Thursday, August 15, 2013


Yellowstone NP -Old Faithful area
Are you an advanced planner type person the tries to have some control of your destiny?  Or do you just 'wing it' and take life as it unfolds before you?

I have to admit in most cases I prefer to 'wing it' when it comes to road trips and outdoor adventures.  I have discovered many desirable places not on any map.  Not found in any guide book, or other reference material.  A side trip down a back road to take a short break from a long drive can often lead around a bend in the road, and combine just perfectly with a setting sun.  A moment you know will only last a short time.  Something you can't quite capture with a camera, but a moment that leaves you in awe.  A moment you turn and walk away from, and know you will remember that for a very long time.  Was it a chance moment you stumbled into, or were you meant to be there at that moment?

It is difficult to take a laid back approach when visiting the National Parks found throughout the USA.  With the popularity of RV's, Car camping, Backpacking, cross country cyclists camping, those touring on fancy motorcycles, and the 'day use' travelers, the Parks facilities are normally at capacity.  You may find more availability during spring and fall when families with school age children are less likely to be traveling.  But this time frame is popular with the retired generation of RV'ers referred to as 'Snow. Birds'.  Additionally spring and fall weather is less predictable and often times less comfortable for outdoor activities.

This year I did some advanced planning and visited Yellowstone NP.  Had I not driven there, and had taken some type of aircraft instead.  I would have sworn I landed on some other planet.  Though this is my fifth visit, I still see things I have never seen before.  Ironically I was told a story by one of the Park Staff.  It seems that in the late 1800’s when the first mountain men started visiting the area, no one would believe the descriptions they were coming up with.  Many ridiculed, or labeled crazy.  No one believed the “tales of the area” that were being told.  

Looking across any of Yellowstone's many geyser field’s, is a sight you won't soon forget.  Visiting early morning, just at sunrise, is impressive.  At the altitude Yellowstone is at, midsummer nighttime temperatures can easily dip into the low 30's or upper 20’s.  The cool mountain air temperature, meeting the steam blasting up from under the surface, creates an unearthly landscape.  It is easy to see numerous geysers venting at the same time.  Huge plumes of white steam, puffing easily to 100 feet.  No I am not crazy.  But even in this day it is difficult to describe.  It is just something so beautiful and different, you just have to see to believe.

There are pools of warm and extremely hot water that has risen to the surface.  There are pools of various colors.  The water color corresponds to the temperature and the algae color that grows within a specific water temperature.   The subterranean heated water spills over and trickles down over a rise on the surrounding surface, to join other little streams.  These streams eventually come together in the form of creeks.  Some of western United States mightiest rivers form here. The Snake River is born here.  The Yellowstone River flows out of Yellowstone Lake and carves out a canyon called 'The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone'.  In that canyon area there are found some massive waterfalls.

Yellowstone NP is full of abundant wildlife.  Huge Bull Elk, Massive Bison (often incorrectly referred to as Buffalo), Grizzly Bears, Deer, and the recently reintroduced wolf.  There is also a whole array of smaller animals and birds.  The terrain is filled with mountaintops, rivers, lakes, sharply curving 2 lane roads, and tall pine trees.  Mostly green, with lots of evidence of recent, as well as past, forest fires.

Yellowstone does require advanced planning and reservations to stay within the park. Lodges and campgrounds are full during the summer.  Reserve early if you are constrained by vacation schedules, or the expenses of traveling.  Though you can reserve a hotel outside one of the park entrances, it is difficult to drive in and out of the park each day.  For your best experience, you will want to stay within the Park.   I prefer to be real close to nature and camp.  It is not unusual to have some large critter such as an Elk come strolling through your campsite.  Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Yellowstone NP- Bull Elk

Red Rock is a park name found all over the desert southwest.  Some of my favorites are Red Rock Crossing in Sedona, AZ.  Red Rock Recreational area just west of Las Vegas, NV, and Red Rock Canyon just west of Bryce Canyon NP, Utah.

Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing - Sedona, Arizona
Though all of these locations do have red rocks, and perhaps some other common features found throughout the desert southwest, each is widely different.  

The Sedona, Arizona area is well known for some of its iconic rock formations.  This area is a mecca for hikers, trail riders, artists, and photographers.  Early Native Americans held this area as sacred, a vortex with the power to heal.  Those ideas have been passed down generation to generation, and still exist today.  Today it is much more commercialized, filled with small unique shops, art galleries, and places to eat.  Once you are away from the hustle and bustle of the town, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails.  Beginner trails, to the most experienced.  Sprinkled with rock formations and bubbling streams.  You cannot help but capture a great photo, or even better, a lasting memory.  No small wonder many believe this area still has the power to heal.

Red Rock Park - West of Las Vegas, Nevada
Red Rock Park west of Las Vegas is close to the huge metro area.  The area is easy to reach in 15 minutes from the west side of Las Vegas.  You won’t find many bubbling streams, but there are some tucked away, during the winter months, in secret spots.  There are also year round springs that attract Big Horn Sheep, Wild Horses, and Wild Burros.  The animals are always a treat to come upon when hiking, or even when found standing in the middle of the road.  There are ample hiking trails.  Maybe not as many as the Sedona area, but Red Rock outside Las Vegas  can boast as having some of the best world class Technical Climbing routes available for Sport Climbers.  During the winter months the single campground in the immediate location is often filled up with climbers.  They come from all over the world to test their skills and challenge the mountain.  For this matter, Las Vegas Metro Police department has one of the most advanced and equally equipped Search and Rescue teams in the world.

Red Rock Canyon - West of Bryce Canyon, Utah
Red Rock Canyon, about 7 miles west of Bryce Canyon NP is a little known gem.  There is a small campground nestled in a short canyon.  It perches on the edge of a deep and wide dry wash.  This wash can become a river in times of heavy downpours.  It becomes exciting if you are camped there.  The only access to the campground is across that wash.  With no bridge, the road drops to the bottom of the wash, and you cross the wash on a concrete apron.  During my last trip there, I was witness to a fairly good flow of fast moving, reddish, water, pouring over the apron and creating a waterfall.  The best thing to do is stay in camp, fix a slow cup of hot coffee and enjoy the rain.  It never rains long and the water quickly ceases to flow.  What 10 minutes ago could have easily taken your vehicle as well as your life, will soon become damp sand that is packed and ready to drive over.

~Rick Beach

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