We made it to Arizona today! We drove to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from our campground.
We hiked the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails and the Bright Angel Point trail. These trails were pretty well paved. There were some nice overlooks along the way. We could even see the Colorado River on the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails. The views were amazing, although the trails were a little crowded.
It was pretty and had more trees than I was expecting. We saw some lizards, a couple of hawks, maybe a turkey vulture, some wild turkeys, and even a snake in the parking lot.
We have definitely seen more snakes on our trip than we usually do at home. We did our research before we left and learned identifying marks of poisonous snakes (at least for the US/North America). Poisonous snakes will have cat eyes (elongated pupil). They will have thicker bodies and broader triangular heads. Rattlesnakes will have the rattle sound, but some other snakes apparently will also mimic this noise by moving their tails against the ground/leaves. Poisonous snakes also have a heat pit on their face/nose, but I don’t think you can see that one from far away! The exception to these rules is the coral snake who has round pupils, but you can tell it’s poisonous by it’s coloring (red and yellow a dangerous fellow, red and black poison lack). This website was really helpful when it came time to teach the kids what to look out for. Of course, we still try to maintain all the distance we can!
Ben has seeing the Milky Way on his bucket list. We had heard Canyonlands was great for star gazing, so we headed there right before sunset.
The colors over the canyons were amazing while the sun was setting. There was a full bright moon though, so while we saw some great stars, we didn’t really see the Milky Way. There is a faint shadow in some of the pictures that might (maybe…hopefully…) hint at the Milky Way, but I think we will have to try again when the moon isn’t as bright.
After Canyonlands, we drove to Arches to try our luck there. Still no Milky Way, but gorgeous nighttime landscapes.
The pullout area we were at for Canyonlands did not have a bathroom. I got to use my camping funnel* for the first time. It was…different, but when you got to go…It worked though, so funnel for the win!
Today we went back to Arches to see a couple of the arches we had missed before. We hiked to landscape arch (longest in world), the Windows, Turret, and Double Arch. On the way out, we saw Pothole Arch. We had missed this one earlier in the dark. It is harder to see because it is a horizontal arch (like a pothole) instead of a vertical arch.
Landscape Arch is in Devil’s Garden, which is at the end of the park road. You don’t hike the whole Devil’s Garden trail (which is good because it is long), but you do get to see some of it’s towering sandstone. There was also a smaller arch to the right of Landscape. We saw a few lizards along the trail and a small herd of female and baby deer right near Landscape Arch. We all just stood there for a minute starting at each other. Their ears are so much bigger than the deer’s back home!
Next, we headed down to the Windows and Turret Arches. These were pretty busy. North Arch definitely had the most people, as it as the first arch. South Arch was pretty empty. It’s not much further, but you do hike around a turn, so I guess a lot of people skipped it. The Turret Arch is across the way and on the same loop.
The final (planned) arch for the day was Double Arch. It has two arches out of the same base. It is across from the Windows and you can see it partly from the parking lot. You can see the arches, but will get a better view if you move closer. It was a nice sunny day, so you could really see the Double Arch really well from the lower parking lot. We did walk to it and it was neat to see.
Because we got such an early start to the day, we headed back to town for brunch. It’s been much harder to make pancakes in the RV and everyone was craving some fluffy pancakes.
The day ended with a Nerf battle between Ben and the boys and a dip in the pool. We had the pool to ourselves and it was amazing!
We had not heard of Canyonlands National Park until getting ready for this trip. It’s not too far from Arches, maybe 30 minutes, so we left early in the morning to go see it.
It was crazy to see these deep canyons. It must have been shocking for people coming through to have mountains, then flat land, and then bam! suddenly huge holes in the ground. Apparently they also tried to mine for uranium in Canyonlands during the 1950’s.
Our first hike in the park was to the Mesa Arch. The trail is pretty easy and is only about a mile. It was a warm day, but we had a nice breeze for most of it. It made hiking much easier.
We then drove on to Upheaval Dome. The dome overlook was quite the hike with several areas close to the edge. I think it was about 1.5 miles. The beginning of the trail is marked pretty well, but then you get onto solid rock surfaces and the trail is only marked by cairns. The views were amazing. Upheaval Dome was pretty neat, with all kinds of colors and jagged edges.
