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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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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Erawan Falls – Jewel of Erawan National Park – with Mellow Adventures

January 2017 – When I started planning our month-long trip to Thailand, I wanted to be sure we saw some truly spectacular places. After doing many image searches for things like “the most beautiful places in Thailand,” I came across a photo of a waterfall that took my breath away.

Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

One tier of Erawan Falls at Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi Thailand

I found out it was Erawan Waterfall which is located in Erawan National Park in Thailand’s province of Kanchanaburi. Not only did this waterfall look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the name sounded like it too!

Wondering if there were other gems like this in the province of Kanchanaburi, I found an image of Huay Maekhamin Waterfall in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park. If it was possible, that waterfall seemed even more stunning but was even more remote.

I wanted to be sure we would see these exotic waterfalls without any crowds, at our own pace and on our own terms, and I quickly realized it would not only be more efficient but would be more fun and we’d get more out of our experience if we worked with a professional and personal tour guide service.

Mellow Adventures, a company that has achieved TripAdvisor’s highest standard — the Certificate of Excellence — offers fully customized, private tours in Kanchanaburi that are designed to meet whatever unusual plans a traveler might have. When I emailed them that we wanted to be at Erawan Waterfall long before any of the commercial tour groups showed up, I got an email back saying: “We’ll pick you up at your hotel at 6:30 a.m.”

Perfect!

Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Erawan Waterfall

Not every vacationer wants to have an appointment at that hour, but we were on a mission to hike alongside these cascades without encountering anyone else on the trail, and we were thrilled at the prospect of photographing the many tiers of Erawan Falls for a few hours in total solitude.

The owner of Mellow Adventures, Steffen, is Norwegian and he is fluent in English and German and speaks Thai as well. He responded to my emails from the US very quickly, and in no time we devised a plan for two days of custom tours that would take us to both Erawan Waterfall and Huay Maekhamin Waterfall and also include a tour of a remote cave, kayaking on a river in the jungle and even sampling some good Thai food which he felt was critical to appreciating Thai culture.

When we finally met in person (rather bleary eyed) at 6:30 a.m. on the appointed morning, he introduced us to Mai, a young woman who had been a tour guide in Kanchanburi and at Erawan National Park for seven years before she joined the Mellow Adventures team last year.

As we drove to Erawan National Park together, we passed through an area that has several elephant encounter sanctuaries. Even though an elephant encounter wasn’t on our itinerary, it was fun to see the signs for these places on the road!

Elephant road sign in Kanchanaburi Thailand

An elephant road sign – How cool is that?!

Elephant road sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

…and with Thai writing to boot!!

Elephants are very important and much beloved in Thailand, and we saw many creative elephant decorations along the way, including elephant street lights!

Elephant lamp post decoration Kanchanaburi Thailand

Elephants decorate lots of things in Thailand.

Mai explained to us that the elephant is an integral part of Erawan National Park. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the god of thunder, lightning and rainstorms, Indra, rides a huge white elephant across the sky. This elephant has three heads and is known as “Erawan” in Thai.

At Erawan Falls, the highest of the waterfall’s seven tiers has three parallel cascades that resemble the trunks of three elephant heads.

Sign for Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Erawan Waterfall is named for a three headed elephant that is part of both Hindu and Thai mythological traditions.

In no time we reached the entrance to Erawan National Park and the Visitors Center.

Erawan National Park Entrance Sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

Now here’s a cool National Park sign!

Erawan National Park Visitors Center

The Visitors Center for Erawan National Park.

Our guide, Mai, has hiked to the top of Erawan Falls many dozens of times, and she described what we would see at each level as we hiked in. Erawan Waterfall is an extremely popular place to swim, as the waterfalls have many shallow pools filled with warm, turquoise water. There are posted guidelines for swimwear, but we found out later they aren’t strictly enforced.

Erawan Falls sign Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

This way to the waterfall — and please dress modestly if you go swimming!

The beginning of the trail is a wide, paved path, and it wandered through the jungle.

Hike to Erawan Falls Kanchanaburi Thailand

The hike began with an easy stroll on a paved trail.

Soon, we heard the sounds of rushing water, and then suddenly we saw the lowest part of the falls in front of us. The water was cascading from one flat slab of rock down onto the next.

Prettiest Waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

The lowest part of Erawan Falls has many wide, flat travertine slabs that form turquoise pools.

We ran to the water in glee, quickly scouting out the best angles to frame this tropical jewel.

Most beautiful waterfall in Thailand Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi_

Look at those tree roots!

The pools of aquamarine water were so inviting, it seemed like a fairy land.

Best waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Erawan Falls is actually a series of seven waterfalls, each with its own personality and flair. The hike begins at the lowest level and gradually climbs to the top, passing by each level on the way.

Erawan Waterfall Pool at Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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As we hiked from one level up to the next, we found ourselves in the most deliciously thick jungle. The leaves of one plant were absolutely enormous!

Huge jungle leaves Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

The jungle leaves are huge and give great shade

We just loved the shapes of the rocks along these falls. There were so many places where the water formed a shallow pool on a flat rock and then fell over the edge, like Nature’s most perfect infinity pool.

Erawan Falls

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The hiking trail wandered alongside the stream as we climbed higher and higher, and we got glimpses between the trees of the water spilling over the rocks here and there.

Most spectacular waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We see a portion of the falls through the jungle trees.

At one point on the trail we came to a tree that was completely adorned in brightly colored women’s dresses. Mai explained to us that these dresses had been placed there as a token of thanks to the tree spirit Ta Kien Tong.

