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Southern Utah/Northern Arizona
June 20 - July 11, 1999

What's New

Whew!  This is a VERY long update.  This page is so freakin' long, I added a menu to help you jump to the various sections:

My friend works for a new internet startup called www.vstore.com, which makes it a simple to set up your own internet store.  A few steps and you are done.  I set up a store, but it is currently inactive.  It was active during my travels.

In other news, we've decided to skip the major Canadian portion of the trip through Banff and Lake Louise... an exchange for quality time on Vancouver Island vs. quantity of sites seen.  You'll notice the changes on the itinerary page.   On the other hand, we should be travelling around Lake Superior, wandering into Canada a bit, and hitting the upper peninsula of Michigan... then we'll heading south to Madison WI, Chicago IL, then North to Lansing MI and onwards to the Northeast.


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Gemini Bridges Trail

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The famous Slickrock MTB Trail

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Came... Saw... Conquered!

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Delicate Arch and the La Sal Mountains

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Double-O Arch

(Cathy sits in lower arch)

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Rock Fins among field of sage

Moab Utah, Arches National Park
June 22 - 25

I spent about 3 hours getting my website update ready in our Manti-La Sal National Forest campsite outside of Monticello, UT.  Next it was off to Moab.  First stop was the local internet access store... at $1 for 5 minutes, it was a massive rip-off.  I paid $9 for 55 minutes of use.  They'll be getting competition soon, thank god!  Afterwards, we headed off to the "nearby" La Sal National Forest to camp for the night.   After driving 30 miles (this is "nearby?"), we finally hit the forest border and set up camp...   As we were about to find out, camping in Moab in the dead of summer would end up being somewhat of a pain in the rear.  Although the pay BLM campgrounds are plentiful along the Colorado River, finding free camping was somewhat difficult.  We did end up finding some free sites along a canyon wash up state highway 313, but the mosquitoes were nearly unbearable... and the canyon seemed to hold in the heat throughout the night.   Continuing up 313, there are some roads into the BLM area where you can set up camp on top of the mesa... overall, this turned out to be a much better solution... fewer bugs, cooler, and a stronger breeze made for bearable camping in the Moab Desert... and only 10 miles from Moab as opposed to 30 in the National Forest.  Just make sure you are out by high noon or you'll get cooked!

After spending 3-4 days in Moab, I'm of the opinion that mountain biking is overrated there.  People call Moab the mountain biking capital of the world.   I'm not sure I can agree, but Moab MTB is certainly different from anywhere else I've been. Most of the biking in Moab is over slickrock.  The name "slickrock" is misleading because my tires stuck to the "slick" rock like glue.  I found that most of the slickrock riding was fairly easy.  Of course you can hit some hairy sections on slickrock (IE the steep stuff, near 90 degree whoop-te-dos, or riding on a diagonally sloping hill).  On the other hand, you generally don't have to worry about the condition of the terrain you are riding over, compared to the East where you've got to keep your eyes open for wet or dry rock, mud, gravel, leaves, etc...  The only three types of terrain you really have here are solid rock, sand, and hard pack dirt or road... and rarely do you have to worry about choosing between the three when picking a route; the route simply takes you over one of the three.  On the plus side, desert views abound... with mesas, natural arches, red rocks, and "petrified dunes" (slickrock).  With the La Sal Mountains, Arches NP, and Canyonlands NP nearby, I'm surprised more people don't come here to vacation.

Cathy and I hit the Merrimec and Monitor mountain bike trail.  We chose this easy trail as Cathy was fairly new to mountain biking.  The trail was very nice, with extremely gradual climbs and was a perfect trail for Cathy.  You ride right up against the Merrimac and Monitor Buttes, named for the Civil War iron-clad naval ships.   The trail had a pretty good combination of dirt, sand, and slickrock and all climbs were pretty easy.  Cathy called it quits for the day as she moaned about her bruised rear.  I have a hard time seeing why she was in pain, but I assume it is a common thing for women.  I've seen other women run into the same problem.  Something I guess biking women have to build up to.  Guys go through some pain too, but it doesn't seem to be as intense.   Anyhow, Cathy offered to drop me off at the top of the Gemini Bridges trail and pick me up at the bottom.  I thought the scenery on this trail was more beautiful than the Merrimac and Monitor trail, but the riding was less interesting.  Most of the run was downhill with some long uphill climbs over gravel road near the end.  I passed an interesting shaped rock called Gooney Bird Rock and had some fantastic views of the red rocks and canyons.

