A few years ago I attended an IT conference in Las Vegas and decided to tack on a trip to the Grand Canyon (South Rim), Sand Slot Canyons in Page, AZ and a stint on Route 66 to Oatman, AZ. I promised myself to return to this general area for more in depth photography. Fast forward to now, fellow motorcyclist and great friend RJ and I just completed a trip to the Southwest for some photography.
Day 1 - 9 June 2017
We departed BWI airport at 6:30am on Southwest, arrived in Las Vegas and picked up the rental car by 10am. We had all intentions to do this trip in a Ford Mustang convertible, however that was not available when we arrived at the car rental agency. We were upgraded to a Chevy Camaro RS Convertible, but upon opening the trunk we realized that there was no way our luggage would fit. Fortunately we were able to switch cars and ended up with a white four door Nissan Altima, which turned out to be perfect. We left with 17111mi on the odometer, headed to Lee's Discount Liquors and Walmart for some supplies (Beer, Whiskey, Gatorade, snacks, ice, etc). And so this adventure began, driving towards Page, AZ.
Our first stop was the Valley Of Fire State Park, NV. Pretty impressive place, my first sight of the red rocks, love the contrast of the blue skies against the red rock formations. We don't have skies this blue on the East Coast.
We drove on to Page and checked out Horseshoe Bend, which given the time of day (6pm) was in terribly harsh light, we decided to abandon photography here and checked into our Hotel (Best Western Plus). After a most delicious Mexican Dinner we turned in, it was a long day!
Day 2 - 10 June
During breakfast at the hotel we sat and talked with a couple from Germany, We exchanged notes and suggested a couple of sites that they may also be interested in seeing. Later we took the short drive to Antelope Canyon Tours for our tour of the Upper Antelope Canyon. This place is impressive, but very hard to shoot without a tripod. If you plan to do photography here, sign up for the 2 hour "Photographers' Tour". I put this canyon on the itinerary since RJ has never been in one. Sunny, our Navajo guide gave us a great tour, we were lucky to have been one of the first tours to arrive, so there were not that many folks here yet.
I dropped RJ off at the Hotel and headed down to Horseshoe Bend which now was in much better light (10:30am). Took a few photos here, then went back to the hotel and checked out, started our drive to Monument Valley.
Seeing Monument Valley for the first time was absolutely impressive. We stayed in the Park a bit to soak in the views, then secured our cabin for the two night stay at Gouldings Lodge.
Since we had a bit of time before the sunset at Monument Valley we decided to check out the Goosenecks State Park (light too harsh at 4pm).
RJ then took us to the Moki Dugway (drive it if you can find it, impressive views from here!). We stopped for photos on a few of the cut-ins on this old mining road.
We then headed into the Valley Of The Gods, which was my favorite so far. Nice early evening light, getting close to the Golden Hour. Sadly I only took a few images here, should have spent more time for sure.
We headed back to Monument Valley for some sunset shots, which turned into watching the moon rise (incredible) and then doing some low light photography. Headed out to mile marker 13 made famous by the movie Forrest Gump. Will have to re-shoot this in daylight.
Day 3 - 11 June
Monument Valley - Shot the sunrise.
Stopped at mile marker 13 again in daylight before heading to Mexican Hat for breakfast.
After the most overpriced and awful breakfast burrito we decided to drive back to Monument Valley and take the driving trail. Almost got the rental car stuck right away, aborted the drive to Artist Point Lookout. RJ inquired with some of the local tour guides and before we knew it, RJ and I were on a private tour with a Navajo guide named Dean taking us into the restricted parts of the reservation. Too cool.
Headed back to our cabin via the local grocery store to pick up items for our typical low budget late lunch, which was terrific.
Later we returned to Monument Valley for another Sunset shoot, and watched the moon rise one more time. Headed back to the cabin and lightly prepared for our departure in the morning.
Day 4 - 12 June
Shot the Monument Valley sunrise one more time and said goodbye to this most unique place. Headed to the cabin to grab our belongings and checked out. We stopped at mile marker 13 yet again, took a few shots here, one cool thing to note were the 2 Aussies in Red Chicago Bulls Jersey's, cool contrast against the black macadam, I think I got a couple of shots of them.
