Zion National Park’s Hidden Jewels – Off the Beaten Path in an RV!

December 2017 – Last year we took our RV to Zion National Park during the incredible fall foliage season in late October, and we were blown away by the beauty. We had visited Zion National Park several times before, but never when the leaves were turning.

We published two posts with pics and stories of our travel adventures at the time (here and here), and I had photos all ready to go for a third post, but by the time I was able to sit down and turn those photos into a blog post, it was January and our other more recent travel adventures were taking precedence.

Scenic Drive Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah-min

The scenic drives in and around Zion National Park are spectacular!

But I’ve got a window of time now, so here are our photos from “Hidden Zion,” the back roads that wander through the lesser known parts of Zion National Park and the surrounding area.

Zion Canyon National Park Kolob Canyons-min

We will never tire of visiting Zion National Park. It is one of America’s best!

The “front side” of Zion National Park is accessible from the village of Springdale and is visited by massive numbers of tourists every year. 4.3 million people jammed themselves into Zion Canyon in 2016, a 50% increase over 2014 which had been the busiest year until then. 2017 is surpassing that record by another 5%!!

Zion Canyon — the major canyon in Zion National Park — is without doubt the most dramatic part of the Park, but isn’t all there is to see…

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As I noted a few weeks back, just stopping the car along Route 9 on the east side of Zion National Park and walking 100 yards in from the highway can be a fabulous experience (blog post here).

View on Zion National Park Utah Kolob Canyons-min

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Cattle grazing Zion National Park Utah Kolob Canyons-min

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Over on the west side of the Zion National Park lies “Kolob Canyon,” a wonderful area full of towering red rocks and home to a few excellent (and little traveled) hiking trails.

Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah-min

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Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah-min

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There are roads leading towards the Park from several directions, and we poked our truck’s nose down a few to see what we’d find. After climbing for a long way, we were suddenly in the middle of an aspen grove.

Golden aspen Zion National Park Utah Kolob Canyons-min

Aspen trees light up in fall!

The yellow trees were shedding their leaves in showers of gold, and we walked down a small road deep into the heart of the aspen grove, bewitched by the leaves swirling in the autumn breezes around us.

Yellow Aspen lane Zion National Park Utah Kolob Canyons-min

An inviting road for a golden stroll…

We love aspen trees. There’s something about the way the leaves shimmer on the branches and the the way the white trunks grow in thick crowds, many adorned with little eyes, that we find very endearing.

Aspen Trees Zion National Park Utah Kolob Canyons-min

White aspen tree trunks.

What better time for a selfie?!

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We roamed around some more and came across an unexpected pond. The sky was alive with fantastic patterns of clouds high above.

Kolob Reservoir Zion National Park Utah-min

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We started back down again and were enchanted by the golden glow of the fields of gently swaying grass.

Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah-min

Kolob Canyon at Zion National Park

Kolob Canyons View Zion National Park Utah-min

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We passed a rancher on horseback moving among his cattle. What a place to graze your herd!!

Cattle Drive Zion National Park Utah-min

Just another day at the office for this cowboy!

In the late afternoon light, the Kolob Canyon views were truly jaw dropping. I was very busy in the passenger’s seat snapping pics!

Kolob Canyons Road Zion National Park Utah-min

Kolob Canyon is knock-your-socks-off gorgeous!

Scenic Drive Kolob Canyons Road Zion National Park Utah-min

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Every bend in the road yielded another stunning image.

Kolob Canyons Drive Zion National Park Utah-min

These views kept my shutter finger very busy!!

Scenic Drive Kolob Canyons Road Zion National Park Utah-min

Breathtaking!


Scenic Drive Kolob Canyons Road Zion National Park Utah-min

Talk about a scenic drive!

Zion National Park is one of those places that offers layer upon layer of wonder and is worthy of much leisurely wandering.

Hiking Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah-min

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We thought we’d “been there and done that” years ago on a tent camping trip when we zipped through Zion on our way from Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon. On our next visit during our first year of full-timing we saw just a little bit more. Finally, on our RV trip to Zion last year, we hung around the area long enough to start exploring the nooks and crannies in depth.

Yet we still haven’t done any of the iconic hikes that make Zion National Park so famous, so it is still rock solid in its position at the top of our bucket list of “must see” places!!

Zion National Park Kolob Canyons RV Trip-min

Zion National Park is worthy of many return RV trips!

When I was in Paris a few months ago, a new friend asked me if we still find new places to go even after ten years of traveling around North America full-time. I had to laugh because we still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of seeing anything.

What a beautiful life we are blessed to be living that we can go back to a place like Zion National Park again and again and still find ourselves awe-struck by the scenery and curious to find out what lies around the next bend.

Full moon Zion National Park Utah RV trip-min

A nearly full moon rises at Zion National Park.

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Sand Hollow Side-by-Side UTV/ATV Adventure Rally – Test Drives in the Dunes!

November 2017 – During our stay at Sand Hollow State Park in Utah, we woke up one morning to the sound of rolling thunder. We peeked out the windows just in time to see a super souped up truck go flying by. In a split second all we could see was the cloud of dust he left behind.

Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A roaring truck engine woke us up.

A few minutes later, the truck circled back, idled for a while behind some bushes and then roared to life once again and zoomed through the sand, leaving another wake of cloudy dust behind.

What the heck?

We grabbed our cameras and ran outside to see what was going on.

Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

This little souped up truck was thundering through the sand dunes.

Suddenly a really exotic looking Baja style dune buggy appeared right in front of us, its engine idling loudly like a growling beast ready to pounce.

UTV with Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Hear me roar!

As we stood there taking pics of this crazy scene, another RVer showed up, and then a drone pulled into view just above us and settled in the air hovering and waiting. All eyes were on this wild dune buggy as the driver revved up the engine.

Photographing the Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A drone hovers with its red light on waiting to catch the shot too!

And then, with a huge spray of sand flying off the spinning tires, the dune buggy was off. Holy smokes! The noise was so intense I instinctively wanted to cover my ears, but I wanted to get pics too and didn’t have enough hands to do both!!

Bilstein Shock photo shoot UTV at Sand Hollow State Park Utah 1-min

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The truck and Baja buggy circled around again, rumbling loudly as they passed us, and they took their positions once again. What was going on?

As the dune buggy sat there growling and roaring, Mark walked over and leaned his head in towards the driver and asked him if this was a photo shoot. Yup!! Who for? Bilstein shocks!

How cool is that?

I have no idea where the video and still shots from this photo shoot might appear, but keep an eye out for a Bilstein Shocks ad with this truck and Baja buggy at Sand Hollow!!

We had come to Sand Hollow State Park to participate in a side-by-side Jamboree that was open to the public. Even though we’d never ridden in a side-by-side (or any kind of ATV) before, we’ve seen them all over the place in our travels and we were darn curious about them.

Soon, the rally participants began to show up at Sand Hollow, filling the campgrounds and zooming all over the sand trails surrounding the reservoir.

Polaris RZR 4-seater UTV with RV camping at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The rally participants began to swarm around us!

We had seen tons of side-by-sides in Buffalo, Wyoming, and Custer, South Dakota, over the summer, and we had been looking into renting a side-by-side somewhere to see what they’re like. In the course of looking for a place to rent one, Mark came across the Sand Hollow SxS Adventure Rally.

This is a marketing event for the industry and the local power sports dealerships, and several of the major vendors of side-by-sides would be showing off their products and leading rally participants on the trails surrounding and criss-crossing the park.

Toy hauler fifth wheel and Polaris RZR UTV RV camping-min

A sand storm indeed!

The previously quiet Sand Hollow State Park suddenly swelled with campers, and the whine of side-by-sides filled the air.

Buggies of every possible description were parked all over the place, and toy haulers, big utility trailers and flat bed trailers were strewn everywhere.

Sand Hollow Jamboree Side by Side UTV test drives-min

Side-by-sides line up for the trail rides.
The flags make them visible even when they dip into the valleys of the dunes.