She told us that many Thai people ask this goddess for help or for blessings in their lives. When she responds by giving them what they requested, they show their appreciation by bringing her a beautiful dress.

Appreciative people said thanks to the tree goddess Ta Kien Tong by giving her a beautiful dress

The many dresses on this tree were placed here in thanks for blessings and good fortune that had been granted by the tree goddess, Ta Kien Tong.

The trees in the jungle are wonderfully gnarled with lots of exposed roots, and one had a fabulously twisted vine growing up its trunk.

Vine on a tree trunk

A twisted vine climbs the trunk of a tree.

Some vines are so strong they make a natural swing.

Swinging on a vine Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Our guide Mai enjoys a brief swing on a jungle vine.

As we ascended the hiking trail from one level of Erawan Waterfall to the next, we found beautiful surprises at every turn.

Top waterfall in Thailand Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Each tier of Erawan Falls was different.

The water was so clear in some places that we could see fish swimming just below the surface.

Fish at Erawan Waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

Fish were swimming at the base of the falls in some places.

The aquamarine pools were so inviting…

Turquoise pool Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Gnarled roots of the jungle embrace the rocks in a turquoise pool.

Favorite waterfall in Thailand Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The jungle was filled with unusual plants that we didn’t recognize and we saw some magnificent flowers too.

Exotic tropical flower Erawan National Park

Exquisite!

Perhaps the most wonderful surprise for me came as I turned a corner in the trail and looked up to see this image right in front of me:

Erawan Falls National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We rounded a bend to see this view!

We crept closer, tip-toeing between the exposed and curving tree roots.

Stunning Erawan waterfall Kanchanaburi Thailand

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Again, we saw fish swimming near the edges of the turquoise pool.

Most beautiful waterfall Erawan Falls Kanchanaburi Thailand

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This was just too gorgeous — time for a selfie!

Travelers at Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

Two very happy campers at Erawan Falls!

The trail had switched from pavement to well packed dirt a while ago, and we were glad to have sturdy trail running shoes rather than flip-flops to hike in. Now the trail suddenly headed straight up a long set of stairs.

Stairs to waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand_

A long staircase climbed up the hill to the next tier.

And at the top was another stunning pool surrounded by ancient trees with wonderful claw-like roots.

Swimming pools Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

What an exotic place!

I moved a little to one side, and again, I was blown away by the beauty of Erawan Falls.

Cascade at Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

We loved the endlessly changing cascades and pools.

We were now at Level 6 of the seven levels of the waterfall, and we paused to take stock. We had more hiking planned for the afternoon, and it was already very late in the morning.

It had taken us over three hours just to get this far, because we were so busy taking photos.

Sign for 6th level Erawan Falls Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

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The seventh level of Erawan Waterfall is where the three namesake falls — the trunks of the three headed elephant — can be seen. However, because there hadn’t been much rain lately, Mai said they didn’t have much water.

Our cameras were already bursting at the seams with all the photos we’d taken, and the hike to the seventh level would involve some scrambling to reach, so we opted to turn around at this point and head back down.

What a shock it was to see how crowded the trail had become at the lower levels and to see all the people swimming in the pools. The gentle spirit of stillness and solitude we had savored all morning was gone. But the pools sure looked refreshing!

Swimming at Erawan Waterfall Erawan National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand

A few hours earlier we had been alone at this spot!

As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we were surprised to see a warning sign for a cobra!!

Cobra sign Kanchanaburi Thailand

We’ve never seen an animal sign like this one before — yikes!

We didn’t see any snakes, but the flowers were lovely.

Beautiful flowers

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At this point, we had completed only half of our first day of tours with Mellow Adventures, and we had a lot more in store!

There’s more info and more links for Erawan National Park, Kanchanaburi and Mellow Adventures below…

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Waterfalls we have seen in our travels:

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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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Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike – Grand Staircase Escalante Nat’l Monument

September 2016 – Scenic Byway 12 in Utah is an All American Road that makes for a truly spectacular RV adventure. There are lots of sidetrips and things to do along the way, and one that we just loved was the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

The waterfall at Lower Calf Creek Falls

This is an easy 6 mile roundtrip hike that can be very hot at midday, so we started just as the trail was beginning to get light enough to see.

Trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

We began our hike very early.

The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail goes along Calf Creek. After passing through areas where very thick and tall underbrush not only surrounded us but rose above us on all sides, the trail emerged alongside a fabulous rock wall that was naturally striped with desert varnish.

Hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Enormous cliffs covered with the vertical striping of “desert varnish”

Gradually, in places, the sun began to rise, and we found ourselves amid beautiful red rock formations.

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The trail cut across open grasslands.

Hiking trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Sun and shadow on Lower Calf Creek Falls.

And then it wandered across wide flat expanses of red rocks.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah Hike

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Birds were singing in the underbrush down by the creek, and at our feet we saw little lizards scurrying around.

Lizard Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The canyon walls surrounding Calf Creek towered above us, and a lush valley of thick green vegetation grew along the banks of the creek.

Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Finally, after three miles of walking, we emerged at Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

This is a fabulous waterfall that plunges straight down from a notch in the cliffs above, forming a narrow vertical stream of water.

Hustling out on the trail before sunrise had ensured that when we got to Calf Creek Falls we were the only people there.

Waterfall of Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

The waterfall plunges into a pool at its base.

So we did the thing you just have to do in scenic places these days and we got a selfie!

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Towering canyon walls and their waterfall embrace us on the sandy beach.

