We’ve added the three waterfalls along the Glen Burney Trail to NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info, and a full trailhead page on HikeWNC.info as well! Owned by the town of Blowing Rock, the waterfalls include The Cascades, Glen Burney Falls, and Glen Marie Falls. All of these would make worthy destinations in and of themselves, but with this trail you get to see all three in one hike. It’s a fairly strenuous hike for a trail that starts right in town, so be prepared for that, but we think it’s well worth the effort as you treck down into the gorge formed by New Year’s Creek. Perhaps this would make a great New Year’s Day hike!
For once, I had some experience with a place that Jordan had never been before. Months before our trip, I was the one who hyped up Rocky Mountain National Park and the nearby town Estes Park. I must admit that the town was not as ritzy as I remembered when I visited ten years ago, but it was much more charming. Jordan was so stoked to see so much snow on the mountaintops. I insisted that we stop so that he could create a giant snowball while I snapped a picture. I call him my “spring bloom” – content to live and thrive beneath the snow. We enjoyed an incredible drive up to 12,000 ft. elevation and had many animal sightings. Jordan got some amazing photographs of a herd of elk along the road. We had to be patient while we waited for the big fellow to lift his head and acknowledge our presence. I had to remind myself that animals don’t exist to be photographed
Finally, we headed down into Estes Park and found a wonderful place to eat. It was called Ed’s Cantina and Jordan enjoyed a plate of Chicken Mole enchildas, while I enjoyed a sandwich and a nice cold beer. The restaurant was right in front of fall river and we enjoyed hearing the sound of the water while we ate near the open door patio. After lunch we took a walk beside the river and enjoyed the cool, breezy air and decided we were ready to find our hotel. We checked into the Comfort Inn and were welcomed by a friendly staff and a beautiful room.
Jordan and I both love Estes Park and want to return for a longer stay. We are going to enjoy a day of hiking tomorrow and I can’t wait! It is so nice being married to someone who is so passionate about the outdoors. He is incredible and I love him so much!
Wednesday we woke up and headed down the Arkansas River to the Royal Gorge. This park, owned by the Canyon City municipality, is a weird blend of a natural wonder, a carnival, and even some elements of old-western town entertainment. We did enjoy the three main attractions in the Park – an aerial tram which glides across the gorge, the suspension bridge stretched from rim to rim, and the inclined railway which takes visitors to the bottom. As always, the river looks much bigger and more powerful up-close than from thousands of feet in the air.
From there, we grabbed some lunch at a weird Subway and headed up to Leadville, where Tasha and I met. The memories were plentiful as we cruised through the campus of Colorado Mountain College and down Harrison Ave. White-capped Mt. Elbert (the highest peak in Colorado) and Mount Massive loomed at 14,000 feet elevation. That’s pretty impressive, but the town itself sits at 10,200′ making it the highest incorporated town in the U.S. It’s what drew me here originally and it was great to be back. Unfortunately, two of our favorite haunts – a pizza place and a sandwich shop – have closed since we lived there.
Leaving Leadville we cruised over Fremont Pass past the huge molybdenum mine and Copper Mountain ski area. We headed into Dillon, where we used to come to escape the crazyness of the dorms, and grabbed our hotel for the night. The striking beauty of Summit County is now somewhat marred by the thousands of acres of dead trees that now blanket nearly every slope visible below treeline. An outbreak of the Mountain Pine Beetle has killed over 90% of the lodgepole pines – the dominant tree in the area – making for a startlingly grim scene. It will take much time for this to recover and the question still remains as to whether this will affect tourism in the area. Given that it probably won’t affect skiing all that much, I think summer visitors will have a bigger problem with it than skiers. I guess even the West isn’t immune from forest disasters. Makes me feel a bit less depressed about the loss of Hemlocks in the Smokies. At least the Hemlocks were only a small component of the forest there!
