Gaining confidence in the FJ…slowly

Mexican Hat, Utah

From Monument Valley we drove north along highway 163 hooking up with 191 which drops you into Moab. It’s a pretty barren area to drive through but there were a few stand-outs along the way. The first was the area around Mexican Hat, U just 23 miles outside of Monument Valley.

We stopped just long enough for me to take this photo. I looks like a destination for campers and fisherman. We saw a number of RV’s along the San Juan River. The area is beautiful but a little too remote for most people.

After Mexican Hat, the terrain becomes high desert with little to break the monotony until you come to the Needles area and then later the La Sal Mountains come into view. Photos of these two beautiful areas will be posted later. ūüôā

We finally arrived in Moab toward late evening so we went straight to the local Thai Restaurant. Darryl went in before me, alone, and asked for a window table but was told that they won’t seat him there. We couldn’t find any reason for this given that there was nobody in line after us and there was plenty of empty seating. She even told the person who seated him that he was NOT to be put at the window table. I arrived a little later and we had our meal and left feeling pretty annoyed at the inhospitable treatment. They did seat another couple at the window table shortly after I arrived. We definitely won’t be going back there again!

After dinner, we went to find a campsite along the Colorado River. I was really looking forward to this since the views are spectacular. We’ve been coming to Moab for years but we always stay at Red Cliffs Lodge which is about 20 miles outside of town along the Colorado River. Now we would be camping on the river in a few minutes!! Not so fast…unfortunately, there was not a single campsite available at 10 pm. We should have known better given that we were visiting during their high season. We drove to Arches National Park and were immediately met with a “No Vacancy” sign on our way into the park. This is not looking good. Our next option was Canyonlands which is a little further out of town so we should definitely have luck here! Nope, all sites were full. As we were considering our options we drove past a motorcyclist who was stopped along the dirt road. We asked him if he was ok, and he replied “Yes, just talking to my wife on the phone. Are you looking for a campsite? I know of a perfect spot for you!” Awesome!! He said his good-byes to his wife and then we followed him out to BLM land where he showed us a perfect spot for our home for the night. We ended the evening on a good note with some help from a stranger.


Since we were just a short drive to the entrance to Canyonlands, we made this our first place to spend the day in Moab. There is a drive along the rim of Canyonlands that provide some beautiful views of the park. We could see the infamous White Rim Trail which we talk about mountain biking one day. On this trip we considered driving it. The road is 100 miles long and winds its way around the Island mesa top. It can take 2-3 days in a 4×4 and up to a week on a mountain bike. The really good riders do it in less than 24 hours!

IMG 1056
Enjoying the views.
Strawberry Hedgehog or Calico Cactus
Different perspectives
IMG 1119
A view of Green River.

Up to this point, we have been on pretty tame roads with the FJ. Darryl was looking forward to getting the FJ out on some real stuff to see how it handled. Me? Not so much…but I was warming to the idea. I saw those beautiful roads winding through the valley and couldn’t imagine leaving Moab and not getting on them. After studying the map for about a nanosecond, I’m not much of a map reader, the Shafer trail caught my eye as an alternate way back to town with the added bonus of driving through a portion of Canyonlands. I went to talk with a ranger about the road conditions and what we should expect. Darryl was all in but I was still hesitant to do anything too aggressive. Let’s just say that I like to keep all four wheels on the ground but I was determined to push myself out of this comfort zone, otherwise why buy an FJ Cruiser?! The ranger told me that this would be a perfect road for me to get comfortable with the terrain and that there was absolutely nothing that our car couldn’t handle. I’m sold! But I’ll stay in the passenger seat…for now.

A view of Shafer trail and our FJ driving along without me. I ended up walking down many of the switchbacks all for the sake of the blog. ūüôā


This photo is taken just past where Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff.



We took almost 3 hours to drive the Shafer Trail to Potash trail which drops you into Moab. This distance is roughly about 35 miles but we stopped a lot to take photos and enjoy the views. These photos don’t do it justice but I can say that the day was amazing. We ended our day back at our lovely BLM campsite from the night before.


Navajo National Monument – Canyon de Chelly – Monument Valley

We are now entering the Navajo Nation portion of our trip. Our first stop was at Navajo National Monument where we spent the night at Sunset View campground. Their campgrounds are free they are on a first come basis and flush toilets are available. We arrived late so we just set up camp, had dinner then went for a walk around the campground. During our walk we met the man who was in Darryl’s “morning kayaker” photo the previous morning at Lake Powell. It’s a small world!

The following morning we decided to stop in at the visitor center to inquire about their guided tours to see the Betatakin ruins which are only accessible with a Navajo guide. Unfortunately, we arrived two weeks too early since their tours don’t start until Memorial Day weekend. But we were able to hike the three relatively short rim trails (Sandal Trail, Aspen Trail and Canyon View Trail) to enjoy the views of the canyons and get a peak of the ruins from the Sandal Trail.IMG_0947

A closer view of the Betatakin ruins.
A closer view of the Betatakin ruins.