How fabulous it was to have the entire place to ourselves and to be able to play with the waterfall’s reflections in pools and puddles along the sandy beach.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Reflections…

Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Gradually, the sun rose higher in the sky, lighting the upper parts of waterfall and the rocky walls.

Waterfall reflection Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Sunrise on Waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And then bright sunshine lit up the entire waterfall and we stepped back into the shadows of the natural arch formed by trees over the creek downstream.

Shadows Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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As the sun shone brighter and brighter, gradually illuminating the trees that seemed to be kneeling in reverence at the base of this magnificent waterfall, hikers began to trickle in from the trail. What an incredible view greeted them!

Sunshine waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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Eventually, we were ready to hike back out again, and we began to traverse the slabs of red rocks.

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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The scenery was exotic…

Red rocks Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And we were joined on the trail by lots of other hikers.

Hikers Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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We noticed beautiful wildflowers growing here and there. Some were trailside down by our feet…

Wildflowers Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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And others looked out across the lush creek valley at the enormous cliffs on the other side.

Wildflowers hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

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For RVers that have an RV with a strong engine, an RV trip on Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 is an absolute must, along with a hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

RV campground Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Calf Creek campground has some very cool campsites in the red rocks.

The BLM’s Calf Creek Campground is a fabulous place to camp for small and medium sized RVs. Bigger RVs can find a nice spot to stay in RV parks that are in the towns along the way. There are links below.

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Bryce Canyon National Park – Fairyland Trail – A Beautiful Hike!

September 2016 – Bryce Canyon National Park knocked our socks off at the main overlooks of Inspiration Point and the Rim Trail, where we shared our awe with thousands of other visitors. But a foray out onto the Fairyland Trail from Fairyland Point gave us a wonderful feeling of solitude and peace.

Hoodoos Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Looking down at Fairyland from the rim of Bryce Canyon

Driving into Bryce Canyon National Park, Fairyland Trail is the very first left-hand turn-off, and it comes up quickly, right after the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance sign and before the fee station.

Dawn Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Spires in Fairyland Canyon.

During our visit, one of the reasons this trail may have been so little visited is that there was no sign at the turn-off for people driving into the Park!! We zipped right by it on our first drive in.

Flowers at Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Wildflowers at sunrise.

We first visited the Fairyland Trail in the wee hours of the night to do some star gazing. It was an incredible experience that was both eerie and awe-inspiring.

After navigating the trail with flashlights in the pitch dark, it was quite an eye-opener to hike the Fairyland Trail by day and see what it actually looked like, minus the stars!

Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The beginning of the trail leading down into Fairyland Canyon

At the outset, the Fairyland Trail promptly descends into the depths of Bryce Canyon, and we walked between delightful spires and hoodoos that rose up around us.

Hike Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hikers slip between the hoodoos as they descend into Fairyland.

After a few twists and turns, the views opened up with rows of hoodoos close at hand and cliffs in the distance.

Hike at Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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Turret formations Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

White and pink pinnacles.

Hiking Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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The far south end of Bryce Canyon at Rainbow Point is home to a collection of ancient Bristlecone Pines. However, a few of these gnarly trees reach out over the Fairyland Trail too!

Bristlecone Pine on Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A Bristlecone Pine defies gravity and hangs out over the hiking trail.
What a way to spend a few centuries!

Bristlecone Pine Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hanging on by a thread!

We started our hike shortly after sunrise, and we were utterly alone on the trail for the first two hours.

Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The trail snakes its way through Fairyland Canyon.

We are slow hikers these days, because our cameras are very demanding, and they insist that we stop every few feet to take yet another photo! But we gradually passed through both wooded areas and beautiful open areas too.

Trees and walls Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

The woods were thick in spots.

Red rock walls Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Red rock walls frame our view.

As we got deeper into the canyon, the pinnacles rose higher.

Hoodoos and trees Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hoodoos clustered on one side of the trail.

Hoodoos and spires Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Towering spires…

The red rocks are mostly a burnt orange kind of hue, but in certain places we found a rainbow of sandstone colors.

Colorful hoodoos Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Shades of pink…

Pink orange hoodoos Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

…and shades of yellow too

Finally we came across some other hikers on the trail. They were coming from the other trail head for Fairyland Trail near the center of Bryce Canyon and had been enjoying total solitude on their hike as well.

Fairyland Trail Hike Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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The Fairyland Trail is an 8 mile loop with one trail head near Sunrise Point and North Campground in the heart of Bryce Canyon’s visitor area and the other trail head, where we started, by the Park entrance.

After following the Fairyland Trail through the canyon, you can return to your starting point by hiking on the Rim trail from one trail head to the other.

Hiking Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hoo dat in da hoodoos?

Or, in the summertime when the free shuttle bus is running, you can leave your car (if you drive into the Park) at one trail head, hike the loop to the other trail head, and then catch the shuttle back to your parked car and skip hiking the Rim Trail portion.

Beautiful Fairyland Trail Hike Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

What a view.

Glowing hoodoos Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A little closer.

One of the things we found really intriguing on our hike was all the dead and denuded ponderosa pine trees. Each one had a fascinating twisted wood grain like a candy cane that was clearly visible without the bark on the tree.

It made me wonder if, when they were alive and growing, the trees loved their surroundings so much that they continually turned around and around so they could take in the views in every direction!

Spiral wood grain ponderosa pine Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Spiraling wood grain of a dead ponderosa pine tree.
Did it turn as it grew to see the views in every direction?

Hikers we met on the trail told us a tour guide had explained to them that Ponderosa pines spiral spontaneously and instantly when they are hit by lightning!

