Bandelier National Monument – Fun Pueblo Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico!

May 2017 – A priceless jewel of antiquity lies just west and north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, not far from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It is the classic ancient pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument.

Ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument is a “hands-on” (actually “feet-on”) kind of place!

We’ve visited lots of cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins over the years at Tonto, Wupatki and Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Aztec Ruins in New Mexico, but the glimpses of the past and the evidence of the ancients’ ingenuity at Bandelier National Monument makes this place my personal favorite so far.

One of the most wonderful aspects of Bandelier National Monument is that the National Park Service has installed lots of replicas of pueblo ladders for visitors to use so they can get a closer look inside!

Ladder climb Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

We loved climbing up and down the ladders
to peek into the cliff dwellings.

The Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 1150 and 1550 AD. They lived not only in the caves in the cliff walls but also in adobe brick dwellings. A large group of buildings very similar to those at Aztec Ruins National Monument fills a field and is called Tyuonyi Village. Other adobe brick buildings were built as extensions off the cliff dwellings in the cliff walls.

Rebuilt cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Ancestral Puebloans took advantage of the huge bubbles in the volcanic rock,
building out from there with adobe brick.

Adolph Bandelier first saw the ruins in 1880. Then, in the early 1930’s, CCC workers created a huge camp to house themselves as they set about stabilizing and reconstructing the ruins. A reconstructed “Talus House” has been rebuilt and was easy to see as we passed it on the Main Loop Trail.

Renovated cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

This reconstructed building is what all the buildings looked like at one time.

Bandelier National Monument is so popular that visitors arriving during the prime daytime hours between mid-May and mid-October must take a free shuttle bus into the park. The free Atomic City Transit bus picks people up in nearby Los Alamos, home of the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940’s.

We wanted to see the ruins without the bus crowds, however, so we were at the gate with our truck when they first opened, before they close the parking lot to private cars. We ran out on the trail and discovered to our delight that we were the only people there.

Ladder to cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Being at the ruins in the quiet morning air was fabulous. We scampered up and down the ladders in sheer delight.

Climbing ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Going for a peek inside!

The astonishing highlight of the Main Loop trail is the very long Long House. This is a huge expanse of sheer rock cliff that has dozens of indents and holes in it where the Ancestral Puebloan people anchored their homes.

The Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is a series of apartments that were built to butt up against the sheer cliff walls with adobe brick construction extending out from there.

The cliffs are part of the Jemez Volcanic field, and the bubbly nature of the cooling lava is readily apparent with thousands of one- or two-person sized holes and crevices lining the stone.

Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Each indent is the end of a room. Holes bored in the rock supported tree trunk beams
that were floor joists and roof trusses.

The ancients used these holes — and carved others — as rooms or as ends of rooms. They also bored holes in the cliffs to support the ends of wooden beams. These beams supported ceilings and floors and second and third story rooms.

Ancient pueblo Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What amazed me as I looked a little closer at these ruins along the cliff face was that these people of 500 to 900 years ago took the time and had the inclination and ingenuity to decorate their interior walls.

They kind of plastered the walls and impregnated them with colors. The cracked and faded “plaster” is readily visible today.

Cliff holes for timer ceilings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Dozens of rooms are lined up along the cliffs. The structures were two and three stories tall.

They also created rectangular holes in the cliffs, perhaps for storage purposes.

Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A kind of colored “plaster” decorated the interior walls.

I was really taken by this idea that the ancient puebloans decorated their walls.

Pueblo fresco wall art Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The “fresco” walls are peeling but are clearly visible.

Some of the indents in the cliffs were deeper than others, and many seemed to have been decorated with a kind of wainscotting. The plaster on the lower half of those walls had been painted, while the upper half of the walls and roof were black from soot and smoke from their household fires.

Pueblo architecture Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some walls had a kind of wainscotting with the lower half decorated in colored “plaster” and the upper half black from soot. A bullseye petroglyph adorns the wall of top floor.

Wall fresco Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A closer look at the “wainscotting.”

One of the indents was decorated with an artistic gemoetric pattern. The National Park Service has black and white photos of this wall from years ago where a ranger was pointing it out to visitors, right up close.

Now visitors have to stand far back from the cliff wall and the decocrative pattern is covered with a protective covering so it doesn’t vanish too quickly in the elements.

Fresco art pattern Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

One wall with a particularly vivid pattern is protected from the elements.

The Long House goes on for a very long distance with room after room lined up along the cliff face. It seems that the adobe brick structures that fronted these back walls extended out about two room’s width from the cliff wall, and the buildings were generally two or three stories tall too.

Ancestral Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is very long and the trail wanders alongside it.

Holes in rock walls Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some holes, or caves, are natural but others are rectangular and very obviously man-made.

We saw only two petroglyphs, but there are probably more. A bull’s-eye was pecked out of the cliffs in an upper story in one area, and an unrecognizable animal was pecked out high up in another.

Petroglyph rock art Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some strange animal…

Eventually, leaving the Long House behind, the Main Loop trail took us through a ponderosa pine tree studded woodsy area. Pretty wildflowers looked up at us.

Wildflower Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Then we arrived at Alcove House, a massive natural cave that lies high up on the cliffs. The ancients must have used ladders to get up to this cave, and the National Park Service has placed ladders leading up to it for us modern visitors to use.

Alcove House ladders and cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Alcove House is reached by two very long ladders and a third shorter ladder.

Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What a climb!

Long ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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The Alcove House cave is huge and may have housed all kinds of rooms and other things. There are remnants of a circular kiva which has been restored but can’t be entered.

Alcove House Cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The cave at Alcove House is very deep and must have offered great natural protection.

We liked the two person-sized openings that went into very small closet-like rooms!

Storage rooms in cave at Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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After getting our fill of these ruins (for one day), we returned to the visitors center where we saw a very cool RV parked in the parking lot. It had animal tracks painted on one side and Chinese letters on the other and sported a German flag by the door.

Ironically, as I write this post a month later, we saw the exact same rig parked in Custer, South Dakota, earlier today. It is a small world!

Unusual rugged RV

Back at the Visitors Center we saw this unusual rig…and then saw it again a month later 700 miles away!

Another day we ventured out to Bandelier National Monument’s waterfall which lies at the end of the mile-and-a-half long Falls Trail.

Waterfall Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A beautiful waterfall is the reward at the end of the Falls Trail.

There are ancient ruins all over America’s southwest, and various groups of modern day Native Americans believe they are descended from certain ancient cultures in different locations.

Interestingly, the modern Pueblo Indians who claim descent from the ancient people who built the Long House and Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument are the Cochiti Puebloans who live a ways away near Cochiti Lake and Tent Rocks.

The modern Pueblo Indians who live closest to Bandelier National Monument, the San Ildefonso Puebloan people, claim descent from the unexcavated ruins that lie just outside Bandelier at Tsankawai Ruins.

The hike through Tsankawai Ruins began with a ladder climb as well, but it was totally different in nature because the ruins don’t back up to a massive cliff face and they are hard to spot on the grassy plateau since they haven’t been dug up yet.

Tsankawai hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A ladder at the beginning of the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

Unlike all ancient archaeological sites where the ruins have been studied, thoroughly excavated, stabilized and rebuilt, the Tsankawai Ruins site is an explorer’s dream because some artifacts are still lying around.