These ruins were occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan people dated back to 1250-1300. It is thought that up to 150 people were living here at its peak. The reason for their departure is unknown.

Hiking here is a beautiful and solitary affair. We shared the trail with only one other person. It was nice to be away from the crowds in Lake Powell and enjoy the peace within the canyons.

View from Canyon Overlook trail.
Canyon View Trail
View of the ancient aspen forest from the Aspen Trail.
View of the ancient aspen forest from the Aspen Trail.

After our morning hike in Navajo National Monument we drove to Canyon de Chelley National Monument. We took in the views from the lookout points along the canyon rim as we drove to our next camp site at Spider Rock Campground.

Valley of Canyon de Chelly
Valley of Canyon de Chelly

Spider Rock is a family owned campground at the far end of South Rim Drive, 10 miles south of the visitor center. I had my first taste of fry bread made by Howard’s grandchildren (Howard is the owner). The fry bread was ok but then again, I’m not a huge fan of bread of any kind so you should try it for yourself if you have a chance. The facilities are quite rustic but there are bathrooms and solar heated showers available.

We hired a Navajo guide to take us on a tour through the canyon on the following day. All visitors into the canyon must be accompanied by a licensed Navajo guide. Tully Yaazi, our guide, grew up in the canyons and he still farms a small ranch in the canyon. He shared with us stories about life in the canyon as he drove us through the canyon to get a closer view of the ruins and the petroglyphs and pictoglyphs that could be found throughout.

"First Ruin"
“First Ruin”




White House ruin


Antelope ruins named for the pictographs of antelope at this site.
Antelope ruins named for the pictographs of antelope at this site.
Antelope pictographs that gave Antelope Ruins its name.


Named “Newspaper Rock” because different styles of petroglyphs are present spanning hundreds of years.

After our tour with Tully I had just enough time to take another tour of the canyon but this time on a horse! I was lucky enough to ride this beautiful mustang named Sherman. It was basically a private tour just to “First Ruin”. Riding through the canyon on horseback was a wonderfully peaceful way to experience the canyon.

Sherman and me exploring Canyon de Chelly together.
Sherman and me exploring Canyon de Chelly together.

Our next stop on our Navajo Nation tour was Monument Valley. I have looked forward to this day for many years! I loved driving through the valley and photographing these massive monoliths. If we come back through we will definitely stay in one of the campsites within the valley to have it to ourselves rather than sharing the roads with a couple hundred other tourists. DSC01434





Our last view of the valley.

Glen Canyon Dam – Page, Arizona

We arrived in Page sometime after dark which makes locating a camp site an interesting affair. It was pretty windy out and we really wanted to find a campground that had some trees for protection.¬†We drove through Wahweap RV park where there were a few scrawny trees but nothing large enough to protect the roof top tent. It didn’t matter since there were not any open camp sites. We ended up staying at Lone Rock Beach along Lake Powell.

No protection from the wind anywhere here!
No protection from the wind anywhere here!

The location was beautiful but the night was miserable with¬†all of the noise from our rainfly rattling from the wind. This is our only complaint about this tent’s design is that there is no way to keep the rainfly taught so on windy nights we hear it hitting the tent all night.

Beautiful views at our campsite.
Beautiful views at our campsite.
Early morning kayaker near our campsite.
Early morning kayaker near our campsite.

The next morning we awoke to wind and rain. Once the rain stopped¬†we made it over to Horseshoe Bend on the way into Page, AZ. Horseshoe Bend is a very popular place for tourists and a photographer’s dream.IMG_0862

The hike is an easy 3/4 miles long making it an easy stop on your way to or from Page. The views from¬†this lookout which is 1,000 feet above the Colorado River¬†are magnificent! It was still really windy making it hard to keep your eyes open with all of the sand whipping around in the air.¬†This is one place where you want to keep your eyes open to make sure you see where you’re next step will take you! The wind gusts were so strong that most people were lying down at the cliff’s edge to get their photo.

Darryl reaching over the cliff's edge to get the shot.
Darryl reaching over the cliff’s edge to get the shot.

We spent the rest of the day catching up with our family and scheduling a tour company to take us to Upper Antelope Canyon the next day. We drove around the area and then eventually ended up finding a hotel for the evening given the weather. It was nice to be warm and out of the wind for the evening!

The next day was much nicer. We had breakfast again at the Ranch House Grill. This place was packed both days that we went there and it was for good reason. Our tour of Antelope Canyon wasn’t until the afternoon which left us enough time to go see the Glen Canyon Dam.¬†We went to the visitor center and took¬†our time going through their exhibits on the Dam. There was a tour of the dam for $5 each. Although we were pretty disappointed with the tour at the Hoover Dam which was $15 each, I am a sucker for going on tours¬†and giving them a chance. My experience has been that¬†price doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality so I was eager to give this tour a chance and we were very happy with the decision.

