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Utah’s spectacular (& crowded) national parks

Quail Creek State Park, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Torrey

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Quite frankly, even at the risk of being very unfair to the state of Nevada, there’s nothing else we did there beyond visiting Las Vegas. And interestingly enough, the nice and interesting landscapes started just after we passed the borderline to Arizona (just for a couple of miles) and then shortly after to Utah.
We had a base plan in regards to where to stay overnight. Freecampsites.net features a nice place just before the entrance to Zion National Park and that’s where we wanted to go. After all, it was Saturday in the middle of vacation season and consequently all reservation campgrounds in the National Park were full and the recommendation for getting a first come – first serve campground was to be there between 5 and 6am: so clearly not an option for us.
As usual, we took opportunities as they came along and wanted to try our luck at a KOA campground close to St. George. On the way there, we passed a Quail Creek State Park and realized that it was beautifully located next to a lake and had nice shaded tables at all campsites. So we tried our luck and could hardly believe it that a) there were still spaces available and b) the single electrical hook up site was still available as well. Great – this way we’d be able to have our air-con running in the can tonight such that temperatures will be bearable.

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After a dip in the lake, Sam impressed me with some great car fixing. He installed the pieces for the doors we had ordered to the KOA in Las Vegas using his small, but flexible tool kit. And now our side door works again – hooray!

The next day, we were quite positively surprised that we still got a campsite at Zion National Park’s South campground. Lucky us… So we immediately reserved for two nights, set up camp and then headed off to explore the Visitor Center and the Pa’rus Trail. Given the heat we eventually took a right turn down to the Virgin River where we spent the rest of the day hanging out in and around the water.
In the evening we invited Ralf, a German motorbiker who moved to the US already years ago after winning a green-card in the lottery. It proved to be an excellent decision to invite him to join us on our site – he has travelled pretty much all of the western states of the US and Canada and was happy to share lots of tips and recommendations with us. So with his help, we were able to get a feeling what to see and visit specifically on our way from Moab to Yellowstone and then onwards from there to Seattle / Vancouver.
The next day was dedicated to exploring the Zion valley. The views of the sheer rock faces to both sides of the valley were really impressive. But less impressive were the masses of people being shuttled by bus from one viewpoint to the next. We chose the Riverside Walk that is leading to the Narrows – a walk that I had hiked already some 23 years ago. And either my memory was playing tricks on me or something about it was different this time. But while I clearly recall other people taking the hike and then continuing onwards through the river (which back then impressed me very, very much), this time it felt that we were walking the streets of a busy city – that’s how crowded it was. Unfortunately not much fun. And even though we might have found a bit more solitude on some other walks, by the time we got back to the shuttle bus, we rather wanted to just get out of the masses and back to our nice campground and eventually to a spot in the river to cool off.

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On our way out of the park in the next morning we got to see some nice vistas of the valley from above. And while very different from the valley floor, we really liked the landscape up there very much. We would have loved to go for the Valley Overview Trail, but due to lack of parking spots and enormous traffic in that location, there was simply no chance at all to do it.

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Thus we continued our journey through some absolutely nice landscapes towards Bryce Canyon. On our way we could not resist the temptation to stop at a German Bakery to get a loaf of ‘real’ German bread – the price was outrageous by German standards, but the taste was absolutely worth it.
Eventually we passed Red Canyon which featured stunning colors even in the midday sun. Soon after we reached Bryce Canyon and once again were lucky to still get a campground in early afternoon. But as soon as the spot was secured, it was time to explore the sights of the national park.

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Unfortunately, some clouds had formed, bringing not only a bit of rain, but also thunderstorms.
Before heading to the main and most popular viewpoints, we took the scenic route to the southern end of the park at Rainbow Point. All of us were freezing and were simply not used to not seeing the sun and getting wet – after all had seen our last 30 min episode of trickly rain in La Paz, Mexico and the last real rain back at Mesa Verde in mid-May.

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By the time we worked our way up again towards Inspiration Point, on the of the main viewpoints in the park, the sun was out again and we got to the probably the best view the park has to offer in perfect light and at pleasant temperatures again.

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Given that our campground was very close to Inspiration Point, we took another hike there later towards sunset and were there just in time for perfect light.

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The other big asset of Bryce Canyon next to its spectacular ‘hoodoos’ – that’s how the columns in the park are called – is the clear and dark nightly sky. Sam took a shot at trying to get some shots of the milky way to match the ones he had taken back in Mexico. He was very pleased with the results and to his big pride even managed to catch a shooting star in one of the pictures.

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The next morning was dedicated to driving along the Scenic Byway 12. And yes, it was very scenic giving lots of reasons to stop and take pictures. We specifically liked the views of the Staircase Escalante – a very remote wilderness.
We had planned to go all the way to Capitol Reef National Park and therefore did not take any of the many detours the Scenic Byway had on offer. And given all the switchbacks and curves along the way we did not nearly progress as fast as we had anticipated. So eventually after a stop in Bicknell to get a car part exchanged and our parking brake adjusted on the van, we resorted to stay in Torrey for the night. After a couple of days in national park campgrounds it was time again for a proper shower and we looked forward to having some wifi (which was in vain, as it did not really work). Still, the facilities with pool, basketball court and a large area for kids to play ballgames was worth the investment.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in USA Tagged rain lake valley wilderness crowd zion thunder bryce escalante viewpoint Comments (1)

The sacred island

Raiatea

sunny 28 °C
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It had just been a 15 min flight from Bora Bora to Raiatea and before we realized it, we were landing again. Our baggage arrived promptly – an advantage of tiny airports. Andrew, the owner of the Manava Lodge, picked us up at the airport. He kindly offered to make a stop at the local supermarket to stock up our supplies for the next couple of days. We had booked a bungalow with outdoor kitchen and nice private terrace surrounded by a tropical garden – an excellent choice. We immediately felt at home.

