West Coast Road Trip – Days 17 & 18 – Time to go home

3/28/14 to 3/30/14 Time to go home

Leaving Capitol Reef, we settled in for the long drive to Salt Lake City.  We didn’t know much about the city, but we’d heard it was nice.  We arrived in the city after 4 or 5 hours and plugged in the address of the AirBNB we were staying at. The place sounded fun, advertised as an urban farm with ducks, chickens, fresh eggs, and good company.  We arrived not quite sure what to make of it. We must have been in the worst neighborhood in SLC (who knew they had those?)  We walked in with the code given to us and were pointed to our room.  It reminded us a bit o of being back in college (ok a lot) with handmade ‘furniture’ and clutter all over.  Our room was clean and quiet enough, plus it was just one night, so we unpacked and went to find dinner.

On our 2nd to last night, we decided to celebrate with a perfect bottle of wine
On our 2nd to last night, we decided to celebrate with a perfect bottle of wine

At dinner we texted Kyle Dempster, the climber who made the video about his bike/climbing trip he took to Kyrgyzstan (Link to video) and lived in SLC, to see if he could meet that evening or tomorrow morning.  He was available to meet the next morning, and we met him at Higher Ground, the coffee shop he co-owned.  Kyle was the first person we met who had actually been to Kyrgyzstan, and it was awesome talking him and learning what his experience was like.  He had great info for us and he also mentioned he would be returning to Kyrgyzstan later in September, perhaps we’d meet again.

After coffee we drove to Boise to stay with Eric’s longtime family friends, Larry and Sandi.  We had last stayed with them on a previous road trip, and we knew it would be a nice evening (likely involving wine.)  Sandi cooked us a nice meal, Eric enviously examined Larry’s new Corvette, and much wine was enjoyed.  We’ve been so fortunate to have friends and family we’ve been able to stay with.  Not only is it fun to have a bit of a farewell tour saying goodbye to people we won’t see for a couple years, but it’s great to get out of the hotel/camping routine and stay in a home.

At the SLC AirBNB place, this cat decided Taylor's shirt was a perfect pillow
At the SLC AirBNB place, this cat decided Taylor’s shirt was a perfect pillow

We had a delicious breakfast the next morning and settled in for the drive home.  We hoped to stop by the Tri-Cities to see a friend of Eric’s, but we were running low on time and had a growing list of items we had to take care of back home.  We pressed on and made it home safe and sound.  It was an awesome vacation. It was a bit crazy to think this was just the first half.

 

Stats:

Miles Driven –

  • Miles Walked, hiked and climbed – 134
  • States Visited – 8
  • National Parks visited – 9
  • Speeding Tickets – 0!

 

West Coast Road Trip – Days 15 & 16 – Capitol Reef NP

3/27/14 to 3/28/14  Capitol Reef

Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef
Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef

Our first priority in the morning was to decide where to spend the night.  The weather forecast for Capitol Reef was the same windy and chilly weather that there currently was in Moab and camping didn’t sound like fun.  We found a Days Inn near the park that was more expensive than camping but seemed much more appealing, so we booked a room and headed out.  The drive out was another beautiful one, and about four hours later we arrived in the park.  After talking to the ranger in the visitor center we learned that this was another park we weren’t quite prepared for. We needed off-road capability for some trails and water shoes to wade through puddles in others.  There still was plenty to do so we drove south towards a series of washes.

We had to walk around numerous pools in the canyon
We had to walk around numerous pools in the canyon
There was an odd pattern laced through the walls of the canyon
There was an odd pattern laced through the walls of the canyon

Capitol Reef is fairly unique among the parks because there aren’t a great deal of established trails. Instead, many of the trails originate in washes that flood out during storms and end in slot canyons.  Because of conditions, we went to Cottonwood Wash and we were the only car there when we arrived.  The hike starts out for about a mile through a winding empty creek bed, but after that the dirt walls give way to rock where the water has created amazing formations.  It was interesting hiking but not quite the slot canyon we were expecting.  This changed another ½ mile in and it became a classic slot canyon after that.  The canyon was really fun to hike through. Sometimes it was a sandy bottom, other times you had to scramble over rock to avoid deep, muddy puddles.  We soon reached an impasse – a narrow slot canyon still had a deep puddle from a storm several days earlier.  We tried to climb around it, but we couldn’t find a way and hiked back towards the car.  As the sun was getting lower in the sky, the walls of the canyons came alive! We could see why people referred to the rock walls in the canyon as a rainbow of color.