Leaving Moab, we headed back to I-70 for a short time and across the state line into Colorado. Grand Junction is where we split, taking US Hwy. 50 toward Montrose. Here we started to see some clouds! For the first time on the trip, it looked like we might get some good old Western storms. The mountains to the south were completely snow-covered with large thunderheads looming above. We rolled into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park just as a big storm formed to our Southwest.
This is another one of my favorite places. The canyon here is cut into granite, rather than sandstone, and the canyon rim is broken into jagged and blocky points and spires. This park has the highest cliff in Colorado – 2300′ high, the Painted Wall is quite a sight across the valley. And the weather! It was marvelously cool, cloudy and breezy as we stepped out into the relatively lush landscape at over 8000′ in elevation. What a relief from the relentless heat of the desert! With that relief came a big thunderstorm, and we got blasted by a gust front as we hiked back from the rim at one overlook. Raindrops actually fell hard enough to wet the pavement.
From there we headed over to Gunnison and had a great pizza at a local joint. Through the lush valleys, and up and over Monarch Pass, where there was more snow in the woods roadside and beautiful snow-capped mountains all around. Colorado – though still mostly arid compared to the East – was looking incredibly lush and beautiful around sunset. Hit the hotel in Salida – within the boundaries of our old stompin’ grounds – for a good night’s sleep in preparation for the Royal Gorge.
We stayed in the Super 8 motel in Moab. Not bad at all, and a good place for exploring the local sights. Tasha was feeling better so we checked out the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park where we got to do some hiking in addition to the visitor center and overlooks along the main road. The road traverses a high mesa with canyons on either side. The heat wasn’t as bad up there at over 6000′ elevation, but it was getting pretty bad by the time we finished the hike to Mesa Arch. So , we headed back into Moab for some dinner and ended up at a nice Mexican place. As usual, I got the fajitas, and they were honestly the best I’ve ever had. We also had one of their Moab Margaritas. Whoo! They do margaritas right – or at least stout – in Moab!
After that we headed to Arches National Park for the sunset. This place is a dizzying array of sandstone formations. I found out that the red sandstone in this park is Entrada sandstone. I always thought it was Navajo sandstone, but that’s the lighter layer beneath the Entrada. The park is most famous, of course, for its arches and natural bridges. As usual, we could spend the entire vacation at any one of these parks but only had a short amount of time to explore. Fascinating nonetheless!
Saturday was a driving day, across canyon country in Utah. Leaving Hurricane late that morning, we first drove back through Zion National Park. The highway through Zion is the best route to Bryce Canyon and on to Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park. As usual, the weather was extremely hot and sunny and Zion is as amazing as ever.
Tasha still wasn’t feeling well so she didn’t get to see much of the scenery there. We also decided to skip Bryce Canyon. However, the drive through Red Canyon on the way to Bryce was still spectacular and has some of the same red-rock hoodoos you get in Bryce Canyon. Past Bryce, the highway enters Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and more sculpted sandstone landscape. The road climbs a slope at one point and then follows a narrow ridge, with steep canyons on either side. This is fascinating country.
Exiting Grand Staircase – Escalate, the road travels up into some higher mountains where ponderosa pines and aspens grow. A couple of rushing streams appear here. Unfortunately, the speed limit is 50, making for some slow going. And right outside of the town of Torrey is where I made my mistake – passing the county sheriff going a wee-bit too fast. He got me for 64 in a 50 and also for the broken windshield. Not being very thrilled about getting a ticket, I could have been more polite. The conversation went something like this:
Him: Do you know how fast you were going?
Me: Around 50.
Him: It was 64
Me: Huh. No kidding. I don’t think so.
Him: Can you even see out of that thing? ::leans his head in the car window::
Me: Yeah, I can see fine. It blocks the sky.
Him: You need to get that windshield fixed. That’s a major equipment violation.
Me: ::getting lit:: I know that. You know of a place that’ll do it on a weekend? No? I didn’t think so, since I already called every auto glass place from Las Vegas to Denver yesterday afternoon when it
Him: Well, what I mean is do it at your earliest convenience.
