A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

Five miles east of Moab in southeastern Utah, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches are preserved at Arches National Park.

The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Arches National Park along the 18-mile Scenic Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park along the 18-mile Scenic Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

The visitor’s first stop should be the visitor center, located just inside the park entrance. The modern center offers excellent interactive exhibits and a film that highlights Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park. Park rangers are available to assist in planning hikes and other activities, answer questions, and provide maps and other materials.

Landscape Arch with a span of 306 feet is one of the largest in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape Arch with a span of 306 feet is one of the largest in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the park, the 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

After Balanced Rock, a turnoff leads to the Windows section, home to the first concentration of arches and some of the parks largest. Short trails lead from the road to Cove Arch and to Double Arch. This side road ends at the site of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

From the parking area, a one-mile trail loop leads visitors around and through three massive arches. The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles.

The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to the main park road, the Scenic Drive continues for 2.5 miles to another turnoff which leads to Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. One mile past Wolfe Ranch, you can access two viewpoints for the iconic 52-foot Delicate Arch, which is commemorated on the centennial Utah state license plate.

Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. Due to the maze-like canyons , it’s best explore the area as part of a ranger-guided tour.

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Open year-round, the campground offers 52 sites, flush toilets, and water. Evening campfire programs are presented at the campground several times per week in season. Camping fees are charged. Please note that this campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Sculpted formations and landscape of Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sculpted formations and landscape of Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Trail showcases many of the park’s best arches and can be hiked from 1.6 miles to 7.2 miles, depending on your time, fitness level, and number of arches you wish to see. The shortest leg takes visitors to the Famous Landscape Arch, an amazing ribbon of rock that spans more than a football field from base to base.

It is hard to believe that a piece of rock like this can exist. In its thinnest section the arch is only 6 feet thick, yet it supports a span of rock 290 feet long.

In 1991, a 73-foot slab of rock fell out from underneath the thinnest section of the span, thinning the ribboned curve even more.

In 1995, a 47-foot mass of rock fell from the front of the thinnest section of the arch, followed by another 30-foot rock fall less than three weeks later. Due to these events the Park Service has closed the loop trail that once led underneath the arch.

As part of the Colorado Plateau, the park’s elevation ranges from 4,085 feet to 5,653 feet. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

When hiking all trails in Arches, it’s important to drink plenty of water, regardless of the season. The park recommends visitors drink a minimum of 1 gallon of water a day.

Worth Pondering…
There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe.

It has symmetry, elegance, and graced—

those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures.

You can find it the turning of the seasons,

in the way sand trails along a ridge…

—Frank Herbert, Dune

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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Naturally

The sense of wonder inspired by the magnificent beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument excites the imagination and invites exploration of the natural world. Within this vast and untamed wilderness, visitors find places for recreation and solitude.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America's public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service.

Entry into the national monument is by two paved roads: Highway 89 between Kanab and Big Water on its southern end and All American Road Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Boulder on the north. Johnson Canyon Road and Burr Trail are two other hardened-gravel access roads.

All the other roads into the Monument are dirt, clay, or sand. Caution should be exercised when traveling on unpaved roads as conditions can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Services, smart phone access, and water are generally not available.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Despite their different topographies, these three sections share certain qualities: great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states. Human activities are limited on these lands, yet their very remoteness and isolation attract seekers of adventure or solitude and those who hope to understand the natural world through the Monument’s wealth of scientific information.

The Grand Staircase rises in broad, tilted terraces. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: vermilion, white, gray, pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest part of the Monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the Plateau appears to fan out southward from the town of Escalante into an enormous grayish green triangle, ending far to the south at Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The 42-mile-long Straight Cliffs mark the eastern edge of the plateau, ending at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast.

To the north of Fiftymile Bench is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,000-foot Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of pale Navajo sandstone which the Escalante River and its tributaries, flowing down from the plateau, have carved into a maze of canyons. In this arid territory, it is ironically water that has done the most to shape the landscape.

As intriguing as it is beautiful, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also provides remarkable possibilities for scientific research and study. Researchers continue to uncover new insight about how the land was formed and the life it sustains.