I was shocked when Mark pointed to a rock that had some pottery shards lying on it. It didn’t take long for us to find a few others in the grass and dirt nearby.

Obviously, we left them in place so the next visitors could enjoy the same surprise as we did, but how fabulous it was to see the finely painted decorations on these centuries old bits of pottery.

Pottery Shards Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Painted pottery shards on the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

The Tsankawai Loop trail can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise, and we chose to go in the clockwise direction (taking a left at “Loop Trail” sign). After crossing a high plateau where the ancient ruins lie sunken into the dirt, the trail seemed to end. After a little scouting over the edge Mark noticed a ladder going down, so down we went.

I wonder how many people simply turn around at that point not knowing the trail continues down the well obscured ladder! Going in the counter clockwise direction, this ladder would be very obvious as the trail leads right to its base.

Tsankawai Ruins hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We skirted along the edge of a sloping hillside with wonderful views to one side, and rounded a bend to find some petroglyphs on a rock wall next to us.

Except for a spiral, the imagery was nothing like other petroglyphs we have seen elsewhere.

Petroglyphs Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We continued on and were absolutely floored by the many very narrow foot trails that have been carved into the rock.

Hiking the Narrow Carved Trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Tsankawai Ruins Trail includes some very cool skinny and curvy paths.

These were very clearly man-made and not the work of water or wind. But they weren’t made by the National Park Service either!

Skinny groove trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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In another spot, we looked up along the rounded rock hills and noticed a little staircase that had been carved out of the rock.

How ingenious of the ancients to make these trails and staircases, and what a wonderful way for us to be transported back to a time centuries ago.

Strange stairway Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

In the footprints of the ancients…

If you are traveling in New Mexico with your RV — or if you find yourself anywhere near this area without an RV! — Bandelier National Monument is a true jewel that is well worth visiting.

For the Main Loop Trail to the Long House and Alcove House, be sure to get there early on a weekday if you want to see the ruins without the crowds. The Falls Trail and Tsankawai Ruins are much less visited.

More links and info below…

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Tent Rocks National Monument (Kasha-Katuwe) – Hiking Slots & Spires!

May 2017 – While casting about for beautiful places to visit in New Mexico, I came across some images from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe. Unusual looking, perfectly conical rock peaks stood side by side against the sky. We just had to go check it out!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

A photo op with a “tent rock” (but this one isn’t real, lol!) .

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a small park between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a 230 mile drive to take our RV there from Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Spires Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the hike.

This is an extremely popular National Monument with loads of visitors coming out on weekends from nearby Santa Fe to hike the fun trail that goes through a slot canyon and emerges on a plateau with a great view. So, we were told that arriving at the tiny parking area before 9:00 am during the peak seasons of spring and fall is a really good idea or they won’t let you in!

Beginning Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the slot canyon.

The hike is an out-and-back trail that starts easily enough by wandering in and around the bases of many unusual and towering rock peaks. But it is the slot canyon that is the most fun!

Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Slot canyons can look a little claustrophobia inducing in photos where hikers are slithering between towering rock walls.

Hiking Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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But they are loads of fun, and you don’t feel particularly confined because the walls often spread apart as they rise up on either side, or they open up completely, and there’s a clear view of the sky up above.

Hiking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon

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Sharing a narrow slot canyon with crowds of weekend hikers can be a crazy experience. Lots of families were out on the trail with us that beautiful May morning, even though we had started early. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and it seemed that everyone had decided to take Mom out for a hike to celebrate!

Crowded Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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In some places the slot canyon got really skinny and it was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type of hiking. But in other places it widened a little and we made our way between large rocks that were strewn in the trail.

Slot Canyon Hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico RV trip

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The undulating walls of the slot canyon made beautiful shapes.

Slot canyon Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Once we got through the slot, the hike started to head dramatically uphill. Family after family came down past us, and all of them said the view up top was well worth the climb.

Busy hiking trail Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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As we ascended the trail, the “tent rocks” filled the view alongside us.

Tent Rocks Selfie Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The trail was a bit of a scramble here and there, and as we got higher the tent rocks got a little lower.

Spires at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Finally we were near the top of the trail looking down at the unique conically shaped tent rocks.

Overlook Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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I don’t recall seeing a collection of stone cones like this before. What cool rock formations these are!

Closeup Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The trail goes out on a long “peninsula” that offers a view back towards the tents.

View from the top Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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It was a perfect place to grab a quick selfie.

Selfie at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Spring was busy springing all around us. We saw Indian paintbrush flowers at our feet and lots of cacti had big vibrant flowers on display.

Indian Paintbrush flowers

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Cactus flower

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Cactus Flower

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Some folks came prepared to enjoy the view for a while. Tucked behind one tree we saw a fellow uncorking a bottle of wine, and moments later his wife — the Mom and guest of honor — was sipping a glass of wine in the shade, enjoying the spectacular surroundings!

A picnic and wine at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Heading back down the way we came, the tent rocks slowly began to rise up around us.

The Tents at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Mark got a kick out of playing Atlas under a huge tree that had fallen across the trail, pretending to hold it up for folks that passed by.

Holding up a log at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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And then we were back in the very cool slot.

Skinny slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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By now it was midday and the trail was getting very crowded. Logjams formed in the trail as people took turns traversing the skinniest parts. It made me think of the traffic jams that were going on up on Mt. Everest at about the same time as hikers from around the world converged on the mountain in valiant efforts to make it to the summit.

Crowds on slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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But if we hung back and waited for the crowds to pass, we were still able to find quiet times where we had certain curves in this beautiful slot canyon all to ourselves.

Hike the slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Hike Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon

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Hiking the slot canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Near the end of the trail we passed the most fabulous ponderosa pine that was perched high above its very cool exposed roots.

Ponderosa Pine tree and roots in kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The next day we returned to do the other hike that forks off the Tent Rocks trail and goes to a cave. This was a short and easy hike, although the cave was surprisingly small and not nearly as exciting as the tent rocks and slot canyon!

The Cave Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The Cave.

The tent rocks, however, were very cool and well worth seeing. Just be sure to get there early because the tiny parking lot fills up fast. Also, only the shortest truck campers, Class C’s and vans fit in the lot.

Nearby Cochiti Campground is a nice place to stay.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at sunset

Sunset at Cochiti Campground.

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Aztec Ruins National Monument – Whispers from the Ancients in New Mexico!

May 2017 – After spending some quality time with the alien eggs at Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, we took our RV about 50 miles north to Aztec Ruins National Monument near Farmington, New Mexico. We’ve visited a lot of ancient Indian ruins over the years, but this site was astonishing because of its sheer size.

Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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The “Aztec” ruins are not Aztec at all. Those people were way down south in today’s Mexico City. The name was given by early discoverers of the New Mexico site who may or may not have known better.

These ruins were actually built by the Ancestral Puebloan people about 900 years ago.

This particular site is startling because it contains as many as 400 rooms! Most of the rooms are square or rectangular and abut each other, however there are quite a few circular structures too, some of which are thought to have been ceremonial.

