USA National Parks Road Trip – Part 1

Surprised you may be that I am writing about a trip to the USA when the website is called British Landscapes Photography but they say “a change is as good as a rest” so hopefully this trip will inspire me to move on to the next stage in my main area of interest exploring the wonderfully diverse landscapes of the British Isles.  Little did I know what would arise during the course of this “once in a lifetime trip”.  The USA trip was just a little longer than my photo trips here – 10000 air miles, 3000 road miles, a good few miles walking most of which was at an altitude that doesn’t exist here, almost 1200 images captured and all in just under three weeks.  With all that to cover I have decided to split this review into a number of parts so here we go with Part 1.
 
The trip started with a direct flight to Las Vegas which is certainly worth a visit if only to see its outrageous architecture.  So after one night and transport sorted we set off to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam arriving late afternoon with just enough time to check in at the hotel before a fast walk to Mohave Point to hopefully capture the sunset which unfortunately did not materialise as I would have liked.  Still, there is always tomorrow and sunrise proved to be more accommodating.
 

Grand Canyon – South Rim

The following morning the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was followed.  The intention was to visit Petrified Forest NationalPark and Canyon de Chelly on the way to Monument Valley but having reconsidered the distances involved it was decided to go directly to Monument Valley in order to be there for sunset.  Just made it in time like the Grand Canyon.
 

Monument Valley

With me on this trip was my son who had spent 4 months in the south-west USA 15 years ago after finishing university.  He worked then at Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell so it was essential that he made a return visit there on this trip.  Well, when we got there he couldn’t believe his eyes the way things had changed particularly the dramatic drop in water levels.  Places that were on the shoreline were now many yards from the water and the marina had all been moved so that the masses of boats on the lake could still be accessed and used.  The water level is now almost 100 feet lower than it was when he was there.
 

Lake Powell

Next moving onto Moab for 3 nights and visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  The Arches National Park provided the first cloud we had seen but only just sufficient to bring more interest to the landscape.  This also was the one and only time on the whole trip that there was a drop of rain and I mean a drop.  There was so little you could almost count them – I suppose after all it is a desert.  The highlight of the time spent in Moab was walking up to Delicate Arch which after visiting most of the other well-known locations in the park felt even more strenuous than it is. Gaining 500 feet to reach almost 5000 feet in one and a half miles.  The arch teeters on the rim of a sandstone bowl with the scenic La Sal Mountains creating a perfect backdrop for photographers of the arch.  I have never seen so many photographers together in one place before but at least there is the space to accommodate them.  This icon of the American Southwest remains as one of the most rewarding hikes in the national park system, due in part to the reward of seeing the massive span glow a fiery red in the alpenglow of sunset.  The start of the walk had been timed perfectly reaching the arch about one hour before sunset although sitting in the shade and in shorts in this perfect viewpoint, at that altitude with temperatures dropping very quickly was not ideal.  Although it was a fantastic experience I was very cold and after the long day, I was so pleased to start the trip down in the fading light if only to get warm again.
 

Delicate Arch

Moving on from Moab the next stop on the way to Bryce Canyon was Goblin Valley State Park followed by passing through Capitol Reef National Park.  Goblin Valley’s eminent feature is its thousands of hoodoos and hoodoo rocks, which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, some as high as several feet.  The distinct shape of these rocks comes from an erosion-resistant layer of rock atop softer sandstone.  Shortly after our visit, the location made worldwide news when a delicately balanced hoodoo was intentionally knocked over in an act of vandalism by three Boy Scout leaders who had been camping in the area.  The men recorded the illegal act and posted it on social media.  Two of the men were subsequently dismissed from their leadership roles within the Boy Scouts of America as well as receiving death threats and facing possible prosecution.
 

Goblin Valley

Our next stay was in Bryce Canyon giving only a full day to see, walk and photograph the planned locations.  A drive out to the end of the canyon was first on the list and a walk around the Bristlecone Loop trail and then working our way back down the canyon stopping at the many viewpoints.  The main objective was to walk the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden trail reputed to be the “world’s best 3-mile hike” and shortly after the start only a few feet below the rim steep switchbacks descend just over feet to an area called Wall Street.  This narrow canyon, named for its resemblance to the New York City street and its skyscrapers, is one of the many highlights along this route.  As you walk through this section you will be inspired by the glowing light reflected off the gold and orange canyon walls, and towards the end of Wall Street yet another feat of nature awaits you—several fir trees, two of them 500 years old, grow towards the sky between the towering cliffs.
 

Wall Street

That evening as we were having dinner part of a conversation was overheard – ” we will have to see what happens tomorrow ” someone said.  Further snippets of the conversation lead to the conclusion that if the US government couldn’t agree on the budget before midnight there would be a government shutdown and amongst many other things all access to the National Parks would be stopped.  The following morning as we made our way to Zion National Park our worst fears were confirmed.  Arriving at the Ranger Station at Zion made it even more certain when we were told that whilst we could drive through to Springdale the Park was closed and we could not even park in the pull-ins never mind taking our planned hike to Canyon Overlook.  Zion National Park is different from most of the Parks in that there is a State Highway running through the edge of it hence the reason why we were allowed through.  As we drive through all the pull-ins were coned off, Rangers were patrolling and enforcing the no stopping rule including placing plenty tickets on those who had left their vehicles and gone for a hike.  The next day dawned with the realisation that after just over a week our well-laid plans were in tatters and all we could do was to hope that the Government came to their senses and reopened the Parks.
 
If you want to find out how we managed to make the most of the remaining 10 days of this journey into the unknown make sure you take a look at Part 2.
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