Update 15: April 17, 2007

Scorecard: 353 days; 29,873 miles (Car: 13,136, RV: 16,737); 37 states; 37 National Parks; 14,079 photos.
Arches National Park: March 20-26, 2007 (Location 71 on the Map)

After stops at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, we pulled into Moab, Utah for a weeklong stay. Our plan was to use Moab as a base to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We were impressed with Moab, with it's proximity to climbing, hiking, and canyoneering, and the fact that at least half the cars we saw had mountain bikes on top of them.

Our first visit was to Arches National Park, which boasts over 2000 arches throughout the park. The erosion of the past 100 million years is apparent in the many "fins" in the park, which eventually start to crumble from below, creating the arches we see today. The existing arches will continue to crumble away over the next 100 million years, while others will form where only fins exist now.

There are numerous overlooks along the scenic drive through the park, where visitors can view some of the arches and other natural features from the comfort of their idling vehicles. But as we usually try to do, we got out on several of the trails to see the park close-up. Even with us hiking all of the park's most popular trials, we still only managed to see a couple dozen of the arches. The highlight for us, as it probably is for many people, was hiking up to Delicate Arch. We were lucky enough to have someone take a family picture of us while we were there.

Justin hiked a lot during this trip, and enjoyed the sand that's left over from the eroding sandstone. On the way back from viewing one of the arches, as he was hiking ahead of me, he suddenly asked, "Daddy, do you have big muscles?" The other hikers around us started laughing. Susan said later they might not have been laughing at Justin's question as much as my dejected response: "No, Justin... I don't."

For photos from Arches National Park, Click Here
Canyonlands National Park: March 23, 2007 (Location 71 on the Map)

Canyonlands National Park is a large section of wilderness on the Colorado Plateau, and protects the many canyons created by the Colorado and Green rivers. Although not as vast as the Grand Canyon, much of what we saw reminded us of that area.

The majority of the park is only accessible via drives of up to 100 miles from Moab, and many of the unpaved roads require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. We visited Island in the Sky, the main area of the park on top of the plateau, and due to the rain, only ventured rarely from the car. What little we saw of the park was beautiful, but we're anxious to return someday with a suitable vehicle and drive some of the park's primitive roads.

For photos from Canyonlands National Park, Click Here
Capitol Reef National Park: March 26-28, 2007 (Location 72 on the Map)

After our enjoyable visit to the Moab area, we ventured west and south to Capitol Reef National Park. We camped in the park's Fruita campground, which sits next to the apricot orchard that Mormon settlers planted when they settled here in the 1800s.

The park was created to protect the Waterpocket fold, a 100-mile long, 65-million-year-old wrinkle in the earth's crust that has created fabulous canyons, domes, and spires. It is another park that requires miles of off-road travel to see everything it has to offer. During the two days we visited, we drove the dirt road into Capitol Gorge, hiked to the Hickman bridge arch, viewed petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indians 800 years ago, and visited the original single-room schoolhouse.

The community of Fruita thrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s, due primarily to the success of the cherry, apricot, apple, pear, and peach orchards the Mormons grew along the Fremont River.

For photos from Capitol Reef National Park, Click Here
Bryce Canyon National Park: March 28-30, 2007 (Location 73 on the Map)

We took the long way to Bryce Canyon National Park from Capitol Reef, in order to avoid the snowstorm in the mountain passes. The snow caught us anyway, but at least we didn't have to battle steep mountain roads.

We had planned to spend several days at Bryce, but due to the snow and the high temperatures only getting into the low 30s during the day, we only stayed two days. It got down to about 15-degrees at night, and was cold enough that we used a quarter of a tank of propane each night to keep the furnace running.

Bryce Canyon is known for its odd-shaped spires, called hoodoos. Whereas the fins at Arches National Park form into arches, those at Bryce, aided by the freezing and thawing of water seeping into cracks, erode away into hoodoos.

Thwarted by snow and low-lying clouds during our visit, we only saw a very small part of the park. The higher elevations were continually enveloped in clouds, so we never even drove the length of the park's 18-mile main road. We also didn't do any hiking; it was so cold whenever we got out to take pictures that we only spent a few minutes at a time outside of the car. I guess twenty years of living in Phoenix is partly to blame for that. My advancing age might also be responsible.

For photos from Bryce Canyon National Park, Click Here
Zion National Park: March 30-April 5, 2007 (Location 74 on the Map)

Spending fewer days at Bryce Canyon meant we could spend extra days at Zion National Park. Zion was one of our favorite stops from a trip we took with Justin two years ago. Our weeklong visit this time will likely rank as one of our top five favorite parks. After the snow and cold of Bryce, we were happy for the sun and warmth of the lower elevations.

The park offers much of what we'd been seeing in southern Utah: beautifully-colored cliffs, mesas, canyon, domes, etc. But what's really amazing here is Zion Canyon itself. The Virgin River has eroded away the many layers of ancient sandstone, leaving behind walls on each side of the river ranging from 1500 to 2000-feet tall. Zion is a haven for rock-climbers, hikers, and canyoneers, all of whom were in attendance.

We would do more hiking here than on any other stop so far on the road trip. Since all trails start at the bottom of the canyon, it means all trails go up. We got in a lot of elevation gain during our trip, which, coupled with the fact that Susan and I each carry one of the boys with us, added up to a fairly strenuous endeavor. We almost always hike as a family, but since there was so much to see, and since hiking long trails is difficult with the boys, Susan and I each took a day and hiked on our own while the other stayed at the campground with Justin and Zane. Those days in particular were probably our favorites, since they afforded us hours of unencumbered time to enjoy the sights.

From April to October every year, the park runs a mandatory shuttle bus service, which requires everyone entering the canyon to ride a bus instead of taking a car. While this seems like a hassle, we saw firsthand how important it is. On March 31, we drove Susan's car to a trailhead in the canyon. At every overlook and every trailhead in the canyon, there were cars overflowing out onto the shoulders of the roadways for hundreds of feet in either direction. It was a mess. On April 1, the first day banning car traffic, we took the shuttle bus. The serenity and peacefulness of no car traffic was amazing, and is a testament to public transportation. With over 2-and-a-half million visitors each year trying to drive up the 6-mile, dead-end road into the canyon, the shuttle system was the best thing that could have happened to the health and longevity of Zion Canyon.

For photos from Zion National Park, Click Here
Grand Canyon National Park: April 6, 2007 (Location 75 on the Map)

It's too bad the mandatory shuttle system hasn't caught on everywhere. Our one-day visit to Grand Canyon National Park was more like going to Disneyland during summer vacation. The crowds, congestion, noise, and traffic was disgusting.

Fortunately, Susan and I have each hiked down into the canyon on several occasions, and we've experienced the beauty of the canyon away from the crowds. With the boys along, and with our visit to Phoenix coming up, we just stopped by for a day this time to walk along the rim and get a different perspective on the canyon. We're looking forward to (hopefully) joining Sally's trip down to Phantom Ranch next year, where we can once again appreciate the true beauty and tranquility of one of nature's most incredible creations.

For photos from Grand Canyon National Park, Click Here

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