Aztec Ruins National Monument Map

The layout of the many rooms at Aztec Ruins National Monument

The first thing we saw as we entered Aztec Ruins National Monument was the Great Kiva, a large round structure that has been stabilized and renovated several times since the 1930’s.

Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

The Great Kiva has been stabilized and renovated several times.

It is now a very modern feeling building, and as we walked through it Indian sounding music played softly in the background to give the place a certain air.

Inside the Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

Inside the Great Kiva. Indian music was playing as we walked through.

Ceiling of Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

The ceiling in the Great Kiva.

After walking through the Great Kiva we passed several more round structures.

Ceremonial circle Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

There were several circular structures. Some were ball courts.

Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Aztec Ruins National Monument is called a “Great House,” and when it was first discovered several of the rooms had quite a bit of pottery in them as well as grain. It is thought that some people lived here beacuse there is evidence of smoke from fires in some of the rooms. But it is also thought that it was a ceremonial gathering place.

Round walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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As we walked through the rooms, we passed through a “T” shaped doorway. This reminded me of the “T” shaped windows we saw in the Mayan ruins in Palenque in southern Mexico and the “T” shaped doorways we saw in the ancient Khmer ruins in Cambodia (I haven’t posted those pics yet).

Rooms in Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

A T-shaped doorway.

T-shaped doorway Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Although the ancient Khmer people were building Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Cambodia at about the same time the Ancestral Puebloans were building this site and many others in the American Southwest, the Mayan structures in southern Mexico actually pre-dated them by about six hundred years.

Walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Even though these ruins are not on a scale of complexity or size that is anywhere near those in Cambodia or southern Mexico, it is still fascinating to walk from room to room and contemplate what life might have been like back when it was being built and occupied.

Window and room at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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This stuff definitely gives me a thrill, but Mark doesn’t get quite as excited about it.

We both had to laugh as we remembered visiting exotic Monte Alban outside Oaxaca Mexico when I wondered out loud about the communities that had lived there and the succession of builders who had created the mammoth temples.

I mused that first there were the Zapotecs, and then the Mixtecs, and later the Aztecs… after which Mark had joked that next came the Discotecs followed by the Village People.

Double windows at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Stone walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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I love traveling because it allows us to share a moment in time with people from all over the place who are living in the same world but have very different backgrounds and histories than ours. By the same token, I love seeing ancient ruins because they allow us to share a place, if not a moment in time, with a culture and group of people who stood in the exact same spot many centuries ago.

Ironically, we also share the spot with all the discoverers and archaeologists who have examined these same ruins in the light of their own cultures and personal histories, whether it was the mid-1800’s when “Aztec Ruins” was first uncovered, or the 1930’s when it was studied yet again, or today.

If only the walls could talk.

Walls and grass at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Overgrown walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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I always find it kind of amusing, though, that so many aspects of ancient cultures get attributed to ceremony and spiritual beliefs. It sometimes seems as if the archaeologists believe that ancient people lived largely in the spiritual realm and not so much in the here and now.

A work camper at Tonto National Monument surprised me when she mentioned that a modern archaeologist was pursuing a line of thinking that much of the exquisite pottery that was created by the Ancestral Puebloans throughout the Southwest was actually made just for trading purposes. She said the thought was that perhaps the pottery was manufactured in large quantities, and stockpiled, and warehoused for distribution. Apparently there is evidence in many ancient sites from the American Southwest on down into Mexico that this could have been the case.

I love this idea because it gives the ancient people a kind of sophistication and practicality and accessibility to our own culture that is often absent when everything they built or pecked out of rock walls is seen solely through the lens of ceremonial spirituality.

Brick wall construction Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Rooms and walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Back in 4th Grade, I remember my teacher reading a document to our class about a very strange group of people who had extraordinary ceremonial body grooming customs that they performed on a daily basis in a very special shrine they found in every home. They were the Nacirema People.

Low doorways Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Log beam at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Our class was studying ancient Greece, and our teacher wanted show us the challenges that archaeologists and anthropologists face as they study various cultures both current and ancient.

As she read this anthropological study to the class (link below), the Nacirema seemed very odd. They had a very involved “mouth-rite” that they performed daily because of a strongly held belief that if they didn’t do this ritual their teeth would fall out.

As we listened to our teacher we kind of shrugged because we saw weird stuff like that on National Geographic shows on TV fairly often. It seemed perfectly believable.

Walls with doors at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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Original ceiling beams Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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She read to us about the Medicine Men who would visit certain members of the Nacirema tribe who spent all day lying in beds in a special temple called a latipsoh, and she read to us about a very painful ritual where the Medicine Man jabbed tribal members in their arms with a needle.

We also learned about the unusual witch doctors who were “listeners” that encouraged tribal members to pour out all their woes, going back to early childhood.

It was only as our teacher got near the end of the document that a few brighter buttons in the class began to snicker. I wasn’t one of them.

Series of doorways Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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When our teacher finished reading to us, she stood up and put the word “Nacirema” on the blackboard, writing it from right to left. Then she put up the word “latipsoh” and wrote it from right to left as well.

The light bulb suddenly went on for the whole class, and we were all in stitches. She read the whole essay a second time and we were all doubled over in laughter throughout.

Ever since then, I’ve been a little skeptical about attributing too much spirituality and religious ceremony to the various relics that the ancients left behind!

Looking at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

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No matter what the fabulous buildings at Aztec Ruins National Monument were used for — whether it was housing, product warehousing, or spiritual gatherings — it is a terrific site that evokes a thousand questions and answers very few.

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Canyon de Chelly – Breathtaking Views Under Vibrant Skies

April 2017 – We left the wondrous Petrified Forest National Park with its incredible hikes and nearby Route 66 nostalgia and headed due north from Holbrook, Arizona, on Route 77 towards Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Route 77 in the Navajo Nation Arizona

Wide open lands on Route 77 in the Navajo Nation, Arizona

This interesting (although occasionally bumpy) rural road goes through the vast Navajo Nation. We were mesmerized by the classic southwestern vistas that filled our views for the first twenty miles or so. My long lens was in the trailer (sigh), so I didn’t get good shots of the amazing rock formations we passed.

A few years back we made a similar trek on the parallel Indian Route 12 and really enjoyed it. So, again, we decided to forego the more major highway (US Route 191) and take another scenic route instead.

Little did we know it was going to snow on us as we got into the higher elevations!

Snow on road Navajo Nation Arizona

When we climbed from 5,000′ to 6,500′ elevation, we got a spring snow storm!

This was our third trip to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon d’Shay), but like all of the National Parks and National Monuments, there always seems to be something new to see.

In past visits we explored the overlooks along the northern scenic rim road through the park and hiked to the jaw-dropping White House Ruin. So, this time we decided to explore a few spots along the southern rim road.

Tunnel Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Tunnel Overlook, Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is a massive canyon formed by uplifts and the relentless flow of water, and today the sheer red rock canyon walls tower 700 feet above the lush green valley floor.

Far below us we saw trucks bashing through the water from recent rains.

Tsegi Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Tsegi Overlook.

The only way to see the valley of the canyon is to take a private guided tour offered by the Navajo who live on the reservation that surrounds Canyon de Chelly National Monument. However, the North and South Rim Drives are open to everyone to enjoy for free without a paid guide.