What scientists are learning and the methods they use to understand what it all means can be discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors centers located in the communities of Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville, and Escalante. With so much information to share, each visitor center’s interpretive exhibits focus on different scientific themes, including paleontology (Big Water), geology and archaeology (Kanab), the human landscape (Cannonville), biology, botany, and eology (Escalante).

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through interpretive exhibit, visitors learn about the spectacular Monument resources and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world.

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude

Big Bend National Park is well off the beaten path…and well worth exploring.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to a national park where you can actually revel in its silence and solitude. Remote, huge, and austere, this national park along the Rio Grande River is an uncrowded gem. One of the largest parks in the country, with more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend is also one of the least visited—thanks to, you guessed it, its remote location.

Big Bend National Park is a land of paradox, beauty, and above all, vastness. Even today, only three paved roads run south into Big Bend, but from those roads the view can astound.

The Rio Grande River squiggles its course across the harsh desert landscape, carving through limestone and shale. The river separates much of the state of Texas from the country of Mexico, and within the big bend formed by the river, sits a region that will appeal to RVers and other travelers who believe the best things in life require a little effort.

The nearest interstate highway access is 1-10 to the north; from Fort Stockton southbound on US 385 it is 125 miles to park headquarters at Panther Junction. Nearest town to the park is Marathon, 70 miles from Panther Junction.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In other words, Big Bend visitors must plan their trips. You can see and enjoy plenty on a day visit, but you won’t see nearly enough, and you will have burned a lot of fuel along the way. Big Bend rangers recommend three days, and depending on what you want to do, a week or more may be a better choice.

Prior to visiting the park, we spent several enjoyable days in Big Bend country at Marathon in a charming little place, Marathon Motel & RV Park.

The next day we headed for the heart of Big Bend down US Highway 385 making a stop at the visitor center at Panther Junction for orientation, maps, brochures, and hiking information. Before setting out on greater quests we, strolled Panther Path and checked out the vegetation found in the Chihuahuan Desert—yucas, lechuguillas, creosote brushes, and bunch grasses.

We then continued to the Rio Grande Village on the Rio Grande River to secure a full hookup site for the duration of our stay.

Big Bend is vast deserts, mountains, canyons and THE river—the Rio Grande—and along the river are several hot springs.

But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park was officially created in 1944, but evidence of human habitation of the Big Bend area dates back roughly 12,000 years. The Mescalero Apache and Comanche tribes were on the long list of those who came to the area.

Each season is unique. Summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees while mild winters allow RVers to explore fascinating geology. The spring months of March, April, and May bring especially good birdwatching with more than 450 species having been counted within the park—more than in any other national park.

There’s not a lot of water here. An average of just 18 inches falls annually in the heights of the Chisos Mountains that tower nearly 8,000 feet into the sky. And if you think that’s not a lot, these mountains get a deluge when compared to the rest of the park. It is a land that is lucky to see 10 inches of rain in a year. This is an arid landscape.

While touring the park in our dinghy we stopped in the Chisos Basin, a valley within a mountainous ring, and one of the park’s most popular areas, with a visitor center, RV park (not suitable for big rigs), and a lodge.

We take a short hike for a clear view of the Window Overlook, or V-Window, as it’s called since its mountainsides form a “V” shape with views of distant mountain ranges.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Big Bend is filled with surprises, scenic beauty, native plants, wild­life, fantastic outdoor recreation, and the opportunity to enjoy them all in a rugged, majestic setting. A visit to this incredible place will provide wonderful memories for years to come.

If you’ve never been to Big Bend, take your RV, take your time, and go. Go. Just go!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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7 Family Summer Destinations in Southwestern Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, 10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab and 6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah (Bluff) we covered locations in southeastern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in southwestern Utah that lie west of the Colorado River. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

No matter which of these amazing places you choose to visit, don’t miss getting to know some of the local residents, guides, rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Visitor Center and Campground

The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center has some interesting educational displays on the formation of Bryce and the area’s wildlife.

