Colorado & Utah 2021: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

One last stop in Utah, and it was a good one indeed: Canyonlands National Park (via a quick stop at Arches, for the second time in a week, to turn in Junior Ranger booklets and take the oath). Knowing that we only had a very short time – and there is so much to explore in this park; we could spend a week here, and maybe someday we will – Dan planned for us to hit the highlight of all highlights: Mesa Arch.

My mom said that this was her favorite arch – better than Delicate Arch, better than Double Arch, better than any of the arches in Arches National Park. I’m not sure I would go quite that far… Mesa is certainly as iconic as Delicate Arch, but how do you top gigantic stone elephants? But I can certainly respect my mom’s preference for Mesa. I mean, look at that view:

Mesa Arch was also much less crowded than Delicate Arch, and we were able to get right up under the arch and peer through, and what a reward.

So, so, so beautiful. We could have stayed for hours, just gawking at these views, but there were a couple of other people hanging around waiting for their turns to take a picture under the arch. So we had to move along. But first things first: we had to get our picture.

All the excitement and gratitude to get to spend Thanksgiving with my favorite people in the world.

One last peep through the arch, and time to go.

That ends our journey through Colorado and Utah – only six months later! I hope you had fun reliving the memories with me. And don’t worry: there’s more travel content to come, as we head from the desert to… the rainforest! Off to Costa Rica next Friday.

Colorado & Utah 2021: Uncle Dan’s Dinosaur Tour, Part III – Dinosaur Tracks!

In case you missed ’em:

Another day, another exciting dinosaur site! On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we took the day off work and drove out to Utah again – this time headed for Canyonlands National Park, but with a few stops on the way. First up, Mill Canyon: a nondescript pull-off into a sparsely populated gravel parking lot that promised a big, exciting treat.

Just about a hundred yards or so from the parking lot, Dan promised, we would find the remains of a prehistoric mud patch with dozens of fossilized dinosaur tracks. We owed this exciting score to Danielle’s dad, who enjoys poking around in the desert and “finding stuff” as much as his daughter and son-in-law do.

The site consisted of a path, boardwalks, and viewing platforms around the perimeter, ensuring that the treasures in the ancient mud remained undisturbed.

Therapod tracks! We had fun speculating about who might have left this imprint in the prehistoric mud. Allosaurus? Probably not T-rex; wrong time period.

I was most excited to see these: sauropod tracks! Maybe apatosaurus, my favorite? Or brachiosaurus or diplodocus? Insert star-eyes emoji here.

Of course, no one was as excited about the tracks as the six-year-old boy. He was actually having a bit of an emo day; it had been a lot of car time over the past week. But he brightened right up when we saw the dinosaur tracks. Wish I could always deliver dinosaurs whenever anyone is grumpy.

Doesn’t get cooler than this!

Tracks everywhere! I couldn’t stop clicking away with my camera.

Prehistoric crocodile slither spot, complete with tail-drag. Shut the front door!

Seriously, it doesn’t get cooler than this. We didn’t make it to Dinosaur National Monument on this trip – have to have something to save for the next visit, right? – but we certainly weren’t hurting for dinosaur excitement even without hitting up the big park.

Have you ever visited a fossil site in the wild?

Colorado & Utah 2021: Colorado National Monument – Devil’s Kitchen Hike

Although we traveled out to Colorado to spend the entire Thanksgiving week, I didn’t actually take much time off – instead, we planned to do our major exploring (Arches and Black Canyon of the Gunnison) over the weekend and squeeze smaller local adventures around the work hours. Monday was out of the question, as Steve was writing a brief and I was in a virtual mediation all day, and most of Tuesday was spent catching up on emails that piled up during my mediation on Monday. But we did slip out for a Tuesday lunchtime hike at one of Dan and Danielle’s favorite spots – Colorado National Monument. “The Monument,” as Dan and Danielle casually called it, was in Fruita, about twenty minutes from their house – perfect for a quick hit of spectacular scenery.

Dan had in mind a fun hike for us – mostly flat, through desert scrubland and surrounded by stunning mesas, capped off with just the right amount of climbing and scrambling to a fun, tucked-away, rock formation.

As always, Danielle tutored us in the local plant life while we hiked. I loved the juniper!

