Bryce Canyon National Park

Thor’s Hammer

Following our visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument, we were excited to see the Hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater, the park’s main attraction. This amphitheater is a vast basin of rich oranges, pinks, and reds in which stands thousands of statuesque pinnacles known as “hoodoos”. We spent two days hiking in and around the wonderland that is Bryce Amphitheater.

Navajo, Peekaboo, & Queen’s Garden Loop

On our first exploration day in the park we chose to hike what the visitor guide describes as “The Figure-8 Combination”. This trail combines the Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop, & Queen’s Garden trails into one awesome 6.4 mile trip through Bryce Amphitheater. After parking near the Sunrise Point overlook, we packed our packs and headed for the trail.

Navajo Loop down into Bryce Amphitheater

We first stopped at Sunrise Point for our first overlook of the amphitheater. Our initial reaction was similar to that of Cedar Breaks, the hoodoos seem infinitely different to one another and each stand as their own unique statue dressed in orange and red sandstone. From Sunset Point we headed down into the amphitheater via the Navajo Loop giving us a chance to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. At the end of the Navajo Loop, we found a nice spot for lunch and took a break before continuing on to Peekaboo.

The Peekaboo Loop is a constant up and down hike completely below the rim of the amphitheater past beautiful sandstone formations and stunning overlooks. There are also multiple places on the trail blocked by natural walls and can only be passed via a tunnel, which only added to the adventurous nature of the trail. After completing Peekaboo Loop, the final section was Queen’s Garden.

Tunnel View

Named for a famous hoodoo in the shape of a statue of Queen Victoria, Queens Garden is fun hike that led us up out of the amphitheater and past some of the more interesting hoodoos we had seen that day. Once at the top, we headed to the general store for some post cards and a couple of popsicles. All in all, a great first day at Bryce Canyon!

Fairyland Loop

For our second day at Bryce, we chose to hike the Fairyland Loop. This trail is 8 miles in length and is lesser travelled than the trails near Sunrise Point. We parked at the same location as the day before and once again prepared our packs then headed for the trail. The trail led us up and down through the northern portion of Bryce Amphitheater along various overlooks and down into valleys with majestic hoodoos on either side.

The hoodoos in this area felt more grouped together and it seemed that they were more eroded causing them to look different to their neighbors to the south. We hiked through the amphitheater until climbing up to Fairyland Point from which we could see the whole area we had just walked through. The rest of the hike back was along the rim of the amphitheater and we were treated with stunning overlooks until we reached the trailhead.

Upon returning the van, we hit the scenic drive through the remainder of the park, stopping at the points of interest and overlooks along the way.

Takeaways

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of those “out of this world” places that is unlike any other park we have visited. This was our second of southern Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks and we were stoked to see the remaining three. We highly recommend you make the journey to this awesome piece of mother nature’s artwork.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos from our Bryce Canyon adventure!

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Our second stop in southern Utah was Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is a relatively small park that is located high up in the Dixie National Forest East of Cedar City, UT. Its main feature is a half mile deep amphitheater of pinnacle like sandstone formations. The amphitheater is painted in the browns, oranges, and deep reds characteristic to the rocks of southern Utah.

Ramparts Overlook

We spent a day exploring the park and hiked the Ramparts Trail to both the Spectra and Ramparts Point overlooks. The formations within the amphitheater below were much different than those we had seen before although they did slightly remind us of those at Chiricahua National Monument. After our hike we drove the rest of the road through the park stopping both the Sunset View, Chessman Ridge, and North View Overlooks.

North View Overlook

This park is another example of the unique beauty that makes up the southern Utah landscape. After seeing the amphitheater in this, we were even more excited to see Bryce Canyon National Park, our next stop!

Thanks for reading! See gallery below for more photos of our Cedar Breaks adventure!

-Alan

Page & Elsewhere

After exploring Great Basin National Park, we made our way to the town of Page, AZ to rendezvous with my mom for a 5-day adventure of the many surrounding national parks and monuments. Centrally located on the Arizona/Utah border, Page is in the heart of the Colorado Plateau and is on the shores of the amazing Lake Powell (more to come on that). This was our first time to experience the immense red sandstone formations and canyons that the Colorado Plateau if famous for and we were certainly not disappointed.