We saw a few small lizards and a couple of chipmunks. As Will was sitting on a rock, a small lizard came right up to him and almost climbed on his boot!
After Upheaval Dome, we took a few minutes to chill at the picnic area at the trailhead. We all enjoyed cold waters from the cooler and a few snacks. We drove along the road and stopped at several pull-outs and overlooks. Several areas were hazy, so we didn’t get as clear of a view as I would have liked. As we were reading about the dryness of the area and how it only gets about 10” of rain a year, it started raining on us!
NOTE: I would use bathrooms along trails in the park, not at the visitor center. The visitor center had squat toilets!
Our first adventures in Moab were in Arches National Park. We missed the beginning of the sun rise because we were all lagging and dragging, but at least caught the tail end.
We brought lots of water and sunscreen with us in our day bags and in the truck. We wore our boots since Utah has several varieties of rattlesnakes.
The colors are amazing! When I think of dessert, I picture brown. However, there are reds, browns, whites, and greens here. The minerals in the earth make a lovely canvas across the land.
Our first hike in the park was to Delicate Arch. This is the arch you see on the license plates. It was listed as a moderate hike, about 3.5 miles (there and back). There is a trail in the beginning, and then you hike up a large slab of slickrock and follow a few signs and other people around a ledge to finally see the arch.
The views are amazing once you get there. It was a little crowded, and so far the people in the parks in Utah are not as good at wearing masks in outdoor crowds as in Montana or even Colorado.
You are not allowed to climb on the arches (you would think this is obvious, but we have seen people climb them despite the signs), but there are other rocky areas to climb. The boys love stretching their legs and testing their climbing skills. Of course, the “look where you put your hands and feet” is cautioned before they attempt anything. Within minutes, they came running back yelling about a snake. Will almost ran into a snake…again. Luckily Nick saw it and they ran away.
Ben and I walked over to see what they saw, and it was a small snake curled up on the rocks. It looked like it could have fit (while curled up) in the palm of your hand. I had my zoom lens with me, so I zoomed in for a picture and Will asked a Ranger later. She seemed very surprised and said it looked like one of their smaller rattlesnakes that live in the park. We think it may have been a midget faded rattler. Luckily they are usually nocturnal and he didn’t wake up from the boys climbing right near him. So…the boys were done climbing. We also saw a small lizard and a blister beetle.
After that excitement, we walked back along the trail to stop at Wolfe Ranch. It is a small pioneering type of cabin from the late 1800’s. Mr. Wolfe was originally from Ohio! There were also petroglyphs in the area that we walked to see.
As part of the boys’ online school, we are allowed supplemental hours. We wanted to incorporate learning into a lot our daily fun/activities. When we got home, they researched what kind of snake we saw, blister beetles, and petroglyphs vs pictographs. We learned that if you see lizards out, the snakes are probably going to be active as well. Some adult snakes can control how much venom they inject during a bite. Petroglyphs are etchings/carvings in rocks, while pictographs are paintings.
After the boys were done with their research, they went with Ben to the pool while I worked on the laundry.
In the evening, we went into town and explored. Moab is a cute town! Lots of things to see. They have a Food Truck Park, which is super cool. Unfortunately, there have only been a few of the trucks open each time we have gone. We got a shaved ice to share and then went to The Spoke for dinner. It is a cute building with interior brick walls and it looks like original wood floors. We were on the second floor by a window, which is always nice. They have really good burgers and Brussels Sprouts.
It was a pretty good day, although I think we were all ready for bed by the end.
After Colorado, we headed to Utah. We had had mostly hazy skies in Colorado during the last of our stay due to the wildfires. I was really worried about our route, as the highway we were originally going to use had been shut down. Luckily, it opened a couple of days before our departure.
Our drive was pretty uneventful, although long. We passed several signs that said “Wildfire in Area. Do Not Call 911.” and “No Stopping On Highway”. We saw some smoke in the distance, but no large fires. However, we did pass where the fire burned next to I-70. It was immense amounts of burned trees and shrubs. It was crazy. We did get stopped in traffic for about 20 minutes or so. It was standstill, but next to a creek, so at least it was pretty.