With the fleeting morning light we decided to head into the Valley Of The Gods again, this time utilizing the west entrance off of 163. Took a few cool shots of a lone BMW rider with his tent situated in a terrific spot with stellar views. Someday I would love to ride some of these dirt roads on my BMW R100GSPD.
We had a fairly uneventful drive to Moab, RJ got some much needed rest, we have been operating on limited amounts of sleep up to this point. Checked out the Lazy Lizard Youth Hostel where we will be staying for one night. Very interesting place. Lot's of "kids", very neat concept, there were dorm rooms, tent spaces and cabins. Every patron had use of a communal kitchen (do your own dishes), a TV / reading room, as well as a bath house. Our cabin was not quite ready yet, so we decided to head into Arches National Park. Seems like it took us an hour to clear the many other cars ahead of us entering the Park.
Arches National Park is stunning, could not stop saying "WOW" with just about every turn we took. We looked at "RJ's rock", he's adopted this "rock" to be his many years ago. It is a fine rock RJ!
I walked over to the triple Arch while RJ hunted for a spot to park. It was incredibly busy despite the heat and the blowing wind, which of course was saturated with fine dust and sand ... Later we ventured over to the Windows, the wind was wipping through them with almost unimaginable force.
We left Arches heading north on 191, then turned west onto 313 leading us to Dead Horse Point State Park. Nice views of the canyon, reminded me a little bit of the Grand Canyon, only on much smaller scale. We were not close to the Golden Hour, were getting hungry so we headed back to Moab.
For dinner we went to a Mexican Restaurant called El Charro Loco. It is the best Mexican food I ever had, if you are in Moab, and Mexican food appeals to you, I would strongly urge you to seek out this place. It's a hole in the wall, not easy to find, address is 812 S Main St, Moab, UT.
We headed to the Lazy Lizard and secured our cabin for the night. I began the usual nightly process of making RJ and I a nice drink, then began charging all camera batteries and downloading images onto an external hard drive. Upon RJ's urging, we headed up to the office and hung out with the youngsters congregated here, some musicians were playing their guitars and singing. Before we knew it, we were treated to a private concert by Caitlyn Jemma & The Moonshiners (Megan Graham and Michael Steinkirchner). That was the highlight of the evening for sure.
Day 5 - 13 June
RJ and I packed up the car fairly early, headed to Arches National Park but sadly got their too early to be able to enter the Park. Instead of wasting the nice early morning light we drove a bit on UT-128 which essentially follows the Colorado River. Took a few photos here.
Finally we were able to enter the Park at 7am. We stopped at the Park Avenue Overlook for a bit, had another look at RJ's Rock, then mushed on to the Delicate Arch parking area. Very busy already, we prepped ourselves (water, applying sunscreen), prepped the gear (tripod, cameras, water) to take and then hiked out to the Delicate Arch. The Arch itself was impressive, took quite a few photos here.
We trekked back to the car and headed to back to look at RJ's rock again. RJ and I have been such good friends for so many years now that I thought it to be neat to pick the "rock" next to his as my rock, so there we both are.
The blue sky and white clouds made it hard to leave here, but our itinerary was taking us to the Newspaper Rock Recreation Site on our way to Blanding, so we had to move on .... We did stop in the Arches Visitor Center Gift Store on our way out, I purchased a neat artist rendition print of my rock, oddly RJ's seems to be a little less famous.
We did stop by El Charro Loco again, the lunch we had there was equally as good as the dinner there the night before. Check it out!!!!
The drive south on 191 was uneventful and scenic, we turned west onto 211, which was a fantastic road with incredible vistas. Chased a fellow and his dog in his pick-up truck was towing a classic restored Airstream Bambi trailer. We stopped at the Newpaper Rock Recreation Site - very interesting. RJ tended to his "211 Burrito", leftover from El Charro's lunch.
We drove all the way to the entry sign for Canyonlands and decided that we will not enter the Park, because - let's face it, we had to leave something unexplored, so that we'd return to this area for sure. We put the Canyonlands in the same category as Capitol Reef, a Park that always gets shlt on, because they are not "big and famous". In true form, we essentially shlt on Canyonlands. But wait! There is more ....