Horseshoe Bend

Grand Canyon North Rim

Aspens in Fall Color

Since we had visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon with Ashby’s family in March and it is closer to Page, we decided to check out the north rim this time around. The two-hour drive to the park was, not surprisingly, a very scenic one as we drove past Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and the beautiful Aspen trees in fall color near the entrance to the park.

Bright Angel Point

Once we got to the park, we stopped by the visitor center for a short hike to Bright Angel Point and our first glimpse of North Rim. The views were equally beautiful to South Rim and my mom and her husband Steven were astonished by the indescribable beauty of the Grand Canyon. We spent the rest of the day going from scenic overlook to scenic overlook and were sad when we got to the last one on the map, Cape Royal, which in my opinion was the best of the day.

Point Imperial
Cape Royal

Wire Pass Slot Canyon

Wire Pass

The Colorado Plateau is well known for containing many narrow canyons known as “Slot Canyons”. These slender drainages are formed by water erosion and have sheer walls that wind and twist through the sandstone. Page is home to one of the most famous slot canyons, Antelope Canyon, which can only be accessed by guided tour. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon and all other guided canyon tours in the Page area were closed as a COVID precaution.

Wash leading to slot canyon

We were determined to take a hike through a slot canyon and after some research, we were able to find a trail to a slot canyon known as “Wire Pass” in the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. From the trailhead we hiked through a wash with beautiful red sandstone on either side until reaching the entrance to the slot. The slot has an 8-foot drop at the entrance that hikers can attempt, or they can enter via an easier scramble located near the entrance. We chose the scramble, which was still a little tricky, but we pulled it off.

Scramble to canyon below

The canyon was beautiful, the sunlit sandstone reached heights of 40 feet and narrowed down to 18 inches wide at some points. Once we reached the end, we turned around and went through the slot once more (equally cool the second time) and scrambled out and back onto the wash for the return to the trailhead. When we returned to the parking lot, we drank water and snacked while reminiscing on the unique and other worldly hiking experience that is shared among slot canyons.

Taking it in!

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Lake Powell sits within Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and was formed by the damming of the Colorado River near Page. Given Page sits on the shores of Lake Powell, we felt we had to explore this immense reservoir that is unlike any other. What’s the best way to experience Lake Powell? From the water of course!

Cruising through Last Chance Bay

We rented an 18-foot ski boat for a day and hit the water at 9am leaving from Antelope Point Marina. Our first stop and farthest boat ride was to Rainbow Bridge National Monument which gets its namesake from a semi-circle shaped 234-foot span of sandstone that is 42 feet thick at the top, most impressive! We then headed south making our way back towards Antelope Point stopping at Dangling Rope Marina then made some stops to take a swim near Gregory Butte and Padre Bay.

Rainbow Bridge

The whole day we were repeatedly amazed by the gigantic sandstone formations and deep red canyon walls of Glen Canyon. We could not stop talking about how much we had on Lake Powell and would like for a multiday house adventure on the lake.

Sunset near Antelope Point

Takeaways

Page, AZ is an awesome destination for exploring the spectacular wonders of the Colorado Plateau. We feel we could have spent the whole year in this area and still not explored it all. This was a special week in a special place, and we hope for many more to come.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

For more photos from our Page adventure click here!

Great Basin National Park

After taking a drive east across Nevada on Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest in America”, we arrived at Great Basin National Park. This park is billed as an “island oasis” in an sea of sagebrush. Having crossed most of what is know as the Great Basin on our drive from California across Nevada, we soon understood what that meant. The mountainous park serves as a reprieve for plants and animals where the air is cooler and water is in greater supply.  We spent two days exploring this example of an island in a desert sea.

Sea of Sagebrush

Bristlecone Pine and Glacier Trail

On our first day at the park, we stopped by the visitor center and spoke with the rangers about suggested hikes and current conditions. We then grabbed a campsite at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and had lunch.

Bristlecone Pine

After lunch, we headed up the scenic drive towards Wheeler Peak and upon reaching the end, we parked and hopped on the Bristlecone Pine trail. This hike is 4.6 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The Bristlecone portion of the trail leads you to a grove of ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees. These trees only exist at elevations between 9,500 and 11,000 feet and have adapted to their harsh environment living to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old! This was yet another unique experience to be walking amongst some of the oldest living organisms on earth.