Car driving in wash at Tsegi Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

The only way to get into Canyon de Chelly is on one hiking trail (White House Trail) or on a commercial tour.

As we zipped in and out of the overlooks, the skies began to brood…

Tsegi Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument RV trip Arizona

The clouds were moving fast at Tsegi overlook.

…and the red rock cliffs seemed to swirl around each other in fabulously exotic shapes.

Junction Overlook Canyon de Chelly South Rim Road Overlook Arizona

The rocks formed beautiful shapes that were so much fun to climb on.

Sliding House Ruin Overlook at Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Sliding House Ruin Overlook

Eventually, we made our way to Spider Rock Overlook, one of the iconic images of Canyon de Chelly. We reached the overlook right at the golden hour before sunset when the rock itself was lit in rich burnt orange hues.

Spider Rock overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Spider Rock.

The day had been very cloudy and windy, but as if by magic, right as the sun began to set, we were blessed with the most astonishing display of colors in the sky.

Sunset spider rock Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

As the golden light faded on Spider Rock and the red rock cliffs, the sky began a light show of its own.

We each ran back and forth on the rim, unsure where to get the best views and which part of the sky would light up next.

Sunset at Spider overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Mark lines up his shot on the next rock outcropping (upper right corner).

Spider rock lost its glow but the fire in the heavens was just getting started.

Spider Rock sunset Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona RV trip

Sunset’s brilliant display begins at Spider Rock.

Once the drama had played itself out in shades of orange, the skies turned vivid pink.

Pink sunset Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

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The light show intensified and our two-way radios crackled as we called each other from opposite ends of the overlook.

“Did you see THAT??!!”

Colorful sunset Spider Rock overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

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That sunset was breathtaking, but when morning came the next day and we ventured back out on the south rim drive, the drama in the sky was gone. We returned to Sliding House Ruin overlook because there is such a huge area to prowl around there, and looking down into Canyon de Chelly was as astonishing as ever.

Valley at Sliding House Ruin Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Sliding House Ruin Overlook.

At Sliding House Ruin overlook there are endless stretches of flat and undulating boulders that head out in all directions on a promontory. Before we knew it, we had been there for hours running around on the tops of these cliffs and peering down into the tree-filled valleys below.

Of course, if you get too close to the edge in a place like this, it’s all over. A sign near the rim was a good reminder!

Sheer cliff warning sign Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

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Red rock cliffs and green valley floor Sliding House Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

It’s a long way down…but what a view!

When I finally had gotten my fill of staring at the immense views in front of me, I glanced down at my feet and was taken with the rich hues and artistic patterns of the colorful lichen that was growing in and around the creases in the rocks.

Nature's artwork Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Nature’s artwork on the rocks.

Standing back and surveying the vast flat lichen covered boulders that stretched in all directions around me, I felt like I was looking at a modern art painting. Perhaps this is where Jackson Pollack got his inspiration!

Lichen on red rocks Jackson Pollack painting Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Jackson Pollack — Or colorful lichen on red rocks?

A little movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to see a lizard scampering past. He stopped and stared at me as I snuck closer and clicked my camera’s shutter.

Lizard Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

A lizard looks over at me as he runs by.

The spring wildflowers had started blooming, and Mark found a beautiful bouquet of Indian Paintbrush flowers.

Indian Paintbrush Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

A dash of scarlet…

We stuck around and soon the sun was sinking low in the sky, and the shadows were growing long and deep.

Shadows at sunset Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

Long shadows made for a surprise selfie at Sliding House Overlook.

The clear sky meant there were no colorful theatrics in the sky for our sunset at Sliding House overlook, but the sun gave me a coy wink for a split second before it slipped out of sight.

Starburst sunset Sliding House Ruin Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

A fleeting starburst at sunset…

It was hard to set the alarm for a pre-dawn hour the next day, but we bundled into our truck with hot tea and coffee in hand and drove out to Sliding House overlook once again where Mark caught the sun giving us a wink on its way up.

Sunrise Sliding House Ruin Overlook Canyon de Chelly National Monument Arizona

…and another at dawn.

Canyon de Chelly is a special place deep in the heart of the immense Navajo reservation. There is a dry camping campground in the town of Chinle that is run by the Navajo, and a few sites are big enough for a big RV.

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Petrified Forest National Park RV Trip – Magic in Jasper Forest

April 2017 – One of the highlights on Route 66 is the Petrified Forest National Park where the enormous trunks of 200 million year old trees have turned to stone.

Photography at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

The solid stone tree stumps at Petrified Forest National Park are truly impressive!

We have been to Petrified Forest National Park twice before, but it was on this trip that we finally found the true magic there.

Stumps Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

Those tree stumps are solid rock, through and through!

We knew that the best way to see Petrified Forest National Park, like all the National Parks, is to get out on the hiking trails away from the crowds.

Jasper Forest petrified logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

We loved seeing how the logs split over millenia, due to the pressures of moisture and ice,
and revealing the tree rings — still perfectly intact — inside.

But it wasn’t until this visit that we discovered which hiking trails are the most stunning.

Logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

Was the woodsman just here with his ax?

On our first foray into the Park on this trip we explored the area called Crystal Forest.

Logs Petrified Forest National Park Crystal Forest

The logs were scattered everywhere. But there wasn’t a living tree to be seen anywhere!

In every direction we saw the enormous trunks of trees that had been growing millions of years ago.

These trees had toppled over during torrential rains millenia ago, and had floated downstream only to end up in a deep and muddy logjam where they slowly and very gradually crystallized.

Over time, the pressure of moisture and ice within the logs broke them into segments.

Out on the vast treeless plain, we saw countless tree trunks that looked like a lumberjack had just sliced them up with a chainsaw in preparation for splitting them into firewood!

Petrified log Petrified Forest National Park Crystal Forest

We saw many 50+ foot long logs lying on the grass and split into sections.

Here and there, the stump of a tree trunk stuck up from the ground and looked for all the world like the tree had just been felled.

Wildflowers with petrified wood tree stump Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

A rock and a wildflower.

All the tree rings were perfectly visible in a rainbow of crystalline colors.

Tree rings Petrified Forest National Park Jasper Forest

Brilliantly colored minerals have crystallized the tree rings in this ancient tree.

The logs lay scattered all over the place, and in between were beautiful shards of petrified wood.

Colorful agate Petrified Forest National Park Jasper Forest

There were exquisite shards of rock EVERYWHERE as far as the eye could see in all directions.


Some logs had been split so the tree rings were visible while others had been severed lengthwise showing vertical striations from the interior of the log.

Colorful agate Petrified Forest National Park Jasper Forest-2

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In one area the shards that surrounded the logs look like woodchips. It was as if the lumberjack had just laid down his ax! These pale wood chips were very thin, just like ordinary wood chips, but these slivers of rock tinkled like a bell when dropped on each other!

Petrified wood chips at Petrified Forest National Park Jasper Forest

The light colored “wood chips” on the ground were brittle rock shards that sounded like bells
when they fell on each other.

We had wandered out at the “golden hour” about an hour before sunset, and as the sun sank below the horizon we were blessed with a beautiful sunset over these exotic rocks.

Sunset at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Sunset in Petrified Forest National Park.