The last bike ride in Moab was on the famous Slickrock Trail.  Before embarking on this ride, I had read Aaron Thies (of The Rig Foundation) online review of his ride there where he eloquently described watching a guy perform a maneuver called an endo... meaning end over end... in other words, flying over the handlebars.  This guy managed to bust his helmet into two pieces and create a nice handlebar laceration (requiring stitches).  I tried to bear that image in mind as I headed out onto the trail.  The ride was definitely intense.  No long uphills, no long downhills... but definitely the steepest terrain I've ever ridden and managed to stay on my bike.  I left unscathed and feel that my slickrock riding ability improved tenfold during the ride. I found the most difficult section was the section between the practice loop and main loop. The other stuff wasn't too bad.  By the end, I was bounding over hills that I was cringing at earlier.  This trail can do wonders for your confidence... and I guess that's why people get hurt so often on this stuff... There was this one girl who came back from her ride with a pretty banged up knee. That trail can really screw up the body if you aren't careful.

In between rides in Moab, we hit Arches National Park... only 5-10 minutes from downtown Moab.  We did a fantastic 3 mile round trip hike out to the Delicate Arch.   Once again, my pictures can't do this area justice... it wasn't only the arch that I wished to capture, but the entire surrounding landscape.  The arch sits on the rim of a beautiful natural slickrock amphitheater and the La Sal mountains form the backdrop of the arch.  Our last hike was a 9 mile loop trail passing by numerous arches including the ever classic Landscape Arch (see bad panorama picture), Navajo Arch, Private Arch (hmmm...), and Double-O Arch (the most impressive one I'd seen yet, with one arch over another... check the picture!).  The pictures of this area might give you an idea of how unusual the landscape looks.  There are these rock "fins" that have been uplifted out of the desert floor.  Some areas, the fins are right up against each other, where in other areas they are spread out.  The area reminded me in some ways of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  During the hike, I managed to accidentally yank the hose out of my Camelbak "hydration system"... loosing nearly all of my 70 ounces of water about 4 miles in the hike... too late to turnaround.  Ooops.   Even with the brutal desert heat, that little mishap was of little consequence...   Fantastic scenery, beautiful arches, nice 9 mile workout... it was a great hike.  And at the end, water never tasted so good!


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Gooney Bird Rock on Gemini Bridges Trail

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Colorado River from the Slickrock Trail

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Rock Cairn Arch... (somebody was carin' for that cairn)

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Landscape Arch

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Rock Fins at Arches

 

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Canyonlands - Needles District

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Sunset at BLM Campsite near Canyonlands

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Joint Trail Cairn Room

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Owww... my fat lopsided ass! (Joint Trail)

Manti La Sal National Forest, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument
June 26 - 28

A bit tired of the desert, Cathy and I headed out to the Manti La Sal National Forest for some R&R and some cool air.  Well, sort of R&R... Mt. Peale is the highest mountain in the La Sal range and we decided to attempt to summit it.   The hike was nice... uh... nice if you like hiking straight up!  I continued up the mountain heading over loose rock fields towards the summit.  As I approached the summit, I noticed clouds building and the top of the mountain didn't seem like a good place to be during a thunderstorm.  I had to bail... probably would have reached the summit in a few more minutes, but lack of appropriate clothing and an overabundance of common sense made me turn back.  So close... but so far!!! 