The views in every direction were absolutely gorgeous! I love the desert – so otherworldly, and completely captivating.

Eventually, the flat and sandy trail hit rock and started to climb. This was a perfect hike to do with the rugrats – just enough variance to keep it interesting, but nothing unsafe or out of their range.

After a few hundred feet of casual climbing, we reached our destination – Devil’s Kitchen!

It was a cool little area, tucked away inside a wall of rock and surrounded by hoodoos. The kids immediately started to climb on everything.

Sadly, I had a work call and we hadn’t really planned well, so I took my call perched on top of a hoodoo while the kids explored and Dan, Danielle and Steve milled around keeping an eye on everyone and talking about grown-up, non-work stuff.

Eventually, I wrapped up my call and joined the rest of the party exploring the cracks and crevices and fissures in the rock. So cool, and nothing like our hiking at home in Virginia!

I turned my camera on the landscape and made it my mission to capture the entire view – all 360 degrees of it. I didn’t want to miss an inch!

Eventually, reluctantly, we had to scramble down out of Devil’s Kitchen and back to reality – but not before stopping at a hanging canyon to take in the jaw-dropping view. That’ll be next week, so check in with me then…

Do you love the desert landscape?

Colorado & Utah 2021: Ouray

From the moment we started planning our Thanksgiving visit, Dan insisted that his number-one “must do” was going to be taking our family to Ouray, Colorado. I don’t think Dan would be willing to commit to a favorite spot in Colorado, but if pressed, he would probably admit that Ouray is a contender. We could immediately see why.

The town is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by hot springs (we drove past a big public spring with folks steaming in the mineraly water even on a very cold day) and boasting an “old West” vibe and a main street full of quirky shops. (Nugget and Peanut both talked me into buying them polished crystals at a New Age shop, which Dan and Danielle assured us was “very Ouray.”) We all stopped for a quick lunch and local beers at a popular small brewery on the main drag, and then walked off to hike a portion of the Ouray Perimeter Trail.

Our destination was the “Baby Bathtubs” trail, an adorable name I felt sure held some special meaning. The mystery was short-lived.

Behold the baby bathtubs: oblong divots in the rock, an odd erosion puckering the trail. I found them completely charming.

I think Ollie liked the baby bathtubs, too.

Get a load of these views! We hiked up, and up, and up – Dan is notorious for underestimating time and distance while hiking, and it seems he underestimates elevation, too – but the payoff was well worth it.

Everywhere we looked, snow-capped peaks! Unreal.

I could definitely see why Dan and Danielle are so fond of Ouray – it was absolutely breathtaking (and not just because of the elevation). A banner downtown proclaimed it “the Switzerland of America” – it checks out. We’ll be back for sure!

How cute are baby bathtubs, amirite? What’s your favorite mountain getaway?

Blue Like Bells

I wait all year for Virginia bluebell season. This year, as we squelched through the muddy trails (lots of rain last week; fortunately the flowers love it) Steve asked me when we first hiked the bluebell trail, and I couldn’t remember exactly but it was 2017 or 2018. (I tend to landmark events in life by my job, and it was two firms ago; does that help?) In 2020, this trail was basically unreachable; it was open, but the parking lot was closed, and packing in two miles just to get to the trailhead was a non-starter, so we hiked at Manassas Battlefield National Historical Park, which also boasts a glory of bluebells. And we liked it so much that we repeated the hike last year. So we were overdue for a return visit to Bull Run Regional Park, or “the O.G. bluebells” as the trail is known in our house.

Don’t worry: we may not have been at the battlefield this year, but we were still hiking along the legendary Bull Run.

Shall I just let the pictures speak for themselves, mostly?

Woodland glory!

I have this thing with bluebells juxtaposed against wood. It’s a vibe.

See? There I go again.

And again. Someone stop me!

Such a great day.

Everyone loves the cherry blossoms, but I personally can’t get enough of the Virginia bluebells.

What’s your favorite local wildflower where you live?

Colorado & Utah 2021: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

And now for something completely different! Continuing our quest to squeeze in as many National Park visits as we could during our Thanksgiving trip out west, we jumped in the cars and headed to my brother’s closest legacy park – Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

I had never heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison before a few years ago, when Jack and Colton visited (and hiked all the way down into the canyon!) on Rock the Park. It doesn’t seem to be an especially well-known park, and not over-popular with visitors (judging from the fact that the park was almost empty on the Sunday before Thanksgiving) and that’s a shame, because it’s gorgeous.