Even better than Crystal Forest, however, is Jasper Forest which is just a little further north. The overlook takes in a sweeping view.

Jasper Forest Overlook Petrified Forest National Park Arizon

Jasper Forest overlook has an incredible view — see the logs below? — and the trail to the plain below took us down among thousands of logs.

In the distance, far below the Jasper Forest overlook, boulders and petrified logs intermingled.

Overlook at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Huge waves of eroded rock formations were littered with tumbled boulders and petrified logs.

When we stopped at the Visitors Center to find out where the best collections of petrified wood were in the Park, the ranger took out a large 3-ring binder labeled “Off The Beaten Path Trails.” He took out the trail directions, complete with photos, for a few trails and handed them to us. One set was for Jasper Forest.

Sitting on petrified logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

Down among the petrified logs at Jasper Forest.

The trail directions were a bit confusing, but they are actually very easy:

  • Go to the north end of the Jasper Overlook parking lot and look for a narrow trail heading north from the last parking space in the lot.
  • Follow this trail north and then west onto the wide plain that stretches out below the Jasper Forest overlook.
Petrified logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

Two faces from the same log reveal gorgeous tree rings.

From there you can go in any direction you want, and we quickly ran off in opposite directions!

Log with a knot Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

The “bark” on this 200 million year old log even had a knot in it.

We were there in the harsh light of noon, so even though the rock logs were mind boggling, we knew they would be even more beautiful in the rich light of late afternoon.

Petrified logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

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Petrified wood logs Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

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So, we returned a little later with our cameras, and suddenly the logs came alive in vivid shades.

Petrified tree stump Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Jasper Forest

At the “golden hour” an hour before sunset,
all the logs began to glow.

The skies were darkly overcast but the sun snuck through underneath and cast a brilliant light on all the stone tree logs.

Storm clouds Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Storm clouds darkened the skies while the sun peeked through.

Golden light at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Looking at the tree root ends of the logs — in rich light.

As the sun sank towards the horizon, we were in awe of the beauty around us. We were also frantically running around trying to capture it as best we could while the sun teased us mercilessly!

At one moment the sun would pierce through the clouds and light everything up in bright orange and yellow, and at the next moment it would disappear all together behind the clouds!

Petrified logs at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

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The clouds were flying across the sky, making an ideal opportunity to use long shutter speeds to make them blur dramatically just as the sun set in a starburst.

Sunset at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Drama in the sky above an ancient world of stones.

Wild skies at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

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Dramatic clouds at Jasper Forest Petrified Forest National Park Arizona 2

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Petrified Forest National Park is a great place to go with an RV, and it is surrounded by many of the most spectacular natural wonders of America’s southwest.

RV motorhome in Petrified Forest National Park Crystal Forest

A motorhome passes the Crystal Forest turnoff.

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RV Trip to Zion National Park “West” – Gorgeous Kolob Canyons!

October 2016 – Zion National Park in Utah is one of America’s most beautiful National Parks, and we were loving our RV trip to the main part of the park at Zion Canyon. A side trip to Kolob Canyons at Exit 40 on I-15 took us to a much less visited but equally dramatic area on the west side of the Park.

Kolob Canyons Road Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

Kolob Canyons Road is a spectacular scenic drive.

The stunning scenic drive through the Kolob Canyons region of the park is truly breathtaking.

We had been blown away by the fall foliage season on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado in late September where the aspen trees were cloaked in gold. Autumn comes four or five weeks later in Zion National Park, but the colors in the last days of October were wonderful.

Autumn Foliage Taylor Creek Trail Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

The trees were vivid colors.

As we followed Kolob Canyons Road, Taylor Creek accompanied us. Hardwood trees along the edges of this thin trickle of water were resplendent in their fall colors.

Fall Foliage Taylor Creek Trail Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

Fall foliage was at its peak in late October – Wow!

The red rock scenery was awe-inspiring too, with jagged cliffs towering in front of us and then surrounding us.

Fall Foliage Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

Kolob Canyons

Autumn Leaves Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

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There is no shuttle bus on Kolob Canyons Road, and there is very little traffic, especially in the early morning. We stopped at several pullouts to take a deep breath and savor the incredible views.

Scenic Drive Kolob Canyons Road Zion National Park Utah RV trip

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Kolob Canyons Visitor Center at the beginning of the scenic drive is at about 5,000′ elevation, and Kolob Canyons Road climbs about 1,000 feet to the Kolob Viewpoint at the end, about 5 miles down the road.

In comparison, Zion Canyon is at 4,000′ elevation.

So, there was a delicious mix of evergreens and deciduous hardwood trees that stand out against the red rock backdrop.

Kolob Canyons Red Rock Fall Foliage Zion National Park Utah

Fall foliage and red rocks – yum!

Red Rock Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

Trees perched on outcroppings of the red rock cliffs.

Kolob Canyons is an awesome area for photography, and our cameras were going wild.

Photography Kolob Canyon Road Zion Canyon National Park RV Trip

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Some of the best fall colors seemed to be down along Taylor Creek, so we decided to hike the Taylor Creek Trail to see if we could immerse ourselves a little deeper in the fall foliage.

Taylor Creek Trail Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah RV trip

The Taylor Creek Trail headed right into the fall color.

Taylor Creek Trail was an easy hike that took us under lovely archways of colorful leaves.

 Fall Color Taylor Creek Hike Zion National Park Kolob Canyons

We walked under an arch of autumn color.

We had the trail almost entirely to ourselves as we walked into a wonderland of fall color.

Taylor Creek Trail hike Zion National Park Kolob Canyons

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Because the elevation in Kolob Canyons is slightly higher than in Zion Canyon, late October was the ideal time to see the autumn colors along this creek.

Autumn color Taylor Creek Hike Zion National Park Utah

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Red rocks autumn leaves Zion National Park Kolob Canyons

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Being there at the right time for beautiful colors was a nice surprise, because, over in Zion Canyon we had found we were just a little bit early. The best time for that part of the park is the first week of November.

Fall Color Taylor Creek Trail Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

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Fall Foliage Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

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The red rocks of the surrounding peaks of Kolob Canyons jutted into the brooding sky, adding a wonderful burnt orange to the brilliant shades of the trees around us.

Taylor Creek Hike Zion National Park Kolob Canyons

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We were just having too much fun with our cameras here!

Photography in Fall Colors Zion National Park Utah

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As is always the way when we go on a gorgeous hike with our cameras, we soon got separated as we each scrambled off the trail here and there to explore inviting and hidden spots. Mark found himeself surrounded by maple trees and had fun with their bright red leaves.

Maple Leaf and acorn from Zion Canyon

Fall comes to Zion National Park.

Who knew there were maple leaves in the red rock desert canyons of Southern Utah?!

Colorful autumn leaves Zion National Park Utah

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We spent many hours on Taylor Creek Trail and didn’t even make it to the end of the hike!

Autumn colors Taylor Creek Trail Hike Zion National Park Utah

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Keeping tabs with each with our two-way radios, we finally made our way back to our truck. When I got there I found Mark had put pretty fall leaves all over my seat!

Autumn leaves in a truck

I came back to our truck to find my seat covered with fall leaves — fun!

It is days like this that make our crazy lives in our trailer so special.