Cottonwood wash in Capitol Reef NP
Cottonwood wash in Capitol Reef NP
This is the pool that stopped us in Capitol Reef, wrong shoes!
This is the pool that stopped us in Capitol Reef, wrong shoes!

Next we drove to Panorama Point to watch the sunset.  From here, we hiked to Goosenecks overlook, where we sat and waited for the sun to go down.  We met a father and daughter from Portland and discussed whether the sun was going to peak through the clouds at sunset or stay hidden.  We saw some color in the clouds, but not a ton; was other pleasant end to the evening, though.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a café just outside the park for dinner and beer which was quite good.

We tried to find a way around the pool of water but couldn't see a route
We tried to find a way around the pool of water but couldn’t see a route
Just a sampling of the crazy rock colors in Capitol Reef.  Go Huskies!
Just a sampling of the crazy rock colors in Capitol Reef. Go Huskies!

The next morning we ate, checked out of the hotel, and drove back to the park for a couple more hikes.  The first began in Grand Wash – the largest of the many washes in the park – and then climbed the canyon walls before ending at Cassidy Arch.  Cassidy Arch, named after Butch Cassidy who allegedly hid out in the canyon below, is a cool find – hidden from view until you are nearly on top of it.  After getting back down we drove to Cohab Canyon.  The hike starts out climbing steeply for about 800’ up switchbacks until you arrive to a narrow canyon elevated above the surrounding area.  We hiked to two viewpoints, eating lunch at the second.  The view was great.  Capitol Reef has the best visibility in the contiguous US, often reaching 150 miles.

The sun lights the cliffs opposite the valley from Capitol Reef
The sun lights the cliffs opposite the valley from Capitol Reef

On our way out of the park we stopped to take photos at the park entrance sign.  This was the last park for the trip. Unfortunately, our West Coast trip was nearing the end.  But it wasn’t quite over; we had two nights remaining and quite a bit of driving to do.

Waiting for the sunset at Capitol Reef
Waiting for the sunset at Capitol Reef
Cassidy arch, named after Butch Cassidy
Cassidy arch, named after Butch Cassidy

 

West Coast Road Trip – Day 14 – Canyonlands NP

3/26/14  Canyonlands

This is part of a 100 mile off-road loop in Canyonlands
This is part of a 100 mile off-road loop in Canyonlands

The next morning we ate a quick breakfast and drove an hour into Canyonlands National Park.  Canyonlands is divided into three sections.  Island in the Sky and the Needles districts are both easily accessible by car but a long drive from each other, while the Maze district is more remote and accessible by long hikes or off-roading.  We chose to go to the Island in the Sky for its accessibility from Moab and expansive views for sunsets.  When we reached the visitor center the weather seemed perfect for hiking – a bit cool, keeping the crowds away.  We drove to Mesa Arch, named for the great view of the mesa as you look through the arch, and attempted to get a photo of us sitting on it without a crowd around (we had to settle for stitching several photos together.)

Us sitting on top of Mesa Arch
Us sitting on top of Mesa Arch
The wind was so strong Taylor sat down during the hike
The wind was so strong Taylor sat down during the hike

Leaving the arch, we drove down to Green River Outlook while Eric played with a sunset app on his phone. We were trying to figure out the best spot to watch the sunset this evening.  The outlook was beautiful with views of the Maze and several canyons below.  We continued to the end of the road to the parking area for Upheaval Dome, one of the largest mysteries in the park.  During the 2-mile hike we learned about the various theories for how it came to be, while we battled increasingly windy weather.  The wind got so strong on the way back that Taylor had to sit down since nothing was around to brace herself.  We made it back to the car, ate, and headed to our next stop.

Canyonlands
Canyonlands
The expanse of Canyonlands NP
The expanse of Canyonlands NP

The downside of the Island in the Sky district is the lack of many long hiking trails, so we found another short trail to a great overlook named Murphy’s Point.  The trail was flat but 4 miles round trip so a little bit of a chance to stretch our legs.  The second we arrived back at the trailhead rain began to fall, perfect timing!  We drove to our last stop, Grand View Point Overlook, and when the rain let up we walked out to the viewpoint.  The view was the best we had seen in the park – with Needles in front of us, the Maze to our right, and the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers in the distance.  We decided this was the spot to watch the sunset, hoping that the stormy weather would provide for a spectacular show, but we still had a couple hours of daylight left.