Local power sports dealer Moto Zoo from nearby St. George, Utah, joined the manufacturers in the rally and invited the public to do test rides.

We were the first ones at the Moto Zoo booth to sign up for morning test drives on their Polaris models. This was gonna be fun!

Polaris General test ride Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

We suited up with helmets to take our first test drive.

There were three Polaris models available for test drives: the RZR 570, the General, and the RZR 1000.

We hopped into the RZR 570 and were given a quick run-down from our guide on how the thing worked, which buttons did what, and how to drive it.

Polaris RZR 570 Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Our first test drive was on a Polaris RZR 570, the smallest of the lineup.

And then we were off!

We were suited up with helmets, so it was a little awkward to see each other or talk a whole lot, but I could tell Mark was grinning from ear to ear and having a ball behind the wheel.

Test drive Polaris RZR 570 Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Happy driver!

As we climbed up into the sand dunes to a perch high on the top, all I could think was, “Wow, you sure get to see a lot of back country stuff when you ride in one of these things!”

There was no way our mountain bikes could have handled that deep sand, and the trails were off-limits to trucks.

And what a view we had on the way down!

Polaris RZR 570 test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Sand Hollow State Park is a great place for test drives!

Our next test drive was on the new Polaris General that debuted in 2016. This side-by-side is a cross between the racy joy riding RZR series and the more utilitarian ranch and farm oriented Ranger series of Polaris side-by-sides. It’s got great shocks like the RZR but also has a nice big storage area in the back for hauling stuff like the Ranger.

When we’d been camping near Kanab, Utah, a few days earlier, we’d seen lots of people using their side-by-sides to go hunting. One big group in particular had bought both a big four seater Polaris RZR 1000 and a four seater Polaris General.

We were intrigued that they chose to use the General every single day while the RZR stayed parked when they went out hunting. We asked them why, and they said, “Because it rides like a Cadillac!”

Hmmm….

Polaris General at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

“Rides like a Cadillac.”
Our second test drive was on the Polaris General, a new model that is sporty yet practical at the same time.

Sure enough, our first ride on the small Polaris RZR 570 was a jaw rattler compared to our second ride on the Polaris General. The stutter bumps in the washboard areas on the trail were much less noticeable in the General than they had been in the RZR 570.

And being a much fancier model, the dashboard on the General had all kinds of goodies too, including a complete navigation system. For folks who ride in groups, their cell phones can be tied into the navigation system so each side-by-side can keep track of where all the others are. Pretty slick!

Polaris General side by side test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The Polaris General had a fancy navigation display and other goodies on the dashboard.

We followed the same loop as before and climbed up the soft orange sand dunes to a beautiful grove of red rock formations at the top of the hill and then drove back down towards the lake.

I was completely hooked, and Mark’s grin was even bigger than before!

Driving Polaris side-by-side buggies at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Back down the hill to the staging area. Can’t get enough of this view!

As expected, on our next test drive we found that the Polaris RZR 1000 was similar to the Polaris General, but was slightly more powerful (both are 1000 cc engines). But there was something about the practicality and smooth ride of the General that kept singing in the backs of our minds.

We were getting a huge kick out of doing these test rides, so when we were finished with Polaris we wandered over to the Yamaha booth to check out what they had on offer for test drives.

Polaris General and Yamaha sales booth at Sand Hollow Jamboree in Utah-min

The Polaris General slips by the Yamaha booth.

They had brought a fleet of Yamaha Wolverine X4 four seaters. These were more of a utility side-by-side than the Polaris RZR series, but didn’t have the sex appeal of the Polaris General.

After a very elaborate safety briefing, we climbed into a Wolverine X4 four seater and joined a line of other test drivers who were sandwiched between our leader in the front and a sweeper guy at the back.

Unfortunately for Yamaha — whose portable gas generator we absolutely love — the Wolverine X4 in front of us promptly got stuck in the sand. The two leaders got out a tow strap and hooked it to the lead side-by-side and pulled it out.

Yamaha Wolverine side by side test drive Sand Hollow Jamboree Utah-min

Out on the trail with the Yamaha Wolverine X4, the one in front of us got stuck.

If there was one feature that really stood out about the Wolverine X4, it was that everything on it rattled so much we were waiting for the buggy to fall apart right there on the trail. This seems odd for a Yamaha product, but so it goes.

Yamaha Wolverine X4 side by side test drive Utah Sand Hollow State Park-min

Yamaha Wolverine X4

Yamaha Wolverine X4 side by side test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Taking a break — This test driving stuff is hard work! (…just kidding…it’s a blast!)

On our way down, we passed one of the many SxS Rally trail rides that was heading out for a day of fun on in the sand and red rocks. The rally was offering rides of various levels, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. So, if you wanted just to see the scenery or preferred to tackle some insanely challenging rock climbs, there were guided trails ride for you!

Sand Hollow Jamboree of side-by-side UTV models-min

Rally-goers round the bed on their way out on a trail ride.

But the rally goers were all happy UTV owners, while we were total newbies, so we were busy doing test drives. And this test driving thing was proving to be a blast!

Once we’d finished our Yamaha ride and were back at the staging area with all the vendor booths, we walked over to Can-Am to check out the Can-Am Maverick X3.

By now the jamboree was in full swing and there were lots of people milling around signing up to test drive the side-by-sides.

A long line of Can-Am Maverick X3 buggies snaked past their booth, and we joined an excited crowd to get a quick safety briefing and overview of the various Maverick X3 models we would be testing before we each chose a model to begin our ride.

We started in a four seater. Oh my, what a smooth ride!! We blasted over some badly washboarded sections of trail and barely felt a thing. That long wheel base makes a massive difference going over rugged terrain!

Can-Am Maverick X3 side by side UTV Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The Can-Am Maverick X3 is a rocket ship, and the test drive was done at lightning speed!

Unlike the other manufacturers’ test drives, the Can-Am test drive was a totally testosterone filled speed fest.

We were at the back of the line, and within minutes after the start, we were left trailing far behind. The guys up front were going full bore, but we held back to stay out of their dust and to keep life and limb intact! Mark struggled to keep the next guy in line within sight!!

At a rest stop we swapped to a two seater Can-Am Maverick X3, and when the group got away from us once again, Mark floored it to catch back up. I hung on for dear life as we tore through the dunes at a breakneck speed.

Wow. Those things are rocket ships!!

They are powered by 3 inline cylinders, as compared to the Polaris RZR V-twin, and they are turbo charged too. So even though the Can-Am Mavericks are 900 cc engines as compared to the Polaris RZR 1000 cc engine, they have a faster top end.

However, at slow speeds the Polaris has more torque, so like everything, it all comes down to what you want to do with your side-by-side — climb rocks or fly on a rocket or just tool around and enjoy the views!

Can-Am Maverick X3 side by side UTV Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

I was so busy hanging onto the rails on this test drive that I took only a few pics.
In finally got a shot at the end of the ride as we were heading back to the staging area!

When I climbed out of the Can-Am Maverick X3 I shaking from that crazy wild ride. What a rush!

Eventually I calmed down and was ready for another test drive. By now our sweet ride in the Polaris General was a faint memory, but we were both pretty sure it was our favorite.

Luckily, the line for it wasn’t long at all, so we signed up to take it for another spin. How fun! This time we were given a private guided tour that showed how well it performed in rocky, challenging terrain.

Ready for a test drive at Sand Hollow Jamboree in Polaris General UTV-min

Back in the Polaris General, our favorite of the group.

Our guide was in a four seater Polaris RZR 1000, and he took us over all kinds of craggy stuff.

Rough terrain RZR 1000 4-seater UTV in Utah-min

We tested the Polaris General following a Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater over some rough terrain.

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At one point the trail took a turn and we were suddenly staring up at a steep rock climb. I hung on tight as Mark followed the guide up the hill. Yikes!!

Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater climbing rocks-min

Rock climbing.

We were both amazed at how easy it was.

Then we drove over a few big rocks. No problem!!