We arrived at our campground after hours, so our paperwork was in the outdoor box waiting for us. This time we had a pull-through spot (YAY!), so it was a little quicker getting settled in. We got everything hooked up and did a quick grocery run in town.
It was almost sunset, so we drove into Arches National Park (about 15-20 minutes down the road). We missed a lot of the sunset, but managed to catch the end. Arches looks pretty neat and I can’t wait to explore it more.
Today we ventured into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was about a 3 hour drive each way. The one thing this trip has taught us is not to be afraid of driving each day. We very rarely made trips longer than 1.5 hours at home. We saw a few animals in the campground this morning, which is always fun!
The park offers some hiking, a campground, the dunes, and a creek. The creek is usually dry in August, from what we were told. You can sled down the sand dunes, but the park claims you need a specialized board. Apparently snow sled and cardboard will not work well. There are a few stores to rent these boards from in the towns of Alamosa (which was not on our drive in), Hooper, and Blanca. We drove through Blanca and didn’t see any signs for board rentals. It was the 2nd closest rental to the park entrance, so we were hoping we wouldn’t miss the last store. The other rental is at a store right outside the park entrance. The store is called Oasis and it is open seasonally. They offer sand boards (stand up kind like snow boards) and sand sleds. Rental is $20/day/board and you need to return it by 6:00pm. They also provide you with a thing of wax for the bottom of your board.
There was quite a line to rent the boards. The store’s interior was closed, so everything was rented/ordered from the outdoor windows. The line moved slowly, but surely. It took awhile because there was a rental form to fill out, the deposit to sign, rental fee, and then the instructions. In the store’s parking lot, they had three portalets and a 2 pump gas station (no diesel). The store also offered ice, ice cream (cones and sandwiches), some hot food items, and convenience items (postcards, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.). There were not any picnic benches around though. (TIP: Stop and use the portalets here. The Visitor Center is closed due to COVID and there could be a long wait at the park.)
The sky, both on the drive in and at the park, was a little hazy due to smoke from wildfires. The parking lot closest to the dunes was packed! Luckily, right when we got to the end of our first lap, we found a spot. I was driving home, so I changed into my sandals since I didn’t want sand stuck in my shoe for the whole drive home (big mistake). Everyone else stayed in gym shoes and left their Crocs for later. There is about 1/4-1/2 mile walk through sand to get to the dune area. It would have been great if there was a boardwalk there. Although this might not work well since the Ute Native Americans called this area “sowapopheuveha”* or, the land that moves back and forth. With the sand blowing around it might just cover the boardwalk.
The book stated the tallest sand dune was “750 feet and 3.8 miles (one way) difficult trudge to the top.”* So, we weren’t doing that! We stayed towards the front of the dunes, the smaller ones. It is quite the work-out to climb up the dunes to slide back down. Ben and the boys tried the sand board, but I stuck to the sand sled. The boys did pretty well for their first experience on a stand up board. Everyone had a few tumbles in the sand, but had fun sledding down the dunes!
I had secured my keys and ID in a zipper pocket, but thought on my last run I could video the trip down the dune. Dumb idea. I took the biggest tumble so far and my phone got buried in the sand. Luckily I found it pretty quickly. I would recommend using some sort of cord or something that is attached to both your phone and you, if you want to have it out.
Eventually we were tired and hungry, and began our journey back to the truck. At the parking lot we rinsed off at the outdoor showers. There were two shower poles, each had nozzles at 3 different heights. We ate our picnic lunch in the truck. We were facing the dunes, so we had a nice view. There is a picnic area down the street, but not at the dunes parking lot we were in. We could also people watch. Ben stated everyone coming in looked excited and happy (think Disney world), but coming out everyone looked exhausted and were dragging. We were definitely tired, but it was a good experience.
