Monday, July 25, 2016

Canyonlands National Park

I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and we have chosen to not visit it on this trip as we believe we need more time; therefore, I cannot imagine it being more awe inspiring than the canyons that make up Canyonlands.  I struggle to describe the absolute vastness, ruggedness and wildness of this park.

These canyons were formed over millions of years by the forces of the Colorado and Green Rivers. They are made up of numerous layers of different types of stone.

While on hikes I had to work hard to contain my nerves of Harris walking along cliffs that dropped 1,000 feet.  As my family can attest, I wasn’t very successful.

The first morning of our time in Canyonlands we hiked the trail called Grand View and a grand view it was indeed!  The trail led to the tip of the Mesa top and overlooked the canyons formed by the Colorado and Green rivers.

Canyonlands is often described as one of the wildest parks and well suited to exploring in a 4x4.  Therefore, we decided to take a Jeep tour!  We had a knowledgable, young guide  who took us for a wild ride through the desert and canyons.  I had to sit in the middle because I about died when I looked out the window and saw the sharp drop off of the road that we were on.  It didn’t bother either of the children one bit and, in fact, they loved it!  

With our guide we visited Mesa Arch within Canyonlands and the Green River Overlook.

Our guide also pointed out Petroglyphs on the wall.  I'm fascinated by these, who drew them and what were they trying to communicate, if anything?

We also hiked Upheaval Dome, which is believed to have been made by a meteorite striking the earth.  Whale Rock was also a hike with a rock scramble at the end.

Throughout much of the parks we’ve visited there has been a motto, “Don’t Bust the Crust.”  The soil here is cryptobiotic and is what allows the dessert to support plant life; if it weren’t for the microorganisms in this soil these desserts would be more like the Sahara Dessert, devoid of plant life.  This bumpy soil takes hundreds of years to develop but is easily crushed by a footstep.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dead Horse State Park

Our next stop was Dead Horse State Park, where we stayed for five nights!  Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park are very close together and Dead Horse State Park was a great place from which to explore both parks.  Not to mention that the view of the canyons was spectacular!

The park got its name from the story of cowboys who would corral wild horses on the narrow point of the cliffs, pick the ones that they wanted and leave the rest to die of thirst yet within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.  

Our first night at the park, we went for a short hike along the canyon rim.  It was breathtaking!  

We also witnessed a sunset and a sunrise on these canyon walls.  The way that the sunlight lights up the red walls of the canyon is truly awesome.


Also, I want to mention that Grace is blogging about our travels as well! If you're interested in her perspective, check her blog out at

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park was established to preserve and honor the heritage and history of the Ancestral Pueblo People.  Here, one can get an up close view of the astounding Cliff Dwellings that were built tucked into the overhanging cliffs.

We took a four hour tour of the park where our guide shared all sorts of information about the evolution of the homes of the Pueblo people, the landscape and the history of the Mesa.  The cliff dwellings themselves were only built in the last 200 years of the native's 1,000+ year habitation of the Mesa.  The first forms of homes were pit houses.

Almost all of the dwellings we saw contained Kivas.  The people developed very useful ways to get airflow through the kiva so that the fire in the middle wouldn’t suffocate everyone.

As part of our tour, we were able to take a Ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace.  This place just blows one's mind.  The people who built it had no metal tools, hadn’t yet developed the wheel nor had easy access to water (it is a desert after all) and yet they were able to create something so solid and functional that it still stands today, hundreds and hundreds of years later.

One thing that really struck me was the beauty of the structures.  When the Ranger was asked why some structures were round and other square, she commented that there seems to be no practical reason and thus one might assume it was simply because it was beautiful.  It’s a reminder that perhaps humans of any time aren’t really so vastly different.  Beauty is always appreciated and sought out.

Cliff Palace is one of the largest cliff dwellings with 150 rooms.

We also went on a Ranger tour of Balcony House (the only way to tour the structures is with a Ranger- at $4 a person it’s well worth it).  Here, you had to climb ladders over cliffs to get in and out of the dwelling, crawl and squeeze through tight spaces and try not to fall off the cliff or into a Kiva! 

When asked why they would have built balconies, an unusual addition, the Ranger asked what we used balconies for and reminded us, again, that perhaps we weren’t so different.  Could it be that they simply wanted to enjoy the view?

There is so much that we don’t know about the people who lived here, and why they left, but I loved getting this glimpse into their world from long ago.

Next stop... Canyonlands National Park

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Great Sand Dunes National Park

As we approached The Great Sand Dunes we were sure that we were coming up to a lot of rain as the sky ahead looked as if rain was pouring down.  However, it turned out to be a windstorm and it was sand from the dunes that we were seeing.

I was expecting something along the lines of what we saw at White Sands, but these dunes were entirely different.  First, they are huge!  The highest dune reaches 750 feet!  Secondly, the sand is not gypsum but much closer to what we think of as regular sand.  This sand is formed from the wind grinding up the mountains due to a southwesterly wind.

We had a wonderful campsite in which to enjoy both the mountains and the dunes!  We had hoped to stay in the park, but they were full.  It turned out to be a blessing as the mosquitoes at the park were ferocious due to the Medano Creek drying up for the summer and leaving a perfect mosquito breeding ground.  Fortunately, once you were up on the dunes, the mosquitos were not an issue.

We took the sleds that we bought at White Sands for the children to sled down the dunes but they, unfortunately, didn't work as well on this type of sand.  Harris was the only one to really get going probably because he's light and totally up for sledding down very steep embankments.  For instance, in this picture, the little speck is Harris going down a dune "bowl."

Bryce decided that we all needed to climb to one of the highest dunes, cleverly named, High Dune.  It was really hard!  Not only was it steep and in high altitude, but climbing in sand is no joke (loose sand, not packed sand), but climb we did and we made it to the top!

We were so glad that Al and Marilyn, who live in Colorado, were able to join us for the day.  What a treat.

We also checked out a waterfall.  It was pretty, but crowded, probably the most crowded trail we've been on the whole trip.

There was amazing stargazing!  You could see every star in the sky and the milky way.  Harris LOVED it and he loved taking pictures of them.  I think these pictures of the Milky Way are pretty amazing.

Next stop.... Mesa Verde National Park

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