Taking Advantage of Our National Parks
First 2021 stop... Utah
My wife and I typically buy an annual pass to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is just a little over an hour’s drive from our house. It’s always a great escape, as is its gateway town, Estes Park, which is truly one of my favorite places in the state.
This year we had a bit broader vision, in part because we’ve felt an even closer kinship to the great outdoors ever since the pandemic hit. We also wanted to spend some quality “away time” with our kids, who are now both teenagers and will only be living at home for a few more years (hopefully, lol).
We ordered an America the Beautiful pass that covers entry and parking fees for over 2,000 national parks and recreational lands across the country. Our children’s spring break last week gave us our first chance to start getting (more than) our money’s worth on it.
We had decided weeks earlier that we’d head west to Utah, home to all kinds of federal land (most of the state in fact), including some particularly impressive national parks… none of which we’d previously visited. We moved up our scheduled departure date by a day to make it over the Continental Divide before the fourth largest snowstorm in Colorado’s history struck, and stayed in Moab our first couple of nights.
Nearby Arches was our first park, and boy was the 75,000 acre red-rock wonderland (that boasts “over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks”) impressive… even on a snowy evening.
Still, I preferred it a couple days later, when the sky was clear and blue, and the terrain was nice and dry for climbing and hiking (of which there are virtually endless opportunities).
If you’ve never been to Arches National Park, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d suggest planning at least a full day or two there since there’s so much to see and explore. Spring was a good time to go, being that the temperature was pretty moderate (in the 60s when the sky was clear). Unsurprisingly, it gets very hot there during the summer. There is one campground inside the park (a very nice one), which I’m betting books far out in advance, but there’s a ton of lodging in Moab.
Canyonlands National Park (which is about five times larger than Arches) is about a 40 minute drive from Moab, and it’s also very much worth visiting… if only for the breathtaking panoramic views. We went there about an hour before sunset, which — despite some clouds and a little bit of rain — set up some cool lighting effects across the landscape.
We headed south after checking out of our hotel at Moab, and stayed the night in a tiny little middle-of-nowhere town called Bluff. If you ever find yourself passing through that neck of the woods, we highly recommend Bluff Dwellings. It’s a beautiful, relaxing resort that felt like a desert oasis in an otherwise barren area.
The next morning, we set off for the western-most tip of Lake Powell, which brought us down into Arizona… but not before a scenic detour through Monument Valley. There, we came upon a cinematic backdrop you might recognize:
Unfortunately, the Antelope Canyon area (which is gorgeous by all accounts) was still shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, so — while waiting for our room in Wahweap to be ready — we checked out the absolutely beautiful Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon. This was truly one of my favorite sites on the entire trip. I mean, look at that view:
If you look very closely at the bottom-center of that first photo, you may be able to make out a few kayaks pulled up on shore. If my family ever returns to this area, we are definitely going to set up a kayak tour through the canyon. I imagine it would be amazing.
The next day, we rented a powerboat and explored Lake Powell. I’ve done this (mostly with houseboats) much farther north on Powell over the years, but this was the first time I’d gone out of (or even been to) the Wahweap marina. There were very few other boaters around, so it was a blast to max out the speed… especially inside Navajo Canyon. It was definitely my daughter’s favorite part of the trip.
What’s funny is that Wahweap is right on the Arizona/Utah border, so we kept crossing back and forth between the two states while we were on the water. This confused the heck out of the clocks on our cellphones (since Arizona doesn’t recognize daylight savings).
Getting out on Lake Powell is always an amazing experience. Whether it’s a houseboat, powerboat, jet ski, or even a kayak, I think everyone should try it at least once. It’s something you’ll never forget.
The next morning, we headed back to Colorado, staying the night in Grand Junction and visiting with my brother before getting back to Greeley where the snow had mostly melted (and some friends of ours were kind enough to shovel our driveway in our absence). It was a great family trip, and a real testament to the some of the beauty and adventure in our national parks.
We certainly plan to take much more advantage of our pass this year.
Are you planning some scenic and adventurous trips in 2021, especially as we recover more from the health crisis? Let me know where you’re headed. I’m always looking for ideas.
Random Thought, Obligatory Dog Shot, and Featured Vinyl will all return next week
Frankly, I embedded so many photos in this week’s newsletter, that Substack is concerned today’s email will be too large for some email servers to handle. So, I’m going to go ahead and end things a little early today. All of the aforementioned features will return to their regularly scheduled programming next week.
I also may be able to do both a title and cover reveal for the upcoming Sean Coleman Thriller! Stay tuned.
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