As I mentioned before, we found Bryce Canyon National Park is kinda boring.  But fortunately it is right next door to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (henceforth referred to as GSENM), which is chock full of not-boring.

Before I continue, however, I must mention that the town of Tropic, Utah (pop 600) has incredibly tasty pizza.  Really, you should try it, especially the Navajo Taco pizza.  It totally blew away the pizza in Torrey, Utah (pop 200).

Now, on to Devil’s Garden!

Because GSENM is managed by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the Park Service, the rules are a bit more lax.  So we got to run all over this set of hoodos and arches.  Its entrance was marked by a sign that labeled it an “Outstanding Natural Area,” and it is outstandingly natural.  The kids found it the best playground ever.  I half expected to see Wile E. Coyote run through this landscape.

When we arrived, the crowds hadn’t hit yet.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves.

It was almost worth the headache I got from driving 10 miles of washboarded dirt roads to get there!  (Ugh.  I hate washboarded roads.)

BUT mere headaches could not stop us from continuing another 6 miles down the washboarded road to hike a slot canyon!  Heavens, no.  The canyon is called the Dry Fork . . . or was it the Dry Wash?  Eh, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Lovely, isn’t it?  I love slot canyons.  Almost worth the horrid headache I got from driving the combined 16 more miles of washboarded roads to get back to the main road.  I even agreed to try out a different slot canyon the next day.  Which will be discussed in the next post.

Bryce Canyon, a.k.a. Park #5

The finale!  El Fin!  This past weekend, we headed down to Bryce Canyon National Park, the fifth and last of Utah’s national parks we’ve visited (and the fourth national park that Katie has visited in her short 9 months).  Huzzah!

(Yes, we brought the stroller.  In fact, I even said out loud, “I’m so glad I brought the stroller,” to which William replied, “I’m so glad I brought myself!”)

To celebrate, Brian and I put together this puzzle in our hotel room, which features photos of all five parks.  In the grand tradition of jigsaw puzzles, one piece turned up missing.

We saw many, many views just like this:

Which got . . . kind of dull.

The kids began to tire of smiling in front of sweeping hoodoo vistas and tried to mix it up a bit.

And yes, we did hike down into one of the canyons.  The best thing we saw there was this sorcerer tree:

Aannnnnnd yawn.  Maybe we should have stayed away from a trail called “Swamp Canyon/Under the Rim.”  (Although it gave us a great new code phrase for when Katie has a messy diaper.)

However, I did accomplish the monumental task of finding the most inane of all the sentences on the park’s many interpretive signs.

Tentacles of invisible streams, indeed.

I also appreciated the big ravens.  They are massive and terrifying.  No wonder Poe liked them so much.  Quoth the raven: Shut the doooor.

We also took advantage of the astronomy programs offered by the — get this — Dark Ranger.  Which would be a ranger specializing in astronomy and dark skies.  But it really sounds like he needs a cape.

Despite all these delights, I was fine moving on after a few days and exploring a different part of the desert.  Where to?  Stay tuned!

On Safari

We went to Yellowstone last week.  Brian and I have decided that this is the American version of going on safari.  Really, how is this experience all that different from doing the same in Africa?  Besides the lack of a guide, and the fact that all the roads are paved?  We were even able to open the sunroof on our minivan and stick our heads out with binoculars to examine the animals!

And don’t try to tell me it isn’t as exotic.  For instance, we saw this one herd of bison:

And then this coyote totally came out of nowhere and started chasing them around!

(Yeah, the coyote’s there.  It’s that little white speck in the middle of the picture.)

The showdown between the bison and the coyote was about to get intense, when guess who showed up?



I would have driven off with the kids right then and there, but the road was blocked:

The fox, a neutral party, wanted us to stick around as witnesses.  As much as I would have loved to stick around for some bear-on-bison-on-coyote action, I knew I couldn’t expose my kids to such horrors.  They’re so sensitive!  I mean, just look how traumatized they were by this hot spring:

(Note how William is sulking.  Alas, there is absolutely no way to make a hot spring interesting to a three year old.  “Draw near, my son!  Now’s our chance to see water boiling!“)

Poor little dears!  Thank goodness a geyser went off right then and scared all the savage beasts off.