Glacial valley below Wheeler Peak

The trail continues to a glacial area at the base of Wheeler Peak, the only glacier in Nevada. We hiked about a mile past the Bristlecone Grove to a beautiful vista of Wheeler Peak and the glacial cut valley below. Satisfied with the sights, we turned back and headed to the trailhead then drove back to our campsite for the evening.

Wheeler Peak Summit Hike

The focal point of this park is the 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak. Upon seeing there was a trail to the top, I immediately decided we should give it a try and after a little convincing, Ashby was up for the challenge. The summit hike is an 8.6 mile round trip with 2,900 feet of elevation gain. After waking up early so we could secure a parking spot at the trailhead, we ate breakfast, packed our day packs then hit the trail. The initial two miles of the trail were relatively flat and led us through foliage lush with fall color and by an alpine reservoir called Stella Lake.

Aspen Trees in Fall Foliage

After the first two miles the real summit climb began as we hiked a long ridge on the north side of the mountain. Because the trail begins at 10,060 feet we were soon out of breath and had to take numerous breaks on our way to the top. The last two miles were comprised of steep loose rock and took us another hour and a half to complete before we reached the summit. After regaining our breath we found a spot overlooking the valley below and ate our lunches then explored the summit for another half hour then began the hike down.

Going for the summit!
View from the top!

This was the most challenging summit hike we had done to date mostly because of the higher altitude conditions. When we returned to camp for the evening we were tired and our legs sore but also were full of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

We were up there!

Takeaways

This park was a nice break from the “sea of sage” we crossed to get there. We only explored the Wheeler Peak area this time but hope to return to discover the parks many other wonders including the unique underground world on Lehman Cave. Until next time!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos of our Great Basin NP visit!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

After exploring the Redwoods, we headed east to see the largest plug dome volcano in the world, Lassen Peak! Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few areas in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes, plug dome, shield, cinder cone and stratovolcano. Due to the volcanic activity in this area, there are hydrothermal features similar to Yellowstone National Park. We spent two days hiking through this park.

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell

On our first day in the park, we began our hike at Bumpass Trailhead to see Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area within the park. This 2.7 mile hike features bubbling mudpots, sulfur vents and boiling hot springs. Even though hiking through the area smells like rotten eggs, the views of the hydrothermal features paired with the surrounding subalpine terrain were worth it! We learned that this area is named after Kendall Bumpass, who explored the region in the late 1800’s. On his first visit to the area he stepped through the thin crust and severely burned his foot. A few visits later he broke through the crust again and burned his leg so badly it had to be amputated. Talk about horrifying! There is a boardwalk in place now, so Alan and I didn’t have to worry about stepping through fragile areas. Phew!

After Bumpass Hell, we decided to continue on the trail to Cold Boiling Lake. The views on the way to the lake were spectacular! Once we arrived at the lake it didn’t seem to be boiling but it did have one small bubble that kept coming up every once in a while. The actually contains a small hot spring which causes it to bubble.

Crumbaugh Lake
Cold Boiling Lake

Lassen Peak

On our second day, we hiked to the tallest peak in the park. The Lassen Peak trail is 5 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet and tops out at 10,457 feet. When we made it to the top, we had fantastic views of Lake Helen and surrounding cinder cones, mountains and lava flows from the last volcanic eruption in 1915. We could even see parts of the Cascade Mountain range to the north of us and the Sierra Nevada mountains to the south. Pretty cool!

Views from Lassen Peak!

Takeaways

After being blown away by the geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, we were excited to see more at Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had an awesome time at this park and loved that it was not as busy as other national parks we have been to. Besides the the volcanic and hydrothermal features, the park also has a handful of beautiful lakes right of off the main road which made for a very scenic drive. This is definitely an underrated national park over shadowed by it’s California cousins.

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos from our Lassen Volcanic NP visit!

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

At 14,000 acres, this national monument might be relatively small but it is loaded with many paleontological and geological wonders. John Day Fossil Beds is located in eastern Oregon near the towns of Mitchell and is comprised of three separate units each with their own unique features. This was our first time in eastern Oregon and we were surprised at how quickly the landscape and temperatures changed from the densely wooded coast and 75 degrees to mountainous desert grasslands in the east and 100 degrees (yikes!).

