The Grand Circle Tour – Final Post

It is said that all good things must come to an end and sadly, our Grand Circle Tour did as well.  It was an amazing trip, covering three states, over 1,600 miles, six national parks, multiple state parks, and so many other points of interest along the way.  We were in awe of nature’s beauty and felt honored to be able to experience landscapes that took literally millions of years to be created.

It was a humbling experience.  For anyone who is overly impressed with themselves or their worldly accomplishments, I suggest standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It might serve to put things back into perspective.

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The Grand Circle Route – Starting and ending in Las Vegas

As we traveled in our trusty Kia Sedona, we were treated to a constant and ever-changing display of nature’s beauty.  The panoramas were dramatic and diverse and never failed to deliver unexpected surprises throughout the trip.  As the journey came to a close, a few thoughts came to mind:

  • The U.S. system of national parks is an amazing treasure available to everyone – whether you are a U.S. citizen or not.  The National Park Service should be proud of the wonderful work it does today, as well as its long tradition of service.  The NPS has ensured that these natural wonders will be protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.  Take advantage of it.  Consider an annual pass or a lifetime senior pass if your plans include multiple parks.  (Our passes paid off after three visits.)

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  • Our trip was definitely an “overview” trip.  We barely scratched the surface.  You could easily spend a week or more in each of the national parks and not run out of things to do.  The parks are vast areas with numerous hiking trails allowing closer inspection of sites, time permitting.  Staying multiple days in one park might allow you to catch that perfect sunrise or sunset or get up close and personal with your favorite arch or natural bridge.
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Sunrise over the Grand Canyon.
  • For our itinerary, traveling in the minivan and staying in hotels was the right choice.  Parking in the more popular parks at scenic overlooks was much easier than it would have been in an RV.  For a trip covering fewer parks and fewer miles, an RV might have been the right choice.

 

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The Crew and our Kia minivan atop the Moki Dugway.

 

  • Being prepared for a flexible itinerary and changing weather conditions was a huge plus.  We carried small backpacks with us in case our “limited” hiking turned out to be not-so-limited.  We suggest carrying water, fruit, granola bars, trail mix, etc.  We also suggest having a fleece and a waterproof jacket.  We experienced warm and sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, but we also experienced snow and freezing rain with temperatures in the low 30s.
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Snow near the Utah-Arizona border.
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Threatening weather as we approached Monument Valley.

 

  • We really loved the mom-and-pop, family-owned businesses like Austin’s Chuck Wagon in Torrey, UT and the Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, UT.  They really went out of their way to make us feel like they appreciated our business.
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Austin’s Chuck Wagon in Torrey, Utah.
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Historic cabin at Austin’s Chuck Wagon.
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No extra charge to watch the hummingbirds at the Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, UT.

In closing I would like to offer up these two extremely important tips:

  • Always close the hatch to the minivan securely to avoid launching flying duffel bags into oncoming traffic.
  • Always close the door behind you to prevent uninvited guests from joining the party.

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This was my first attempt to document my travels in a blog format.  I hope you have enjoyed the photos and the commentary.  My hope is that this information will inspire others to travel to the American Southwest and assist them with their travel planning.  I always read and appreciate comments and suggestions.

A huge thanks to Jan for planning and organizing the trip.  Many thanks to Dawne, Stefan and Ann for providing so much entertainment and so many laughs and memories along the way!

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The Crew

 

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Thanks, Jan!

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Two – Bryce Canyon National Park

The Trip From Zion to Bryce (AKA Hoodoo Heaven)

After a nice buffet breakfast, we headed out toward Bryce Canyon National Park.  We would be staying in Bryce City, which is adjacent to the park.  To get there, we passed through the entrance of Zion National Park and immediately found ourselves on a road with spectacular views all around.  The Zion Park Scenic Byway (SR-9) brought to mind the phrase “Enjoy the journey.”  In Utah, you don’t simply drive from point A to point B, the trip itself is part of the show.  The winding road took us through incredible rock formations and we had to make several stops at overlook points to take in the beauty.  The road rose and fell as we traversed several switchbacks and passed through tunnels carved through solid rock.

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Checkerboard Mesa

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Along the way, we also encountered the Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon.  Here we saw rock formations that looked decidedly different than anything we had seen before.  They were starting to look more hoodoo-like (more on that later).

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Sagebrush was growing all along the sides of the road.