This sounded a little far-fetched to me, so I poked around online and discovered that the current theory of why the ponderosa pines have a twisting wood grain is actually because it helps distribute water across the full breadth of the tree. By spiraling as they grow, each root can supply water to the entire tree. If one root dies, the impact on the health of the tree is minimized.

In addition, the angle of the spiraling turn of the wood grain is such that the tree can be as supple as possible and bend without breaking as it withstands high winds and heavy snow.

If you enjoy mathematics and mechanics, here is an interesting paper from the University of Utah that explains the theory in lots of detail: Why Grain in Trees’ Trunks Spirals

Along with the twisted wood grain in the dead ponderosas, we were equally fascinated to find some Abstract Art on another tree trunk where some worms or bark beetles had etched an elaborate pattern.

Wood carving Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Nature’s wood carving is a work of art!

As we hiked and the sun rose higher, the red rock formations began to take on an ethereal glow.

Windows Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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We got down to the base level of the hoodoos, and the pinnacles soared to immense heights.

Size of scale Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A tree is dwarfed by a stone pinnacle.

Magic Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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Even though we had completed a good portion of the Fairyland Trail loop hike, we decided to turn around and retrace our steps. On our return trip, all of the views we had enjoyed all morning had a slightly different look now that we were in the light of midday.

Glowing spires Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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If you plan to take your RV to Bryce Canyon National Park and you have time to do some of the less visited hikes, Fairyland Trail is really rewarding, and early in the morning you will have the trail to yourself!

Hiking Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hikers on the Fairyland Trail.

There are links for planning an RV trip to Bryce Canyon below.

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Icefields Parkway – Canadian Rockies Scenic Drive – WOW!

May 2016 – The Icefields Parkway is a 150 mile long scenic drive in Alberta, Canada, that goes between Lake Louise in Banff National Park at the south end and the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park at the north end.

It is touted to be one of the world’s top scenic drives. And they aren’t kidding!

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

The Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most spectacular scenic drives.

We drove the southern half of this eye-poppoing scenic drive several times during our stay in Lake Louise. We were blown away by the thrilling views every single time.

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

The dramatic views never quit!

The Canadian Rockies were right there all around us, nearly close enough to reach out and touch.

RV on Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada Rocky Mountains

RVs are the most common vehicles on the Icefields Parkway.

The mountains towered in front of us and behind us, and we kept jumping around in our seats looking in every direction out the windows, our jaws hanging open in amazement.

Icefields Parkway Canadian Rocky Mountains Banff National Park

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The mountains changed shape and color constantly as we drove in the varying light of early morning, midday and late afternoon.

RV in Rocky Mountains on Icefields Parkway

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The magnificent Icefields Parkway provides a feast for the eyes while driving but, for its length, it has suprisingly few scenic overlooks and pullouts where drivers can stop to admire the breathtaking vistas.

One of the best scenic viewpoints is at Herbert Lake. It is the very first pullout at the south end of the Icefields Parkway, and loads of drivers who start their drive at Lake Louise zoom right by.

Herbert Lake Icefields Parkway Canada Rocky Mountains Banff National Park

Herbert Lake – A gorgeous spot on the Icefields Parkway that many northbound tourists skip past!

The temptation when you round the bend and pass Herbert Lake and first catch a glimpse of the mountains reflecting in the water is to think, “Oh, we’ll have lots of scenic viewpoints on this drive, and the Icefields Parkway is 150 miles long, so let’s keep going for a while and stop a little further down the road.” After all, you’ve been on the Icefields Parkway for all of about three minutes at this point! We zipped by the first time but made a point to stop there on several return visits.

As I stared at the mirrored reflections in the lake one morning, I noticed the clouds were flying across the sky. So I set up a timelapse on my camera to capture the swift movement and variable light. What a cool result!!

One day as we drove along the Icefields Parkway, we were craning our necks looking up at the mountains when we noticed a cluster of cars pulled over on the shoulder of the road. Everyone was pointing their cameras towards the woods. It turned out there was a black bear just in front of the trees.

Getting a photo of a bear Banff National Park Canada

People stopped there cars to snap pics of a bear.

What a beauty he was!! We were tickled to see a bear so effortlessly for a second time here in the Canadian Rockies.

Black bear Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada

Another wonderful black bear sighting!

He stood still for a long time, chowing down on the grass, and our cameras clicked furiously.

Black Bear Banff National Park Icefields Parkway

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Black Bear Icefields Parkway Banff National Park_

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He stayed so long that his audience cycled in and out. Some folks got back in their cars and drove off and newcomers pulled over to park and stare in awe. Finally, the bear lumbered off into the woods.

Black bear Banff National Park Icefields Parkway Canada

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There are a number of dry camping campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway but most were closed, even in late May. We wandered through a few — what great spots to camp during the summertime! — and we discovered a lovely view of the Rockies reflecting quietly in a large puddle on the ground near Mosquito Creek Campground.

Reflections Canadian Rocky Mountains Icefields Parkway Banff

Canadian Rockies reflections…

Lots of RVs travel this highway, and we saw more rental RVs than any other kind of vehicle on the road. The Icefields Parkway was under construction in spots, so there were loads of big construction trucks driving very fast on a mission to get where they were going. In the early mornings, though, we had the road to ourselves.

Rental RV Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada Rocky Mountains

The Icefields Parkway is a popular spot to take an RV!

One of the biggest and most popular scenic pullouts is at Bow Lake. This is a stunning lake, and we caught it in a mild mood one morning when it was as still as glass.

Bow Lake Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canadian Rockies

Serenity on Bow Lake.

The patterns of the snow on the mountains reflected beautifully in the green depths of the water.