No, Eric isn't about to jump to his doom, the wind was so strong in Canyonlands you had to lean into it to stay in place
No, Eric isn’t about to jump to his doom, the wind was so strong in Canyonlands you had to lean into it to stay in place

Having done most of what we could in this section of the park, we rested in the car for a bit as sunset got closer.  As the sun set we had the overlook to ourselves. It’s pretty awesome when you get to experience the parks in such solitude.  The sunset didn’t quite live up to our expectations, but it was still a nice finish to another great day.  We went back to town for our final night and got ready to head to Capitol Reef.

Eric found a perfect (and perfectly safe seat) in Canyonlands
Eric found a perfect (and perfectly safe seat) in Canyonlands

West Coast Road Trip – Days 12-13 – Arches National Park

3/24/14 to 3/25/14  Arches

Looking backwards from Delicate Arch we could see the sun setting
Looking backwards from Delicate Arch we could see the sun setting

It was another long but easy drive to Moab. We arrived too early to check in to the B&B we would be spending the next three nights in, so we decided to find a brewery to have lunch in.  Driving into town we were pretty disappointed; we had expected to find a fun little town similar to Bend, OR with great restaurants and beer, but instead we found a little stop along the highway that just happened to be conveniently located near beautiful parks.  Luckily, we did find the one brewery in town, where we got a little primer on the state’s liquor laws (which probably explained the lack of any decent brewery in town.)  We ate lunch and sampled their beer before heading back to the house to check in and get settled.  We met our host, Erin, who had some tips on where to go in the area – we decided to make our way to Delicate Arch in Arches NP (the arch in the Utah license plate) for sunset.

A large crowd gathers each night to watch the sun set at Delicate Arch
A large crowd gathers each night to watch the sun set at Delicate Arch
Sun sets behind delicate arch
Sun sets behind delicate arch

Along the way into the park, we stopped by the visitor center to find out if there were openings available for a tour into the Fiery Furnace.  Although they were booked a month out, they had just gotten a cancellation in the past ten minutes for the following morning’s tour – perfect!  The Delicate Arch trailhead is a short way into the park, and we pulled into the parking lot to find that everyone in the park that evening had also decided this was the place to go to watch the sunset.  It’s a short 1 mile hike up a slick rock ramp to the arch ‘amphitheater.’ We settled into where Eric thought a nice spot would be.  As sunset approached, many people were posing under the arch and several of the 30-40 photographers began yelling at them to move (we had heard this sometimes gets physical), and amazingly people responded to the photographer’s shouts and got out of the way as the ideal lighting conditions came.  After sunset, we decided to stay around until the stars came out. It became very peaceful as the crowd of 200 or so dwindled to just over a dozen.  A few more photos with the stars and we headed back down to the car and into town.

Delicate Arch under the stars
Posing in front of Landscape Arch, the longest free-standing arch in the world
Posing in front of Landscape Arch, the longest free-standing arch in the world

The following day we had an ambitious plan to get up early and hike to Landscape Arch before meeting for the 10am tour we had signed up for.  Landscape Arch was amazing – at over 300’ long it’s the largest free standing arch in the world.  Unfortunately, you are no longer permitted to hike under it since a couple of decades ago several massive sections broke off while people picnicked underneath (luckily no one was hurt.)  We saw several other arches on the short loop and drove to the Fiery Furnace.  This is a very cool section of the park that requires you to either reserve a permit in advance or sign up for a guided tour.  The narrow slot canyons are very confusing and there are a lot of fragile plants inside the area, so they limit the number of people who can be in at any time.  We definitely recommend signing up for a tour well in advance of visiting Arches.

Taylor squeezing through a tight space in the Fiery Furnace
Taylor squeezing through a tight space in the Fiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace was awesome! We loved scrambling around and learning about the history and ecology of the area from the excellent ranger leading the tour.  At the end of the tour, you come across Surprise Arch which was our favorite arch in the entire park.  The group all shared what brought them to Arches, and after Taylor shared our story we learned that the woman next to us had been in the Peace Corps working as a ranger in a Thailand National Park (we were so jealous!) Her husband was from Burma, a country that we hope to visit soon, but it’s difficult to research, so it’s great we now have a resource who can help us.  After the Fiery Furnace we went back to Moab to have lunch and rest before heading back to the park for the evening.