We took our time driving into the park, stopping at a few overlooks to take in the views. The canyon is almost a surprise – you drive over miles and miles of mostly flat farmland, and then BAM, there it is.

Eventually, we slowly made our way to the visitors’ center, where we collected Junior Ranger workbooks for the anklebiters and then headed off on a short rim hike. It ended up being a very short hike, with the combination of an icy trail and sheer drop-offs sending us scuttling back to the visitors’ center – but we got in the views and the flavor of the park, so I called it a success. The dogs got to join us on the hike, and Danielle pointed out different plants along the trail (she had everyone walking along rubbing sage and sniffing our fingers) and a good time was had by all.

Look at those canyon walls! Stunning.

Have you ever been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? What’s your favorite hidden gem park?

Colorado & Utah 2021: Arches National Park – Double Arch

As we fished up our Delicate Arch hike, the sun was finally out and the skies were blue. No one was in a hurry to hit the road back to Colorado just yet, and Dan and Danielle were itching to show us the glory of Arches in the sunshine, so we made for Danielle’s favorite spot – Double Arch. I had to agree that the sun made all the difference; I loved the muted desert colors of Delicate Arch under the clouds, but the red rock against the (finally) deep blue sky was absolutely breathtaking.

The trail to Delicate Arch was short (maybe a third of a mile, max?) and basically flat – a good bet for a final stop in the park with two tired anklebiters. Nugget brought his Junior Ranger book along and did a couple of activities along the way.

Even taking our time and pausing for Junior Ranger activity breaks, we were at the arch in minutes. Wow! Between the bright sky, red sand, and cool rock formations – we could see why Danielle said this was her favorite arch.

Climbed up under the arch, and out came the cameras.

There were people climbing and scrambling all over the rock under the arch. We found a quiet spot to look up and take in the glory of Double Arch.

We spent about half an hour checking the place out, then reluctantly headed back to the cars for the two hour drive back to Dan and Danielle’s home. As we were strolling along the trail back to the parking area, a woman stopped Danielle and me and asked, “Did you see the elephants?” We were both confused, until our new friend pointed out that several of the rock formations around the arch looked like elephants, and even the arch itself appeared to be two elephants touching trunks. Once she put it that way, we couldn’t un-see it.

I love elephants (they’re my second favorite animal, after whales – yes, now that you mention it, I do like all the most enormous critters) so Double Arch immediately became my favorite, too.

Elephants kissing! How can you beat it? Perfect way to end a perfect day in Arches.

Next week: checking out another national park in very different weather.

Colorado & Utah 2021: Arches National Park – Delicate Arch Trail

It doesn’t get much more iconic American West than Delicate Arch – does it? But let me start from the beginning.

We had a big Saturday planned – a road trip out to Moab, Utah, which isn’t far from Dan and Danielle’s home in western Colorado. We split up between two cars – Dan driving Steve and the kids in Danielle’s car, and Danielle and I in Dan’s truck with the dogs, Ollie and Marlin. Dan planned a few stops to show us some of the sights on the way… and we had a few (or six) unplanned stops to tend to a carsick dog. By the time we got to Moab, everyone was relieved to get out of the cars and onto the sand. First stop was sliding down a giant sand dune; the kids and dogs needed to roll around in the dirt after being cooped up in the car. A few big slides and we were on our way to the day’s main stop.

Even the views from the car were epic! We stopped by the visitors’ center to quickly grab Junior Ranger booklets for the kids, and then we were on our way again. Dan had his heart set on showing us an American treasure.

Danielle kept apologizing for the clouds. Clearly we brought the marine layer with us from the east coast.

The hike to Delicate Arch was pretty much the biggest adventure we planned for the week. At about three miles round trip, with 480 feet of climbing and some exposure, it’s within our kids’ range but getting close to their limit. (Their record as of now is four miles, but that has to be broken up with a picnic at the two mile point or they turn into hangry little monsters.) Delicate Arch was doable, but absolutely in the “adventure” category for them.

We went at their pace and took plenty of breaks to check out the views and admire how far we’d come.