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Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater climbs rocks-min

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All too soon the test drive was over, and we were heading back down the sandy hillside. What a total blast this had been.

Sand Hollow Jamboree UTV side by side test drives-min

Our last trip down towards the lake. What a fabulous day this was!

There were other vendors at the rally selling all kinds of goodies for side-by-sides, from after market shocks to special lighting systems to unusual tow strap lines and even extra rugged mobile device charging systems.

The problem with going to any big marketing trade show type of event is that you can easily fall in love with whatever it is they’re hawking. We were ready to pick up a shiny new Polaris General right there on the spot! But we don’t exactly have an appropriate place to store it between awesome rides in the back country.

Sand Hollow State Park RV camping on the beach-min

We aren’t set up for a side-by-side just yet, but this fun day of test drives sure got our minds turning!

What a super fun eye opener this was into a hobby we know nothing about. Some of the vendors told us there are jamborees like this one all over the country. How cool — we’ll be there!

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More info about the Side-by-Side Adventure Rally and SxS brands :

Other blog posts where we took fun rides:

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Sand Hollow State Park, Utah – An Oasis in the Desert!

November 2017 – Sand Hollow State Park is another jewel in southwestern Utah‘s stunningly beautiful crown of red rock scenery. Situated just 30 miles from Zion National Park, it is a newer state park that opened in 2003, and it boasts a beautiful blue reservoir, vivid orange beaches and a spectacular mountain backdrop.

RV camping Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Sand Hollow State Park in Utah

Just like nearby Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Sand Hollow is a lesser known gem in an area that is overflowing with beautiful National Parks.

As we noted in our post about Kanab, Utah, with Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon so close by, many RVers and other travelers have no idea there is even more to see in the area.

Boating at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A beautiful reservoir is at the heart of Sand Hollow State Park.

The man-made lake is bordered at one end by a dam which captures the flow of the Virgin River. At the other end there’s an inviting collection of red rocks. The beaches surrounding the reservoir are filled with vivid orange sand. The overall effect of blue sky, blue water, red rocks and sand is very dramatic and makes for a fun time wandering around with a camera.

Photography at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Bright orange beaches and rocks – a great spot for photography!

The lake at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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The reservoir at Sand Hollow State Park is beloved by people who like to play outside in nature. Out on the water in the distance, we saw some folks in a canoe making their way from shore to shore. The mountains rose behind them in awesome colors as the sun played hide and seek, casting shadows across the hilly contours.

Kayaking Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

What a backdrop for canoeing!

We no longer have our inflatable Hobie kayak, but being here on the water’s edge watching kayakers out on the reservoir got our minds turning. It sure looked like fun out there!

Kayaking Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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Down at our feet, the water was extremely clear. Tiny wavelets lapped the shore, and we could see every detail of the rocks under the water.

Clear water Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The water is extremely clear.

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There are several RV campgrounds and camping options within Sand Hollow State Park. Westside Campground has full hookups, paved loops, big sites and wonderful views.

RV camping Westside Campground Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Westside Campground.

RV camping Westside Campground Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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What we loved, though, was being down by the water where the reeds grow thick and tall.

Dramatic light Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Tall reeds hug the lake along the shore.

Wonderfully dark storm clouds hung over the mountains late one afternoon, but just as the sun started its final descent into the horizon behind us, it lit up the red rocks on the far shore as if pointing them out with a spot light.

Reeds and light at dusk Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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Light and shadow Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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At dawn pastel pinks filled the sky and water.

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Soft light at dawn.

The orange sand beaches set aside for day use and picnics are endless. Deep soft sand dunes run down to the lake, and big groups of seagulls pierce the air with their haunting calls.

In one spot I caught a reflection of the distant mountains in a mirror-like pool in front of me.

Dramatic Light Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Reflections.

We were blessed to have been able to live on the water in our sailboat for a few years, and I’ve been lucky enough to live on the water in other boats and in a beach house for a few years in previous lives before that.

There is something about a large expanse of water filling a landscape that makes it come alive. It is ever changing, going from placid to fierce, from white to dark blue, and at Sand Hollow it even turns shades of pink, red and orange by the shore.

Rippling waves at RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Small waves ripple across the reservoir’s red sand bottom.

Sand Hollow State Park has a second campground with paved loops, gravel campsites and hookup options ranging from dry camping to water/electric. There’s also a spiffy toilet and shower building. It’s called Sand Pit Campground, which is a little unfair, because it isn’t a pit and it isn’t any sandier than anywhere else in the park.

I mean, if you go to Sand Hollow, you go to play in the sand and on the beach, right?!

There is also open boondocking (“primitive camping”) too, but you’ve got to scout it out very carefully and evaluate whether your RV can make it down and back on the soft sand trails that lead there. We gave it a shot with our buggy and were glad we have our new truck with its limited slip differential and rock solid four wheel drive.

RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Home Sweet Home.

The view out our door was breathtaking. And what we loved was the way the view was constantly changing.

View out RV door Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A beautiful sunny view right out our door.

View out RV door Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A beautiful cloudy view right out the door!

Claude Monet is famous for his series of impressionist paintings of haystacks. Each painting is unique, and the series shows how the light playing on the haystacks totally changed their look and feel, morning, noon and night.

For the same reasons, we became enraptured by the picnic table at our campsite.

Following Monet’s infinite simplicity in choosing the name “Haystacks,” we call our series of photos “Picnic Table.”

RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A photo series called “Picnic Table” 🙂

RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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RV campsite Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

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During our stay, not only did the sun and clouds chase each other around the sky, leaving a continuous trail of beautiful artwork behind, but the moon played her part too. During sunset one evening, we caught her silent ascent as she peeked between the clouds and winked at us over the mountains.

Full moon rising Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A rising full moon smiles down on Sand Hollow State Park.

If your RV travels take you to the southwestern part of Utah, drop by Sand Hollow State Park and dig your toes in the sand!

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More info about Sand Hollow State Park:

The beach and sand are wonderful to play in at Sand Hollow, but we did see notices posted about what to do if you go swimming and end up with “Swimmer’s Itch.” Read up a bit on this before you jump in for a dip!

Other blog posts from Utah’s Red Rock Country:

Our most recent posts:

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Kanab – Hub for the National Parks + Gorgeous Canyons Nearby!

November 2017 – Southern Utah is loaded with eye-popping scenic drives. From the stunning and famous Scenic Highway 12 to the little known Burr Trail to the dramatic Bicentennial Highway (Utah Route 95) and Scenic Byway 24 through Capitol Reef Country, almost every road in southern Utah is impossible to drive without stopping every few miles to take a photo!

RV trip to Zion National Park Utah-min

There are loads of gorgeous scenic drives in southern Utah!

Driving through the red rocks near Kanab Utah-min

Whether it’s a freeway or a back country byway, almost every road in southern Utah is a stunner!

Scenic drive on the way to Zion National Park Utah-min

Typical southern Utah scenery at dusk.

Scenic road near Kanab Utah-min

Southern Utah inspires us every time we visit!

We’ve loved our travels in southern Utah so much that I’ve had to split our Utah travel page to list southwestern Utah and southeastern Utah blog posts separately. Looking them over, it’s impossible to say which area we love most!

But our travels this year focused on the area around Kanab, a little town that is within easy striking distance of the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Bryce Canyon, three of America’s most popular and awe-inspiring National Parks.

Like many western towns, a hillside on the edge of town sports Kanab’s first initial.

Red rock mountain in Kanab Utah-min

The letter “K” for “Kanab” on a nearby hillside.

Kanab, Utah, has a long history of hosting Hollywood movie crews whenever they descended on the area to film scenes set in the dramatic landscapes nearby.

Not only are there movie sets to visit, both renovated and dilapidated, but there’s a historic motel in the center of town that has lots of photos of the various celebrities who have used their facilities as a home base while making their films.

Sign at Historic Parry Lodge in Kanab Utah-min

Historic Parry Lodge was the motel of choice for visiting Hollywood stars.