Standing in one of the many canyons in the Fiery Furnace
Standing in one of the many canyons in the Fiery Furnace

DSCF5088

Our group walking along the 'trail' in the Fiery Furnace
Our group walking along the ‘trail’ in the Fiery Furnace

 

We wanted to catch one more sunset and decided to head to Windows Arch, but first we made stops at Park Avenue and Double Arch.  Both were great, but Double Arch is especially cool; it was fun climbing up the western side to look out across the park from inside the arch.  From Double Arch we walked across the look to Windows Arches as the sunset neared for our final arch in the park, Turret Arch.  It offers a great view across the park from inside the arch, and Eric found another fun thing to climb.  As the sunlight faded away we debated staying for more star shots, but we were hungry so we made our way back into Moab to eat and rest up for Canyonlands the next morning.

Sunset in Arches as seen from Turret Arch
Sunset in Arches as seen from Turret Arch

Flights booked to Kyrgyzstan

We have plane tickets to Kyrgyzstan so I think it’s official now (or at least it feels that way.)  We expected our staging to be in Philadelphia on the 23rd and 24th of April as the previous several groups to the KG (Kyrgyz Republic is abbreviated as KG) had staged there but we received an email containing our exact staging location and flights to Kyrgyzstan.  We’ll be meeting our group in Washington DC on the 24th with events and training starting at noon and ending that evening at 7 when we presume we’ll be enjoying a final diner in the states with our fellow trainees before flying out of the following morning.

We were looking forward to seeing Philly since we haven’t been there before and staying with Taylor’s cousins, Billy & Kerri but we have family & friends in DC as well we plan on staying with so we will get a few more goodbyes before leaving.  If anyone else is in DC we hope to see you!  Our itinerary looks like this:

  • 4/22/14 – Portland to Washington DC, Alaska 764 at 9:35am, flight time 5:05
  • 4/24/14 – Registration begins with Peace Corps
  • 4/25/14 – DC to Frankfurt, United 8833 at 3:25pm, flight time 8:10
  • 4/26/14 – Frankfurt to Istanbul, Lufthansa 1298 at 9:10am, flight time 2:50
  • 4/26/14 – Istanbul to Bishkek, Turkish 346 at 6:35pm, flight time 5:10
  • 4/27/14 – Arrive in Bishkek at 2:45am.  At this time I think we take transport to our training location but we don’t know much about this point yet, it’ll be exciting!

Flight plan to Kyrgyzstan

West Coast Road Trip – Days 10-12 – Antelope Canyon, Mesa Verde & Black Canyon of the Gunnison NPs

3/21/14 through 3/24/14 : Antelope Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Taylor coming down the stairs to lower Antelope Canyon
Taylor coming down the stairs to lower Antelope Canyon

After leaving the Grand Canyon, Eric was really excited because we finished the hike early enough to make a stop at Antelope Canyon, a dream location for any photographer.  It took several hours to make the drive and it looked like we only had time to make it to Lower Antelope Canyon.  The canyon is split into two parts, Upper & Lower. The upper section is the more photographed section, but the lower supposedly has the advantage of being able to walk around and photograph at your leisure.  Unfortunately the stop started out on a negative note as they refused to sell Eric a photographer’s permit because they were closing in about 90 minutes (Eric was willing to pay for the 2 hour permit despite that.)  This meant he wasn’t able to bring a tripod into the canyon, and we had to stay with a group. We decided we had driven all the way there, so we’d make the best of it.

Eric & Taylor in Antelope Canyon
Eric & Taylor in Antelope Canyon

The slot canyon is amazing and we really enjoyed exploring it. There were some more frustrating aspects, though.  It’s on Navajo land – best we can tell all the operators are locals and they hire only people from the reservation.  This is great but they seem to have a minimum number of people they need to employ and the result is a lot of employees standing around.  Our ‘guide’ seemed to think his job was to grab your camera and take a mediocre photo, or tell you to be careful – we were expecting a little bit of history or geology info.  We continued to take photos until it was too dark to keep going, climbed up and out of the slot canyon, and finished our drive into Cortez, CO.

Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 10-12 – Antelope Canyon, Mesa Verde & Black Canyon of the Gunnison NPs”

West Coast Road Trip – Days 7-10 – Hiking the Grand Canyon

3/18/14 to 3/21/14

Grand Canyon backpacking –

Morning arrived and it was finally time for the hike!  This was the part of the road trip we were most looking forward to.  Our itinerary:

  • Day 1: Down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch – all the way down to the Colorado River – to the Bright Angel Campground for the night
  • Days 2 & 3: Shorter hike along the river, up to the lowest plateau to camp for two nights at Indian Garden Campground
  • Day 4: The toughest day, hiking back up to the rim

Day 1 – What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

DSCF4017We woke, packed our remaining items, and had breakfast at the hotel.  We were in a bit of a hurry since there were only three hiker express shuttles from the lodge to the trailhead – we had to be on one of them.  The first two weren’t happening (for us, at least) and making the third was going to be close by the time we were finished with breakfast.  Driving into the park we got lucky and found parking spots right by Bright Angel trailhead – this is where we’d be coming up in four days.  We caught the hiker express and thirty minutes later we were at the South Kaibab trailhead getting ready to head down.