Zion National Park RV Trip Kolob Canyons

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For RVers heading to Zion National Park, the one hour drive from Zion Canyon around to the west entrance at Kolob Canyons is really worthwhile. There is a campground on the west side of the park that is designed for tent camping and is suitable for truck campers and very short Class C’s.

Camping Zion National Park Utah

A full moon rises at Zion.

There are links with more info and big rig RV parking ideas below.

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Zion National Park RV Trip – One AWESOME Canyon!

October 2016 – Zion National Park in Utah is filled with towering rock formations that rise up alongside the Virgin River. It’s located in the heart of National Parks country, just 70 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, 70 miles from Cedar Breaks National Monument and 110 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

RV Camping on an RV trip to Zion National Park in Utah

Zion National Park is a fantastic destination for an RV trip

The views in Zion Canyon are utterly breathtaking.

View of Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah RV trip

Zion Canyon view – spectacular!

We had visited Zion National Park before, both in a tent and also with our first full-time RV. But each of those visits had been more of a survey trip than an in depth immersion. This time we took our time exploring.

The Watchman Zion National Park Utah

The Watchman at sunset

There are many ways to enjoy Zion National Park. One of the most fun ways to get an introduction is to walk along the Pa’rus Trail that goes alongside the Virgin River right from the Visitors Center.

Hiking Pa'rus Trail Zion National Park Utah

We walked the Pa’rus Trail and crossed several bridges over the Virgin River

This is a popular trail both for walking (including dog walking) and for riding bikes as well.

Bike Pa'rus Trail Zion National Park Utah

Biking is a great way to get an overview of Zion National Park, especially on the Pa’rus Trail

We took our bikes on it one day and saw some fabulous views.

Bicycling Pa'rus Trail Zion National Park Utah

Cycling the Pa’rus Trail

Biking in Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah

Pa’rus Trail – What a ride!

Rock pinnacles thrust up from the earth on all sides, and the trees were changing colors here and there in the cool October air.

The Watchman Zion National Park Utah

The Watchman in fall color.

We saw some little critters. A bird flitted between the branches of a tree and a ground squirrel paused to have a look at us.

Bird at Zion National Park Utah

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Ground Squirrel Zion National Park Utah

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The main road through the park is the 9 mile long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive which dead ends in the heart of the main canyon. Cars are restricted on much of this road and are forbidden for the last half of it from Spring to Fall, making it absolutely fabulous for a bike ride.

Bike Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

Cycling Zion Canyon Scenic Drive into the heart of Zion’s main canyon: Zion Canyon

Cyclists share this road with both chartered tour buses and the Park’s free shuttle buses, but the buses are infrequent enough that for most of the ride we had the entire road to ourselves. Awesome!

Cycling Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

We LOVED riding our bikes on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

The erosive power of the Virgin River is responsible for Zion Canyon, and the stunning scenic drive runs alongside it.

Virgin River Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah

The Virgin River cuts between the rock walls.

The Virgin River is shallow and filled with small rocks in some places.

Virgin River Zion National Park Utah

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As we got deeper and deeper into Zion Canyon, the towering rock walls closed in all around us.

Virgin River Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah RV trip

Tall cliffs and magical light in Zion Canyon

The canyon walls grew steeper and steeper, rising up around us on all sides as we approached the end of the road.

Bike Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

Views everywhere

Early in the morning, much of Zion Canyon was in shade because the rock walls are so high.

Zion Canyon RV trip Zion National Park Utah

Light and shadow change all day long on Zion’s cliffs.

But later in the day the sun rose high enough to light it up. As the sun traversed the sky, the walls on one side of the canyon were lit first. Then they became shaded and the walls on the other side lit up.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

A gorgeous view from Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Amazingly, Zion Canyon National Park has a brewpub right outside the park. After a day of sightseeing, no one had to twist our arms to join the other happy tourists and find a table with a view to quaff a pint!

Zion Brewery Zion National Park Utah

What a great way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.

Zion Canyon Brewing Company Zion National Park Utah

A brew with a view!

In the late afternoon we watched the full moon rise through the sunset.

Full moon Zion National Park Utah

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Full moon Zion National Park Utah

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Zion Canyon is essentially an enormous (and enormously beautiful) box canyon, i.e., a dead end. And Zion National Park is immensely popular. A ranger told me 4 million people had already visited the Park in 2016 when we got there in October.

So, getting all these people in and out of the box canyon is no small trick. Zion National Park has done an amazing job of handling the traffic and the crowds.

For starters, car traffic is highly restricted for all but the Winter season. The parking lot at the Visitor Center fills as early as 8:00 a.m. during the peak season between Spring and Fall.

RV Parking Zion National Park Utah

Forget about parking at the Visitors Center after 8:00 a.m.
Luckily, there is parking in the town of Springdale, especially at the south end of town.

There are two excellent free shuttle systems to ferry people around both the town of Springdale and Zion National Park.

The Springdale Shuttle takes visitors through town and runs all the way to the Zion National Park entrance and visitors center.

The Zion Canyon Shuttle takes visitors from there all the way through the National Park to the end of the box canyon (which is also the start of the very popular Narrows hike).

Shuttle Bus Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Zion National Park Utah

Free Shuttle Buses
The Zion Canyon shuttle (at bus stop #3 above) is efficient and easy to use.
A different shuttle — the Springdale Shuttle — serves the town of Springdale where you can park.
So… Park in town, take the Springdale Line to the Canyon Line which goes into the Park

There are about 9 stops on each route, and each one takes about 40-45 minutes end to end.

Passengers on the Zion Canyon Shuttle get to hear an interesting recording that tells all about the park, both its natural history and its human history. We took both shuttles quite a few times during our stay, visiting various overlooks and doing various hikes, and we found it easy and convenient.

Cars can drive into the park as far as the turn-off onto Route 9 East that goes through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. People staying at Zion Canyon Lodge, which is beyond that point, can get a pass to drive as far as the lodge and park their cars there. However, during the peak season when the shuttle runs (Spring to Fall), all cars are forbidden beyond the Lodge. During the Winter, the shuttle runs only on holidays, and at that time cars are allowed to drive the full length of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Anyone entering the canyon with a big dually truck like ours, or towing a trailer or driving a motorhome, will be informed that their vehicle will require a pilot to go through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel on Route 9. There is a fee for this, as traffic in both directions has to be stopped. Years ago, we went through the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel and drove the wild switchbacks of Route 9 in a minivan, and the drive is out of this world. So, if you have a car, do it!!

South Campground camping Zion National Park Utah

South Campground is right next to the Pa’rus Trail

There are two campgrounds that can accommodate small to mid-size RVs. Both are close to the Park entrance. South Campground is, ironically, the more northerly of the two. Watchman Campground is the more southerly one!

During our stay in October, the leaves were just beginning to change into their autumn colors. The peak for fall color is generally around the first week of November.

Fall color The Watchman Zion National Park Utah

Fall colors peak at Zion in the first week of November (this photo is late October)

RV trip Zion National Park Utah

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Zion National Park is a world class destination and we absolutely loved our stay this year! We’ll have more blog posts from our time there. In the meantime, we’ve got lots of links below to help you plan your visit.

