Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 7: Goosenecks State Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and Arches National Park

The previous night, our hotel was right on the San Juan River, which we'd hoped to swim in, but the current looked much too strong for us--not to mention we tend to be pretty tired by the time we make it to the hotels. We ate breakfast at the hotel in the morning and then stopped at the rock formation that is responsible for the name of the town--Mexican Hat. This impressive "terrace" has clearly earned its name. I also spotted another formation that I thought resembled a rabbit.

Then we made it to Goosenecks State Park, which is also named for its appearance. Here we have an "incised meander," which forms as the Colorado plateaus rises and the discharge of water increases from precipitation.

Before stopping at Natural Bridges, we headed up a steep plateau via winding, dirt road switchbacks that offered impressive views as we stopped along the way in two places for picture taking. As you'll see in the last picture, sometimes the views are so unbelievable, even someone like me, who is normally somewhat afraid of extreme heights, has little difficulties going straight to the edge.

When we arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument, we first watched an informative video at the visitor center about the 3 impressive rock formations, formed by rivers. Then we arrived at the first formation,

Then to Kachina...

And finally, to Owachomo, where we went on a brief hike to visit the bottom of the desert. As most of you know, hiking is one of my favorite pastimes, so you can imagine I relished in the chance to go off and explore on our own. I don't know if it's because this is sacred Hopi grounds, or simply the park's natural splendor, but I felt an increased sense of tranquility at this particular park.

On the drive to Arches National Park, we were in awe as we spotted the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the distance.

Then we arrived at Arches, where we learned that natural bridges are caused by rivers, and arches by joint movement and weathering. We stopped at several viewpoints (one of which was not an arch but an astonishingly Balanced Rock) and then were given some time to go off on another hike to stand beneath several massive arches. This park was the most crowded we've visited so far. Many if not most of the tourists at the parks tend to be foreigners. While I love that people come from far and wide to view our national parks, I wish that more Americans would come out and see them.

Day 6: Monument Valley

Since I'm writing this 2 days later and I didn't write as much as usual in my notes or journal this day, my memory is a little fuzzy. We do so much on this trip that half the time one hears people asking "What state are we in?" or "Where did we go to today?" Thus, I'm glad I'm keeping record of the journey, as I don't want to forget a thing!

First we stopped at a scenic viewpoint with an impressive Colorado Plateau landscape and several stands where Native American women were selling jewelry and other crafts. Being the eclectic shopper that I am, I had to buy a few things; it wouldn't be until the next 3 stops that I'd realize everyone was selling the same things everywhere.

We passed through Lee's Ferry, where we stopped to view some impressive rock formations that appear to defy gravity, but actually form as a result of weathering. Wind carves the foot of these mushroom like rocks.

We then stopped at a campground to use the restroom and checkout the Colorado River, which happens to run nearby. I saw several lizards and kept a keen eye for more rattlesnakes; thankfully there were none.

Then we stopped at Glen Canyon Dam to take some pictures. After Hoover, this one seemed minute.

We drove on through desert plains where one really as the feeling of being in cowboy country as cattle and horses dot the dusty pastures and tumbleweeds roll by and spin up in powerful dust devils. Such sights are not surprising as we neared Monument Valley, the set of numerous old western films. The dirt road that winds threw the park was a thrill in itself from my seat in the back of our large van (thank God for the frequent stops at each viewpoint). The iconic rectangular formations, or buttes, immediatley reminded us of mittens. We then learned they are actually called West Mitten and East Mitten Buttes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 5: Bryce and Grand Canyons

After breakfast at a Mexican Restaurant near our hotel, we drove through sprawling green pastures with dark plateaus in the distance as we headed toward Bryce Canyon. We passed by what I thought at first were deer, but actually were antelope.

Before Bryce Canyon, we stopped at Red Canyon, mainly to use the restrooms at the visitor center, but also for a preview of what we could expect from Bryce.

Finally, we arrived at Bryce Canyon, where the first stop was to pullover and check out a field of prairie dogs, a species that is actually endangered from farming years ago.

Our professor decided the best way to view Bryce is from the top and then drive down to the bottom back where we started, stopping along the way at each lookout. The view from these lookouts is absolutely magnificent, jagged terra cotta colored rocks are juxtaposed with giant green conifers.

The top is "Rainbow Point" which reaches 9,115 feet above sea level.

Our next stop was Birch Canyon at 8,750 feet.

Then the drive goes up a little bit to Ponderosa Point at 8,904 feet, where we spotted a crow who seemed unphased by our presence. The hoodoos and pinnacles (the tall, think rocks that either come to a narrow point or have a sort of mushroom top respectively) here are impressive in their gravity defying formations.

Then we stopped at the aptly named Natural Bridge lookout at 8,627 feet.

After leaving Bryce we drove nonstop through Kaibab National Forest, a forest of towering conifers atop rolling hills.

Finally, Grand Canyon. We arrived at the North Rim and were given some time to venture off and explore. The English language does not have words that are capable of describing this place's splendor. One simply has to see it for himself.

Before leaving the park, we stopped at Imperial Point, another impressive lookout where we were first given a geology lecture and then checked out the impressive sights.

One of the participants on this trip is from Germany (Daniel, on the left) asked if I was proud to be an American considering how beautiful our country is. We Americans had nothing to do with this beautiful land. So I'm not proud; I'm incredibly grateful for it's existence and preservation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 4: Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Zion National Park

We ate breakfast at our hotel--Arizona Charlie's Hotel and Casino--and then began our drive toward Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. After a less-than-thorough search of our belongings by security guards, we entered the visitor center at Hoover Dam, viewed a film on the history of the dam, and walked through a tour of the dam's inner workings which took us out onto the dam itself.

Around 1920 the government was looking for ways to tame the Colorado River and boost employment during the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover approved the dam in 1921. Once approved, the "Boulder Canyon Project" was the largest single contract at that time. The entire structure was completed by 3500 workers in 5 years (2 years ahead of schedule). The workers made $4 a day working long hours with little to no time off. There is a myth that some workers died on the job and are buried in the concrete of the dam; however, the bodies of the 96 people that died working on then job were all recovered. Up until 1942, the dam was called Boulder Dam but was then named Hoover Dam. It supplies flood control, reliable water supply, and electricity to several states in the region. In 1985 a huge flood in Colorado tested the stability of the dam and its spill ways, which held up as the water rose 6 ft from the top. The dam was also built to withstand an 8.5 earthquake but has only experienced a 5.

We then went to a great scenic lookout of the beautiful lake mead. Seeing a body of water--a brilliantly blue one no less--after spending two days in a barren desert, felt incredibly novel. The lonely, almost intimidating feel of Death Valley was now behind us.

After Lake Mead, we crossed the Arizona border and took a great scenic drive through a winding water gap. Interestingly, a water gap doesn't necessarily have to have water in it but has to have been caused by the erosion of a river.

Heading toward Zion National Park, we even saw some bison on a pasture on the side of the road!

Crossing the Utah border, we were Zion bound! The brilliant red cliffs began towering over us as we entered the park. Between the rocks and the conifers, Zion reminds me of a green and red tunnel with a blue skylight--at least thats what it looks like from the bottom. Sadly, we did not go to the top of Zion, but I will just have to come back some day and hike the Angel Trail. Nonetheless, the tranquil, sleepy Virgin River, which runs through the bottom, was a sight not to be forgotten. We saw this park via a tour shuttle, getting out for short breaks to look around. Like our coyote at Death Valley, the squirrels here are unfortunately too accustomed to humans (although very cute). Again, I got my passport stamped at the Visitor's Center.