Ruby’s Inn Campground offers 250 shady and open campsites for RVs. All sites have electric and water, or full hook-ups as well as a large pull-through area for the driver’s ease and comfort.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Trail

Bryce Canyon from the rim trail may not offer a lot of solitude but the views are breathtaking.
You can do a great job of imitating a professional photographer at dusk or dawn from either Sunset or Sunrise Points respectively. Now that is some logical location naming.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park – Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

One of the best ways to get the most of Bryce Canyon is to get down into the rocks by combining the first leg of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. This relatively moderate three-mile combination loop starts at Sunset Point and ends at Sunrise Point, which are quite close to each other. Whatever you do, take the time to walk down to Wall Street. The trail down may look intimidating but the number of switchbacks makes it pretty easy.

Cedar Breaks National Monument 

At an elevation of 10,350 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks National Monument is the highest national park in Utah. This park is renowned for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin.

Park facilities include 30 campsites, a five-mile scenic drive, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The visitor center which stands next to the amphitheater is open from Memorial Day to mid-October.

ion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic drive has four pullouts for gazing deep into its interior. North View overlook faces south. Chessman Ridge and Sunset View overlooks both have views to the west, and Point Supreme has the only viewpoint that looks due north.

Zion National Park – Visitors Center

Zion National Park is full of easy options to take in some beautiful nature. Zion is so striking and unique it’s fun to just be in the canyon and look—everywhere.
After learning a bit about the park, develop a plan of attack at the Visitor Center and then take the shuttle bus into the park. There are suitable kids’ trails at nearly every stop.
Plan your camping well in advance. The two campgrounds in the park fill up fast.
Zion National Park – Emerald Pools Trails

The Emerald Pools Trails are perfect for kids—not too long, not too steep with a fun playful payoff at your destination.
The vegetation surrounding the sparkling pools and glistening waterfalls is almost tropical it’s so lush. It also stays pretty cool on a hot day. You’ll have fun hopping rocks to cross the stream and pool edges.

The trailhead is across the highway from Zion Lodge

Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park – Kolob Canyons

Heading north from St. George on Interstate 15 take exit 40 and drive the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Kolob Canyons. The short scenic drive ascends 1,100 feet, showcasing deep reddish-orange cliffs, protruding abruptly from the ground. The road terminates at Timber Creek Overlook. Stop at the Visitor Center and pick up a brochure that explains the 14 numbered stops along the drive. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.
—Eric Hansen

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Sculpted By Water: Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed, as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges.

Unlike Arches National Park, with over 2,000 classified arches, there are only three natural bridges here. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

The pinyon and juniper covered mesa is bisected by deep canyons, exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges were formed.

At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs and numerous plants flower in the spring.

Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Animals range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcats, and black bear.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds).

Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges, which are located in two adjacent canyons.

To make the experience even more breathtaking, each natural bridge is accessed by a steep hike down to the base of the bridge and then back up again. Starting down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, we arrived at the first rough-hewn Navajo-looking log ladder, and scampered down. The trail to the Sipapu Bridge hugs a massive overhanging rock wall that Mother Nature has painted in wide swaths of black, orange, and pink. Considering the forces of wind and water that shaped these rocks, we couldn’t help but imagine the ancient people who once sought shelter here.

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world (only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger). In Hopi mythology, a “sipapu” is a gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the "youngest" of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After admiring the bridge for a while, we made our way back up along the striped rock wall to the wooden ladders and on up to the loop road that winds through the park.

The second stone arch, Kachina Bridge, also requires hiking down stairways that have been carved into the sandstone by the National Park Service and clambering down log ladders as well.

Unlike Sipapu, however, Kachina is a thick and squat bridge that crosses a large cool wash filled with brilliant green shade trees.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. The relatively small size of its opening and its orientation make it difficult to see from the overlook.

Along the flanks of this bridge we saw the faint etchings of petroglyphs that were pecked out of the rock eons ago. We were intrigued to learn that some of the cliff dwellers from the Mesa Verde area 150 miles away in Colorado had called this place home around 1200 A.D.

We got our workout once again as we huffed and puffed up the ladders and staircases back to the loop road.

Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owachomu Bridge is probably the most spectacular, and also the easiest stone bridge to reach. The trail into the canyon underneath the bridge is a short distance from the overlook. It is the oldest bridge in the park, and rock falls have reduced the thickness to only 9 feet, so it may not be here much longer. Needless to say, walking on top of the bridges is not allowed.