This is Curtis, our awesome tour guide at Glen Canyon Dam. He's standing in front of a turbine from one of the generators.
This is Curtis, our awesome tour guide at Glen Canyon Dam. He’s standing in front of an original turbine runner installed in 1965 and decommissioned in¬†2008.

Curtis was so enthusiastic about the dam and sharing his knowledge with us. He was able to answer specific questions that we had and made this tour probably one of the best tours we’ve been on yet during our travels!

Generators inside Glen Canyon Dam. You can see one that is disassembled for maintenance work.
Generators inside Glen Canyon Dam. You can see one that is disassembled for maintenance work.
Lake Powell is the man-made lake created by Glen Canyon Dam. At the time that we visited it was only at 40% capacity, or 3,500 feet¬†If it falls to below 3,490 feet then the power plant cannot operate. Although the area is in a drought, it’s interesting to see that¬†they don’t seem too concerned about water conservation given this message on¬†one of their displays.DSC01057
We were also surprised to see what looked to be a putting green behind the dam! When the power plant was first put into operation, they realized that something needed to be done to control the vibrations in the penstocks caused from the water dropping 400-500 feet through them. Their solution was to cover them with dirt but they had to prevent the dirt from blowing away so they planted the grass. Pretty clever!
DEW Dam greens




DEW landscapeAfter our dam tour we had to catch our next tour to Upper Antelope Canyon. This is a slot canyon on the Navajo Nation that is famous for it’s beautiful red navajo sandstone cliffs that have been shaped by water and sand. The slot canyon is extremely narrow and maybe about 100 yards long. The place is beautiful but extremely crowded! We knew this going into the tour after reading the reviews on Tripadvisor.¬†We still wanted to see the slots and have a chance to experience the beauty ourselves along with all of the distractions that come along with this tour. I’m not going to recommend our tour company and I won’t complain either since our experience shows that all of the tour guides did the same annoying things. The guides would take our cameras to shoot¬†their pre-formulated photos of “Lincoln” or “king kong” or any number of figures that one¬†might be able to stretch your imagination to see in the slots. You aren’t allowed much time within the slot and they are constantly coaxing you through the canyon. You take the good with the bad. In my opinion, the good outweighed the bad.¬†IMG_0931









We spent a little more time in Page enjoying the scenery.DSC01211

DEW landscape 2

Coal power plant operating on Navajo land just a few miles from Glen Canyon Dam.

DSC01198One last hike to see the hanging gardens and then we said good-bye to Page, AZ, Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam.DSC01206




Will we win the lottery?!

After Zion we expected to go north to Bryce but after looking at the weather forecast and temperatures in Bryce we opted for a warmer¬†route. This took us to Kanab, Utah and the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. We have never been here before but the real draw was to see “The Wave” which is¬†nearby in Coyote Buttes, Utah. This is a stock photo of what we wanted to go see.

Stock photo
Stock photo of The Wave – we didn’t get to see it. ūüė¶

We opted to make Kanab our home base for a few days¬†since this is where you register for the walk-in permits. There is a whole process now for obtaining one of the 20¬†permits available to go see this area of the Coyote Buttes. In years past, they didn’t need to restrict the number of people going here but it is so popular now that they are concerned that all of the foot traffic will permanently damage the landscape. So now, only 20 people per day are allowed entry. Ten¬†of these permits are available through an on-line lottery system that opens four months prior to your expected date of travel. For walk-ins, you can enter the daily lottery that takes place at 8:00 am every day at the Visitor Center in Kanab. You must be present to win so we camped at a nearby RV spot¬†while we¬†tried our luck at winning the Wave Lottery.

We were looking for just 2 of the 10 spots but there were about 70 people with their names in the drawing. Unfortunately we were didn’t win either of the days that we tried.DSC00918

The good news is that we had lots of time to explore the Grand Staircase-Escalante and we were amazed at the beauty in the area.

When we first came into Kanab there were massive storm clouds threatening rain all day. We were looking for a place to camp so we went to check out the campsites at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The park lived up to its name with the most unnaturally pink sand dunes that were even more brilliant against the dark skies.DSC00798


The setting was gorgeous but after we found out that we would have to be at the Kanab Visitor Center by 8 am, we decided to find a place a little closer to town. We settled on the Hitch-n-Post campground which was run by a very friendly staff¬†with clean facilities and hot showers. There was¬†a convention of sorts for Greyhound owners in the town of Kanab during our stay. There were RV’s in our campgrounds that had 5-7 Greyhounds in them! I can’t imagine how they were able to fit so many dogs in such a tight space.

