Off to Bryce Canyon!

Off to Bryce Canyon!

Started our day as we headed out to Bryce by stopping at the River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah for coffee, smoothies, and quiche, everything was so good! It’s a cool place with big outdoor deck overlooking an awesome view of the Virgin River.

River Rock Roasters

Heading out to Bryce Canyon we climbed to 8,000 to 9,000 feet. This will be the highest elevation on our trip to date. Steep 8% grade descents and sharp curves opened up to expansive vistas with more trees and more alpine-like landscapes. I was inspired during this drive to come up with as many adjectives as I could to describe the beauty of the country we are traveling across. Here are just a few to illuminate the majesty of America (see how I snuck a couple in right there): exquisite, dazzling and transcendent! 

A little warning to anyone planning to stay in or near Bryce – there are several lodges with similar sounding names, including one that is located in the National Park. After realizing that our reservations were not in the aforementioned lodge (our only planned hotel stay during our six-week trip) we settled in at Ruby’s RV Park in their overflow lot. Ruby’s seems to own Bryce Canyon City with a hotel, RV park, several restaurants, and multiple outfitting businesses i.e. horseback riding and kayaking.

The next morning, by 8:30 am we were saddled up for a three-hour horseback ride through the Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. Our personable and knowledgeable guide and well-trained horses made this a delightful, but cold ride. I wore my winter gloves, and wool headband with a fleece jacket and snow was intermittently spitting during the ride. Our small group consisted of me and Steve and five visiting Germans.

After warming up and grabbing a quick lunch we took the 18-mile scenic drive through Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove to the end and then re-traced our drive, stopping at multiple overlooks to enjoy the views and take photos.

Steve napped after the drive, while I took a walk and visited Ruby’s General Store, which is huge, includes a large grocery section and serves every need that a visitor could have. There is also an adjacent Native American Art Gallery with a large selection of quality (although pricey) native art.

As mentioned before, Ruby’s has the entire town wrapped up with the hotel – a Best Western – with a rustic lodge-like lobby and an expensive, but very efficient restaurant designed to handle crowds of visitors. This is a manufactured town which serves as the gateway to Bryce Canyon, and offers lots of amenities but is not a charming as Springdale (Zion National Park) and Estes Park (Rocky Mountain National Park) which we were to visit later in the trip.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

This is a very popular and busy park and I can see why.  Because of its small size and popularity, access to this national park is limited and is through the town of Springdale Utah, a really lovely town that has sprung up as the gateway to Zion. It is chock full of hotels, restaurants and art galleries and provides a convenient launching spot for trip to Zion.

We parked the RV is a convenient parking lot and took the free shuttle from Springdale to the entrance of Zion, then waited in a long line to board the Zion shuttle. There was also a long wait just to get to the Visitor Information Desk, so my suggestion is to make sure you get all of your information on-line before you arrive.

Early Mormon pioneers named the area “Zion”, from the Biblical Hebrew word meaning refuge or sanctuary. We quickly saw the significance of the name when applied to this beautiful national park!

Zion is gorgeous with steep red cliffs and trails, and lush, green valleys with hanging gardens. We hiked the Kayeta Trail to the lower Emerald Pools.  Beautiful, refreshing and wet after the hot, dusty trails!

The road to Hurricane

The road to Hurricane

Heading out of Williams, Arizona we take Route 89N (through Flagstaff) towards Page, passing by beautiful painted desert scenery bordered on the east by a huge Navajo reservation. We’re heading to Hurricane, Utah and eventually to Zion National Park.

Photo by Nextvoyage from Pexels

Today we pass by completely deserted towns and extremely flat landscapes, as we venture into the “painted desert”.  According to the name “painted desert” was coined in the late 1850s by a government explorer to describe the vivid bands of red, yellow, blue, white and lavender that mark the various deposits of minerals in the area. The Painted Dessert covers 160 miles and encompasses 93,500 acres in the Four Corners region of the USA, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah share a common border.