The visitor center is open year-round. It has a slide program, exhibits, publications, and postcards. A 13-site campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

Worth Pondering…

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

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Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock.

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.

Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.

By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.

The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

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Blanco: A State Park Comeback

Blanco, an unassuming small town in the Texas Hill Country, takes its name from the local river, which begins its journey in higher elevations west of town. From there, the Blanco meanders in an easterly direction past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the park, swimmers, canoeists, and anglers enjoy the river’s spring-fed waters. Pecan, common bald cypress, sycamore, cottonwood, box-elder maple, and other trees growing along the river’s edge and in the campground provide shade and a comforting presence for families who rest, play, barbecue, hike, and camp within the park’s compact 105 acres.

When the Blanco River crested at 40 feet thanks to more than 12 inches of rain during Memorial Day weekend, several areas of Central Texas, including Blanco State Park, experienced severe flooding and damage.

But, this popular riverside state park has made a big comeback. After more than two months of closure for cleanup and repairs, Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1.

As before, park visitors are allowed to camp and use the south side of the park for day use activities such as picnicking, fishing, hiking, and biking. All other parts of the park, including the north side day-use area near the dam, will remain closed to the public until the grounds can be made safe for visitors.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to damage to the dam the water level is very low, and is not flowing over the dam at this time.

“Although the park has been closed over the past couple of months, park staff and volunteers have been working hard to get the park back open at least partially,” said Ethan Belicek, Blanco State Park superintendent, in a TPWD State Parks Division news release.

“We’re excited to get visitors back in the park to enjoy for the remainder of the summer.”

Due to damaged check valves in the dam, which resulted in water loss in the swimming area, Belicek cautioned visitors to call the park to check water levels prior to arrival.

“We hope to make that repair within the next few weeks, which will allow the swimming area to resume normal levels,” he said.

Originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934, most of their creative work still exists in the form of an arched stone bridge, rock fences, native rock picnic tables, and stone couches. The shady rock seating is positioned among native pecan trees, providing a great spot for picnics.

The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was  built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $17-$23 plus the $4 per person park entrance fee. Nine campsites offering 30-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $20 nightly; eight sites offering 50-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $23; and 12 sites offering electric service and water are available for $17. Weekly and monthly rates are available during the non-peak season (November through February).

Wi-Fi is also available within the park.

The Town Creek Nature Trail, a landscaped, quarter-mile walking path lined with native plants and large live-oak trees, connects the state park to Blanco’s downtown square. The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure built in 1885, is the square’s most prominent building and anchors a historic district (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) that includes 46 properties. Many of the old buildings house restaurants, cafés, antique shops, outlets for locally-produced arts and crafts, and other enterprises.

Throughout the town, century-old limestone buildings are a testament to the German colony that settled in the river valley.

The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among my favorite downtown indulgences, the Deutsch Apple is about a mile southeast of Blanco’s courthouse square at the intersection of Loop 163 and RR 165. Items baked fresh daily include apple pie, pecan pie, apple-pecan cake, and apple-pecan muffins.

Meanwhile, looking at the statewide picture, only four Texas state parks remain closed out of more than 50 that were impacted during May flooding events; Cedar Hill State Park, Lake Somerville State Park (all units), Lake Whitney State Park, and Ray Roberts Lake State Park (all units). Damage assessments and repairs are under way at those sites.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

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Vogel State Park On My Mind

Sharing the same name I knew that fate would one day find us within driving distance of Vogel State Park and when that day arrived, the park did not disappoint.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we entered Vogel State Park from US Highways 19/129, 22-acre Lake Trahlyta opened to the right, a fitting memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that both dammed the lake and built the park. Georgia’s poet laureate, Bryon Herbert Reece, was born in a cabin on the land where Lake Trahlyta now sits.

In 1929, Augustus Vogel and Fred Vogel Jr. donated nearly 259 acres to the state, much of it still encompassed within the 233-acres within Vogel State Park. At the start of the 20th century the Vogels set up a lumber mill on the site of present-day state park to harvest oak trees, a major source of tannic acid for their leather company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville.

