Moab continued: Canyonlands NP and Mountainbike walhalla
With Arches NP being the first park to hit in Utah after a very uncommon, the next day we start to see the true desert and its climate. We visit the other National Park around the corner; Canyonlands NP. The section of the park we visit is called ‘Island in the Sky’, and that is exactly what it feels like when you drive to the outer edge of the park. It is as if the part of the park we can visit is pushed out from the ground, creating a hand shaped peninsula created by the 2 rivers that coincide at the tip of it: The Colorado and the Green River. The ‘Grand view lookout’ shows exactly that, and puts millions of years of the earths evolution into perspective.
There is a neat little loop out to the Mesa Arch, but the highlight for the boys is scrambling up Whale Rock, a massive boulder jutting out of the ground shaped like a whale. To add to the fun, the rainfall has created pools of water on its ‘back’ which gives them the joy of making the whale squirt water from its back by pushing the water from pool to pool and then over the edge. The last hike out is to the ‘Upheaval Dome’, a crater like dome with bright green rocks from which to date there is uncertainty about its formation.
Another pledge, another badge, and back to Moab it is time for Sven to tackle the ultimate world renowned mountain bike trail: Slickrock. The area of Moab is covered in mountain bike trails for every level, but Slickrock is by far the most challenging; 17 kilometers of technical trail across the boulders. The trail is set out by white little stripes, and the boulders are like sandpaper to the touch which you should be able to climb as long as you keep moving. The thrill is enormous and completing it is one of the most exhilarating things Sven has ever done, even if it was not on his trusted ride (we left his proper bike home as it is too expensive to strap onto an RV 😉).
Svens enthusiasm of course rolled over to the next day as we head out to the Moab Bar M trail area. We strap on our helmets and climb on our bikes to do an intermediate single track; Lazy Eazy. Luc and Sven turn up the speed and finish the loop twice, while Bo is really cranking up his mountain bike skills in one loop with mom. You could easily spend a week here visiting a different trail area every day and cover its 15-45 miles of trail, and we would highly recommend it. Most fun we have is over people that have super fancy bikes, but not the skills that should go with them, while us Dutchmen prove it is the skill first, then the bike that gets you across a single track. Tired but satisfied we pack up and drive on into Utah for a night under the stars…
Capitol Reef NP
After a night only disturbed by a tow car pulling out some unlucky stranded 4×4 drivers and a herd of cows, we happily make our way towards Capitol Reef NP. Many of its sites are still washed out by the rain, but we can do the river outlook trail up for a good view, and take the scenic drive in and out of the National Park. The valley has a few fun historic sites (blacksmith, school, etc) and a park filled with deer, and before we head out we fill up on apples in the ‘u-pick’ orchard.
The drive along highway 12 towards Escalante is slow going but very beautiful. The strange thing about Utah is that you alternate dry, desert-like landscapes with pine-covered alpine ones… From seriously scorching temperatures to windy cool lookouts. Then on to flats or flooded areas where the mud sticks to the houses. In Escalante the visitor center is already closed (at 16:00!!!), but we enjoy the hummingbirds snacking away at their birdfeeders outside. Then we decide to give the Hole-in-the-Rock road a try, it seems to be in bad shape after the rains, but has a highlight we would love to go and check out. The road is VERY bumpy, so we decide to forego on the Spooky & Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyons, and stop after 8 miles of teeth shattering washboard road to park at Zebra Slot Canyon. We are all by ourselves and the night sky shows spectacular Milky Way displays, which makes up for the feeling half of our RV must have fallen apart on the road in 😉.
Hole-in-the-rock road & Slot Canyon adventure
We get up very early for a breakfast on the go, as we walk on to the trail to Zebra Slot Canyon. As temperatures rise quickly, the earlier you leave the better. Zebra is more than 2 miles out, mostly walking the bedding of a wash that carries the water of rains out but is otherwise dry. When we get to the canyon, it turns out the canyon is flooded, most probably by the heavy rain that fell almost a week ago. So we opt to strip down naked (we are sure we are the only ones out this early 😉) and swim into the canyon. It gets very tight further on, we can only imagine how amazing it must be if you can actually hike through it!
We dry up fast in the Utah sun, and as we feel quite good we decide to add the Tunnel Slot Canyon to the itinerary. To get there the challenge is to cross over some high rocks, and again we are stopped by some pools. Great climbers Luc & Bo are never shy of a scramble, so we take it to in the end get to Tunnel Slot Canyon…. Which has water in it too. As we have to pass THROUGH the canyon to get back, we are happy to find out the canyon is only waist deep and thus we only strip down halfway and carry the kids on our backs. After another break we take the long hike back out, we end up having walked over 6 miles and are super proud how the boys held up through it!
We have a long drive ahead of us (not far, but slow going over the rough gravel road we got in on), as we make our way to the next National Park; Bryce Canyon. On the way we visit the quaint little heritage site of the Hole-in-the-rock road, explaining how back in the day the Mormon pioneers made their way across the plains to the canyon ridge and then hacked a almost vertical cart passage through. 7 spans of horse and oxen were needed per wagon to come down… quite a feat!