But our favorite aspect of Kanab is getting out into those landscapes and exploring. The amazing thing is that simply driving towards the big name destinations automatically becomes a trip through gorgeous scenery.

Taking Route 89 a few miles north of town in the direction of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon, we found a stunning red rock wall that was throwing fabulous reflections across the water.

We’ve driven this road dozens of times and barely noticed this gem passing by at 60 mph. This time we stopped to take photos!

Red rock reflections Kanab Utah RV trip-min

Just north of town on Route 89 thousands of people zip past this beautiful spot!

Red rock reflections Kanab Utah RV trip-min

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Heading east of Kanab we drove into Johnson Canyon where, again, the views were breathtaking.

Johnson Canyon scenery Kanab Utah RV trip-min

Johnson Canyon offers some gorgeous views.

We spotted an exotic looking rig camping among the towering rocks. At first we thought it was an EarthRoamer, a very expensive go-anywhere type of ultra rugged motorhome. But it turned out to be a work truck front end with a small travel trailer perched in the bed! Now there’s a creative way to go…!!

Unusual RV near Kanab Utah-min

An EarthRoamer? No, a utility truck with a travel trailer on the back!

Johnson Canyon Road veers off onto various dirt roads that can take you on a very long back country adventure through Grand Staircase Escalante before returning you to one of the distant highways. There isn’t a whole lot back there, but we were thrilled when we spotted a roadrunner that wasn’t sprinting away as they usually do.

Roadrunner Kanab Utah-min

This roadrunner stopped running just long enough for a portrait.

This little guy wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere.

Roadrunner Kanab Utah-min

He wasn’t too worried about ut.

He sat on his perch and looked this way and that, letting us get incredibly close.

Roadrunner in Kanab Utah_-2-min

“Here’s my better side.”

Roadrunner in Kanab Utah-min

Did you know roadrunners have that cool patch of bright orange behind their eyes?

Then he hopped to face the other way, and after showing off his tail, he took off.

Roadrunner's tail Kanab Utah-min

A final tail shot gave us a view of the color patches almost meeting in the back of his head.

This is ranching country, and cattle grazed peacefully in the fields. We noticed a crowd of cows and a huge flock of mockingbirds were grouped in one spot. We slowed to get a closer look and were floored to see a lone coyote standing over a dead deer in the middle of them all.

As we approached, all but a few mockingbirds (which look like flying saddle shoes) scattered to the winds. The cows swayed and turned their attention to us. But the coyote didn’t budge. He stood over his kill and even licked his chops.

Coyote protects deer kill Kanab Utah-min

Dinner.

We often hear coyotes yipping at night. They hunt in groups and let out a whoop and holler of excitement when they get a kill. But this guy appeared to have taken down the deer by himself, as there were no other coyotes around. It is astonishing that a coyote could take down a deer, but we did a little research later and found that it is not that unusual, although several friends think he was just an opportunist who came along at the right moment!

It was strange, though, to look at the big herd of cows standing around and realize that they had witnessed the whole thing. What did they think as they watched the coyote chasing that deer down?

Coyote and cow Kanab Utah RV trip-min

What did the cows think of the grisly slaughter that became a banquet feast for dozens of creatures?
Five days later we drove by again and only a few bare bones were left.

There are some red rock walls in Johnson Canyon that sport petroglyphs left by the ancients. Not far from the familiar rock art images of hundreds of years ago there are also some scratchings that were left more recently.

Kids from the class of 1941 made a few etchings, and a “Store and Garage” owned by Jensen and a partner which sold Eastman Kodak film had something of an advertisement pecked out on one rock wall.

We saw this funny kind of antique advertising at Montezuma’s Well in Arizona too. Those wily proprietors knew that tourists were out searching the landscape for petroglyphs. What better way to lure them to your store back in town than to put an ad right alongside?!

Old sign on red rocks near Kanab Utah-min

Petroglyphs from 1941

Kanab is quite a hub for RV travelers, especially international travelers, and rental RVs are as common as privately owned rigs. One year we saw several rental RVs with flags from the tourists’ home countries, and another year, while we were waiting to use the RV dump station in town, we met a couple from Germany who had taken their rig around the world.

South of town lie the mysterious sand dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah-min

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

But without doubt, the most popular destination for folks that swing through Kanab is Zion National Park. Before reaching the incredible scenery that lies in the main canyon or the stunning vistas that lie in the western section of the Park at Kolob Canyon, tourists coming into Zion from the east end up driving one of the most dramatic roads we’ve ever seen.

Welcome to Zion National Park Utah-min

Entering Zion National Park, a world of wonder!

Route 9 between Zion’s hometown of Springdale, Utah, and the intersection with Route 89 travels through a kaleidescope of color and a series of switchbacks that are mind boggling. I will never forget our first trip on this road with a minivan years ago. Unfortunately, part of the road goes through a low and narrow tunnel, and dually trucks and larger vehicles can’t go through the tunnel without paying a fee for a pilot because traffic must be shut down in the opposite direction.

Old truck Zion National Park east entrance Utah RV trip-min

Right next to the entrance sign there’s an old truck. Maybe the owner is waiting for the tunnel to be widened!

We weren’t traveling to the main part of Zion this year, so we didn’t go through the tunnel to the dramatic switchbacks on the other side, but we still enjoyed a glorious few hours exploring the scenic drive east of there.

Driving Route 9 to Zion National Park on Utah RV trip-min

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road!

Airstream trailer drives scenic road to Zion National Park Utah-min

RVs drive this road but must pay a fee at the tunnel.

Since we had plenty of time and just a few miles of distance to cover, we made a point to get out of the truck a bunch of times and wander way back into the exotic landscape, far from the road.

This little excursion was well worth doing because everyone on the road was whipping past at high speeds on their way to the main part of the park, but there was nobody out in the red rocks.

Scenic route 9 to Zion National Park Utah-min

Just a few steps from Route 9 we were enveloped by some of Mother Nature’s best handiwork.

Exotic rock formations Route 9 Zion National Park Utah-min

Exotic swirling patterns in the rocks.

The Fall foliage season was in full swing, and quite a few trees were bursting with yellow, orange and red colors.

Fall foliage Zion National Park scenic drive Route 9-min

Fall color comes to Zion.

The peace and tranquility out on these unique rocks was delicious, and we just soaked it all in.

It was fascinating to run our hands on the exotic swirls of rock and imagine the days eons ago when these exotic mounds were sand dunes. The sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes flies so freely in the wind…

Enjoying the view at Zion National Park-min

Back here, 100 yards from the road, you’d never know there was a road!

Stone dunes Zion National Park RV trip-min

These colorful, striated mounds were once sand dunes, not unlike the ones over at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park a few miles away.

Star burst and stone sand dunes Zion National Park Utah RV trip-min

Wow!

Looking at the rock patterns up close, it seemed very similar to wood grain. I love the way the different grains intersect and criss-cross each other.

Red rock veins look like wood-min

Up close the rock looks an awful lot like wood!

We made our way back to the road and the traffic had intensified. Zion National Park is extremely popular, and the road leading to it from the east was becoming non-stop cars and RVs.

RV on scenic Route 9 Zion National Park Utah-min

Scenic Route 9 heading into Zion.

if your RV travels take you through Kanab, there are wonders to see in all directions. But some of the greatest beauty and quietest spots can be found along the roads leading to the big name destinations, so take your time getting there!

RV camping under the Milky Way near Kanab Utah-min

I couldn’t resist posting another awesome Milky Way shot with our rig… 🙂

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – Shape Shifting in the Sand!

October, 2017 – During our stay in the area around Kanab, Utah, we took a day trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Just like the name of the park, this is an area that is filled with sand dunes that are vibrant hues of orange, pink and coral, depending on the light.

Shadows on Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah

In the distance there were soft, gentle mounds of sand that caught the late afternoon shadows in their grasp.

Rolling dunes Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Rolling dunes.

On the edges of the dunes lots of determined vegetation clung to life in the arid land.