Next, it was off to Canyonlands National Park... back into the desert heat and the beauty of the canyon country of Canyonlands.  Canyonlands is actually divided into three "districts," each a significant drive from the other, with no paved roads connecting the three.  We chose the Needles district due to its location (in between Moab and Natural Bridges/Glen Canyon).  Nice spot.  Spires, similar to those found in Bryce Canyon, can be found here... hence the name Needles.  On the other hand, the rock seems a bit more weather worn and smoother than the Bryce hoodoos.  The best way to describe the canyons in Canyonlands would be "messy."  Looks like a big mess of spaghetti and I could see how someone not following trails could easily get lost.  Each canyon looks the same, and in my eyes, the canyons aren't all that beautiful.  The one exception was our 11.5 mile day hike deep into the "wilderness" of Canyonlands.  We started just after sunrise to avoid the heat of the day.  After about 6-7 miles into the hike, we sat down at a picnic table at the "Joint Trail" trailhead.  As we sat at the picnic table in the shade soaking up the beauty of the surrounding grasslands, 3 jeeps pulled up.  Kind of a bummer seeing vehicles after hiking into the "wilderness" for 6-7 miles, but the folks were nice enough.  Both of us headed onto "Joint Trail."  It was smokin'!  It took you right into a slot canyon, where the walls were close enough to make anyone feel a bit claustrophobic.  A beautiful little section of trail, and it was back out into the desert, back to the car, and off to Natural Bridges National Monument.

We wasted little time with Natural Bridges National Monument.  The bridges are viewable from the roadside overlooks, and although you can hike down to the bridges for better views (and pictures), we opted out... still tired from our Canyonlands hike.


 

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Ahhh...  Finally in the mountains

(nice break from desert)

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View from the near summit of Mount Peale
(Manti La Sal National Forest)

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Gettin' high on life before hittin' the Joint Trail

 

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Glen Canyon Hike

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
June 29

A beautiful cloudless morning (as usual).  We went through the usual drill of breakfast and changing the rig over from sleeping mode to travel mode.  We were about to head out when I looked over at Cathy and noticed she forgot something.  "You gonna wear pants today?" I said as politely as I could muster without busting out laughing.   One of those mornings I guess.

Ahhh.. Glen Canyon.  When they dammed the Colorado River to form Glen Canyon, it supposedly sparked the start of the environmental movement as we know know it.  The dam reservoir put numerous beautiful canyons under water.  On the other hand... either way you look at it, Glen Canyon is something to behold.  A huge blue body of water in the middle of the desert where it clearly doesn't belong.  Chalk it up to another accomplishment for the ever mighty humans I guess. 

I actually considered renting a boat to explore some of the smaller tributary canyons.  I then discovered that the most outrageous thing about Glen Canyon are the prices required to rent a boat.  ARAMARK (concessionaire) and the NPS control prices for boat rentals and a boat rental at Glen Canyon will cost you an arm and a leg... a day with a jet ski was over $200.  Heck I could probably rent a Ferrari in LA for $200 a day.  Maybe this is how they keep visitation at a reasonable level, but it sure isn't fair to those of us on a budget.  Disappointed, we left the dock area, took the Hall's Crossing Ferry to Bullfrog (the rig's first time over water), and headed out on a short, but sandy hike to a fairly unimpressive nearby slot canyon.   Afterwards, we immersed ourselves in the Glen Canyon waters and headed up Burr Trail Road to Capitol Reef National Park.


 

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Brimhall Arch

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Cherry picking in the orchards of Capitol Reef

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Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park
June 30 - July 1

Certainly a highlight of the trip for both of us.  As far as both Cathy and I were concerned, Capitol Reef was the hidden gem of Southern Utah.  With low visitation, cheap rates, fantastic views, wonderful canyons, interesting geology, and lots of backcountry, Capitol Reef was our favorite.  Camped next to the Brimhall Arch Trailhead (BLM Land), we awoke to a fantastic sunrise, and a breathtaking view of the Waterpocket fold... an uplift that stretches for 100 miles.  At the southern end of the uplift, the rocks jut up at an angle conjuring up memories of the Boulder Flat Irons in Boulder Colorado.  The only difference is that here, you have about 100 flat irons.  The angle probably wouldn't provide much challenge to most climbers, but it certainly is something to behold.   We headed out onto the Brimhall Arch trail, down into the valley below.  It wasn't long before we entered a canyon that steadily began to narrow.  Our Utah hiking book said that the trip to Brimhall arch might require a bit of swimming.  In the desert heat, that sounded fine with us, but as dry as things had been recently, we encountered little water, but we did get to get up to our knees in a stagnant pocket of water, with a nice climb/scramble up to the arch.  It was a very technically challenging hike, and a fantastic way to start the day.

