Once again it seems like we are rushing. I thought that by taking a year off, we would have so much time on our hands. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We had to book it across the country from Utah to meet friends in Austin, Texas. It’s lucky that we’ve scheduled these times and places to meet people, otherwise we’d probably still be up north in Alaska / the Yukon.
It was another early start and another beautiful morning in Utah.
Mark really wanted to check out some of the ancient cave ruins on the way, so we stopped off at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The Ancestral Puebloan people had lived up on the mesa tops in this area for about 600 years. They started building these amazing villages in the overhanging caves way up high in the cliffs sometime the late 1100s, but for some reason they only lived there for about 100 years before heading south and leaving it all behind.
Many of these cliff dwellings are really well preserved and on some walls you can still see the decorative patterns on the old plaster. Very cool.
The next day, we really had to cover some miles. We had breakfast in Colorado, brunch in New Mexico and made it to Texas in time for dinner.
That night, we were camped at a National Wildlife Reserve in Texas and were told the next morning that they were closing the place, because the government was in shut down. Apparently, the politicians couldn’t agree on the budget. This meant that all the National Parks were also closed and that staff weren’t getting paid. Of course… the politicians who caused all the drama, weren’t out of pocket at all. As a past government employee, this really peeved me. However as an unemployed traveler, I was glad that we’d finished visiting our long list of National Parks just in time.
The weather was heating up again and we found a campground in Texas with free showers. This is pretty luxurious for us these days. Maybe in Austin Mark can even get a haircut….
I believe we’ve found the secret to visiting America’s National Parks. Go early in the morning when the sun is rising and nobody else is around. Any other time of day and there seems to be crowds of people spilling out of tour buses and crawling over each other to get to the best viewpoint.
Bryce Canyon is a perfect example of this plan working out well for us. After hitting the snooze button a few times we finally braved the cold and were rewarded with a couple of hours wandering through the hoodoos in the peace and quiet of the early morning.
After a hearty breakfast cookup back at the van we headed out to the San Rafael Desert to find a campsite. Once again a little VW magic helped us out. A guy with a burgundy Vanagon and matching shirt gave us some good tips on all the free camping in the area.
I had been really keen to check out some of the ancient rock art in this area, and since we were really pressed for time we had to get another early start and hit the road well before sunrise to get out to the Horseshoe Canyon. Can’t complain though… I still think it’s the best time to be on the road.
The pictographs in this canyon are pretty special. Some estimates date them at between 5000-9000 years old. Some of the more recent ones portray hunting scenes, but our favourites are the really old ones of spooky spiritual figures. None of the experts have ever really agreed on how to interpret these ones. But, I like to imagine them dancing in the flickering light of a fire and scaring the crap out of the kids to teach them a lesson.
What is truly impressive is the size of these paintings.
Utah was absolutely awesome and we both wish we had more time there. But we had places to be and people to see so it was time to move on.
A real pleasant surprise for us was camping out in the Kaibab National Forest. We had no idea that the Grand Canyon was surrounded by such dense forests of ponderosa pine and quaking aspen and grassy meadows filled with grazing deer.
And the best part, you can pull off the highway almost anywhere and go exploring on all the dirt roads until you find the perfect campsite… totally free.
We camped out here for a few days while we waited for our permits for hiking in the canyon.
We were there at the perfect time of year to see all the aspen as they changed colour. It’s easy to forget that the north rim of the canyon is at about 9,000ft (2,800m) elevation. So at this time of year it was actually really cold up there and we needed all our sleeping bags and blankets to stay warm in the van… and a good camp fire of course.
After our hike we followed a tip from a guy on the shuttle bus and found a beautiful spot to camp right on the rim of the canyon. We got out there after dark, and awoke to see this…