DSCF4027The South Kaibab trail is 6.7 miles to the campground, dropping about 4,780’ along the way.  The trail is very uneven despite constant work from the trail building crews due to the constant mule traffic.  It also generally follows steep cliffs, so it can be a very unnerving first backpacking experience, especially if you have acrophobia.  The South Kaibab trail also lacks water, which can be an issue in summer, but temperatures were barely above freezing when we started, although it warmed up pretty quickly as we made our way down.  One interesting thing when hiking in the canyon is how much the temperature varies as you change elevation – it’s typically 20-30 degrees warmer at Phantom Ranch in the bottom as it is on the rim. Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 7-10 – Hiking the Grand Canyon”

West Coast Road Trip – Days 5 & 6

3/16/14

Los Angeles, CA to Joshua Tree National Park, CA.   173 miles, 3 hours.

Today we met with one of Taylor’s other cousins, Jeff, and his family, Miriam and Julian, for breakfast. It was so fun to reconnect with them since the last time we saw them they were about to get married in Mexico. We heard stories about their recent travels, how they met (how did we not know this?), and about Miriam’s trips to Joshua Tree, our next stop.

Sand Road in Joshua Tree
Sand Road in Joshua Tree

We got to Joshua tree around noon and went straight to our campsite. It was another amazing campsite – beautiful rocks, a fire pit (which we definitely went out of our way to buy wood for), and incredible surroundings. After setting up, we ventured farther into the park. Joshua Tree doesn’t offer a ton of hiking opportunities but there are a lot of great short walks around amazing rock formations. After driving part way around the main loop we took a detour on a sand road to a short hike. Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 5 & 6”

West Coast Road Trip – Days 3 & 4

3/14/14

Martinez, CA to San Francisco, CA.   40 miles, 10 hours.

The giant wheels that power the SF cable car system.
The giant wheels that power the SF cable car system.

Hoping to beat rush hour traffic into the city, we left Martinez around 7:15am and the drive took ‘only’ a little over an hour.  We parked in Union Square and met with one of Eric’s former clients for breakfast at Sears Fine Foods (thanks again Tylor!)  We’ve been to San Francisco a couple times before and typically plan the trip around all the restaurants we’ve been waiting to try, but since we’re now unemployed we were looking for less expensive things to do (we’re not yet good at this but we’re practicing.)  After breakfast we walked to the Cable Car Museum which we noticed on our last visit and ran out of time before getting a chance to see it.  It turned out to not only be free but well worth the time.

The weather was perfect as it always seems to be when we visit, so we opted for a long walk down to the waterfront by way of Lombard Street.  Lombard Street is the famous twisty and steep residential street on Russian Hill. Eric thinks it’s not exciting and that it’s not worth going out of your way to see it.  Taylor thought it was cool (but crowded). When we made it to the water we saw Hyde Pier, a National Park Monument.  Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 3 & 4”

West Coast Road Trip – Days 1 & 2

3/12/14

Vancouver to Ferndale, CA.  462 miles, 12 hours.

Finally after months of anticipation, medical tests and preparations to leave, our trip is finally here!  As we make our way South; it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we’re unemployed and leaving the country for a long time 6 weeks from now.  We find ourselves checking our phones constantly despite work email no longer being active, it’s amazing how well trained you get to certain behaviors after 7 years.  Like most road trips, this day starts out with a long drive as we’re eager to leave the familiar behind and discover new parts of the country.  We depart at 6:30am and still manage to hit traffic as we cross into Portland (something to think about if we ever move to Vancouver.) We took Highway 99 and made it all the way to Lincoln City before stopping for breakfast at the Beach Dog Café (highly recommended to anyone looking for breakfast in the area.)

Looking at the sea mounts near Bandon, OR
Looking at the sea mounts near Bandon, OR

Continuing down the Oregon coast we pass Florence, Bandon and Coos Bay, all towns Eric hasn’t seen since he was young.  They’re vaguely familiar but hard to distinguish as most beach towns seem to be.  Soon after crossing the border into California we enter the Redwoods and get a photo in front of the Continue reading “West Coast Road Trip – Days 1 & 2”