We continued up the Burr Trail Road.  The road goes gravel, enters the park proper, and eventually weaves in between these flat iron formations and up to the top of the monocline... more phenomenal views.  As you head further north, the uplift goes a vertical.  This is noticeable in the main area of the park, which has plenty to interest those who do not dare wander a few feet from their car.  Cathy had worked here on two week long Sierra Club Service outings and we wandered around the various sites to see how things had progressed.  Most of the work done was near the Fuita area where Mormon settlers created a little community along the Fremont River.  Orchards were created which still bear fruit and are kept up by two full time park employees.   We even stopped to pick some delicious cherries off of the trees for a nominal fee.   The old schoolhouse and blacksmith shop are still standing, and horses, retired from their duty at Arlington in DC, wander some of the fields.  A beautiful refuge in the desert, surrounded by the cliffs and badlands of the Capitol Reef/Waterpocket Fold.

Heading further North along gravel roads, we soon hit Cathedral Valley.   Here, the vertical walls resemble the flying buttresses of cathedrals far away overseas.  Well... scratch the "flying" part... and the buttresses are hardly gray, but they do put off beautiful hues of red, yellow, and white.  However, I can see how the shapes conjured up images of the cathedrals in Europe.  Two such formations jut up right out of the desert floor... called the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.  Free camping in the rim above Cathedral Valley ended our fantastic stay in Capitol Reef.


 

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The hike to Brimhall Arch in Capitol Reef

(you have to somehow climb OVER that rock behind Cathy to get to Brimhall Arch)

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View of the Southern part of the Waterpocket Fold (Capitol Reef)

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Temple of the Sun w/ Temple of the Moon to the left, Capitol Reef

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Bryce Canyon

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The Navajo Trail - overused, but beautiful

Bryce Canyon National Park
July 1-2

Bryce Canyon was next on the list.  This is the supposed "gem" of Southern Utah.   In some ways, I can see why, but with about 1.5 million visitors (nearly double the visitation of Capitol Reef) in this small park, it gets busy.  It is mostly a drive through park with tons of fantastic photo ops.  Only about 30 miles of backcountry trails are within the park boundary.  We hiked the Riggs Springs loop trail as an overnighter... a total of 7 miles.  The backcountry experience was fair, with decent views, but little of the hoodoo (needle-like) formations that Bryce is so famous for.  The better backcountry option is probably on the Under The Rim Trail.  However, fantastic views can be had from Bryce Point and Sunset Point.  I had a fantastic solo hike on the Navajo Trail from Sunset point.  This short hike takes you down into the hoodoos for some voodoo majik!


 

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Us and the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

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Lone Pine among the Bryce Canyon hoodoos

 

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Kolob Arch, possibly the world's largest natural arch

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Zion Canyon view from Weeping Rock

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Zion National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
July 3-7

Next stop... the promised land... AKA Zion National Park.  This park would probably have been our favorite were it not for the monstrous people management problems the park has to deal with.  Zion gets over twice as much visitation as Bryce Canyon and the park is way in over their heads.  (Zion gets 4 million visitors.)  They've got a whole lot of work to do.

One of our days was spent in the car... in the park.  Thanks in part to July 4th people traffic, nearly all of Zion Canyon (where the fantastic views were to be had) was inaccessible... NO parking.  AND they wanted $3 a head for the tram... and by the looks of things, the parking lot for the tram was full as well.  Basically, if you wanted to hit some of the day hikes in Zion, you were completely out of luck.   Some of the poor backpackers who had dropped $5/person/night probably had to wait to even get to their trailheads.  Zion NP has got lots of work to do.  They either need to limit the numbers of cars they allow into the canyon, or make the tram free (include it as part of the entry fee).  The park newspaper said that user fees were going to a new tram system.  Not soon enough!  They need an immediate and interim solution to the problem.