BUT . . . right as the super-rare, once-in-a-lifetime* geyser shot into the air, A WHOLE PACK OF WOLVES came running out of the forest, and the moon came down all big and full in the background, and the WHOLE PACK began to howl, and I took about 1,000,000 photos of the whole thing and sold them to this t-shirt company, and they’re going to sell the shirts at truck stops all over the place!

And we’ll be rich!  Rich as MILLIONAIRES!  MWA HA HAAAA!

Of course, I can’t show you the wolf picture.  That would by copyright infringement . . . on myself.  Yeah.

*or at least every hour and a half, +/- ten minutes

In Which Brooke Plans Your Next Vacation

For spring break this year, Brian was able to take a couple of days off, and we headed down south to Capitol Reef National Park.

What was that?  No . . . not Cedar Breaks.  Capitol  Reef.

It’s a national park right in the middle of Utah.

No?  Not heard of it? I’m not surprised.  Most of the people I’ve told about this trip have never heard of this park, and that includes people who have lived in Utah their whole lives.  I’d like to change this, because I think the park is a really special place.  Brian and I first visited it in the summer of 2001, right before we moved to Pennsylvania, and we were charmed.

Well then — sit back, relax, and enjoy a bit of armchair tourism, eh?

The name of the park has two origins.  “Capitol” because of these big rocky domes that resemble the U.S. Capitol building:

“Reef” because the pioneers found the big ridge — what geologists call a “waterpocket fold” — to be nearly impassable, like a coral reef would be for a boat.  So there you have it: Capitol Reef, aka One Confusing Name.

The Navajo apparently called this region “the sleeping rainbow,” because of the stripes on the ridge.  Why they couldn’t call it Sleeping Rainbow National Park is beyond me.  Don’t you think people would be more likely to visit Sleeping Rainbow?  Or is that too hippie sounding?

The pioneers were so proud of their trek through the narrow Capitol Wash that they took time to create a name register on the walls.  Very cool:

Unfortunately, the pioneer register has too many contributions from modern park visitors.  “Bong Wang 1998” is not history, folks.

Oh, and the Fremont Indians took time to make some neat rock art, too.

A tiny town called Fruita existed in the Reef until 1969.  There were never more than ten families living there at a time, but they grew lots of fruit trees, which are now preserved by the Parks Dept. as “historic orchards.”

Capitol Reef is also one of the more family-friendly parks we’ve visited.  A lot of the trails are safe for kids, like Grand Wash, which has a beautiful series of narrows:

Grand Wash also has these really neat water-made hollows in the redrock.  The kids loved taking breaks inside of them:

The hike to the Hickman Bridge is also great for kids, which includes a self-guided nature trail:

Okay, fine.  Let’s get it out of our systems: ELEANOR HAS SHORT HAIR.  The stylist cut it shorter than I intended, and thank heavens that Ella didn’t care.  She looks so different!

Capitol Reef also has the Ripple Rock Nature Center, which is like a mini children’s museum about the park.  We went with a ranger to examine water insects in the Sulphur Creek, and later made plaster castings of deer tracks.  Cool!  I’ve wanted to make track castings ever since I saw it done on an old episode of Mr. Wizard.  (Do you remember that show?)  But who goes hiking with Plaster of Paris?

Sulphur Creek is also home to this big field and a lovely bridge over a stream shallow enough for wading.  The kids LOVED that place; we could easily have stayed there all day, done nothing else, and Jeffrey would have been perfectly satisfied.

In the evening, we made the short hike up to Sunset Point, where you can see the rainbow in earnest.

So beautiful and relaxing, right?  And it’s only a four hour drive from SLC, so why not try Capitol Reef out instead of Zion or Bryce?  No crowds, no shuttles, only a $5 park entrance fee.  Think about it, eh?

Tomorrow I continue my Capitol Reef travelogue with the Tale of the Water Pit!  Stay Tuned!