Zion Canyon RV camping Zion National Park Utah

Zion National Park is an incredible destination

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Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Magnificent & Intimate by Day or Night!

October 2016 – After driving through the red rock wonderland of the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona, we found ourselves at 10,000′ elevation on the Kaibab Plateau in beautiful pine forests. This is the home of the Grand Canyon where the earth seems to have split apart, revealing the massive crimson hued jagged walls that rise up from the Colorado River thousands of feet below.

Red cliffs of North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

Red cliffs at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon runs east to west for 277 miles and spans as much as 18 miles between its north and south rims.

A huge region towards the middle of the chasm has been set aside as Grand Canyon National Park, and it has two entrances you can drive to, one on the north side of the canyon and one on the south side. At each of those spots you can wander along the rim and peer over the edge to look 6,000′ down.

North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona view through trees

A glimpse of the Grand Canyon through the trees.

The South Rim is much more popular than the North Rim and is quite overrun with tourists, many making a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip from far distant corners of the planet. It is wonderful, but it is extremely busy.

Colorful cliffs North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

View from the North Rim.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a bit out of the way, so far fewer people go there, and most visitors are from the surrounding states. The North Rim sees 10% of the tourist traffic that the South Rim does and is 1,000′ higher in elevation.

Chasm North Rim Grand Canyon Arizon

Looking across the Big Ditch!

The North Rim has a very special lodge that was built by the National Parks Service in 1927. This wonderful and inviting stone building is perched right on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and the huge picture windows look out on a spectacular view.

View from Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

The Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim – What a view!

There is also a huge dining room where diners can eat dinner while watching the sun cast its golden glow across the ridges of the canyon right next to their table!

Dining Room Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

A historic and beautiful spot for a dinner…with a world class view!

Outside the lodge there is a low stone wall and a line of big wooden chairs where you can sit and take in the view over a beer.

View from deck of Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

The deck behind the Lodge offers a relaxing spot to enjoy a drink and take a few pics.

What a fantastic place!

View from deck Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

Tourists kick back at the North Rim.

There is a feeling of intimacy and wonder on the rim here as strangers chat with each other and snap pics and take in the incredible view, enjoying a unique National Parks experience.

Deck view North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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A short trail leads from the edge of this deck out onto a peninsula that just into the Canyon and ends at Bright Angel Point.

Hiking to Bright Angel Point North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

The trail to Bright Angel Point at the North Rim

This is a fun paved path that provides endless opportunities for jumping up on the rock pinnacles on either side to get a better view.

Hke to Bright Angel Point North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

There are lots of places to scramble a little higher for a better view.

Of course, the best light in the Canyon is early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona View

Late afternoon’s golden light brings out the contours of the jagged cliffs at the Grand Canyon.

The sun was sinking in a very hazy sky when we were there, but the towering walls of the Grand Canyon still radiated a soft light, as if from within.

Golden hour North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona overlook

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Rock formations North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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Here and there couples and friends staked out a spot on a precipice to watch the sun fade away.

Sunset North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

Catching the sunset at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

As the shadows crept up the canyon walls from the bottom, the tips of the craggy peaks held the light the longest.

View of Red cliffs North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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In the final few moments of daylight, a thin ribbon of orange hovered over the Canyon.

Chasm view North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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As the sun sank deeper behind the horizon, the colors in the sky grew ever more rich.

Sunset North Rim Grand Canyon

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Once the sun was gone from the sky, the contours of the Grand Canyon flattened out, revealing beautiful patterns.

Color Patterns North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

Patterns in the view at the Grand Canyon after sunset.

Without any shadows to show depth, near and far blended together.

Patterns North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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Cliffs North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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Because of the 10,000′ altitude at the rim, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is very cold, except in midsummer, and the Grand Canyon Lodge closes October 16. The 45 mile drive on Highway 67 between the hamlet of Jacob Lake and the North Rim remains open but isn’t plowed, and the self-service gas station in the park closes December 1.

In mid-October we shivered in overnight temps that dipped into the 20’s. Nevertheless, we snuck out onto the trail in front of the lodge in the pitch dark, lighting the way with our new and very cool Lumintop flashlight (we reviewed it here) and got set up to take some shots.

Overlook night stars North Rim Grand Canyon

Night photography at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Above us, the lodge was well lit and looked very cozy and inviting. Occasionally we heard the excited conversation of revelers out on the deck and saw flashes from their cameras.

Stars over Lodge at North Rim of the Grand Canyon starry night and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Slowly the stars began to shimmer above us, forming a dome full of glitter over the Grand Canyon.

Stars at North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

Stars began to fill the sky

Both rims of the Grand Canyon are decorated with the skeletons of dead trees whose gnarly branches reach out in all directions. The Milky Way formed a majestic backdrop in the sky.

Tree and Milky Way North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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The moon was setting and slowly sank into the horizon. It was nearly full and glowed orange.

Milky Way at North Rim Grand Canyon Arizona

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Seeing the moon at the horizon below the Milky Way reminded us of our many nights at sea on the Pacific Ocean. Sailors doing their first overnight passages are often shocked as they fly along in the pitch dark at full speed, squinting hard to distinguish the sky from the ocean, and then suddenly see a very bright light on the horizon right in front of them.

More than a few hearts have skipped a beat, and more than a few frightened sailors have dashed to their radar display in a total panic as they tried to figure out what kind of mammoth ship was about to crash into them.

Then they’ve suddenly collapsed in embarrassed laughter when they realized the enormous ship approaching them was actually the rising moon.

We’d read these stories before our cruise, and of course we knew we were far too smart ever to fall for Nature’s little nighttime tease. So, it was particularly funny when it happened to us too!

Milky Way at the Grand Canyon North Rim Arizona

Good night, Grand Canyon!

If the Grand Canyon is on your horizon for your RV travels, you can camp right on the rim in the campground at the North Rim. How totally cool is that?!

However, you need to have a small to mid-size RV to fit into the campsites and drive the camground loop, and it is best to reserve a spot in advance. There are other RV camping options for slightly bigger RVs in Jacob Lake.

For folks without an RV, the Grand Canyon Lodge has a collection of charming small cabins that surround the main lodge building, and they are just steps from the rim as well.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is quite vast, and many of the overlooks require a drive of 50 miles or so round trip to reach them. We breezed through the North Rim on this RV trip because it was late in the season and we couldn’t drive through Jacob Lake on our route from east to west across northern Arizona without dipping down to say “hi” to the Grand Canyon, if only for a moment.

However, like all the National Parks, the Grand Canyon deserves a week or more to enjoy its many nooks and crannies in depth. During our second year of full-time RV adventures, we stayed for a month at the North Rim.

More info and links below.

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Some details about Arizona’s North Rim of the Grand Canyon:

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Bryce Canyon’s Rainbow Point – Bristlecone Pines and Sweeping Vistas

September 2016 – Our stay in Bryce Canyon National Park had been a wonderful immersion in orange and pink spires along the Rim Trail and on the new bike path that runs between Red Canyon and Inspiration Point. We’d even found a waterfall at Mossy Cave.

