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion etc. We were happy that we came here not knowing what to expect. It was less crowded (but hotter) and one could do a resized_IMG_7526scenic drive in the park itself. We also noticed that honestly we have been looking at rocks/soil/land since we started the road trip: Grand Canyon was like a big crack in the land, Bryce the Rock formations were popping out of earth (actually made of cliffs) and Capitol Reef again spectacular cliffs. We are not geologists so those were just our impressions. After Capitol Reef National Park we drove in the direction of Zion National Park and stayed somewhere at a rest area on highway. We were uncertain if we should stay overnight there but a truck driver told us it is totally fine and later an elderly pair came to join us at rest area to sleep overnight. Yinru slept really well despite the highway noise but poor Roman not.

We got up early today so that we could get a campsite at Zion National Park. Being a RV Monster, we had to pay an extra 15 USD fee to be “escorted” through the tunnel in the Zion. As the tunnel was built in the 20s when large vehicles were less common, the tunnel was rather small and monster cars like ours need clearance to be able to go through. All the cars on the other side of traffic had to be stopped so that we could drive in the middle of the tunnel (two way traffic would not work). We put the blame on the RV that was in front of us anyways (we were ONLY 22ft and theirs was definitely like 35ft). resized_IMG_7533The drive into the park itself was already scenic enough. We went to both campgrounds only to our disappointment to be told that they were both fully booked. At 10am! We were like “but it is first come first served, and we are here at 10am when the other people are checking out!”. The ranger told us that people came here at 8am to get a spot…ok apparently we were not early enough. We have not encountered this problem in Grand Canyon or Bryce so it was a little bit surprising for us that Zion is so much more popular. We had to go to private campground nearby which charged 50 USD (!) for a night. We paid the 50bucks for the “parking” space (with water and electricity, but not more) because they were the only campground in the vicinity. Oh well….It was hot so it was our first time using our AC the whole afternoon! The AC was not even enough to cool us down so we went to cool ourselves down in the river. Oh gosh, we were thankful that we are not living here permanently or we would be grilled! Sun at 6pm still hurts your skin. Roman left his sandals outside of the motorhome for an hour and the edges MELTED. Melted sandals. Imagine that? We visited the park in the evening when it was less hot. We did realize why this park is popular: its breathtaking beauty. See for yourself.

Each National Park we have visited is unique so we would not say this is the best, but definitely one of the top 5 (we have only visited 5 to date anyways haha). The best way to explore the park was to hike it. We heard about the Angels Landing Hike a lot and decided to give it a try. This legendary yet scary hike is so difficult that only angels could land on it (some parts you need to hold onto the chain as there were cliffs on both side). We knew we were no angels and knowing our own limits being afraid of heights, we would be happy if we made it to the Scouts resized_IMG_7694landing, the lookout point before the scary cliff part. Due to the extreme heat during the day, the best time to do a hike would be early in the morning so we dragged ourselves out of bed at 630am. We started our hike at about 815am and there were already quite some people on the trail. As we hiked we realized that we have physically improved a bit and we were feeling fit even though it was going uphill all the time. The cool climate in the morning did help us a lot (worth it to get up so early). We made it to the overlook without much difficulties though we had to use the chain for the last 10minutes or so. The inner debate if we should attempt to hike to the top ended with a clear “No” after seeing the trail with our own eyes. Nope, we can’t be angels this time. There was so much traffic (human) as everyone holds on to the only chain making the two wayresized_IMG_7618 traffic a bit congested. And the sheer cliffs on both sides at 1400ft make your legs shake just by looking at it. So we enjoyed the view of the canyon (and the people climbing to the top) for some time before making our way down. Going downhill was easy as usual, we were also entertained by many different techniques people use to reduce impact on knees and toes: run, jog, and even backward walking. As we walked down at 1030am it was getting warm already and we saw many people hiking up. Some of them looked red already after the first 0.5mile (it is 5.4mile return) so we were glad that we got up early to hike. The Virgin River that shapes the Zion National Park is still working its magic in the park, and it also does wonder with cooling down. We bathed a bit in the cool 15 degrees river and felt alive again!

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