Photo by Elena Blessing from Pexels

Following 89N we headed towards Navajo Bridge which rises over the Marble Canyon. The bridge was a great place to stop and get out, stretch our legs and take some photos. The Colorado River flowed emerald green below us. A small interpretive center and gift shop beckoned us, very nice.  We pulled over for a roadside lunch outside of Marble Canyon, one of the many perks of traveling with our kitchen on our back.

View from the Navajo Bridge with the Colorado River below.

Traveling now through Kaibab National Forest we pulled over for another photo break. There we met some folks from Wickford, Rhode Island who live half a year in Tucson and half a year in Wickford.  He’s a photographer who shows his work at the annual Art Festival in Wickford…maybe we’ve seen his work during one of our many trips to the Festival?

We saw fires on the sides of the road – are they naturally occurring? Or are they managed by the Park Service authorities?  Reaching Fredonia at around 3:30 pm (4:30 Utah time) we decided to soldier on for one more hour to reach Hurricane, Utah and the Willow Wind RV Park, a day ahead of schedule.

Riding the rails to The Grand Canyon

Riding the rails to The Grand Canyon

We are done driving for a bit, and have opted to take the train – The Grand Canyon Railroad – from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim of the canyon for 63 lovely, relaxing miles. The wonderful views, Dennis, the sweet conductor, and the cowboys who serenaded us made it a memorable experience.  We were glad though, that it was May and not July or August, since the temperatures were just lovely.

The air at the Grand Canyon is fabulous!  With only three hours for our visit before the train headed back, we hung around the Grand Canyon Village area.

We hiked up and down, back and forth, sticking to the Rim Trail, and taking lots of photos.  Squirrels and a solitary llama were the only wildlife we saw, but evidence of mule deer – their scat – was seen.

Hot and thirsty, we found the martinis and agave infused cocktails at El Tovar’s bar hit the spot. And it was fun wandering around this historic hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed on his multiple visits to the Canyon!

It was a very cute train ride back with the aforementioned Dennis, our personal assistant/conductor, and a crew of train robbers who boarded the train for a host of shenanigans, before being dropped off in the Town of Williams where we stayed for dinner. 

Williams is sensational town with a great Main Street, the Historic Brewing Company and lots of restaurants and Route 66 memorabilia stores. We had drinks at the brewery first, then headed back to their restaurant for pizza…a very cool take!

How to get home after this long day?  Our shuttle driver (the owner of the Railside RV Park) picked us up when we called him and was super nice and funny. He and his wife run a great operation and we can highly recommend the Railside RV Park in Williams.

A cowboy breakfast to start off the day . . .

A cowboy breakfast to start off the day . . .

 . . . before we hit the road and headed out towards Williams Arizona. Our KOA campground had a (literal) chuckwagon setup and we took advantage to grab a hearty breakfast before taking off.  Stopping off at a roadside gas station with a great view we met a friendly AAA guy, who took our picture in front of the San Francisco Mountain range.  He told us that Mt. Humphrey in this range is an active volcano and the highest point in Arizona.

Another stop, another Walmart, this one in Flagstaff to re-stock food and supplies. How far do you have to drive before you find a Walmart in this country?  This would be a great stat to know. We notice lots of residential building in the area outside of Flagstaff, obviously a growth area.

Oops! A small crack in the windshield due to a tiny rock hitting it.  Not a big problem at this time, we’ll deal with it later.

The drive through the Red Rocks Canyons of Sedona was astonishing, but my numerous photos don’t really show off its grandeur.  What makes these rocks so red? Apparently, the red is iron oxide that coats the particles in the rocks after thousands of years of chemical weathering.

License: Creative Commons

The Town of Sedona is vibrant, thriving and chock-full of galleries, cafes, etc. but with a New Age, wellness/healing vibe, and with very upscale resorts and spas.

Note to self: we need to fly in and stay for a week and shop, hike, eat and experience the healing power of the vortexes.

Parts of this trip remind us of Maine with lots of conifers, but then we head right back into a flat dessert landscape.

Arizona is a concealed carry state.  Permit holders are not required to undergo the Federal background check. Wow, something that is hard for this Massachusetts gal to understand.

We finally arrived at the Railside RV Park in Williams, Arizona and settled in, tired but happy, after a long drive.