Bow Lake Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canadian Rocky Mountains

We loved the images the mountains created in the green water of Bow Lake.

The pullout at Bow Lake is very large, and we hung out for an hour or so watching the tourists come and go. First there was one RV.

RV driving on Icefields Parkway to Jasper Banff National Park Canada Rockies

An RV slows down to pull over at Bow Lake

Then two.

RV parking on Icefields Parkway to Jasper Banff National Park Canada Rockies

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Then the tour buses began to show up and park alongside the cars and RVs. There was a constant shuffle of vehicles coming and going and people running around the overlook admiring the exquisite view.

RV and tour bus sightseeing Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada Rocky Mountains

Bow Lake is the most popular pullout in the southern half of the Icefields Parkway. It was busy in the off season!

Everyone wanted a selfie. Well, if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em! So, we got one too!

Happy hikers Banff National Park Icefields Parkway

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Our original plan had been to drive the Icefields Parkway with our rig, going slowly from south to north, and possibly camping midway at the Columbia Icefields.

Canadian Rocky Mountains Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada

We never got tired of views like these!

But we soon found out that being 55′ long from end to end, we would have struggled to fit in most of the pullouts and in almost all the trailhead parking areas.

Rocky Mountains Icefields Parkway Canada

Icefields Parkway scenery – beautiful!

So, we drove the Icefields Parkway at leisure in our truck, stopping in different places each time we drove it, and never having to fight to squeeze a big rig into a tiny parking area.

Eventually, when we were finally ready to go all the way to Jasper, we took our rig straight through without stopping. But there was a lot to see around Lake Louise and Banff first, so that story will have to wait!

Fifth wheel RV on the Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada

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The Icefields Parkway is a glorious road, and it is an easy drive that doesn’t involve any hairpin turns or steep climbs. So it is very manageable for a big RV and tow vehicle/toad as long as you don’t plan to pull over too often. And the views… oh my, the views!!

Canadian Rockies Banff National Park Icefields Parkway Canada

We saw sensational Canadian Rockies scenery at every turn on the Icefields Parkway

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Horseshoe Bend Overlook – Page, Arizona – Stunning!

March 2016 – Horseshoe Bend is a jewel of spot just a few miles south of Page, Arizona, that’s easy to access and is a fabulous place to spend a few hours or more, especially for RVers headed through northeastern Arizona. As we brought our truck and trailer up from Sedona, Arizona, we stopped at Horseshoe Bend in the afternoon.

All smiles at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

At the Horseshoe Bend overlook it’s easy to be all smiles!

From the parking lot there is a 3/4 mile walk up and over a rise to get to the Horseshoe Bend overlook. Hundreds of people were on this trail going in both directions.

As we crested the rise and began the descent on the other side, we could see people scattering like ants as they approached the Horseshoe Bend overlook.

Walking towards Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is extraordinarily popular, and swarms of tourists roam along the rim all day long.

This is a Very Cool Place. Even though we were there with throngs of other people, we felt a rush of excitement as we neared the edge. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way, and the unprotected rim of the overlook was jammed with tourists peering over the edge.

People at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Tourists were fearless at the edge.

Far down below, rafters were making their way along the Colorado River. The mighty Colorado has carved Horseshoe Bend over millenia, and it is staggering to think of the force necessary to dig this huge ditch through sandstone rock, especially with the river looking so meek and mild down there.

Colorado River rafters Horseshoe Bend Arizona

1,000 feet below, rafters were floating on the Colorado River

This is a great place for selfie shots too!

At the rim of Horseshoe Bend Arizona

I wasn’t the only one who wanted a pic of themselves at this overlook.

Selfie sticks were held high aloft all around us.

Taking selfies at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Selfie sticks were everywhere!

Taking selfies at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

No selfie stick? Use a folded up tripod!

Some folks were pretty creative getting photos of themselves. Others just laid on their bellies to get a shot of the incredible bend in the river a thousand feet down below.

Taking selfies at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Hmmm…. should I take a photo of me or a photo of that incredible view out there??

Some were brave and crept far out on a precipice for a very dramatic photo of themselves.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona Sitting on the RIm

The more daring the photo the better!

I’m not sure how many people had noticed the sign on the way in saying that the sandstone is crumbly and the overhanging edges have a tendency to break off…!

Photographer Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Everyone liked to be right on the edge.

As the afternoon wore on, the crowd swelled as people came in to get a shot of the sun setting over the bend in the river.

Photographers at Horseshoe Bend Overlook Arizona

Photographers lined up on the rim with their tripods.

The rim was packed with photographers getting set up for this special moment. Finding a place to squeeze in along the rim wasn’t so easy!!

Photographers Horseshoe Bend Arizona

We waited patiently for the sun to go down.

The excited discussion between everyone standing on the rim alternated between what kind of photography gear they had and speculation about whether we’d all have a chance to go for a starburst shot at the moment the sun vanished from the sky on the far side of the canyon. One woman said she had gotten a doozy of a starburst photo two nights before. We all crossed our fingers.

But Mother Nature had other plans for us that afternoon, and the sun slipped behind the horizon with nary a wink.

It was still very special!

Horseshoe Bend Sunset Arizona

We didn’t get a starburst, but the sunset was beautiful.

I had an 18-35 mm lens, but the best images were a little wider. Mark whipped out his favorite trusty 14 mm lens and got a fabulous image.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona sunset photo

Mark was able to get a beautiful and slightly wider shot at 14 mm.

As we watched the clouds drift across the sky in shades of orange and yellow, suddenly the river down below began to reflect the color. How cool!