After that we headed out toward I-70, which takes you through Capitol Reef National Park, and more of the same scenery. Beyond, Luna Mesa erodes into bizarre piles of gray sand, making it look like one would think of the surface of the moon. Finally, the road passes into flatter terrain before meeting I-70. The road into Moab descends through red-rock canyon territory before crossing the Colorado River and entering town.
All in all, this is one of the most beautiful drives in the country offering nearly continuous spectacular scenery. Just remember to take your time and drive slowly, and enjoy it, unlike me. Luckily, Utah isn’t as horrible about its traffic tickets and $82 closed the case. Hopefully I’ll remember this lesson!
Today was a day of mixed fortune. Tasha wasn’t feeling well today so I ended up going to Zion alone while she rested at the hotel. We had planned on doing the Narrows hike, a slot canyon containing the Virgin River, but since I’ve already done it and she wasn’t there, I was thinking really hard about doing the Angel’s Landing hike instead in the morning before it got too hot. Then I got into the endless traffic jam that is the park now, and there wasn’t a single parking space big enough to squeeze into (even for the Echo) anywhere in the canyon.
So instead of trying to drive back into town, and get on a shuttle bus to ride up to the trailhead, I just went up the switchbacks to the East side of the park and parked at the trail to the Canyon View overlook. But…instead of taking that, I climbed up into the little side canyon right below the pulloff. It’s a bit of a tough scramble at the beginning but levels out after a half mile or so…and becomes a true slot canyon. Barely wide enough to squeeze through at one point, with walls going straight up hundreds of feet on either side. Wohoo! That was one of my goals on this trip…to get into one of those, and it was completely awesome.
After hiking out of the cool, breezy slot canyon, the weather became just insanely hot, so I drove out of the park and looped back around on the next highway North (UT Hwy. 14). My plan was to check out Capitol Reef National Monument, then another part of Zion called Kolob Canyons just off
of I-15. I got slightly side-tracked on a Forest Service road (deliberately), and saw some neat forest scenes in the higher mountains. After hitting the main road again, about 4 miles from Capitol Reef, a huge truck roared by in the opposite lane and kicked up a golfball-sized rock, right into the windshield.
The rock smashed a half-dollar sized circle of glass to bits, and cracks radiated all the way from top to bottom. For an instant when I saw it coming, I thought that thing was going to come right through and kill me. I pulled over and gave the broken windshield some pressure tests and it seemed to be holding alright, so then I found a cell phone signal and tried like hell to find a place in the town we’re in that could replace it – but no luck until Monday. By then we’ll be in Colorado, so I gave up on that idea. I skipped Capitol Reef and Kolob Canyons, and drove back to the hotel without incident.
As long as we don’t get any rain or more flying rocks, I’m hoping it will be OK through the weekend, until I can have the windshield replaced. So all in all, it was a pretty mixed day of fortunes, but awesome nonetheless.
Just glad the windshield deflected that rock from my face! See more pictures (including the smashed windshield), uploaded to the gallery now.
Today, we left our luxurious room at the Grand Canyon and headed to our next stop in Hurricane, Utah. Along the way, we saw more spectacular desert scenery including what appeared to be tall, insanely craggy mountains, stretching for miles and miles along US Highway 89 south of Page, AZ. These “mountains” actually turn out to be the ragged edge of a long, high plateau – or Mesa – and it’s nearly flat on the other side. As it turns out, many mountains out West are shaped this way.
Upon reaching Page, AZ, we stopped at the Glen Canyon dam and powerhouse. After getting frisked by security as if we were boarding a plane, we enjoyed the visitor center high above the sparkling-blue Colorado river before taking an hour-long tour of the facility. The tour takes you deep into the canyon walls and then deep into the dam itself. An elevator drops over 500′ to the bottom, where you can see the power generation facility up-close. Spectacular!
From there, we traveled past slot canyons and the unbelievable Vermillion Cliffs to end up in Hurricane, UT. This is our farthest point West on the trip! Tomorrow we head into Zion National park to see what we can see. It should be a great day!