Bryce Canyon National Park with a 40th Birthday!
In the afternoon we drive into Bryce National Park, as the Labor day crowds diminish and the park quiets down. We pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, watch the movie on the park through the seasons, which gives a great insight on its nature and annual cycle. As we head out on the scenic drive, we see pronghorn and prairie dog, to end at the furthest tip of the park with a spectacular view across the canyon. Orange is the color of this park, and hoodoos are its main feature; their combination is unique and absolutely worth visiting. As Sven prepares dinner (another joy of an RV, you can just set out in a park and make dinner anywhere you can park), the rest does a first hike to kick of a very cool Bryce Canyon activity – Hike the Hoodoos! After dinner we drive slowly back along the many viewpoints as darkness sets in…
The next morning is a special one: Kim turns 40!! It starts with a scavenger hunt for presents set up by the boys, and real American pancakes for breakfast – YUMMMM! Today we will take another stab at Bryce Canyon and its hoodoos, starting with a short hike to Moss Cave and its waterfall. The visitor center is a must stop today as we pull in all the birthday wishes over Wifi, and then we take the shuttle bus out to Bryce Point for a great view across the orange hoodoo amphitheater that Bryce Canyon resembles.
Final stop is the start of the Navajo Loop trail, which is not long (1.3 miles in total), but MAN the climb is steep! It is well worth it though, as you switchback all the way down into the canyon through the hoodoos you have seen from high above on the rim, and then take the challenge to get all the way back up. In the meantime being mocked by chipmunk and ground squirrel that happily hop up without a care in the world. With this hike the Hike the Hoodoos challenge is fulfilled, and thus are the boys the happy recipients of an official sticker, next to their badge.
We take the scenic drive along the 12 out towards Cedar Breaks, hoping we will run into a coffee and cake place to once again celebrate, but it seems we are very much out of luck and get sent to the next town twice (both 17 miles away), which defeats the purpose of afternoon cake and coffee. We decide to have an early dinner and do cake as a desert instead, and as we do, Sven pulls out a surprise video pulled together by Bestie EVER Leoniek with the sweetest birthday wishes of friends and family! What a great way to end the day – it spontaneously makes us forget the fact the restaurant would not let us buy alcohol because we do not have a US I.D. Apparently we are not grey-haired enough to let it slide… 😊. We’ll have a Gin & Tonic when we park for the night!
Zion National Park
Passing through Cedar Breaks for some more orange looking hoodoos, we move further south along the scenic roads of Utah to another national highlight: Zion National Park. The sun is scorching hot when we get out at the visitor station – after driving through a mile-long tunnel to get there! – and a stark reminder that this is desert country even if we have high canyon walls around us. This means we take some time in the air-conditioned store and visitor center to read up on email and cool ourselves down, before taking the shuttle bus out for a late afternoon hike to the Emerald Pools.
By the time we make it to the trailhead the shade starts to fall on this side of the canyon, making the hike bearable with the nice break of the pools to cool down our feed in between. At the start of the trail Luc has caught a glimpse of some pictures of the Angel’s Landing hike: One that ends with a very steep and narrow climb along some chains. The excitement is there and thus we decide to practice the climbs together on the loop while Bo takes the lower Emerald pools back down.
The shuttle system is very nice, as you can get out at one spot and hike down to the next shuttle stop without tracing your steps. With still some internet work to be done, we have dinner in the parking lot while figuring out some stuff for our next stop. As wifi gets shut down with the store closure (REALLY people!?), we drive out into town literally scouring the streets for some free Wi-Fi. We find one outside somebody’s home and get the rest of our chores done… Thanks for that, whoever you were! As we dry camp outside of the park, we make a VERY early drive back in for the 2 most epic hikes in the park: Luc and Kim take on Angel’s Landing, while Sven and Bo go out to The Narrows.
Angel’s Landing is not for the faint-hearted, and most certainly not for those with a fear of heights! The first few miles are already steep climbs through endless switchbacks (or so it seems) but the real kicker is the final half mile climb up to the top. The scramble goes along a chain which you are NOT attached to but have to hold, and of course the traffic is two-way (so much for social distancing…) meaning you will have to move/make way at any point in time. Luc is so excited he flies up, leaving many adults heavily impressed with his fearlessness and agility. Getting to the top he is incredibly proud of himself and he should! Not only was the climb steep (over 1100ft), the total hike itself is over 5 miles long which is a great achievement. To top it of we are treated to a Californian Condor in flight, just cruising on the thermic air – biggest bird of North America and a magnificent sight.
Sven and Bo are headed out to the Narrows; a leisurely walk along the river further into the canyon, that stops being a trail, and starts being the actual river you have to walk through (and can walk through as far as you like!). An absolute blast for Bo, as he gets his feet wet and marches on, while watching other come by and deer take a sip out of the river. No flash flood risk today, so the make quite some way into the canyon and enjoy the views. All in all a great morning in the park, and together we have lunch and move on to state number 10: Arizona!
Next week: We tag a few more states on – Wanna guess where we are going?