I couldn’t get enough of the incredible desert landscape! There’s something about the muted colors and dramatic, windswept rock. It gets you right there, ya know?

Eventually, we hit the exposure part, and it really wasn’t that bad. We instituted a hand-holding policy for the kids – you must be touching one of your adults at all times until we release you. Nugget claimed Uncle Dan.

Around a corner and – there it is! WOW.

We decided today was not our day to clamber over the lip and scramble down to the arch itself. Happy to stay right here, drinking in this view. Maybe we’ll get up close and personal next time. We hung out scanning the horizon, snapping photos, and getting our Christmas card picture (photo credit to Dan).

Eventually, reluctantly, we tore ourselves away from the arch – it was not easy – and headed back down the trail. Dan and Danielle wanted to show us Danielle’s favorite arch and we couldn’t leave the dogs loitering for too long. As we descended the trail, the sun came out and lit the desert, bringing out the bright reds and oranges of the sand and rock.

So, so stunning!

Next week, still in Arches – we see elephants! Curious now? Stay tuned!

Colorado & Utah 2021: Uncle Dan’s Dinosaur Tour, Part II – The Trail Through Time

Our next stop on Uncle Dan’s Dinosaur Tour was right across the street from our off-roading adventure – convenient! Dan had us all excited about the famous Trail Through Time.

We wandered past a few excavation sites before our first stop – a dinosaur pelvis.

The signage was really helpful – showing not only the type of dinosaur from which the fossil likely came, and where it was located within the dinosaur’s body, but also exactly where to find it in today’s rock.

To be honest, the kids were a bit underwhelmed with this part. It did take some imagining to put it back in the dinosaur’s body. It was clear that this wasn’t ordinary rock, but not especially obvious what it was – unless you knew (which we did, thanks, signage!). The adults all thought it was really cool, though.

We blitzed past a few other fossils in rock before coming to a stop at the highlight of the day – part of the spine of a diplodocus! Sauropods are my jam, so I was excited about this. But we were all excited – now this was obviously dinosaur bone.

Nugget got a paleontology lesson from Aunt Danielle.

I mean, it doesn’t get much more awesome than that, does it?

Right in the rock and there for anyone to see and touch!

Such a neat experience, and surrounded by gorgeous scenery, too – can’t beat that. We could have stayed for hours, but the sun was starting to set and we had to beat the daylight back to the cars. Uncle Dan promised more dinosaur excitement later in the week, so stay tuned.

Next week: crossing off a bucket list item with a hike to an iconic American sight.

Colorado & Utah 2021: Off-Roading at Rabbit Valley

After our trip back in time to see dinosaur eggs and a bone imprint, the kids were clamoring for some non-educational fun. Luckily, Uncle Dan had another treat in store – off-roading! Vehicle-loving Nugget was hype for this, but we were all excited. And it was Steve’s birthday! So what better way to celebrate than by driving a RZR through the desert?

Our destination was a natural recreation area called Rabbit Valley. (Spoiler: I did not see any rabbits.) We met up with Danielle’s parents, who brought their own RZR, and got ready to hit the trail. There were six available seats and eight people, so Danielle and her mom set off on a walk in the desert while the rest of us divided up between the two vehicles – Dan, Nugget and I rode with Grampa Don (Danielle’s dad), while Steve drove Peanut in Dan and Danielle’s RZR. Here we go!

I suspect that Don could really open it up and drive wild in this thing, and that he was dialing it back for us. It still felt pretty extreme!

Yes, Nugget is wearing his Pokemon pajamas. Parenting is all about picking your battles.

When I wasn’t wondering if we were going to roll over (we didn’t) I was taking in the scenery along the trail. Otherworldly! Finally, we came to what Dan described as a “pretty overlook.”

I mean. Yes, pretty. Pretty spectacular.

Down in the gorge, the Colorado River was sparkling in the desert sun.

I could have stayed all day, drinking in these views! We did stick around for awhile, but eventually the kids got itchy to be on the move again and we were back in the RZRs. We shuffled the party around a little – Nugget went with Steve and they drove in front so they weren’t literally choking on our trail dust, and Peanut joined me, Uncle Dan, and Grampa Don. What a cool experience, and definitely something we don’t get to do every day.

Next week: our adrenaline interlude is over and we are back to dinosaur hunting.