Sand patterns Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Ragged plants eek out a life in the sand.

Weed Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

A tiny plant is half buried by sand.

We even spotted a beautiful yellow wildflower that was blooming on a scraggly bush. The wind was whipping and the flower was dancing all around, but for a split second the wind stopped and we got a photo of this one lone flower.

Wildflowers Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

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As we looked down at the orange sand, we saw footprints from all kinds of creatures.

Bird tracks Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Who went there?

Then the dunes opened up before us and they were virgin and pure, showing only the traces of the wind that had left the sand rippled.

Ripples in sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Virgin sand.

This is dune buggy and side-by-side heaven, and the tracks from these machines were visible here and there.

Wheel tracks Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Lots of folks come here to ride their buggies in the dunes.

But it was the naturally patterned sand that caught our eyes. We felt like we were the first explorers on the moon as we looked back and saw our tracks in the wind kissed sand.

Footprints Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

First footprints.

Walking into the dunes Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Big wide dunes.

If you enjoy photography, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a great place to roam around and take pics!

Photography Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Capturing the scene on camera.

Waves of sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min-min

Waves of sand.

There’s something about a huge open expanse of sand that just begs for a personal imprint. This sand is very light and airy, so the best way to draw was with our feet. I looked up, and Mark was busy drawing something in the distance.

Drawing a heart Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Mark creates a picture…

Drawing a heart in the sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

…and then walks on.

As I got closer I saw what it was…

Heart in the sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

A heart. How sweet!

The amazing thing about these dunes is that the wind never quits and the canvas landscape is forever being erased and made virgin once again.

One particular sweeping crest in the dunes had been attracting us since we first looked out on the vast sandscape.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Light and shadow on rolling hills of soft sand.

As we approached we could see that the wind was continually blowing its top off.

Blowing sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

The wind blows the sand off the top of the dune’s crest.

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes are continually shifting and moving as the wind pushes them, grain by grain, this way and that. The end result is persistent soft mounds and curves that can be tread by feet and wheels every day without ever bearing a permanent mark.

Blowing sand Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

A gust of wind blows a veil of sand off the dune.

Even as we walked back out of the dunes, we saw our own footprints had already begun to disappear. One grain at a time, the entire playground of dunes was shape shifting.

Soft sand dunes Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

Ever-changing dunes.

There is a ton to see and do near this part of Utah, including stunning Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Park, Red Canyon, the slot canyon at Wire Pass Trail, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Old Western Movie Sets and even watching the release of a golden eagle back into the wild.

Sand blows at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah RV trip-min

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So when you see the sign for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park whip by on the freeway, it can be all too easy to keep going and skip it, as we have many times. But if you are planning an RV trip to southern Utah, it’s very worthwhile to make the turn and go romp around in the dunes for a while!

RV motorhome drives through red rock scenery near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah

When RVing in Southern Utah, don’t miss Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park!

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Johnson Canyon Movie Set – A Spooky Ghost Town – Happy Halloween!

October 2017 – We never know what we’ll see when we poke our head out of our trailer in the boondocks at night, especially near a ghost town out west. Around the end of October, things can get a little spooky!

Happy Halloween witch flies over the moon on a broomstick-min

Who’s that flying by?
(Our friend Bob spotted her – thank you!)

We were camping near Kanab, Utah, a place that was once known as “Little Hollywood” because so many western movies were shot there. Quite a few movie sets still remain in the area, and we explored the Johnson Canyon movie set.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Visiting the movie set at Johnson Canyon made for a fun little adventure.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab UT-min

Episodes of the TV show Gunsmoke were shot on this set!

Camermen and casts from TV’s Gunsmoke and many other TV shows worked on this set for years. It’s hard to imagine the commotion and excitement of those glamorous days. Now the buildings are falling apart.

Movie set ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min

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Inside movie set ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min

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Many of the buildings have been removed since its heyday as a movie set, and the few that remain are very dilapidated.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

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Stormy skies ghost town at Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Stormy skies and fast moving clouds added to the mysterious air of this abandoned ghost town.

What’s odd about this place is that even though it was never a real town, it is very much a ghost town today. A rusty old stove stands forlorn among the tall grasses and fallen walls lie against a brick chimney.

Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Some scenes were shot inside, so there’s an old stove from the movie days rusting away in a field.

Chimney at Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town in Kanab Utah-min

Dilapidated walls lean against a lone brick chimney.

During our stay in the area, the nights were clear and crisp, and the full moon faded away. The bright stars of the Milky Way glittered in the sky all night long.

One night Mark announced that he was going to take his camera out to the movie set ghost town and see if he could get some cool and spooky pics. Sure enough, while I was snuggled under the blankets in the wee hours of the morning, he got some real winners!

Milky Way over Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

Mark braved the very cold night air to experience the ghouls and goblins of this ghost town under the stars.

Milky Way over Johnson Canyon movie set ghost town Kanab Utah-min

If the ghost town was alluring by day, it was even more so by night.

Using a small flashlight to “light paint” the buildings in the dark and a big one so he could get from building to building without tripping in the pitch dark, he captured the ghost town buildings at their most mysterious!

Ghost town at night Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Haunted house.

Stars over ghost town Johnson Canyon movie set Kanab Utah-min

Very mysterious!

It was cold, and a light wind raised the hair on the back of his neck. Coyotes yelped in the distance. As he looked around, he saw pairs of eyes staring at him in the dark. A twig snapped in a tree next to him and he jumped!

Stars over ghost town at Johnson Canyon movie set near Kanab Utah-min

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Despite being a little unnerved, Mark’s camera captured one great image after another. The photo above won him “Photo of the Day” at Steve’s Digicam today! Check it out here!!

Milky Way over old cabin Johnson Canyon Utah-8

What ghouls and goblins are living there?

Milky Way over ghost town Johnson Canyon Kanab Utah-min

This is a spooky place at night!

It turned out the eyes belonged to cows that were milling around, but he still got the creeps. When he burst in the trailer door a few hours later, a rush of cold air followed him. He was grinning, but his teeth were chattering too. It’s scary out there!!

Fifth Wheel trailer RV under the milky way black and white-min

Happy Halloween!!

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Picturesque Medieval Charm an Hour from Paris – Moret sur Loing

September 2017 – While visiting Paris we took an easy train ride out to the beautiful town of Moret sur Loing. With architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, complete with arches and town gates, it is utterly charming and makes for a very fun excursion and change of pace from the big city.

Roman gate at Moret sur Loing France-min

Moret sur Loing is a very cool Medieval town.

Small towns are my favorite places to visit, and English woman Annabel Simms has written two books describing the many pretty towns a short train ride from Paris that are worthy of a day trip.

Moret sur Loing (officially renamed Moret-Loing-et-Orvanne in 2016) is filled with tiny streets. The homes and businesses are built right to the edge of the sidewalk.

Village street Moret sur Loing France-min

Cute streets.

We strolled the streets of town, marveling at the many antique buildings that are centuries old.

Medieval buildings Moret sur Loing France-min

Architecture from a fairy tale!

The detail in their decorations is wonderful. Doorways aren’t just an opening to get through a wall. Instead they are elaborately decorated. One doorway featured ornately carved wooden scenes and scroll work.

Carved wooden doorway Moret sur Loing France-min

An ornate doorway…

Wooden carving Moret sur Loing France-min

A closer look at the wood carvings above the door.

There were arches through buildings on several streets. They were barely wide enough for a car, although I did see a bus squeeze through the taller ones!

Medieval arch and buildings in Moret sur Loing France-min

An arch under a clock tower!

The early fall air was warm and clear. Flowers in window boxes gave the stone architecture a colorful flair.

Stone building and windows Moret sur Loing France-min

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We had gone to the town to enjoy the intimacy, tranquility and history of an antique village, but this place isn’t just a museum piece, and even though the architecture is old, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be used. I had to smile when a fellow rode up on a bike to use a modern day ATM built into the wall of a very old building.

ATM in antique building Moret sur Loing France-min

A modern ATM in an antique building.