Shelter at Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Visitors’ shelter at Rainbow Point in Bryce Canyon National Park

At the far south end of the Bryce Canyon National Park, we hiked the Bristlecone Loop around Rainbow Point. We didn’t see a rainbow over the canyon, as we had at Fairyland Point, but the views were sensational.

Hiking Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

What a view! Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Rainbow Point View Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon National Park.

The orange and red rock cliffs had interesting windows and holes carved in their sides. Mark nudged me as we stared across the canyon and said, “See the Alice Cooper eyes over there?” Sure enough!

Alice Cooper eyes at Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Alice Cooper eyes…

This end of Bryce Canyon is the highest point in the whole National Park, about 9,100 feet in elevation, and it is just the kind of wind blown, rocky place that ancient bristlecone pines love to make home.

Brislecone Pine Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A bristlecone pine at Rainbow Point in Bryce Canyon

As we walked out on a bluff, we came across a large stand of bristlecone pine trees that had finally given up the ghost. Unlike the living 1,600 year old bristlecone pine we’d seen a month earlier at Cedar Breaks National Monument whose gnarled branches were vibrantly alive and covered with soft pine needles and pine cones tucked into its craggy skeleton, these trees were totally bare.

Three bristlecone pine trees Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Ghosts of bristlecone pine trees

They stood together, as if continuing an ageless conversation that had begun long ago, and their wood was bleached by the sun.

Bristlecone Pine Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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When I touched their branches and knocked on the trunks with my knuckles, their wood was as hard as rock and felt very dense.’

Bristlecone Pines Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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The stand of bristlecone pines numbers just a few dozen trees, but each raised its branches to the heavens in its own graceful way.

Bristlecone Pine Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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At our feet, the trees cast beautiful shadows across the ground.

Bristlecone Pine Shadow Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A bristlecone plays with its shadow

The trees stand near the edge of a sheer cliff, and as we walked along the rim and looked back, we got an eye-popping view of the scale of people standing on the cliff, the tree skeletons, and the huge drop down.

Cliffs Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

People get a selfie by the bristlecone pines and cliffs at Rainbow Point

The National Park Service wisely warns people not to go too close to the edge, but it’s hard to resist…

Overlook Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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Back near the start of the trail we came across a group of people staring intently into the woods, their cameras and cell phones held high.

People photography a buck deer at Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Nature’s paparazzi

Tip-toeing over to join them and see what they were looking at, we saw a beautiful buck nibbling on leaves in the bushes. He paused to stare at us all and then went back to munching the tender leaves.

Buck deer at Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A buck becomes the star of the show at Rainbow Point

We wrapped up our hike around the Bristlecone Loop and began to say our sad goodbyes to Bryce Canyon National Park.

We’d had an extraordinary visit this year, and we’d had a chance to take in some of the most beautiful spots in the Park. But we still haven’t seen it all, and we’ve made notes of the places we want to visit next time…

Posing Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon’s siren song will lure us back again and again.

If you are planning an RV trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, there is an awful lot to see and experience. Below are some links to help you plan your adventure:

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Here are some more links for planning a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park and doing the Mossy Cave hike:

More blog posts from our RV trips to Bryce Canyon

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The Waterfall at Bryce Canyon National Park – “Mossy Cave”

September 2016 – Just as headlines sell news stories, the same thing is true with hiking trails at the National Parks.

Red rock pinnacles Mossy Cave Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon has beautiful red rock hoodoos everywhere, even on the less visited trails.

At Bryce Canyon National Park there are lots of great hiking trails and overlooks with fabulously inviting names like: Fairyland Trail, Inspiration Point, Sunrise and Sunset Points and Peek-a-boo Trail to name a few.

Colorful trees and red rocks Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Wonderful colors on the Mossy Cave hike.

But up in the northeast corner of Bryce Canyon National Park, well off the beaten path, and not even on the main drive through the Park, there’s a hiking trail called Mossy Cave. This is an interesting name, perhaps, but it sure didn’t jump out at us and beg us to come check it out!

Bridge at Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The Mossy Cave trail crosses a cool bridge at the beginning of the hike.

I wonder if because of this rather drab sounding name, other visitors respond like we do and don’t bother to drive outside the Park and around to its far northeastern edge to find out what Mossy Cave is all about.

Whatever the cause, this hiking trail is very lightly used compared to the other more popular trails at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Red rock windows Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

“Windows” appeared high above us among the red rock formations.

My suspicion is that if this trail bore the name “Waterfall Cascades” or “Glittering Pools,” both of which is has, the trail would be overrun with visitors!

How fortunate that the feature this trail is named after is the other thing you’ll see on the hike — a shallow overhang that seeps water and is covered with various types of moss — instead of the beautiful waterfall!

Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The waterfall on the Mossy Cave hike takes a lot of people by surprise!

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A beautiful waterfall in the desert!

To a naturalist or biology expert, the mossy cave is probably the more fascinating feature on this trail. And photos we’ve seen of icicles in the cave during the winter are beautiful.

However, to everyday hikers and tourists, it is the waterfall and cascades upstream from it that are the real draw!

Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah Waterfall

Who knew Bryce Canyon had a waterfall?!

The branch canyon that Mossy Cave is in is called Water Canyon, and rightfully so. In the early 1890’s, mormon pioneers diverted some of the East Fork of the Sevier River to flow through here so they could use the water for irrigation purposes. With picks and shovels they carved a ditch and let the water flow.

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Silky falls and pools.

So, it is not a natural water course. But the waterfall itself is totally natural, and the water drops down over a red rock overhang as if this year-round stream were meant to be here and had been here all along!

Mossy Cave Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A rush of water over the desert rocks.

The overhang is fairly large, so Mark slipped in behind it to get some very cool images.

Hiking under the waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The overhang makes it easy to walk under this waterfall.

Under waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

View from under the waterfall on the Mossy Cave hike.

View under waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

How refreshing on a hot day!

We walked upstream from the main waterfall and found that the stream is a babbling brook for quite a distance, tripping over stones and rocks along the way.

Stream Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

We turned the corner at the waterfall and found the hike continues upstream.

There are other smaller waterfalls too.

Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Looking upstream.

Mossy Cave Waterfall Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

We discovered another smaller waterfall too.

We wandered back down the trail to a fork and took the path leading to the Mossy Cave. A short distance down the trail we came to the cave. The water was seeping through the rocks in such quantities that it was dripping from the roof of the cave onto the gravel floor below. Patches of moss covered the rocks, and the air was cool. The trail didn’t go inside the cave, but we could stand on one side and peer in.

Water seeps through rock and drips down moss in Mossy Cave Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Water seeps through the rocks and drips from the moss at Mossy Cave.

We ended up doing the Mossy Cave hike several times during our stay in Bryce Canyon. It is a short and easy trail that is lovely in both morning and afternoon light. And there are some wonderful hoodoos high up on the ridges.

Red rock window Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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One morning, as the sun was rising, Mark caught a fantastic starburst in one of the red rock windows.

Starburst Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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If you have already enjoyed some of the major hikes and overlooks at Bryce Canyon National Park, the Mossy Cave trail makes for a very pleasant trek. And on a hot day, what could be better than hanging around a waterfall!

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Here are some more links for planning a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park and doing the Mossy Cave hike:

More blog posts from our RV trips to Bryce Canyon

Related posts from our RV travels:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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