After our first rejection at the Wave Lottery we went to find a hike called¬†“The Toadstools”. It’s off of highway 89 about 45 miles east of Kanab. You will likely see other cars parked on the left side of the road. The area isn’t marked very well but it’s about 1.5 miles east of the Paria¬†Contact Station. We actually missed the trailhead on our first pass but easily found it on our second attempt.

DSC00853The Toadstools are hoodoo formations that are the result of boulders of denser rock falling onto a layer of softer sandstone rock. The boulder protects the sandstone immediately under it from erosion resulting in these unique formations that look like toadstools.

These boulders look like they could fall off in a strong wind!
This photo makes it easier to see the difference in rock types between the boulder and the sandstone tower holding it.
Here’s¬†some perspective as to the massive size of some of these hoodoos. That’s me sitting next to the hoodoo taking photos.

We spent another day hiking out to the Wahweap Hoodoos. These hoodoos were much harder to find and they required a 10 mile round trip hike to access them. The only directions that we had were to walk down a particular wash that kept branching into other washes. As long as we hugged the cliffs on the western side of the wash we would eventually find them. We were lucky that we had very good directions. We ran into a photographer who was staying at our RV camp who hiked a couple hours too far, completely missing them.

These were the cliffs that were our guide to the hoodoos.
These were the cliffs that were our guide to the hoodoos.
A real photographer who actually gets paid for his images!
A real photographer who actually gets paid for his images!
I called these clouds “looney toon clouds”. They reminded me of the fake clouds in all of the Bugs Bunny / Road Runner cartoons from my childhood.
Many of these boulders lost their perch over the centuries.


After we gave up on the idea that we might get to see The Wave, we started to drive deeper into the Grand Staircase-Escalante. We never expected it to be so beautiful! The vistas were absolutely amazing. I never thought that the desert could be so grand.




We saw this run-down homestead along the side of the road.
We saw this run-down homestead along the side of the road.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante covers 1.9 million acres which encompasses¬†a diverse geography. Before we left we wanted to hike through a slot canyon while we were there since we didn’t venture into the slot canyons of Zion. The Willis Creek trail fit the bill for us although on a much smaller scale than what Zion has to offer.

These slot canyons started out very small and could barely be called a canyon.
These slot canyons started out very small and could barely be called a canyon.
As we followed the creek along the trail the canyon walls began to get a little higher.
As we followed the creek along the trail the canyon walls began to get a little higher.
Eventually the slot canyons narrowed a bit and the walls continued to get higher.
Eventually the slot canyons narrowed a bit and the walls continued to get higher.
We eventually ran out of slot canyons and just had these beautiful cliffs. Darryl is the tiny dot ahead of me.
We eventually ran out of slot canyons and just had these beautiful cliffs. Darryl is the tiny dot ahead of me.


Zion National Park

This was our second time visiting Zion National Park. The first time was about 8 years ago and we spent a short afternoon here during our trip to Moab, UT driving from San Jose, CA. This time we spent almost two days enjoying the park spending all of our time in the southern part of the park in the main valley.

We experienced our first rain since beginning our journey in early March. The storm clouds added some character to our photos and brightened the colors of the rock. The cooler weather made our day hikes very pleasant. Our first hike was to Upper and Lower Emerald Pools. These were easy hikes and the trails were pretty crowded with tourists. Each of the emerald pools is a shallow pool of water at the base of a cavern created from waterfalls (during the spring rains) or from water seeping from the sandstone walls. There are beautiful hanging gardens and gorgeous views of the red cliffs that create the beauty of Zion. These photos are a poor representation of how beautiful this hike was.

Lower Emerald Pool. You can see the black varnish on the sandstone walls where the waterfalls flow during the rainy season.
All along the hike we could see these massive sandstone peaks in the background.
Upper Emerald Pool
We saw a little wildlife along the way.
We even saw a little wildlife along the way.

We had enough time during this visit to do the Angel’s Landing hike which is only 5 miles round trip but the kicker is that you climb 1,488 feet in 2.5 miles.

Now those are some serious switchbacks!

The trail was¬†created in 1926 by park service employees who had to cut into solid rock. Talk about back breaking work! This is one of the most popular trails in all of our national parks and it’s one of the deadliest. There is a caution sign at the beginning of the steepest section of the trail which is not paved but there are cables to assist hikers through these last sections.

Warning of the dangers of hiking this trail.

Darryl and I started up this section but we didn’t make it all the way to the top. With the storm clouds in the distance, we didn’t think it wise to¬†stand on exposed rock at one of the highest points in the valley. We still want to¬†see Alaska and Argentina and everything in between.

You can see the chains that were installed in this last section of trail.
You can see the cables that were installed in this last section of trail.
We were content with our decision to turnaround.
We were content with our decision to turnaround.

I did take a moment to film the narrow saddle that leads up to the final section of trail.

Taking a look down the zig zagging trail.
Taking a look down the zig zagging trail.