A tall archway leads to a bridge over the Loing River. Looking back at the arch, I half expected to see a row of knights on horseback coming through, their lances raised and colors flying!

Medieval entrance gate Moret sur Loing France-min

Looking back at the arch tower from the cobblestone bridge.

Next to the tower was a very cute restaurant overlooking the river. It was the ideal spot for lunch.

Medieval gate and restaurant on the river Moret sur Loing France-min

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The seats on the deck were all full, so we thought we’d walk around for an hour and try again later. Unfortunately, the restaurant is open strictly for lunch, so when we returned it was closed!

Restaurant on the river Moret sur Loing France-min

Lunch with a view. How fun. But don’t be late or they’ll be closed!

Our walk down to the river’s edge was well worth missing a fancy lunch, however. We just grabbed a baguette sandwich at a boulangerie and had a picnic by the water watching the ducks and geese playing in the currents.

Medieval stone arch Moret sur Loing France-min

A cobblestone path under a stone arch leads to the riverbank.

Moret sur Loing France-min

OMG! Is this right out of a picture book, or what?!

A small walking path goes along the edge of the river, and we walked along it to the next village. Rivers and canals connect all of Europe, and we passed lots of barges tied up along the shore that looked like they could really go the distance.

Loing River scene Moret sur Loing France-min

A picturesque mirrored view of homes and barges along the river.

Barge and riverside buildings Moret sur Loing France-min

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A barge can make a spacious and fun floating home, and many of them looked very inviting to live in!

River barge Moret sur Loing France-min

What a cool lifestyle!

One thing that is really apparent in France, and especially Paris, is how well people dress. The men are dapper and the women are chic. There is a love of tailored fashion we just don’t see in our travels elsewhere, and as we would wait for the Metro or walk the city streets it was a true delight to see one handsome and impeccably dressed Parisian after another going past.

Well, Parisian chic extends into the countryside too, and French people aren’t the only ones in France who have a true sense of style.

As we strolled along the banks of the Loing River, I looked down to see the most unusual and smartly dressed cat I’ve ever seen. What a coat!

Exotic cat Moret sur Loing France-min

Feline Parisian chic.

Rivers and canals don’t all have the same water level as each other, so they are often joined together by lock systems where boats can be raised or lowered, allowing them to float from one canal to another.

As we crossed a bridge, we saw a barge coming towards us and noticed that there was a lock system on one side of the bridge right below our feet.

Barge approaches locks Moret sur Loing France-min

A barge chugs up to the lock.

The captain of the barge brought the boat into the lock and quickly tied the boat to the big cleats on the concrete walls of the lock.

Captain ties up barge at locks Moret sur Loing France-min

The captain secured the barge inside the lock.

He hopped off the barge and greeted the woman controlling the locks with the traditional French kiss on both cheeks. He obviously came through this lock on a regular basis!

As the doors closed behind the barge it was amazing what a tight fit the boat was inside the lock.

Barge in the locks Moret sur Loing France-min

The gates closed behind the barge. It was now in its own little bathtub and could be raised to the level of the next canal.

For the next few minutes the lock filled with water while the captain chatted with the lady controlling the lock and then with another fellow who rode up on a bike to say hello. Then he climbed back aboard, the lock gates swung open, and he sailed the barge out of the lock.

There was something very heartwarming about the whole thing. There are thousands of locks worldwide, and we’ve read many accounts of sailors taking their boats through the Panama Canal and we’ve watched the huge barges going through the Soo Locks in Michigan.

But this was a little lock in a scenic small French town, and there was something quite delightful about the simple traditions and conventions of moving a barge through the lock that were all in a day’s work for these people.

Barge leaves the locks Moret sur Loing France-min

After being raised to the water level in the next canal, the barge sails onward.
It might be really fun to be the captain of a barge in these waterways!

As we walked along the opposite shore back to town, the Medieval glory of Moret-sur-Loing came into view once again.

Moret sur Loing cathedral view from river France_-min

Moret sur Loing.

In between taking photos, I came across a plaque that told the town’s history. The first date on the plaque describing the earliest recorded events in this place was 1045. Wow!!

That predates many of the ancient Indian ruins and rock art we see in the American West, and it is fairly close to the timeframe that the Mayans were building Palenque in Mexico and the Khmer at Ankor Wat in Cambodia were erecting their massive stone temples.

Cathedral Moret sur Loing France-min

The cathedral in Moret sur Loing.

We made our way back to Paris and decided to catch sunset at the Eiffel Tower. There is a huge plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower where vendors sell all kinds of trinkets on blankets spread out in front of them.

Vendors at the Eiffel Tower Paris France-min

Vendors sell trinkets at the plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

When the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair it was the tallest building in the world. The base of the tower is enormous!

Eiffel Tower Paris France-min

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Base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris France-min 2

The Eiffel Tower has a huge base.

As the golden hour just before sunset came, the gold leaf dome of Les Invalides where Napoleon is entombed glinted in the setting sun.

Sunset on Les Invalides Paris France-min

The golden dome of Les Invalides (site of Napoleon’s tomb) glows at sunset.

And then, as darkness fell, the Eiffel Tower lit up. How magical!!

Eiffel Tower lit up at night Paris France-min

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Paris is as enchanting by night as it is by day, and we walked around town late into the evening.

Hotel de Ville at night Paris France-min

Hotel de Ville and all the antique buildings of Paris are lit up beautifully at night.

The Seine River in Paris France at Night-min

The Seine River.

The banks of the Seine River are as full of people at night as they are during the daytime. What a fun surprise it was to come across a group of people dancing Argentine Tango right on the riverbanks.

Talk about romantic!!

Dancing on the Seine River Paris France-min

What could be more romantic that dancing under the stars on the banks of the Seine?

As we made our way back to the Metro, we passed Notre Dame cathedral. She was aglow with lights.

Notre Dame Cathedral at night Paris France-min

Notre Dame Cathedral.

And the river boats on the Seine kept plying the water long after dark.

Notre Dame Cathedral and river boats on the Seine River Paris France-min

Boats take tourists along the Seine past Notre Dame well into the night.

My visit to Paris was capped off in the most charming way I could possibly imagine. On our last ride on the Paris Metro, while standing in the aisle hanging onto a strap, I suddenly heard the sound of an accordion. I looked up to see a young man coming through the doors connecting the train cars. He stared right at me and smiled as he played a classic tune.

Oh my!

I grabbed my camera and threw it into video mode as fast as I could. What an absolutely perfect way to bid goodbye to an elegant and inviting city.

So, here it is — a 30 second video from an accordion player on the Metro along with the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower shimmering in the dark and dancers on the Seine:

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A Las Vegas Light Show — WOW!!

September 2017 – Just before I left on a whirlwind trip to Paris — the City of Light — we experienced one of the most dramatic light shows we have ever seen anywhere. It was put on by Mother Nature and staged in the valley north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

She used the city lights as a backdrop and spotlights mounted on a building in front of us as footlights!

Lightning in Las Vegas_

Bolts of lightning fill the night skies over Las Vegas

We were camped at the Clark County Shooting Complex RV park, a nice little RV park that sits up on a hill north of Las Vegas. We were there because we needed air conditioning in the 95 degree late summer heat during our stay.

RV at Clark County Shooting Range Las Vegas at sunset

Storm clouds light the sky in bright colors at Clark County Shooting Complex RV Park.

The high vantage point of the park gives RVers fabulous views of the city lights at night from every campsite. In the mornings we were woken by folks enjoying target practice.

As we stood outside, marveling at the majestic colors of sunset and watching thick and dark storm clouds swirl across the valley from the mountains on the distant horizon, we suddenly heard the wind pick up and felt some raindrops on our cheeks.

A lightning storm begins at sunset in Las Vegas

Rain falls from storm clouds at sunset.

Then we saw bolts of lightning flashing in the distance. Wow!!

