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 Eight (Part 1) – Horseshoe Bend and the Chinese Tourist Invasion

Our plan for the day was to drive from Kayenta to the town of Page, with stops along the way to check out a couple of popular sites.

We stopped on the road into Page at a company offering tours of Antelope Canyon and found out that all tours were booked until at least 4:00 p.m.  Apparently the tours were more popular than we realized, so we decided to head to Horseshoe Bend and save the canyon for later.

Horseshoe Bend is a massive horseshoe-shaped meander in the Colorado River.  It is located five miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  It is about four miles southwest of Page and can be viewed from the steep cliffs overlooking the 1,000-foot drop to the river below.  It is the ultimate Kodak Picture Spot.

 

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The iconic Horseshoe Bend

 

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The ever-cautious Jan approaches the edge to snap some photos.

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The place was an absolute zoo, with a steady stream of cars and buses vying for open parking spots vacated by those leaving.  Statistically speaking, you are probably more likely to die after being run over by an irate Chinese bus driver, weaving his way backward through oncoming traffic, than you are by falling to your death off of the steep cliffs.  We witnessed one such bus driver making slow, backward progress, while honking and occasionally jumping out to scream and shake his fist at the other drivers.

After successfully finding a parking spot, we started the short hike to the edge of the rim. As we crested the first hill, we saw a sea of people that resembled a line of marching ants traveling to and from the rim.  Again, this spot was more popular than we anticipated. Based on the banter we heard, the majority of visitors were foreign and appeared to be overwhelmingly Chinese – probably day trippers staying in other locations.  We could not imagine what visiting would be like in the heat of the summer with the crush of high-season tourists.

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The Crew about to start the short hike to the edge of Horseshoe Bend.
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Steady stream of tourists heading to and from the rim.
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Tourists crowd the edge of the rim – the ultimate selfie spot.

The minor delays and frustrations were definitely worth enduring, because the views were absolutely stunning.  We walked along the rim and witnessed the beautiful, emerald-green river winding through the bend below.  We also spotted a few inflatable boats in the river, possibly carrying groups of Chinese tourists.

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The views from the edge were not for the faint of heart.  Peering over the edge was made even more nerve-racking by the lack of any guard rails.  This is another spot where pictures do not do it justice and you cannot capture the entire bend unless you have a wide-angle lens.

This sizeable section of rock really intrigued me.  It had cleaved away from the edge of the rim and was hanging precariously over the edge.  It would eventually fall to the river below.  That might happen tomorrow or that might happen in a thousand years.  It occurred to me that the many visitors crawling out to the edge of the rock to capture that perfect photo were oblivious to this fact.

 

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Taking bets – When will it fall?

 

As we were leaving, we were in for one final burst of excitement.  The hatch to our minivan popped open, launching Jan’s duffel bag out of the back and depositing it onto the dusty, dirt road.  I sprang from the vehicle and sprinted about 200 feet to retrieve the bag, thinking it was in imminent danger of being mangled by an irate Chinese bus driver.  Several bystanders were kind enough to point out that we had lost a suitcase as I ran past, huffing and puffing.  Once back in the vehicle with the bag, Jan was surprisingly calm.  He did quietly point out that it was probably my fault for not properly closing the hatch.  Although the conversation quickly turned to other subjects, I suspected that this was not the last I would hear of this incident.

SAD POSTSCRIPT:  A few days after our trip ended and we were safely back home, we learned that a 33-year old man from Phoenix fell to his death at Horseshoe Bend.  

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