On the other hand, Zion was beautiful.  Fantastic views abound.   These stone monoliths rise up out of nowhere and there is more around each corner.   We decided to do a hike via Hop Valley into the backcountry.  It was a very nice hike, but a good portion of it goes through a private holding of grazing lands.   Lots o' cows.  We walked through the beautiful Hop Valley... through a creek we labeled cow crap creek.  You can guess why.  But beyond the last cattle fence, the smell went away and we descended into the La Verkin creek drainage... home to the Kolob Arch (possibly, if it could be measured, the world's largest natural arch) and us for the night.

Before dinner, our neighboring campers and us had the opportunity to witness something most people only get to see on TV: A snake partaking of a delicious frog for dinner.  We even saw the strike.  The poor frog probably weighed as much as the little "gopher" snake.  We didn't even get to see the snake finish the deed.  The picture you see shows the situation about an hour after the original strike.  Our hungry stomachs beckoned us to the dinner table, and we had to leave the show.

We attempted to end our Zion stay with a hike into the famed narrows of Zion Canyon...  This is where the canyon gets really narrow and you basically hike in the river the entire way.  But after weeks with nothing but sun, the clouds came in... and a narrow canyon in a river with no way out, is not exactly where you want to be during a cloud burst.  So instead we managed to find a single parking spot in Zion Canyon and visited the Weeping Rock before finally leaving Zion. 

On the way to the Grand Canyon, we made a quick pitstop in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes of Southwest Utah.  The dune field is impressive... but I don't know if I'd call it pink; maybe red.  The park itself is tiny and you get pretty good views from the highway, but it was just about worth the $4 to get out onto the dunes and read about the dunes in their interpretive outdoor exhibit.


 

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Hop Valley in Zion National Park

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Dinner for the snake, Death for the frog.  Fair Trade?  You decide...

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Cathy and the weeping rock

 

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Descent into the canyon at Dusk

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Morning of our 7 mile, over 4000 feet ascent

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Enjoying the "grand" view from Bright Angel Point

Grand Canyon National Park
July 8-11

The Grand Canyon is indeed grand.  The views are grand.  The rock colors are grand.   The Colorado River is grand.  And of course the visitation is grand (at 5 million).  The most grand fact about the Grand canyon is that some 500,000 of those 5 million (that's 10 percent) hit the canyon bottom.  (Compare that to the less than 1% that hit Bryce Backcountry.)  By the way, that number doesn't include the number of mules and horses that visit the bottom which must surely be up near a grand 5000 or so.   Thanks to the pack animals, the trail has a grand stench too.  They have a grand number of medical evacuations (usually at least one per day) via helicopter thanks to desert heat and unprepared hikers.  But these hardly detract from the grand experience of the grand canyon. 

Cathy had scheduled us for a 4 day/3 night backpack into the canyon from the North Rim, and an experience it was.  Seven miles each day.  Nearly 4000 foot elevation drop/gains on our first and last day and about 2000 foot elevation drop/gains on the two middle days.  I was surprised to find out that due to high visitation, the Grand Canyon is somewhat developed.  For example, our first and last night were in Cottonwood Campground.  A ranger station with solar/hydro power, heli-pad, and medical facilities sits just a short walk away.  As you hike down the North Kaibab trail, power lines, used to power the water supply pump, stretch down to Roaring Springs.   And once you hit bottom at Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River, they pull out all stops.  The campground even has flush toilets and electricity.  They've even got air conditioned cabins, a store, and for cabin guests, a restaurant and hot showers.   It is something to behold.  How they make all this stuff work is amazing to me.  I now see why it cost us a total of $44 to backpack down there.  The costs of running this place must be tremendous.