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As we approached Bryce Canyon, we did not know what to expect.  The landscape was deceptive, as we had gradually increased our altitude on the trek from Zion.  We were now atop a plateau and would be looking down on the landscape, rather than up, as we were in Zion.  There were no soaring rock walls to tip us off about the beauty we were about to experience.

The road through Bryce Canyon National Park is an 18 mile, out-and-back stretch with multiple vantage points along the way.  The setup was also different from that of  Zion; here we were in our own vehicle, hitting overlook points at our leisure, rather than touring via shuttle bus.

We all agreed that we hit the best part of the park first.  The Amphitheater can be viewed from four different vantage points.  We stopped at both Sunset Point and Bryce Point and were in awe of the landscape below – simply jaw-dropping to experience in person.

The park contains the world’s largest collection of hoodoos and they are spectacular.  We also checked out views from several other viewpoints: Natural Bridge, Agua Canyon, Rainbow Point, Yovimpa Point, Ponderosa Point and Swamp Canyon.

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Natural Bridge, which is technically an arch and not a bridge.

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Doing my best impression of a hoodoo.

 

 

More on hoodoos:  These are tall, thin columns of rock that generally rise from the bottom of a drainage basin.  They typically consist of soft rock that is topped by harder, less-easily eroded stone.  Hoodoos have a variable thickness and are sometimes described as having a “totem pole-shaped body.”  They differ from a classic spire, which has a smoother profile and a more uniform thickness that tapers from the ground up.  We heard many explanations on the origin of the word “hoodoo,” but I settled on the one related to the original inhabitants of the land, the Paiute Indians.  They called the rocks hoodoos, which meant “ancient peoples, who were turned to stone as the result of bad deeds.”  Don’t be a hoodoo.

The Grand Circle Tour – Overview

The Adventure Begins

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to the American Southwest with some very good friends of mine.  The trip was planned by our fearless leader, Jan (pronounced “yawn”), who is an extremely organized and regimented Swede.  We needed someone to take charge and he certainly did.  He spent countless hours researching potential routes, points of interest, accommodations, and modes of transportation.

In the months leading up to the trip, Jan would regularly send out emails with suggestions and options and ask for our input.  We would, in turn, respond with, “Sounds great,” or, “Whatever you think is best,” and then carefully file away the emails for future reading.  It is a wonder he did not get frustrated with our lack of input and decide to either go it alone or find other more-engaged travel partners.  Luckily for us, he did not.  He deserves full credit for the bulk of the planning and the ultimate itinerary.

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Jan – Our Fearless Leader

After careful consideration (mostly by Jan), it was determined that we would start and end our tour in Las Vegas and make a big loop (The Grand Circle) covering over 1,600 miles.   We would visit six national parks, multiple state parks and several other sites along the way.  We decided to forgo the use of an RV and rent a minivan, which would be more flexible and practical when accessing the parks.

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The Grand Circle Route – Starting and ending in Las Vegas
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Our stylish Kia Sedona with Plastic New York in the background.  Also available for viewing while in Vegas: Plastic Paris and Plastic Venice.

The other members of our crew included Jan’s lovely American wife, Dawne, and the ever-pleasant Swedish couple, Stefan and Ann.  I always say that you never really know someone until you travel together.  Spending day after day on the road with people can result in some uncomfortable and awkward moments, unless you have similar temperaments and expectations.  Having known all of the crew for many years, I knew we would be a great fit – and we were.

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The Crew

We had so many laughs along the way as we took in the breathtaking scenery and landscapes.  On some days, our plans were pretty nailed down and we would visit a specific national park for the bulk of a day.  On other days, our plans were more open-ended and flexible with only a general direction in mind and a list of potential places to investigate along the way.  On the open-ended days, Jan would typically ask for input and he was usually met with four blank stares.  He would then politely remind us that we had not completed our homework assignments.  This then resulted in four of us frantically searching the internet (when we had coverage) or leafing through travel brochures to find suggestions for the day.

After gathering in Las Vegas (one of my least favorite places on the planet), we headed out in late April, in our trusted Kia Sedona.  The contrast between the man-made, plastic, neon world of Vegas and the sights we were about to experience could not have been more stark.

Note:  Photo credits to all Grand Circle Posts go to Jan, Dawne, Stefan, Ann and me.

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A Preview of the Amazing Sites We Would Encounter – Horseshoe Bend, AZ