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park has been an escape of families for generations. Returning soldiers following World War II found Vogel an ideal vacation spot to renew family relationships. Grandchildren of these early visitors have continued the tradition. Vogel offers a slower pace in these fast-paced times.

At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length, 22 tent/pop-up campsites, 14 tent-only walk-in campsites, and 34 cottages. All accommodations are available for reservation.

A lake for swimming and boating, and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach.

The park offers 17 miles of hiking trails from easy to strenuous. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An annual wildflower pilgrimage is a favorite time for those who want to see a variety of spring wildflowers. This mid-April event provides an ideal opportunity for wildflower lovers to enjoy a casual walk with a naturalist and search for the hidden beauty of the forest floor.

Constructed by the CCC during the depression years of the 1930s, Vogel’s park rustic architecture harkens back to a simpler time. The CCC history runs deep through the park. A museum recognizing the efforts of the greatest generation of natural resource workers.

The park hosts an annual CCC reunion of men who actually worked as President Roosevelt’s Tree Army soldiers. They have tales to tell of planting trees, fighting fire, building dams and parks, and other experiences that some say were the best days of their lives. This program is held in May. Everyone is welcome to attend this fascinating event.

Wildlife viewing at Vogel is a favorite pastime. There are deer, black bear, birds, and smaller creatures, but fishing is one of the more popular activities. The park hosts an annual Kids Fishing Rodeo the second Saturday of June. Youngsters 12 and under have the opportunity to fish for rainbow trout in Wolf Creek. Wildlife Resources Fisheries stock Wolf Creek with hundreds of trout which pretty much guarantees a catch for each child present.

Every Saturday evening during the summer, musicians and groups play on the theater over the lake. What better way to experience a summer evening than with a cool breeze on your face and beautiful music.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appalachian Mountains wouldn’t have the character they do, were it not for the music that has emanated from the hollows. September 12 (2015) is when Vogel hosts its 12th annual Mountain Music Festival. This all-day event has bluegrass, country, gospel, and mountain musicians playing on the lake shore. Crafters will also display their handmade wares in much the same way they would have done in an earlier time. Concessions will be provided by Vogel volunteers.

Vogel is fun year round but particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

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Land of the Hoodoos: Bryce Canyon National Park

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

An immigrant from Scotland, Ebenezer Bryce established a homestead in the Paria Valley in 1875. Bryce was sent by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because his skill as a carpenter would be useful in settling the area. Locals started calling the canyon with the strange rock formations near his home “Bryce’s Canyon.”

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

The Navajo Loop descends between narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs as it passes two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Navajo Loop descends between narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs as it passes two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

Bryce Canyon’s warm days and cold nights result in more than 200 days a year in which accumulated rainwater completes a freeze-thaw cycle. During the day, water seeps into cracks in the rocks, and then at night, it freezes and expands. As this process repeats, it breaks apart weak rock, and over time, chisels the unusual formations.

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos.

The only access to Bryce Canyon is via Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which is a winding road that climbs to high elevations in spots. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

The best place to begin a tour of the park is at the visitor center. Located just 1.5 miles inside the park, the visitor center provides maps and directions, plus information regarding weather, ranger activities, and the Junior Ranger program. There’s also a 20-minute orientation film and a museum with exhibits that display facets of the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and history.

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

A prime viewpoint, Bryce Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular viewing areas in the national park system. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points.

Sunset Point begins the trailhead for the popular 1.3-mile Navajo Loop which descends through Wall Street. There, hikers travel between the narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs, and along the way pass by a miracle of nature—two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that have managed to grow from the narrow slot canyon floor to reach the sliver of sunlight at the top.

If you're traveling through southern Utah, you'll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular activity is photography. The shutters work overtime at Bryce Canyon and for good reason. While many photos are taken during mid-day hours, the most dramatic images are captured during the early morning and late afternoon.

The late afternoon sun penetrates the narrow gorges, making scenery along the trails come alive. As sunset approaches, colors become muted.

To darken the sky and saturate colors use a polarizing filter.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

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