Lightning over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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For the next half hour we stood and watched the most incredible lightning show either of us has ever seen. Huge bolts of lightning burst out of the sky and struck the ground in rapid fire succession.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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At first, as we stood there, we kept saying to each other, “We really should get out our cameras and try to capture this!” But lightning is hard to pin down in a photo, and we didn’t think the lightning show would go on much longer.

We have a fancy lightning trigger that attaches to a camera and automatically clicks the shutter button every time it senses lightning, and it works pretty well. But we had bought it for our old cameras and hadn’t upgraded its cable to match our new cameras.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

A single bolt strikes from the heavens above.

Twin Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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So we stood there with our mouths gaping open and our feet rooted to the ground as massive lightning bolts flashed across the valley in front of us. To our amazement, the show kept going and going and going.

Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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Suddenly, Mark said something about how you could leave the camera shutter open for long periods and just let whatever lightning bolts fell stockpile themselves onto the image. That was all the hint I needed! I flew into the rig to grab my camera and tripod. As I dashed back out I bumped into Mark in the doorway. He was hot on my heels going to get his gear too!

Lightning bolts Las Vegas Nevada

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We set up our tripods and left the shutters open for 30 seconds at a whack with the aperture stopped way down, at f/22, and base ISO.

We took our first shots and let out whoops and hollers of excitement when we saw the images on the backs of our cameras.

OMG!!

Lightning storm over city lights in Las Vegas Nevada

Studying our photos later, we noticed different colors in the lightning bolts.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

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The only hard part was guessing where the lightning would strike next, because it was all over the sky and all over the valley.

But we could see we were getting awesome images, and we just kept clicking the shutter buttons every thirty seconds for the next 10 or 15 minutes, jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement between shots.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over city lights Las Vegas Nevada

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Miraculously, after the first few drops of rain fell, Mother Nature pulled the curtain of dripping clouds away from the stage. We were able to stand in warm dry air — and blustery winds — and witness the stunning power of earth’s beautiful forces without getting wet.

Lightning storm Las Vegas Nevada

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What a night this was — a night we’ll never forget! And thank goodness we grabbed our cameras when we did, because there wasn’t a single flash of lightning in Las Vegas for the remaining 16 days we kept our buggy there!!

Lightning storm over city lights of Las Vegas Nevada

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Lots of people come to Las Vegas to experience the bright lights of the big city. But these bright lights, thrown from God’s hand across the valley surrounding Las Vegas, dwarfed any light show that might have been happening downtown!!

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An American in Paris – Ooh La La!

September 2017 – After spending the summer months RVing in Wyoming and South Dakota, I made a mad dash trip to visit my mother in Paris where I basked in a weeklong whirlwind tour of the City of Light. All I can say is, “Ooh la la!” (and would you belielve the French really say that!).

Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the Seine River in Paris

After weeks of living in wide open lands, watching the wildlife and experiencing a taste of the cowboy life in the small towns of the American West, it was a wild jolt to the senses to find myself immersed in the hustle and bustle of a huge world class city whose history reaches back more than 2,000 years.

Les Invalides gold leaf tower in Paris

Les Invalides (where Napoleon is entombed)

The vibrant city streets were lined with historic buildings.

Streets of Paris historic buildings

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And every so often a massive architectural masterpiece would crop up!

Hotel de Ville Paris France

Hotel de Ville

There were ornate statues everywhere. Monuments of all kinds were decorated with gold leaf that sparkled in the sun.
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Statue with gold leaf sword Alexander Bridge Paris France

A golden sword!

Alexander Bridge Paris France

Alexander Bridge

Central Paris is a walking city, and we walked and walked and walked. And everywhere we turned, I had to stop to take yet another photo!

Louis XIV Statue Louvre Museum Paris

Louis XIV Statue at the Louvre Museum

Historic buildings streets of Paris

Cobblestone streets and centuries old buildings.

Whether peering down a city street or gazing up at the tall windows and decorative balconies above me, the buildings held stories that went back for generations through a myriad of styles of dress, social customs and means of transportation.

Ornate building streets of Paris

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Consulate building Paris

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Some places date back to the middle ages, and it was mind boggling to imagine just what these windows had seen through the millenia.

Cluny Museum Paris France

The Cluny Museum

Cluny Museum Paris France

The Cluny Museum

The ancient architecture was breathtaking, and reminded me of the 16th century colonial cities of Oaxaca, Morelia and San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and Antigua in Guatemala. But the big surprise for me was all the action on the River Seine.

Boats on the Seine River Paris

The Seine River is full of boats and boaters!

Paris is very much built around this river, and it is as alive with boats and boating today as it ever was.

Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine River Paris

A boat tied up with Notre Dame in the background.

We strolled along the banks of the Seine and I was amazed at the number of barges, pleasure boats and other water craft that were tied up along either side.

Boats on the Seine River Paris

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Lots of people live aboard their boats on the river, and we saw all kinds of barges and power boats that were all decked out for a comfortable life aboard.

Living aboard on the River Seine Paris

What a cool life — aboard a boat on the Seine right smack in the middle of Paris!

Boat life on the River Seine Paris

A nice spot on deck for a sun-downer.

I’m not sure how many of these boats leave the dock or how often, but what a way to live in the heart of Paris!

We even saw a barge owned by Hat Tours, a company that does bike-and-barge vacation tours where you travel from place to place on the barge and then roam around each destination by bike. How fun!

Hat Tours Bike and Barge on River Seine Paris

Hat Tours offers “Bike and Barge” tours of Europe — Fun!

For tourists who don’t own a boat on the Seine and who aren’t doing an extended bike-and-barge tour, there are loads of day and half-day tours up and down the river as well.

River Seine Paris

A boat tour on the Seine is a great way to see Paris.

Boats on the River Seine Paris

Lots of action on the Seine.

The Seine isn’t the only body of water in Paris, however. There are loads of canals as well. These are narrow ribbons of water that are very calm, and they have been used to transport goods from one place to another for eons.

Reflections on canal in Paris

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Reflections on canal in Paris

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Canal reflections in Paris

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There are canal boat tours available to tourists as well, and one day we took a ride along a canal with the tour company Canauxrama.

Canal boat tour in Paris

Tour boats cruise the canals around Paris.

Almost as soon as we left the dock, we motored through a very long tunnel that runs underneath a city park. There were openings in the ceiling of the tunnel that are large grates in the ground in the park. The shafts of light coming down through these openings made fantastic patterns.

In the tunnel on canal boat ride Paris

Shafts of natural light pierce the darkness of a long tunnel on the canal.

Much of the canal ride went under foot bridges and through various lock systems in the canal.

Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

Our canal boat went under many foot bridges.

A lock is a place that separates two portions of the canal where the water sits at different levels. The boat stops in the lock and gates close in front of it and behind it so it is kind of sitting in a bathtub. Then water is either poured in or drained out of the lock, raising or lowering the boat from the level it was on to the level where it is going. Then the gate in front of the boat opens and it sails out into the next section of the canal.

Canal lock doors open on Canauxrama boat ride Paris

The gates of the lock swing open to let us into the lock.

Entering canal lock on Canauxrama boat ride Paris

As we entered the lock we could see the front gates ahead of us. Another set swung closed behind us.

In one lock our boat entered at a low level and then water flooded into the lock to raise us up. A wonderful double rainbow formed in the spray of water that was filling the lock.

Canauxrama boat ride canal lock fills Paris

Like a bathtub filling, tons of water pours into the lock creating a spray with a rainbow!

We saw some neat sights as we floated along this canal. “La Geode” is a fantastic and enormous sphere of mirrors!

La Geode Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

We floated past “La Geode.”

Canal scenery Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

A picturesque scene along the canal.

All this walking and canal boat riding got our appetites going, and fine food, of course, is a national pastime in France. There is a boulagerie — or bakery — on every street corner, and people eagerly line up to get their baguettes and croissants at their favorite shops.

In line at a Boulangerie Paris

Frequent visits to the local boulangerie are an important part of everyday Parisian life.