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

For a split second, the river reflected pink and orange back at the sky.

We left Horseshoe Bend on a total high, absolutely exhilarated by Nature’s show. If the sunset could be that magical, we thought, then what might be in store at sunrise?

The next morning we were on the trail before dawn. There were three cars in the parking lot, including ours, and a young couple was just ahead of us on the trail, weighed down with some serious looking photography gear.

I got chatting with Brittany as we trudged along the trail in the dark, and I discovered that she and her companion, Justin, were professional videographers with their own video production company, Chiet Productions. They had just landed a gig for a regular show on PBS about a nightclub in Washington, DC, that will begin airing in April. It’s called “Live at 9:30.”

They were here at Horseshoe Bend for pleasure, however, and they were planning to shoot the sunrise using timelapse photography.

Timelapse photography Horseshoe Bend Overlook Arizona

A pair of professional videographers set up three cameras on the rim for a timelapse video of the sunrise.

Mark and I went for stills, however, since that was where our heads were at this morning. it was too early to think clearly enough to figure out everything we’d need to do to set up a timelapse, although I LOVED the idea!!

The sunrise was lovely.

The funny thing is that the sunrise wasn’t all that different than the sunset the night before. The sun had set over the horizon in the distance in front of us, but the sun rose behind us, so it would seem the canyon would look quite different. However, the colors we saw at sunrise filled the sky opposite the sun as it rose, casting a soft light across the horizon front of us.

Sunrise Horseshoe Bend Arizona

This morning’s sunrise was just as lovely as last evening’s sunset.

A little while later, the sun lit up the top of the peak in front of us. As the sun rose higher and higher, the shadow on the cliff slipped lower and lower.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona between the cliffs

As the sun rose it lit more and more of the cliffs across the canyon, while the shadow crept slowly downwards.

When the big show was over, we found Justin and Brittany where we had left them with all their gear on the edge of the canyon. They had done three timelapse videos, one on a GoPro, one on a Sony mirrorless camera and one on a cell phone. Brittany showed me the one she’d done on her cell phone. She had caught the sun lighting the top of the pinnacle in the canyon and had captured the shadow slipping down its front as the sun rose higher. Wonderful!!

Videographers at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Brittany and Justin captured some great timelapse video of the sun rising in the canyon.

The morning wasn’t over yet, though. In fact, the day was just beginning. Where there had been just four of us on the rim at sunrise, we could now see a steady stream of people pouring down the trail, cameras and tripods in hand. The rim slowly became crowded with photographers and tourists once again!

Photographers with tripods at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

After sunrise, we were joined by lots of photographers at the rim.

Curious about some rock formations nearby, we headed off to the right (north). Leaving behind the growing rush of visitors arriving at the rim, we walked out into these cool rocks.

Lines in the rocks Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Away from the fray, to the north, we found some wonderful rock formations.

There were lots of curvy lines and ripples in the sandstone.

Patterns and Lines Horseshoe Bend Arizona

The curving lines and formations in the rocks were beautiful.

Rock crevices Horseshoe Bend Arizona

What magical shapes and formations!

We were both really intrigued by the contours of this fantastic land, and we roamed around this spot for quite some time.

Rock patterns Horseshoe Bend Arizona

The lines and patterns in the rocks drew us in.

If your RV travels take you to Page, Arizona, a stop at Horseshoe Bend is a must.

A few tips:

To avoid the crowds, the best time to get there is early in the morning.

If you are driving your RV, your best chance for finding a place to park it in the parking lot is early morning, not too long after dawn. There is turnaround room (big buses come and go regularly all day long), but it seemed to me that on weekends at peak season, especially holidays, this parking lot probably fills early and would be nearly impossible for an RV. We were there midweek in mid-March, and the number of tourists was mind boggling. The numbers intensify in the afternoon, especially near sunset.

Rock lines Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is an overlook that deserves more than a fleeting glimpse over the edge

As you hit the walking trail to Horseshoe Bend, there’s a sign that says this is a Fee Area managed by the National Park Service. Interestingly, no money was being collected and no one asked to see our Federal Interagency Pass. The National Park Service could be making a small fortune here, as I’m sure several thousand people visit every day.

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More info about Horseshoe Bend:

National Park Service Website – Official description of Horseshoe Bend
Allstays – RV Parks near Page, AZ
Location of Horseshoe Bend – Google Maps (it is mis-labled “Houseshoe” and called a “chapel” – funny!)

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Caverns of Sonora – Enchanting Caves in Texas

March, 2015 – Continuing our RV travels east from Big Bend National Park, we were headed to Fort Worth, Texas, to do a disc brake conversion on our trailer that would truly transform our driving experience and put a huge grin on Mark’s face. But first we decided to make a brief stop at the sensational Caverns of Sonora, a massive cave system that is considered to be one of the most beautiful caves in the world.

Caves at Sonora Caverns Texas

Entering the Caverns of Sonora, we cross the mammoth pit that took 50 years to conquer.

Fortunately for us, and for all RVers, Sonora is right on I-10, just a little north and east of Big Bend National Park, and the caves are just 8 miles west of Sonora. The tours run every 2 hours or so, and when we arrived there was no one signed up for the next tour. By the time it started 50 minutes later, there was a group of about 12!

Cave Tour Sonora Texas

Navigating the cave is easy with a tour guide, electric lights and solid surfaces under foot!

This is a “warm” cave, and we were advised to shed our jackets and sweatshirts because the temperature is generally in the low 80’s in the cave. I was a little reluctant — after all, central Texas was in the throes of ice storms — but once we got into the cave, I was glad I did.