On the way down we saw a photographer sitting with a camera taking time lapsed photos of the canyon. Every 15 seconds her camera would snap a picture of the same scene. Her plan was to stitch all of the photos together into a 30 second video. I’m sure it will be amazing given the beautiful storm clouds that were passing through. I snapped a photo from the same location.DSC00727

Our next hike / walk was along the Riverside Walk trail.¬†It’s¬†only 2 miles round trip and hugs the North Fork of the Virgin River. There are hanging gardens all along the trail with beautiful flowers growing on¬†the canyon walls. The walls are moist from water that has seeped through the sandstone creating a unique ecosystem for these plants.

Maidenhair fern clings to the cliffs. Those colors on the wall are made from the various minerals in the rock.
Shooting star
Scarlet lobelia
Looking up to the gardens of maidenhair fern and golden columbine growing along the cliff walls.
Western columbine
Golden columbine

We returned to our campsite after our day of exploring. We stayed at Quality Inn RV Park in Springdale, Utah where they have a large lot in back of the hotel where you can set up tents or park your RV. There are¬†showers available and the facilities are very well maintained. It’s a beautiful setting just outside the entrance to Zion.

There was a Land Rover Defender that caught Darryl’s eye. We went over to meet the owners and take a photo of the vehicle for his Bad Ass Vehicle page.¬†Rosemary and Bill, the owners, were from the UK and have been traveling in Moby (the Land Cruiser) for a couple of years. Moby has taken them through Africa and Latin America and now they are traveling to Alaska. We went¬†out to dinner with them where¬†they entertained us with their stories of traveling in Moby and¬†their life path that led them to¬†selling their home and traveling the world. I especially loved their stories about Ab-Sara, their Arabian horse.¬†The next morning when we went over to say good-bye, they shared with¬†us their favorite¬†places to see throughout Latin America. You can read about their travels on their blog¬†

Rosemary & Bill with Moby
Rosemary & Bill with Moby

Being able to really take our time wandering through these beautiful parks is wonderful but meeting fellow travelers like Rosemary and Bill¬†and hearing their stories is something¬†really special in ways that I don’t think we anticipated when we planned the trip.

We bypassed Sin City for the Valley of Fire

We finally made it to the Valley of Fire! It has been on our itinerary for many years as someplace that we wanted to visit while in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, we never had a car while in Las Vegas and we just didn’t make it a priority. Well, this time, we had our FJ and a tent so we could actually spend a few days exploring the area and it was definitely worth the stop.

We arrived late in the evening which makes waking up in the¬†morning a great surprise since we never know how the scenery will look in the day light. The Valley of Fire lives up to its name. It’s all aglow with sandstone¬†formations of varying shades of red. Over breakfast we¬†were entertained by a family of sparrows whose home happened to be in our picnic area.

Insects for breakfast anyone?!

We camped at Atlatl Rock campground while there. It’s a very nice campground with flush toilets and showers. Showers are always a real¬†plus and flush toilets…don’t get me started! Many of the bathroom facilities at our state and national park campgrounds are¬†the bare minimum.

Our first hike of the day was along “Mouse Tank” trail named after a South Paiute Indian named “little mouse”. He hid in this area after being accused of killing two prospectors which I’m sure is just one side of the story. There is a natural basin, or “mouse tank”, at the trail’s end where rain water can be found giving the trail its name. ¬†There were a number of petroglyphs along the trail made by the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo Farmers.

These were very simple petroglyph designs.
The big horned sheep depicted here were the only traces of big horned sheep that we have seen all throughout our desert travels. 


We saw¬†two other couples on the trail and one of the men couldn’t keep his hands off the petroglyphs. It was driving me nuts that this guy had no respect for the artifacts and was either completely unaware or didn’t care that his actions were degrading these artifacts. We think our small actions have no impact but look at the aggregate effect we’ve had on this land and it’s devastating.

Now onto something much more entertaining, the chuckwalla. Before this trip, I thought that chuckwallas were cute furry little creatures. I couldn’t be more wrong.

Chuckwalla basking in the sun.

These lizards were all throughout the Valley of Fire and were happy to pose for me whenever I came across them even when they were busy eating their lunch.


The whole valley seemed to be in bloom. Darryl was patient with me as I lagged behind taking photograph after photograph of the beautiful flowers.¬†I couldn’t get over the beauty of these displays of color in the parched desert.¬†The desert may look¬†uninviting and without life but if you¬†take the time to really explore it, you’ll be¬†rewarded for the effort.

I loved how this plant’s stems mirrored the lines in the sandstone.

This was my favorite flower. It’s a paper-bag bush. These pods are tissue¬†paper thin¬†and contain the plant’s seeds. The bags are carried away by the winds to scatter the seeds.

