Monday, October 6, 2014

Park Blitz Part 1

Well, this is Part 1 of my park blitz blogs. Since some of these parks were done as lightning visits it did not seem prudent to stretch them into full posts each. I will try to give some tips on each park of what it is best for, where we stayed and how long we stayed for the benefit of anybody wishing to visit.

What we would normally do is go to the park's visitor centre first. The rangers are a mine of information and friendly and helpful. You will get a newspaper that gives you tips on what to do if you have half a day, a day or a couple of days, and dates and times of activities etc. You get a park map and other pamphlets such as a hiking map, depending on park.  There's also a noticeboard listing activities for the day like ranger talks and ranger hikes that are normally free and very informative and fun. There's usually a short movie running continuously about the park's history and how the geological formations were made, with lovely sweeping panoramas that give you a feel for the whole park. We always watch those. Then you plan your day and off you go. Most of it is also downloadable from the fabulous National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/index.htm . Finally, if you are going to park blitz like us then buy an annual pass at any park entry. After that you just flash your pass at any national park.

Arches National Park. 2 full days. Accommodation: Moab. Attraction: Thousands of arches.
Delicate Arch at sunset
Windows Arch
Balanced Rock
This amazing park was created by a perfect storm of geological events that created more arches than in any other location in the world, over 2,000 of them! Arches of every type: little, big, delicate, strong, old and young. Nature's sculptor did an awesome job, almost as good as Nature's painting pallette at Yellowstone.

Waiting for sunset
My top tip would be to go to Delicate Arch for sunset. It is a bit of a hike so allow yourself an hour and take a torch (or mobile phone with torch app like I did :-) because it will be dark when you return. The atmosphere at the arch is amazing at this time. Lots of people sitting around waiting for the sun to go down. Nobody is supposed to take selfies at the arch at sunset but some people do and will be 'gently' encouraged by the waiting throng to get out of the way. They came here for the arch, which is beautiful on its own and needs a rest from the perpetual 'I was here' photos from every Tom, Dick and Marjorie. Though sometimes a person in the photo is useful just to portray the sheer size of the arch, the scale of which is lost in a photo otherwise.

Park Avenue
Landscape Arch


Canyonlands National Park. 1 day if only doing the Island in the Sky section, 2 if you want to see all of it. Accommodation: Moab as well. Attraction: Huge canyons (big surprise).
Canyonlands at the end of the rim walk at the Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands is down the road from Arches so you can do them both in the same trip. Huge canyons loom out at you from every viewpoint, nearly as good as the Grand Canyon and definitely clearer.

But Canyonlands has two main sections and it takes several hours to get to both. Due to time restrictions we only visited the section they call 'Island in the Sky'. It's a lovely drive with many scenic overlooks to stop at and admire the canyon and go for brief hikes. At the end of the road there is the Grand View Point Overlook that features a pleasant hike along the rim to some fantastic panoramic scenes. Well worth the effort. The sheer depth and breadth of the canyon with its needle-like rock formations doesn't transfer to a photograph, it looks much better in person.






Staring contest...he won












At this point we decided we wanted to participate in the global climate change rallies that were about to occur to encourage world leaders to tackle this critical global issue with greater urgency. The closest rally to us was in Salt Lake City so we scoured our national parks map and went to the following two parks merely because they were on the way to Salt Lake.





Capitol Reef National Park. 1 Day. Accommodation: Torrey is the closest town but we stayed at the isolated Affordable Inn as it was closer to the park. Attractions: Canyons, apple orchards and a small dose of Mormon history.

The school
In the 1870s the Mormons established a settlement here and there are many small buildings and other remnants of that time, including a school. They survived by farming and some orchards still remain where you can pick free what you can eat. Like Canyonlands there is a lovely scenic drive with many stops for viewpoints, hikes and archeological sites such as petroglyphs carved by ancient inhabitants. My top tip is to hike to the Hickman Bridge. This turns out to be a nice wide arch that you can walk through to some beautiful views and panoramas on the other side. Also exceptional was a ranger activity that day with a solar telescope and we got to look at the sun with some fantastic prominences shooting out from the edges.
Hickman Bridge











Great Basin National Park. 1 Day. Accommodation: Baker is the closest town but we stayed at the Border Inn on the border of Utah and Nevada because it was the only place that had rooms available. Attractions: Caves and star gazing.

Ranger talent show
As is usual for us we do some of our best planning when we do not plan at all. We went to the visitor centre on the day we arrived to plan for the next day and found out that we had arrived on the the first day of their annual astronomy festival. We decided to stay around as they had the ranger talent show that night. To call it talent was a bit of a stretch, but it was funny. My favourite act was a group of three playing a song they wrote themselves called 'Chickens in the Sky' about dead chickens attacking the farmer who sold them to the colonel (Kentucky fried colonel that is). Also one girl sang a haunting rendition of 'It's a Wonderful World'.

Follow the lights...
Afterwards we went star watching as this is one of the top ten darkest skies in the lower 48. We needed to follow white lights that got dimmer and dimmer and then changed to red lights before arriving at our destination. White light was banned, although the rangers provided red cellophane if you had to use a torch. The effect was it was so dark even the telescopes were hard to find. These were pointed at a myriad of galaxies and astronomical phenomena. Personally we preferred to just look up; the sky was filled with stars. The Milky Way was bright and resplendent.

Sample of cave photos
The next day we did the normal scenic drive thing to Wheelers Peak and a lovely hike among the trees changing to their winter coat. That afternoon we did a tour of the fabulous Lehman Caves. We have seen many caves around the world and this one certainly held its own. As the sun went down the night's activities began with the keynote speech from astronomer Vic Maris, who after a very entertaining and informative speech about our night sky, disappeared, only to return as a very convincing Galileo in a question and answer session. Our trip to Great Basin ended in the dark staring at a sky full of light.


The next day was our last leg up to Salt Lake City and a brief delay in our park explorations. Part 2 to come...