Caverns of Sonora Crystal Palace Tour_

The lighting in the caves is artistic and well crafted, and it makes the calcite formations glow.

The Caverns of Sonora are on ranch land that was owned by Bill Mayfield at the turn of the last century, and they were first discovered when a rancher’s dog chased a raccoon into a hole.

Crystal Palace Cave Tour Caverns of Sonora Texas

We had to walk carefully so we didn’t bump the “cave coral” all around us.

Explorers quickly found out that after about 500 feet of scrambling along a narrow passage from the entrance, there was a massive pit that opened up and blocked the way completely. It took about 50 years for anyone to make it past the pit. It was a daredevil feat for the ones who did, because they had to climb way above the pit, with scant and dim sources of light!

Crystal Palace Caverns of Sonora Texas

The formations in this cave are exquisite — stalactites and stalagmites everywhere!

These early explorers discovered that the cave is about 7 miles long and is filled with exotic and intricate calcite deposits and designs created by water filled with minerals dripping from the ceiling of the cave to the floor. There were no signs of human presence at any time, and no animals either. That huge pit by the entrance kept everyone out!

Sonora Caverns Texas stalactites

Everywhere we turned there were exotic and fragile formations.

The Mayfield family has operated the cave as a commercial tourist enterprise since July, 1960, and they have done a terrific job of preserving the cave while making it available to the public to enjoy.

Cave coral coralloid formations Caverns of Sonora Texas

“Cave coral” or “coralloid” formations — it looks like an underwater world of coral!

As we walked, the drip formations on the ceilings, walls and floor of the cave became ever more elaborate.

Stalactites Caverns of Sonora Texas

Stalactites form icicles.

In places there were “icicles” hanging from the ceiling and “columns” growing up from the floor. There were even some pools of very clear water. Ironically, tourists from decades ago liked to throw pennies into one “wishing well,” and now the water is tinged green from all the copper. So another area has been established for tossing pennies (for those that must) where there won’t be any environmental impact.

Mineral pool in Caverns of Sonora Texas

We passed several pools of water.

Wonderful staircases and a concrete path took us from one gorgeous “room” to the next, and it was impossible to imagine just how challenging this cave was for the early cavers that tried to map it out and discover its depths.

Stairway on Crystal Palace Tour of caves in Sonora Texas

Stairway to another world…

All the different formations have names, like “cave curtains” and “cave coral” and “dogtooth spars.”

Cave curtains crystallized minerals Sonora Caverns Texas

“Cave curtains” are thin films of calcite. Some are translucent.

The cave is beautifully and creatively lit throughout. The guide turned on the lights ahead of us as we progressed down the path, and then turned out the lights behind us.

Descending the Caverns of Sonora Texas

This cave is very beautiful. What a treat to see it lit so creatively.

The lights were set behind various formations, making them glow as if lit from within.

Cave lighting Crystal Palace Tour Caverns of Sonora Texas

Our path winds through the Crystal Palace.

The most ornately decorated “room” is the Crystal Palace, and when we got there we all stopped in awe.

Touring Crystal Palace Caverns of Sonora Texas

The Crystal Palace is just that!

It was filled with delicate stalactites and stalagmites. We were reminded that the “c” in stalactite is for “ceiling,” which helps you remember that these formations grow down from the ceiling while stalagmites grow up from the bottom of the cave!

Crystal Palace Tour Caverns of Sonora Texas

The Mayfield family not only owns and operates this cave, but they also fund all the current
explorations of its far corners as well.

The tour was over in just under two hours, and before we knew it, we were climbing the many stairs out of the cave. I was surprised to learn that the Mayfield family has had to ward off oil drilling interests that are insistently drilling and testing every inch of soil outside the boundary of the cave. They are hoping explorers find the cave is even bigger than they currently think it is — to help keep the oil drillers at bay.

Cave coral Crystal Palace Tour Caverns of Sonora Texaa

Stairway to Heaven!

The last bit of the tour took us through the “whalebone room” where the walls were rounded and smooth, as if made of whale bones.

Whale bone formation Caverns of Sonora Texas

In the whale bones…

What a neat little excursion this was!

If you are rattling across west Texas on I-10 in your RV, and you are looking for a really fun break from driving, check out the Caverns of Sonora. Besides all the pretty calcite formations in the cave, there is a small RV park right there next to the caverns.

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Big Bend National Park – Mountain, River & Desert Hikes

February, 2015 – Big Bend National Park in Texas has a really varied landscape. It is possible to go from a river habitat to a desert habitat to a mountain habitat without ever leaving the park! There are lots of hiking options in each of these terrains, and we enjoyed sampling the different locales, sticking to lower elevation hikes on cold days and higher elevation hikes on hot days.

The heart of the park is the Chisos Mountains, a range that juts up from the desert floor (down around 1,800 feet elevation), and soars to heights of over 7,800 feet. A quick walk out to an overlook gave us some beautiful views.

Overlook at Big Bend National Park Texas

An overlook in the Chisos Mountains.

We hiked the Window Trail one day, an easy 5.6 mile round trip hike from the central lodge. Because of the huge variations in elevation in this park, any mountain hike like this one is good for a warmer day.

Window Trail Hike in Big Bend National Park Texas

Beginning the Window Trail hike.

We expected to find a “window” somewhere along this hike. Descending a scenic dirt path, we were amazed when we suddenly found ourselves in a fun little canyon that was lined with large, flat and smooth rock that had been worn down over the ages by Oak Creek. The rangers have carved some really neat stairways through this part to make the hiking super easy.