Paper-bag bush or Bladder Sage
Minimalist survival

I chatted with this woman from Las Vegas about her bike. Darryl and I have our motorcycle licenses but we put off the motorcycle purchases until after the trip. I love these larger bikes so every time I have a chance to chat with a woman who is on a bike I take the opportunity to find out what she thinks of her choice. This woman has only had her bike for 8 months and feels that she’s outgrown it.¬†She wants a larger bike for the stability on the road, especially on windy days.

Although born and raised in Las Vegas, this is her first time in Valley of Fire and she’s loving it!
Out on a Sunday ride through Valley of Fire.

The sandstone looked like pulled taffy along Rainbow Vista Trail. We didn’t have to walk far to see these beautiful features. This particular trail was only a mile long. The other trails were just as short or shorter making this a very accessible park for people of all ages and abilities. Although it’s a small park, we never felt like it was crowded. On this particular trail we saw only 3 other people.



The colors across the landscape were gorgeous!
A self portrait

We moved to another campsite within Atlatl Campground where we watched this beauty during breakfast the following morning.


These cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936 just after the park was first established. They were built as shelter for hikers and campers that visited the park. Now they are preserved as a reminder of the CCC’s contribution to our park systems.

Made of native sandstone by the CCC.
Made of native sandstone by the CCC.

Our second day at the park was spent mostly driving around admiring the beauty. This was taken at Rainbow Vista look-out point.

Rainbow vista
Rainbow vista

I thought that it was very important that we get out and walk the short trail to see the petrified logs. I have no idea why petrified wood is such a fascination for me but it is and it has been since I was a child. The trail was only 0.3 of a mile and this was my reward.

Petrified log partially uncovered.
Petrified log partially uncovered.

I think that I was expecting more and Darryl got a good laugh at the¬†my underwhelming response. I spent a good five minutes trying to find the best angle to photograph this artifact which was surrounded by a chain link fence. I finally gave in to the realization that there was no good angle. So then I set my sights on the other chain link fences off in the distance since I was absolutely confident that they must contain something grander! They didn’t.

We drove by “Lone Rock” which was a very large¬†block¬†of sandstone. I think that the marketing people were¬†really stretching their creative juices on this one. “Elephant Rock” was a bit more interesting.

Elephant Rock

Sometimes you should just let nature speak for itself. This was our lovely sunset view near the petrified logs.

Sunset near the petrified logs.
Sunset near the petrified logs.


Hoover Dam

The last time I visited Hoover Dam was with my parents about 12 years ago. I was surprised to¬†see all of the changes with the new Hoover Dam Bypass which is named the Mike¬†O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.¬†Mike O’Callaghan was a Korean War Veteran, the Governor of Nevada from 1971-1979 and the editor of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. Pat Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted as an infantryman in the US Army. He was killed by friendly fire during the war in Afghanistan in 2004.

All US 93 traffic now uses¬†the Hoover Dam Bypass rather than driving over the Hoover Dam. This eliminates¬†the traffic congestion created by the heavy commercial and visitor traffic that would wind through the sharp turns of the former US 93 route that passed over the Hoover Dam.¬†The¬†bypass bridge¬†has¬†a nice pedestrian sidewalk with an interesting display detailing the construction of¬†the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The view from this bridge is impressive. Visitors now access Hoover Dam by parking either in the parking garage or in one of the parking lots along the old US 93 route and then walking to the Hoover Dam.

Mike O‚ÄôCallaghan ‚Äď Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Mike O‚ÄôCallaghan ‚Äď Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Another change since my last trip was the enhanced security for tourists that enter the area. All vehicles accessing¬†the visitor parking area¬†are subject to a search. I must say that this was the most comprehensive yet efficient search that we have experienced yet. It was actually done with some intelligence compared to our experience in Baja and along the US/Mexico border. The Baja military checks were just a cursory look into the vehicle and somebody would usually look at the maps or books behind my passenger seat. The US border patrol didn’t do much more than ask us ‘where are you going’ and ‘from where did you come’. They barely even looked at our passports! But here, at Hoover Dam, they asked us to unzip our roof top tent, they opened up the back of the vehicle, they¬†asked about¬†the inverter and looked inside our cooler and inside most of the boxes in the back of our car. It was all completed in about 2-3 minutes.

View from the new bypass bridge.
View from the new bypass bridge.
View of the facilities behind the Hoover Dam.
Approaching the dam from the parking area. These are the huge intake valves that power the massive generators.
Approaching the dam from the parking area. These are the huge intake towers that power the massive generators.

We took the Dam¬†Tour to learn about the inner workings of the dam and see how the hydro-electric power was generated. I think that the Powerplant Tour would have been more informative but we missed the last one for the day. Although the Dam Tour was interesting, it felt like the tour guide was reciting from a memorized script. He wasn’t able to really answer any of the questions from the group. It was still impressive to see the inside of the dam.