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The next morning, we had an early start. Andrew’s wife Roselyne took Max and me to the airport where at 8:20 the flight from Maupiti was scheduled to arrive. And soon enough we had again the bag that we had lost in Maupiti which had contained almost all of Max' toys. Lucky us!
We decided to take it easy and just did a short excursion to the Vairua pearl farm at the adjacent beach. The owner patiently explained to us how the two-year-old oysters are opened and a small piece of mantle tissue from another oyster together with a spherical bead (which is called a 'graft') are inserted in the pearl and then kept at eight to ten meters’ depth for around 18 months, when they will be collected. By then about 80% of the oysters will have grown a pearl inside. Very interesting. But with the antibiotics and surgical instruments used in the process, we were reminded a bit of a dentist.

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The rest of the day, we spent at our terrace and at the pool. While Max played football with the local kids, Sam prepared the fresh tuna we had bought in the morning in the typical Tahitian way, i.e. raw with coconut milk. And as a desert we had a fresh coconut that just fell down from one of the trees around our bungalow. Excellent!

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It is nice to enjoy now, what was still just theory back in February, when I had been sitting in front of the chimney in cold Germany, plotting out on which islands there were nice and affordable accommodations, checked availability, matched that to available flights and booked it all. That was my way of insuring that we get the best value for money while staying in rather expensive destinations. Due to that pre-work, we’re currently having the luxury of knowing where to stay each night until November 7. The downside is that after once we’ll reach Australia that day we have nothing at all so far except a very rough idea of what we’d like to do. And so we spent a bit of time that evening, plotting out the ideas and sending the first inquiries about transportation options which will then be the base for arranging everything else around it.
We woke up the next morning with the plan to have breakfast and a hike to the nearby three cascades. While Sam stuck to the plan, I stayed home with Max such that he could enjoy playing with Abel again. After all, he had not had the chance to intensively play with other kids since we left Canmore four weeks earlier. And Max and Abel had so much fun!

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Sam enjoyed his hike very much. With the help of locals, he found the narrow pathway up along a small river, passed through dense jungle like forest and got rewarded with a nice waterfall at the end.

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With Max being busy and not requiring hardly any attention and Sam hiking, I used the opportunity to take care of the blog. As Sam had supplied me with lots of pictures in the last couple of days, I published the sixth blog post within ten days. While this is a new record, it is also a sign that we had been quite behind. We still are behind, but nearly as much anymore.
The remainder of the day, we spent once more at the pool before heading back to our bungalow to have dinner. That evening Sam’s tripod came into action again: first he tried to take pictures of the many crabs in the garden around us, of the geckos above our terrace and then headed to the sea to take pictures of the full moon raising above the island of Huahine in the East.

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And then it was time to explore the island. We rented a car for the day and did the tour of the island. Our first stop was at a temple, called Marae Taputapuatea. It is one of the most important temples in Polynesia, marking the center point between New Zealand, the Easter Islands and Hawaii. Only the stone structures remain to this date, but previously there would have been all kinds of wooden structures as well, ceremonial houses, living quarters and huts to store the war canoes.

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We were easily able to resist the temptation to bathe in a river together with the famous and sacred blue-eyed eels and opted instead for snorkeling in the lagoon. As it was Sunday, there were also quite a couple of locals around and we were able to do some people watching.

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The remainder of the drive around the island was nice as well. We enjoyed alternating vistas of the lagoon and the mountains covered in lush and dense tropical forest.

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Once we were back home, all of us were more than keen to jump into the pool to cool off a bit. Max played with Abel again and the two had lots of fun together.
After that much excitement and lots of sun, we had a quiet and relaxing evening. We simply enjoyed sitting on our nice and comfortable terrace.
On our last day in Raiatea we wanted to do some hiking and climb mount Tapioi above the island’s main town of Uturoa. Along the way we got to see a lot of the local fauna in their natural habitat and we even passed a vanilla plantation.

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From the viewpoint up there, we had an excellent view of all of the Leeward Islands we’d be visiting: Maupiti, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Huahine. In addition, we saw Raiatea’s sister island Taha'a which is well known for its vanilla production, but which we skipped on our journey.

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Back in town, we stocked up our water and cash supplies before hitchhiking back to our pension. Already the first driver stopped and was kind enough to take us all the way there even though this meant a detour on his way home. Wow!
As we were home earlier than expected, we had the whole afternoon to spend in and around the pool until Roselyne took us to the airport for our flight to Huahine.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 06:39 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged temple mountain car island waterfall farm tour snorkeling pearl viewpoint Comments (1)

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