Window Trail Hike Big Bend National Park Texas

Stairs make this hike even easier!

We were still on the lookout for that “window” as we made our way across the cool, shaded rocks. What we found, however, was not a window so much as vast opening in the canyon walls that peeked out at the desert floor in the distance. It was very dramatic — but quite slick too. Our intrepid RVing friend, Amanda, braved the slippery slope and went out for a closer look.

The Window on the Window Trail Hike in Big Bend

At last… a glimpse of the “window.”


The Santa Elena hike is down at the desert floor level of the park at the southwest end, and it follows the Rio Grande river into another stunning canyon. The scenic drive to get there warmed up our camera shutter fingers, and when we arrived at Santa Elena we found people out enjoying the warm sunshine on the banks of the river. Farmilies played on the edge of the water, and other folks kicked back for a little relaxation in the sun.

This 1.7 mile hike involves a lot of climbing, twisting and turning through a series of switchbacks at the beginning. At one switchback I noticed a beautiful glow coming from behind the rocks out on a ledge. I left the trail to go see what I could see, and soon found myself precariously tip-toeing along a steep rock face with the Rio Grande twinkling up at me from many feet below. I managed to get past the spooky part and found a huge rock overhang that was beautifully lit in the late afternoon light.

On the beach Santa Elena Canyon Big Bend Texas

Santa Elena Canyon has a beach in front of it!

Santa Elena Canyon Big Bend National Park Texas

A nice place to kick back and get some sun.

At Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend Texas

Views at the beginning of the hike

Light glowing under rocks in Big Bend National park Texas

Late afternoon light glowing behind a rock overhang lures me off the trail.

Once I got back on the trail, I realized I had totally lost track of Mark (and we’d forgotten to bring our trusty two-way radios…darn!). I kept asking hikers that were on the return trip if they had seen a guy in a gray shirt taking lots of photos. I got plenty of reassurances that he was ahead of me — and that all the climbing was well worth the views at the end!

Hikers descend on trail in Santa Elena Canyon Big Bend National Park Texas

Hikers returning down the trail ahead of me.

We had chosen to do this hike in the afternoon, and that turned out to be a great time to go, as the sun had finally penetrated the depths of the canyon. Photographers who were there in the morning said the light hadn’t been great — but the shade would be a welcome respite at a hotter time of year!

When I finally caught up with Mark, the trail was empty, and we were the only ones in the wonderful big open area at the end of the trail. Huge boulders begged to be climbed on, and a fabulous view between the lofty canyon walls opened up to the sunset-lit cliffs beyond.

Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon iin Big Bend Texas

The Rio Grande laps boulders on its way out the canyon.

Big Bend National Park looking into Santa Elena Canyon in Texas

Santa Elena Canyon

After enjoying the cool rock walls carved by creeks and canyons that we saw on the Window Trail and Santa Elena hikes, we then sampled a true desert hike out in abundant sunshine: the Grapevine Hills hike. This hike was at the desert floor altitude, but instead of finding ourselves surrounded by sheer rock cliffs that had been formed by a flowing river or stream, we passed through a wide open area that was rimmed with wonderful rock hoodoos.

The further we went on the trail, the more fun this hike became, as it twisted and turned its way into the rock hoodoos. This was like a kid’s playground. We scampered all over the rocks, feeling very much like kids, and at the end of the hike we found the signature rock formation — a balancing rock.

Balancing Rock Big Bend National Park Texas

The Balancing Rock at the end of the Grapevine Hills Hike.

Under the balancing rock in Big Bend National Park Texas

Looking through the balancing rock.

Grapevine Hills hike to Balancing Rock in Big Bend Texas

Having fun crawling around on the boulders.

Grapevine Hills Balancing Rock hike in Big Bend Texas

Nature in balance.

The wonderful thing about Big Bend National Park is that you can pick your destinations within the park to suit the climate of the day. We saw both hot, dry weather and freezing cold, wet weather during our two week stay, and we were grateful that during the heat we could play outside in the mountains and during the cold spells we could hang out at the lower elevations.

We also saw a very unexpected weather pattern that we’ve never experienced before: a thermal inversion between the desert floor and the mountains. For quite a few days it was 15 degrees warmer in the Chisos Mountains than it was at the lower elevation parts of the park thousands of feet below!

Lost Mine Hike Big Bend National Park Texas

Ascending the Lost Mine Trail.

Another very popular hike is the Lost Mine trail. This 5.1 mile hike took us on a steady climb through woods and trees, opening up after a while to huge views. We did the hike in the afternoon, so the mountains that filled our views as we hiked were shaded and not as dramatic as they could be.

As we approached the summit, the trail took a turn, and the golden light of late afternoon lit up the distant mountains in spectacular color. Like the other hikes, this end point was a true playground, with boulders to climb on and spots to perch and enjoy a snack with a view.

At the summit of the Lost Mine Hike Big Bend National Park

The summit opens up dramatic views in the late afternoon sun.

Tree at the top of Lost Mine Hike Big Bend Texas

I just LOVE that tree!!

Big Bend is a hiker’s paradise, and many people we met were embarking on multi-day backpacking hikes across the park. We stuck to short day hikes, but found them all very fulfilling.

RV Camping at Big Bend National Park Texas

Goodnight, Big Bend!!

Backpacking is great, but there is something about having a warm, soft bed and no twigs or rocks in your back at night that we really like, especially when you have a beautiful view!! (Here are some details about boondocking and RV camping in Big Bend).

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