The park cautions that the sand can get up to 150 degrees F. I don’t think it was quite that warm when we were there, but it definitely got very hot. My sandals were not the right choice, as the sand kept sliding in or covering my feet as we walked. In the beginning, the temperatures were fine. However, on the walk back, I had to take multiple breaks to keep my feet out of the sand and stood on a board. By the time we got back, the sides of my feet and under my big toes were red and I had a couple of blisters. I’m not sure if the blisters were simply from sand rubbing between my feet and sandals, or from minor burns from the hot sand. Even after the cool water from the outdoor shower and sitting in the truck without shoes on, my feet were still red. I ended up putting aloe on them before bed, but they were still sensitive the next day (and a little the day after that too). I may have lightly burned them. If you go in the summer, I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes (we saw someone wearing boots) so your gym shoes are not saturated with sand. If you really want to wear sandals, I would maybe wear socks with them (and socks with Crocs is honestly one of my biggest no-no’s…but guys, the sand burns!).
After lunch, we drove around. The park isn’t very large in terms of a road driving through it. There was a primitive road and a campground. We headed back out and stopped at Oasis to return our boards. We also bought some ice cream and postcards. We haven’t been able to find any other Great Sand Dunes postcards, so I wish I would have bought a few more.
Saturday we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is requiring reservation times for admission. The later afternoon ones are easier to get. I tried several times to get a morning/early afternoon time, but was unsuccessful. They sell out really quickly. There is a $2 charge, even if you have the Annual Pass. If you do not have an annual or day pass, you can buy it when you make your reservation.
Our time started at 3:00 and it was about 1 1/2 hour drive there from our campground. We decided to spend the day in Estes Park, which is right outside the park, until our time opened up.
Estes Park is really pretty and is a nice walkable town. There is a nice walking path next to the creek. We got ice cream at Sunday Saloon. They made square ice cream cones! Although very neat looking and definitely different, there is a downfall to square scoops. They fall off easily. I lost my ice cream after only a few licks. Ben bought me another ice cream later, and I learned my lesson and got it in a cup!
We went into a few stores, got some more postcards, coffee, and a slice of pie.
It was finally time to head into the park. We had perfect timing and got there right as our entrance time started. Within 10 minutes we saw a bunch of cars pulled over in a pull off. I looked over and there was a moose in the pond! We pulled in and went to look. Ben grabbed the binoculars. The moose was up to his shoulders in the water and was eating plants out of the pond. It was really neat to see.
We kept driving around the main road in the park. We saw Lava Cliffs, one of the highest, or maybe the highest point on the road. It was hard to tell based on the sign. There was a snow/glacier area there. It was beautiful with a little pond at the bottom.
Our next stop was at another Tundra area. We saw 2 marmots, which look a little like our groundhogs. They sleep up to 8 months and have to double their weight in the summer to prepare for hibernation. They ate most of the time when we were there, occasionally looking up at the tourists. The tundra area takes a long time to grow, the sign said it can take centuries for plant areas to mature.
There were signs and explanations everywhere not to walk on the tundra, to stay on the path. We saw several people walking right past to get their glamor shots and selfies. There was plenty of path to get amazing pictures at without walking all over the areas that said “Stay Off” or “Tundra Closed”. There were even just signs with pictures signaling to stay off. I just don’t understand people.
Anyway, enough of the ranting. We kept on driving up to the Alpine Visitor Center. We stopped at the visitor center first and wandered around their shop. I got a new mask (looks like a bear snoot) and an ornament for Christmas. There is a trail up the hill next to the visitor center. The peak of the hill is at 12, 005 feet above sea level! The altitude definitely makes it harder to go up the hill. It wasn’t a huge change in elevation, maybe 500 feet and there were stairs for most of it. I had to take a couple of breaks to adjust, but we all made it to the top. It had some amazing views, definitely worth the walk up!
We made it back to the car and enjoyed a nice picnic dinner that Ben had packed. It was a really nice treat.
We continued on the road and stopped at the Continental Divide. We also saw a deer at a picnic spot nearby.
We stayed on the same road to get out of the park. It’s not a loop road, so if you want to leave through the same entrance you came into, you need to turn around. We decided to just drive out of the park and take a different way back home. This drive had a lot of switchbacks, but amazing views of the mountains.
We had the dash cam up, so we have some video of our drive. I compiled clips into about a 14 minute video on our YouTube channel.
I am glad we got to see Rocky Mountain National Park and the marmots and moose. I will say that I still like Yellowstone better. Rocky Mountain was great with the glacier/tundra areas, but the landscape was mostly pine trees and mountains (which are beautiful). Yellowstone’s landscape frequently changes when you drive through, so it’s always something new to look at.