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.

1GCMap
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.)

Jan 9

  • 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.
3EIMG_7936
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.

 

KIA
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.
snow
Snow near the Utah-Arizona border.
4EIMG_7676
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.
EIMG_7338
Austin’s Chuck Wagon in Torrey, Utah.
EIMG_7340
Historic cabin at Austin’s Chuck Wagon.
Jan 1
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.

EIMG_8032

 

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!

aCrew
The Crew

 

4EIMG_7524
Thanks, Jan!

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Three – Capitol Reef National Park

Traveling From Bryce to Torrey and Touring Capitol Reef

Again on day three, the journey was part of the entertainment.  Traveling along Utah SR-12 was something special.  It is nicknamed the All-American Road and we were treated to amazing sights and panoramas all along the way.

1EIMG_7238

1EIMG_7242
This reminded us of a Greek or Roman ruin.
1EIMG_7244
Rugged Ranch Building

1EIMG_72461EIMG_72531EIMG_7271

1EIMG_7265
Utah’s SR-12 – Scenic Byway – The All-American Road

1Jan CR 71Jan CR 81EIMG_72751EIMG_7256

 

1EIMG_7277
St Anthony of the Desert Catholic Church in Torrey, UT

 

Capitol Reef is one of the newer national parks.  It was established in 1971 to preserve approximately 378 square miles of desert landscape.  It is about 60 miles long on its north-south axis and is only six miles wide, on average.  The park was named for a line of white Navajo Sandstone cliffs with dome formations that resemble the white domes placed on capitol buildings.

As we approached the park, we did not know what to expect.  However, this time Nature was giving us an abundance of clues that the show was about to start.  All around us were imposing rock formations.  The colors were varied, but were decidedly more reddish than Bryce and Zion.  Below are some sights we encountered at a scenic overlook between the Capitol Reef entrance and the visitor center.

2EIMG_72782EIMG_72822EIMG_72832EIMG_72872EIMG_72912EIMG_72942EIMG_72982EIMG_72992EIMG_7301

2EIMG_7303
Stefan – The Capitol Reef Greeter

After a quick stop at the visitor center to secure a map and some advice, we decided to stay in our vehicle and take the Scenic Drive.  We headed out on the 10-mile road, passing orchards and campgrounds, while surrounded by amazing rock formations in every direction.  The trek was eight miles on a paved road, followed by a two-mile stretch on a dirt road.  (Strangely, the return trip seemed like an entirely different route as we noticed new things from a different perspective.)  The best part was definitely at the end when the pavement stopped and the dirt road began.  As the park ranger explained to me, “It’s the closest thing to hiking through a slot canyon on foot that you can experience in a car.”  He was not wrong – the canyon walls closed in and the views were fantastic.

3EIMG_73053EIMG_7312

3EIMG_7313
When you spend a lot of time with the rocks, you start to see things.  How many faces do you see here?

3EIMG_73153EIMG_7320

3EIMG_7324
White Navajo Sandstone Dome – Perhaps a “Capitol” Dome

3EIMG_73273EIMG_73293EIMG_7330

 

 

 

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.

3Jan Bryce 2
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.

1GCMap
The Grand Circle Route – Starting and ending in Las Vegas
KIA
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.

aCrew
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.

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