Once inside, the array of selections is immense!

Inside a boulangerie in Paris

Man does not live on bread alone… Well, maybe Parisian men do!

Eating outside is an integral part of life in Paris too, and apparently no matter how cold or how hot it is, Parisians love to kick back with a drink or a bite to eat and chat with each other or do a little people watching as people go by on the street.

Dining on the streets in Paris

Parisians love to dine outside at all seasons of the year!

But when you don’t hae time enough to hang out at a sidewalk bistro, gourmet food is very easy to find and take with you on the go. Specialty food shops abound, from high end butcher and meat shops to fancy fruit shops to elegant cheese shops.

Gourmet meat shop in Paris

A gourmet butcher and meat shop.

Fruit shop in Paris

Beautiful fruits at the fruit shop.

Cheese shop in Paris

The cheese shop.

If you’re in the market for the best of the best, these little gourmet shops are the way to go. But Paris has plenty of supermarkets too, and these grocery stores even sell low-end Wonder bread if that’s what you’re after. However, the brand isn’t Wonder. It is Harry’s American Sandwich Bread!

Harrys American Sandwich bread in France

The French version of Wonder Bread is Harry’s, and it’s intended use is American Sandwiches.

The trend of rating eggs by the lifestyle lived by the hens who lay them has caught on in France just as in America, and I was amused to see “Oeufs plein air” or “Outdoor eggs.” We’ve seen “plein air” artists painting with oils on canvas out in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, and it made me laugh that these chickens were “plein air” too!

Oeufs Plein Air in France

Cage-Free eggs are laid by hens who live in “plein air,” reminiscent of artists who paint in “plein air.”

We also found Kellogg’s trusty Frosted Flakes renamed “Frosties.” During our travels in Mexico we discovered Frosted Flakes were called Zukaritas there and Tony the Tiger had thick dark eyebrows and spoke Spanish, of course. But in France his eyebrows are petite and his French is undoubtedly both fluent and spoken with a perfect Parisian accent.

Kelloggs Frosties in France

Tony the Tiger lives a good life in France.

We saw lots of American food joints too, from McDonalds to Chipotle Mexican Grill to Ben & Jerries. I grabbed a Starbucks latte late one afternoon — they are the only coffee shop that sells decaf lattes for those late afternoon indulgences — and I got a huge kick out of the way my cup was labeled.

Starbucks coffee in France

Something lost and something gained in translation.

The Paris Metro is famous worldwide for making all of Paris easily accessible while also confusing tourists and locals alike with its extensive pedestrian tunnel systems that can lead you to the wrong line or in the wrong direction if you aren’t paying attention.

Lots of the stations are wonderfully decorated to match whatever neighborhood they are in. At the station for the Sorbonne — the elite university in Paris — the ceiling was decorated with the signatures of France’s most famous authors. From Racine to Victor Hugo, they were all there.

This was a very classy touch that could inspire some clever renovations at the Harvard subway station on Boston’s Red Line.

Cluny-Sorbonne Metro Station Paris

The Sorbonne University Metro Station is decorated with the signatures of France’s great writers.

The Gare de Lyon train station had some classy touches as well, and we stopped for a few minutes to listen to a fellow playing the grand piano there. The piano is available to anyone to play, if the spirit moves them. But the audience is large and they hang around for a while, so Chopsticks just won’t cut it!

Gare de Lyon train station piano playing Paris

Pianists entertain folks at the Gare de Lyon train station.

Paris is famous for its luxurious gardens, and we strolled through the Tuillieries on a beautiful sunny day, ice creams in hand.

Tuilleries Garden Paris

The Tuilleries Garden.

As we turned one corner we saw a “plein air” artist capturing the beauty of the scene on her canvas. But the memory of those “plein air” eggs at the supermarket came back to me and I had to giggle. That term had always seemed so high brow to me before.

Plein Air Painting Tuilleries Garden Paris

An artist paints in “plein air.”

The Luxembourg Garden is even more beautiful than the Tuilleries, and as we approached the manmade pond on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon we noticed it was filled with little sailboats.

Sailboats at Luxembourg Garden Paris

Toy boats fill the water at the Luxembourg Gardens.

These boats are available to rent, and the kids just love them. You use a stick to push the boat out into the water, and then it sails away. Then you have to run to the other side to catch the boat and push it back out to sea again. I would have been all over that as a kid!

Child with a sailboat Luxembourg Gardens Paris

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Kids play with Sailboats at Luxembourg Garden Paris

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Luxembourg Garden Paris France

Luxembourg Garden

As you can see, Paris is an absolute feast for the senses in every way. Over at the Louvre I was blown away once again by the ornate and stately architecture.

Triumphal arch Louvre Museum entrance Paris

Triumphal Arch at the Louvre Museum.

Louvre Museum Paris

The stately buildings of the Louvre were a fortress in the 12th century.

Some modern glass pyramids positioned near the Louvre’s entrance and an angular manmade pond out front create a wonderful juxtaposition of the very old with the very new.

Louvre Museum Paris

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Fountain at Louvre Museum Paris

A modern angular water feature blends old and new at the Louvre.

Glass pyramids Louvre Museum Paris

Glass pyramids at the Louvre entrance.

Speaking of the very old, the ground was broken for Notre Dame Cathedral in 1163 and the cathedral was completed in 1345.

Notre Dame Cathedral spires Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral.

That roughly corresponds with the time frame of the ancient Indians (Anasazi) in the American southwest and the ancient Khmer Empire temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Notre Dame Cathedral ramparts Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral.

Even though I’m not a city gal by any stretch of the imagination, I was absolutely charmed by the city of Paris.

Marie de Medici Fountain sculpture Paris

Statuary at the Marie de Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Garden.

From the grand architecture to the bustling city streets and bistros to the funky river boats lining the Seine to the fancy gourmet food shops to the colorful gardens and fabulous canal system to the whimsical statues gracing every corner and garden, it is easy to see why Paris is nicknamed the City of Light.

Statue in the Luxembourg Gardens Paris

Dancing like nobody’s watching in the Luxembourg Garden.

Top of the Bastille monument Paris

The “Spirit” or “Genius” of Freedom atop the July Monument at the Bastille (2nd 1830 Revolution – 1830).

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Locations of these various sites in Paris on Google Maps

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Badlands National Park – Rugged Beauty on a South Dakota RV Trip

August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.

Landscape Badlands National Park South Dakota

Badlands (along with dot-sized cows) in South Dakota

The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.

South Dakota Badlands Scenery

Rugged “badlands” landscape

As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.

South Dakota Badlands scenery

Slightly hazy from smoke coming from Montana’s wildfires, the golden glow was still beautiful.

Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.

Photography Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Golden Hour Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.

Overlook at Badlands National Park South Dakota

There are badlands as far as the eye can see!

For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park Overlook South Dakota

Two bighorn sheep enjoy the awesome view.

Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.

Bighorn sheep walks past an RV wearing a radio collar

Have radio, will travel! If the rangers gave this sheep an iPhone X, he could make calls and post pics on Facebook!!

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.

But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!

Bighorn sheep at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.

Mama sheep and her lamb

Very sheepish, but a little different looking!

Bighorn sheep in the prairie grasses Badlands South Dakota

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Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!

Bighorn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

A family of bighorn sheep moves through the golden grasses.

Big horn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Herd of bighorn sheep Badlands South Dakota

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Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!

Pelican Badlands National Park South Dakota

Here’s a Badlands visitor we didn’t expect to see!

But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!

Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.

But we couldn’t resist them!

Prairie Dog Secrets Badlands National Park South Dakota

“I wanna let you in on a little secret…”

Two Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“No… are you serious?!”

Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“Hey! Guess what I just heard…!!”

We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.

Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park South Dakota

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As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

First there was one…

Then two of his buddies joined him.

Bighorn sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

…and then there were three!

So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!

Red ball at sunset Badlands National Park South Dakota

The sun sets in a fireball of red.

If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.

RV camping in the South Dakota Badlands at sunset

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