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

The first unit we explored was Painted Hills, named so for the large hills with stratifications in the soil making stripes of red, tan, orange, and black in the hillside. We hiked up an adjacent hill via the Carroll Rim Trail and had amazing views of the Painted Hills below. We then explored an area called Painted Cove that has small hills of deep red, yellow, and lavender claystone hills.

Sheep Rock

Blue Basin

This area of the national monument is the largest of the three units and is named after a large rock formation near the visitor center. Our favorite feature of this unit was an area called Blue Basin, a small canyon walls of blue green claystone. There are also many preserved fossil replicas along the trail though the canyon of various ancient specimens found in the area.

Clarno

Natural Bridge

We visited the Clarno Unit on our way out of the monument. This area features palisades made of volcanic ash and mud flows formed 45 million years ago. The trail along the palisades contains many fossils embedded in the rock and lead us to an overlook of a natural bridge at the top of the palisade cliffs.

Takeaways

John Day Fossil Beds is a fun and educational park where you can embrace your inner paleontologist. We enjoyed our visit and would not mind a return trip in the future. I especially enjoyed being back in the desert for a bit after the forests of coastal Washington and Oregon.

Click here for more photos of our John Day Fossil Beds visit!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest

We hadn’t realized how many volcanoes there are in the pacific northwest and soon learned that this area belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire which contains 75% of the worlds active or dormant volcanoes, After exploring Olympic National Park, we headed south toward Mount Rainier and what would become a volcanic tour of the northwest. We spent the most time at Rainier but also visited Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Newberry Volcanic National Monument.

Mount Rainier National Park

Our first day in Mount Rainier National Park, we hiked the Pinnacle Peak Saddle trail. The trail was a short and sweet with a total distance of 2.4 miles and an elevation gain of 1000 ft. The hike was packed with colorful wildflowers and when we reached the “saddle” we had amazing views of Mt. Rainier on one side and Mt. Adams on the other.

The next day we hiked to Pebble Creek via the Skyline Trail. This hike ended up being around 8 miles with 2500 ft. in elevation gain. When we reached Pebble Creek we felt as if we were so close to the top of the mountain. The glacier views from this point were unbelievable and we could even hear ice falls on the mountain that sounded like thunder.

The best part about this park is that you can be anywhere in the park and still get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier. On our last day at the park, we drove up to the Sunrise area on north end of the mountain. After parking we hiked up to Mount Fremont lookout for spectacular view once again. It was not easy to leave this majestic mountain!

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Just before crossing into the Oregon border, we made quick stop at Mount St. Helens to hike the nature trail near the visitor center. Although the hike was short, we learned so much about the vicious eruption that took place only 40 years ago! The destruction left behind is still very evident and it was interesting to see how the plant and animal life has made its way back.

Mount Hood National Forest

On our way east across Oregon, we stopped for a couple of nights in Mount Hood National Forest. Mount Hood is another stratovolcano that dominates horizon and can easily be seen from Portland. We hiked the Bald Mountain and Muddy Fork trail which was a little under 6 miles and gained 1200 ft. in elevation. The trail wound through the forest and eventually went downhill into a valley at the base of Mount Hood. This made for a nice lunch spot!

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

While we were near Bend, OR, we visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument located in Deschutes National Forest. Our first stop was the Lava Lands area to check out a cinder cone and a large lava flow below it. While we were there we stopped by the visitor center to bird for a bit and saw a Cooper’s Hawk (or maybe a Sharp-shinned Hawk). We then headed to the Newberry Caldera to see Paulina Falls, Paulina Peak and the Big Obsidian Flow. The Big Obsidian Flow was especially unique because it was completely made up of black volcanic glass. So beautiful!

Takeaways

The many volcanoes of the northwest are not only beautiful part of the natural landscape, but allow for a glimpse into the past and provide some education about the earth’s formation. All of the volcanoes we visited are still active and you can not help but wonder when they will erupt again.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan & Ashby

Click here for more photos from our volcanic adventures!

Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest Photo Gallery

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument

Mount Hood National Forest

Newberry Volcanic National Monument