Feeling a bit hungry myself, RJ dished up some cheese (skillfully sliced with a Veggie Peeler on his UT Atlas) and crackers while we headed towards Cliff Palace in Blanding, UT. If this was his Palace, I'd hate to see his shed. Place was a bit scary at first but ended up working out just fine.
We fueled the car and looked for something to eat in a very weird place .... picture a Gas Station, Convenience Store, Fast Food Joint and Bowling Alley all lumped into one ... Bizarre. It was at an Intersection that only Partyriders can truly appreciate (191N & 191S). Dinner consisted of whatever rations we could dig up from the trunk of the car.
This ended up being a banner day, not sure that we could have crammed any more into it. But wait! There's more ....
Day 6 - 14 June
Another early morning wake-up, packed the car and headed to Pop's Burrito shop next to the Motel, it looked to be open, we hoped to at least get a cup of coffee here. We did get that, and ALSO a very good breakfast (I had a delicious breakfast burrito, while RJ enjoyed the same, only served in a bowl). Rejuvenated with fresh coffee onboard we turned onto 191S and then veered onto Hwy 95 towards Hanksville. The first stop took us on a short hike to the Butler Wash ruins, an ancient Anasazi site. Neat site, but shitty light for photography at 10:30am. We didn't loiter here for long. I had great hopes for the next stop.
One side note, I found a pair of lady's sunglasses here on the trail, and decided to wear them to see if RJ would notice. He never did - I ended up talking to quite a few folks wearing these rather feminine glasses.
So we mushed on to the Mule Canyon Trailhead in hopes of finding the House On Fire. After a couple of failed attempts hiking down incorrect paths, we finally noodled through that we were off by about .5 miles or so. Back to the car, driving the dirt road back we came and then parked with a few other vehicles. I asked a very nice gentleman if we were close to the trail and he answered that indeed we were. So we set off on a decent hike and arrived at the House On Fire only to see a PBS film crew onsite, also documenting this neat ancient ruin. We looked around a bit, talked to the PBS crew and began taking some photographs. I think the light might have bee just about perfect.
We also took a look at the ancient handprints located just to the left of these Anasazi ruin, very neat.
I have to say that seeing these ruins had a profound impact on me, trying to imagine living here with no food or water in the deep of winter or the dead of summer. The gentleman that assured us earlier that we found the correct trail mentioned that the Anasazi Indians used these ruins primarily in the summer, lived a somewhat nomadic lifestyle and stayed elsewhere during the winter. There was a riverbed below these ruins so there possibly was some means to grow crops here. Either way, I'm so glad we took the time to see this site.
We hiked back to the car and continued west on UT-95 towards Hite Overlook. Some stunning views here, neat S-curves carving through the mountains.
At Hite Overlook we met a neat couple from Austria, Hannes & Katharina, whom are currently on a carbon neutral around the world journey. Presently they are riding their bicycles from San Francisco to Boston. From there they are hoping to catch a sailboat for the passage across the Atlantic to Portugal. We took some pictures, chatted awhile, while they both attempted to indulge in a melted Hershey's Chocolate Bar. They got a kick out RJ essentially being from the area where Hershey's Chocolate is made. Check out their website below.
We continued on to Hanksville and then headed into Capitol Reef National Park for a few photos. Another neat site with it's own unique atmosphere and landscape.
Lodging: Day's Inn Torrey, UT, Subway Sandwich for Dinner, Lemonade and Jim Beam
Day 7 - 15 June
This morning we decided to change the itinerary after we talked to a gentleman during breakfast at the hotel, he suggested we make our way to Burr Trail Road and shoot one of the caves there (he showed us some of his iPone pictures - which were stunning). We decided to scrap the Capitol Reef sunrise shoot (too late anyway), the Devils Garden and the Escalante Grand Staircase. All of which would have been visited via the Hole In The Rock Road, a somewhat rough dirt road, which would have taken a lot of time to navigate.
We took Route 12 towards Boulder and along the way stopped at several places to take in the views of the Birch Tree forests lining the route. The coolest thing happened here, but I will reserve that for RJ and I.
There was cattle on the road in places, and some very nice scenic Lookouts. Had a bit of a photo session with a Prairie Dog mother and her young.
We made it to Burr Trail Road and found the cave we heard about, had a nice photo shoot here, having the cave entirely to ourselves.