Schematic of how the hydro-electric power is generated.
Schematic of how the hydro-electric power is generated.
Francis-turbine generators
Francis-turbine generators
Taken in 1983, this was only the second time that the spillway was used (due to a flood). The first was just a test of the spillway.
Taken in 1983, this was only the second time that the spillway was used (due to a flood). The first time was just to test the spillway.
  • More than 5 million barrels of concrete were used to build the dam; enough concrete to build¬†a two lane highway from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL.
  • At its base, the maximum water pressure is 45,000 pounds / square foot
  • The building of the dam created Lake Mead, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world with 550 miles of shoreline over an area of 247 miles.
She was happy to pose for my camera while the professional took a break.
She was happy to pose for my camera while the professional took a break.

After our day at Hoover Dam, we returned to Boulder Beach where we were camping and went out for a short run along the Railroad Tunnel Trail. Because of the light, I couldn’t get a good photo of the tunnels, but here is one of the views that we enjoyed at the campground.

Sunset run along Railroad Tunnel Trail.
Sunset run along Railroad Tunnel Trail.

The next day we went into the town of Boulder City. The town was created to lodge the thousands of workers and their families that came to work on Hoover Dam. They never expected that the town would survive after the completion of the dam but there is a small, thriving community of 15,000 that depends upon¬†tourists although it’s only one of two towns in Nevada that doesn’t allow gambling. We spent just a short time here. Just long enough to take a few photos of the old storefront signs, have lunch and for Darryl to stop at the only¬†barber shop in town.¬†DSC00358





Anza-Borrego State Park

We only spent a day in Anza-Borrego but this park deserves much more time than we gave it. We arrived late so had a quick dinner and then we set out for an evening hike in the moonlight.

Palm oasis silhouette at sunset.
Palm oasis silhouette at sunset.

The next morning, we took our time with breakfast and eventually made it out for a short hike. The nature trail included a self-guided tour with numbered posts along the way pointing out various plants and interesting points along the trail.

Our morning hike.
Our morning hike.

It was in the mid-90’s during our hike and completely exposed. We could see the oasis off in the distance but we were walking through this beautiful desert landscape.

Our destination off in the distance.
Our destination off in the distance.

I kept looking up in the hills hoping to see the elusive big horned sheep but I never saw one. We continue to see signs along our travels telling us that there are small herds of big horned sheep in the area but we have yet to see any. I need to invest in some binoculars and then perhaps I could find one! All I found along the way were these beautiful lizards and one tiny toad.

We saw a bunch of these guys. I loved their brilliant colors.
We saw a bunch of these guys. I loved their brilliant colors.
A rare treat to see a toad along the trail!
A rare treat to see a toad along the trail!

Anyone that has been out on a trail, in a car or on a bike ride with me understands my very limited directional skills. This is perhaps why my loving husband felt it necessary to tell me which direction to head even though the state park had a sign posted as well.

A sign left for me by my loving husband. Can you see it?
A note left for me by my loving husband. Can you see it?

Our destination! It was worth the short 1.5 mile hike to get here. We spent a short time wandering through the oasis and enjoying the¬†shade. There was a stream through here that ran over some boulders creating little waterfalls. We turned around at this point but you can continue up the canyon where there are hundreds of palms throughout. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of green against the desert landscape. There’s much to explore here which will have to wait for another visit.

Amazing to see a palm oasis in the middle of the desert.
Amazing to see a palm oasis in the middle of the desert.

Hanging out in San Diego

After our two kayaking experiences in Baja we decided that it would be wise for us to take some kayaking lessons to gain some proficiency in this sport. We really enjoyed our time on the water but we spent a lot of energy during these short trips.¬†Since it’s a sport that we’re interested in pursuing we decided to invest a little time and money getting some tips from an expert. We found our expert at¬†Aqua Adventures¬†Kayak Center in San Diego. Jen Kleck, the owner, was our awesome instructor with Paul as her co-instructor. Jen is a patient instructor with an impressive background. In 2009 she was the first American¬†to reach the highest coaching standard within the British Canoe Union. We had a great time out on the water¬†learning various paddling strokes for steering, bracing and propulsion. We also learned¬†some very important skills related to capsize recovery. I’m pretty confident¬†that Darryl or I will tip over at some point giving us the opportunity to put this particular skill to the test. Darryl scored extra points by doing a double capsize recovery where both kayakers tip into the water and have to recover both kayaks and paddlers. I learned how to do a self-recovery by using my paddle with a flotation devise attached to the end of it as a brace and pulling myself into the kayak. Our lessons were in a protected marina setting so now we need to practice¬†these recovery techniques in a real world situation out on choppy, moving water.

With Jen and Paul after our day of kayaking lessons at Aqua Adventures in San Diego.
With Jen and Paul after our day of kayaking lessons at Aqua Adventures in San Diego.