More pics, including those from the Grand Canyon, are online.
Another hot, dry day in the desert (big surprise!). We headed out of Taos and started west. Today was to be a big travel day, but along the way we saw a variety of sights which made the drive more enjoyable. First, the highway heads over the southern end of the San Juan mountains. This is quintessential Rocky Mountain territory, with big trees, lakes, meadows, and winding highways. There was even some snow still in the woods as we approached the pass at 10,500′ elevation.
Beyond that we drove through vast valleys with rushing rivers, deep, rocky gorges, desert mesas, and by towering, eroded cliffs with hoodoos standing like pillars right beside the road. We drove into Arizona and into the town of Tuba City. This is where we camped years ago when visiting the Grand Canyon. That time, it was a hot, dusty trailer park with no shade. Luckily, our accommodations this go-round are much nicer!
Past Tuba City, it’s a short but much-anticipated drive up the mesa to the Grand Canyon, Lower down, this is very much desert land, with red-rock cliffs and strange formations right up beside the road. As you reach the National Park, the land flattens and the trees take over – you wouldn’t suspect what was right around the bend. (And what you apparently have to pay $25 to see anymore – sheesh!). Pulling in to the second overlook, Tasha got her first look at the Grand Canyon itself, and of course was at a loss for words. This was my second time there but it’s just as grand as ever. It’s something you have to see to believe – no pictures, paintings, or words can do it justice.
After the drive, we were eager to get into our hotel and get some rest. It was another 23 miles through the park to the Holiday Inn we found to be the last place with a room available when we were making reservations. A dip in the pool and soak in the hot tub and we hit the sack to get ready for more exploration the next day.
After popping up bright and early at 5:30 am local time (really only 8:30 back east!), we grabbed some breakfast and headed back into the park to do some hiking. We did about 3 miles of the Rim Trail, gaping at each overlook and snapping tons of pictures, before the weather became wicked hot. We’re back in the hotel now waiting for it to cool down a bit, to catch the sunset over the Canyon. More pics to come. Next stops: Hurricane, Utah, home of Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.
Everybody loves Taos! Even the locals get a glimmer in their eyes when you mention it, and exclaim “Oh, I love Taos!”. Monday we woke up to more beautiful weather and headed up the road from Santa Fe to our destination for our 5th anniversary. It’s a beautiful drive that goes through the affluent neighborhoods in the hills north of Santa Fe, then follows the Rio Grande up through a rugged gorge before ascending up to the plains below the big mountains, where Taos sits. We got a few pics on the way, and discovered ankle-biting ants beside the road on the way.
We passed through Taos (pronunciation rhymes with House) and went back out into the backcountry, looking for the D.H. Lawrence Ranch. Lawrence is one of Tasha’s favorite authors and he has a lot of history there. Upon finding the ranch, where Lawrence lived for 11 months before he died, we headed up to the Memorial, a small brick building built to house Lawrence’s ashes. It is very tasteful and well-maintained. We signed the guestbook, and this experience was very special to Tasha! The ranch sits just below the slopes of the Sangre de Cristo range among the dwarf oaks, junipers, pinon pine, and tall Ponderosa pines. It has a variety of historic buildings and they still have horses in a large pasture overlooking Taos far below.
Afterward, we headed back into town but took a quick detour to the big arch bridge over the Rio Grande gorge. Stunning! The bridge has sidewalks so pedestrians can walk out and enjoy the view. We checked in to our hotel, the historic Taos Inn. The room was awesome, in a historic old adobe building right downtown. They even gave us a bottle of champagne for our anniversary! After checking out some of the sights around Taos, we had an absolutely delicious dinner at the Hotel’s restaurant, Doc Martins. They have legendary margaritas and fantastic food. I’m starting to like grilled shrimp more and more -especially after trying theirs.
This was the heart of our vacation and a wonderful day spent with the person I love very much. Tasha, thank you for making that such a great day!
Of course, there’s more to come. We’re off to the Grand Canyon next! Check in later for more pics and posts.