We began our hike down into the canyon via the North Kaibab trail about 2 hours before sunset.  I think this is actually when we had our best views.  The "classic" views of the grand canyon seem to come from near the top... You can't even see the Colorado River below, but the multihued colors of the rocks from were spectacular.  Below, things get a bit monotone.  Also, most of the postcard views of the Grand Canyon come from the South Rim, but so do the majority of the canyon visitors.  However, we were definitely content with our views from the North Rim.   Except when we went out into the clouds on Bright Angel Point (see picture).

On our way down, night inevitably began to fall and we whooped out our flashlights.  Cathy's lasted about 10 minutes.  Mine lasted about an hour before dying and we both tried to make it down off of my light.  As my light was weakening, I heard a rustle followed by a rattle.  Yikes!  I swung my light to my left and there he was.  A rattlesnake in retreat... must have been no more than a foot away from my boot.  He had about 5-6 rattles on his tail... definitely adult...   He was acting quite strange though... usually, I would think he'd retreat quite quickly after a run-in with a human, but this little sucker took his time.  I was saying quiet prayers of thanks that he didn't strike at my foot as we headed down the trail.  We were both pretty shaken and were glad to arrive at Cottonwood and set up camp that evening.  The rest of our hike wasn't nearly as exciting, but there were some magical moments.  Check the pictures!


 

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Ribbon Falls

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Supai Tunnel

Andrew's Theorem of Visitor Density in National Parks

Some might wonder why I concern myself with visitation so much.  Well, it really depends on the type of experience you are looking for in each park... I've come to the conclusion that if you really want a lonely experience, visit the busiest park you can find.  If you are in a busy area, all the people around you generally act unfriendly and keep to themselves.  A busy, crowded campground is generally not a good place to talk to people.  Now get out in the backcountry, spread things out a bit, add an element of effort or exercise to the equation and you'll notice visitor friendliness increase significantly.  Or, simply visit a less crowded park.

In summary, Andrew's Theorem of Visitor Density in National Parks (ATVDNP) states:

The amount of friendly visitors in a given area of a park is inversely proportional to the visitor density of that area.  The number of friendly visitors increases if exercise is required to access that area of the park.  The number of friendly visitors also increases if the park itself is difficult to access.

Cases in point:  Visitors and rangers in Big Bend were extremely friendly.   The park is remote, visitation was low, hiking is the usual activity (people are exercising), friendliness was high.  Zion was easily accessed, had high visitation, easily visited by vehicle (no exercise), people were grumpy and unfriendly.

This is not to say you cannot enjoy a busy park... it completely depends on your point of view... Remember, you are always in control of how you feel about any given situation... if crowds and unfriendly people bug you, it is because you have trained yourself to let them bug you.  It simply takes a change in your point of view.   Take the situation for what it is worth, kick back, enjoy the views, enjoy the people watching (and notice how silly some of them act), and stand out by being friendly!


Parting Thoughts - Rivers

A continuing theme I've simply noticed on this journey.  I've seen the humble beginnings of both the Colorado and Rio Grande.  These rivers have popped up at various points on my journeys.  I unfortunately will not see them to the ocean on this journey, but perhaps on future journeys.

Ya know that life is like a river,
Ever changin' as it flows,
And the dreamer's just a vessel,
That must follow where it goes,
Trying to learn from what's behind you,
Never knowing what's in store,
Makes each day a constant battle,
Just to stay between the shores.

from The River, performed by Garth Brooks but written by someone of much greater intellect.  :-)


Oddities From the Road
  • Hole In the Wall - Somebody decided to stick their house in the middle of a friggin' rock near Moab.  We didn't actually go in, but sure looked interesting.
  • Police vehicle with "Livestock Officer" imprinted on the back - I actually slowed down when I saw this guy.  What the hell does a Livestock Officer do anyway?  Boss cows and chickens around?

Reading and Listening
  • The New Roadside America - by Mike Wilkins, Ken Smith and Doug Kirby - A hilarious book about strange things that you can find along your route.   They even have a website at http://www.roadsideamerica.com/
  • The Sound of Music - One of Cathy's personal favorites.  This had us both singin' as we tooled down the road.
  • Left of Cool - Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - Has a very fitting song called Big Country.

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See ya in California!

Coming Next...

California

My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com

Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Andrew Koransky

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