After our lessons, we spent some time exploring the San Diego area and driving along the coast up to La Jolla. We really enjoyed out time in San Diego. We camped at Campland on the Bay which is an RV type of campground that allowed tent camping. It was nice to have hot showers every night although we camped on the asphalt in the parking lot. The campground is just a few blocks from Pacific Beach so we spent a few days exploring the neighborhood and walking along the coast.

If only I could fly!!
If only I could fly!!
These beaches are gorgeous.
These beaches are gorgeous.
At play with the sea lions.
At play with the sea lions.
Harbor seals at Casa Beach in La Jolla, CA.
Harbor seals at Casa Beach in La Jolla, CA.

One of the goals for this journey is to find our new home.¬†When we find a place as wonderful as San Diego, we explore the neighborhoods to try and get a sense of the place.¬†This would be a great city to consider except that the cost of living is almost on par with the Bay Area. We are looking for someplace where the cost of living is less than the Bay Area and more low key. San Diego¬†definitely felt less stressful than the Bay Area, especially in the Pacific Beach neighborhood but there is still the high energy city vibe¬†going on that¬†doesn’t fit our vision. However, it does have a pretty awesome dessert place to satisfy my sweet tooth! We had to stop at Extraordinary Desserts one more time before we left.

More desserts at Extraordinary Desserts!
More desserts at Extraordinary Desserts!
Decisions, decisions!
Decisions, decisions!

The biggest highlight of all¬†during our stay here was seeing our good friend Renee. She recently moved to San Diego so this does¬†add to the city’s potential as a new home. We’ll keep the area in mind but would likely try¬†to find someplace in the surrounding area¬†that is a little more economical. The search and the journey continues.


Balboa Park – San Diego

We spent a couple of days at Balboa Park visiting the museums, looking through the artists’ studios and enjoying the people watching. The park was a beautiful backdrop for weddings. These couples looked so happy in their moment and the variety of ceremonial styles reflects the wonderful and varied ethnic make-up of San Diego.





There were so many museums that we didn’t have time to see them all. We chose the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) and the Museum of Natural History. The photography museum had an exhibit of the Prix Pictet prize winners of the year’s theme of “Power”. Each year, an important social or environment theme is chosen. These were photos demonstrating the artist’s interpretation of Power and its societal and environmental impact. There were 12 shortlist artists whose work was on display.¬†These ranged from¬†photos of¬†the Chernobyl nuclear waste zones by Rena Effendi, BP’s Deepwater Horizon¬†oil spill by Daniel Beltr√°, and incredible photos of the raw emotions on display by our world leaders at the 11th United Nations Conference on World Climate Change by Joel Sternfeld. This was photo journalism that reminded me of Life Magazine and what I miss in today’s journalism. Creating an image that really makes the viewer think is so undervalued today and it was refreshing to spend the time admiring this artform. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos in the museum for obvious reasons but I encourage you to take at look at their work here

We saw¬†an exhibit on Real Pirates at the Museum of Natural History that we really enjoyed. The booty from the slave ship¬†Whydah, a sunken pirate ship, was on display along with the narrative of the ship’s captain “Black¬†Sam” Bellamy. The ship sunk in 1717 off the coast of Cape Cod and wasn’t discovered until 1984 by Barry Clifford. We have all heard of pirates but I really had no sense of the number of pirates (around 2000 at the height in 1720’s) that were terrorizing the high seas and coastlines of the Americas during the 1700’s. The possibility of making a small fortune as the crew of a pirate ship was the lure for many young men, and a few women. These pirate crews¬†would share equally with their mates if they landed a ship.

There were no photographs allowed in this tour but here is a photo of the museum being attacked by a pirate!

The rest of the Museum of Natural History had the expected displays of fossils and information on our earth’s history. I love going to museums to learn about the natural history of the area I’m visiting and the San Diego museum had much of its focus on Southern California and the peninsula of Baja California¬†both on land and sea.

Mouth of a finback whale.

There was a special exhibit on California’s water history. I love seeing the creative ways that information is displayed. Museums have the special challenge of trying to be informative and engaging in designing their exhibits. I loved this particular display showing how¬†the water of the Colorado River is siphoned off¬†to various cities and states¬†along its route. The most startling fact that I learned in this exhibit is that only 2% of our earth’s water is fresh water that would be suitable for human consumption in all of its forms for drinking, watering our lawns, gardens & crops or for our livestock.


There is a beautiful botanical garden in Balboa Park which had beautiful displays of orchids.

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This orchid looks fierce!


We spent quite a bit of time just walking through Balboa Park, enjoying the scene and doing a lot of people watching. We also spent a little time going through the artist studios and speaking with the various artists about their passions. There were potters, painters, sculptors, jewelers, glass blowers and perhaps others that we missed.


At the water’s edge near the botanical garden.
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Mallard close-up
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Street scene in Balboa Park
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Balboa Park from the artist’s perspective.
Jennifer Hofmann

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