We ran into two brothers as we left the cave, chatted for a bit and learned that they came from Peek-a-boo slot canyon, and showed us some pictures. Seems to be mostly very narrow with a tough entry - so not that appealing for photography. We scrapped it from the itinerary and decided to check out Kodachrome Basin State Park (what a cool name).
And for once on this trip there was a bit of disappointment, Kodachrome was a bit of a let-down, it was hot, gnats and other insects were bugging us, we took one absolutely hilarious picture and bailed out.
We drove to Bryce Canyon National Park, loitered there from late afternoon to a little after sunset. Bryce Canyon is spectacular!
From here we drove to Panguitch, UT where we would stay for the next 3 nights (Blue Pine Motel, great little place - more on that later).
Day 8 - 16 June
We left the motel early for the 35min drive to Bryce Canyon for sunrise. It is amazing to see the Hoo-Doo's come to "life" as they are illuminated by the rising sun. What a show. We then went to Bryce Canyon Lodge, I signed up for a Horseback tour for the following morning. We had a nice breakfast at the Lodge and just loitered awhile, RJ found a piano and played for a bit.
While we were mulling over what to do next, RJ came up with this idea that I was going to be on a mule, not a horse for the ride into Bryce Canyon. He had so much fun with it, I ended up going back to the Tour Representative and asked what the likelihood of being on a mule vs. a horse might be. (about 50%). But I could request to be on a horse during the check-in the following morning.
We checked out the old gas station and then decided to hike from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point via the Queen Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop. Bryce Canyon is something entirely different, when seen whilst in the canyon. Just STUNNING vistas no matter where you look.
The hike back to the car was a bit of a challenge, the final elevation change as one exits the trail can be a bit of a challenge. We were pleased with our performance and the fact that we got to see and experience from below.
We headed back to the motel to relax for a bit, and to walk around main street a bit, maybe hit a couple of antique stores. On the drive back we saw signs of a significant fire, which we later learned was a controlled burn.
We headed back to Bryce for sunset, which was lackluster, the smoke from the fire had obscured the sun's rays. Back to Panguitch to the Motel for what was a BANNER day. Gas Station Burrito's for dinner AND also a fine drink consisting of ice, Jim Beam, Coke, Mango Slushy, Pink and regular lemonade. That was fantastic. We ventured to the professional putting green and played a few "rounds" of golf.
Day 9 - 17 June
RJ's birthday, gave him a card and his only little mountain range consisting of small rocks of various different colors. We back to Bryce for the Horse Trail Ride. I checked in with no problem and soon was sitting on Juaquin, a very nice looking horse. And off we went, it was another experience I won't soon forget.
Another rider ahead of me took these shots, thank you Rose!
RJ stayed in the park, checked out some other spots since the road leading to Rainbow and Yovimpa view points had previously been closed. He used the Nikon D800E and did well with it, also got some great pictures of us returning from the 3 1/2 hour trail ride.
We stopped at another store called "Red Canyon" I found and purchased a pretty cool men's ring here. Took RJ for a fantastic lunch back in Panguitch at the Cowboy's Smoke House, where we met some nice folks from TX, named RJ and Linda! I had the best burger I EVER had here, try this place if you are in town!
We checked out the Red Rock Rendezvous BMW rally that was being held at the local fairgrounds, then played some more golf, and went back to Cowboy's Smoke House for a fine dinner. Yep - another BANNER day. But wait! There's more ....
Day 10 - 18 June
Drove through Zion National Park on our way back to Las Vegas. Need to come back here for sure.
From here we drove to Snow Canyon State Park, another spot that warrants a longer visit.
Found this marker at the Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery.
Drove back to Las Vegas, cruised down the strip and took a few pictures of the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. We returned the rental car with 19309mi on the odometer in 115F of heat. We had a nice flight home, arriving at my house early Monday morning at 02:30. RJ decided to head back home right away, I went to bed only to be awoken by the pesky alarm at 06:15 to head to work.
What an EPIC adventure. Will need to return to Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion National Park for sure. Page AZ and the sand slot canyons need to be explored more as well. There are many more gas station burritos and Slushy flavors that need to be tasted.
I will be posting a few pictures here in this blog, more images here: Gallery can be viewed via this link.