Cedar Breaks Wildflowers + Stunning Brian Head Overlook

August 2019 – One of the things that Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah is most known for is the brilliant display of wildflowers that happens in mid-July and early August.

Wildflowers at Cedar Breaks plus Brian Head Utah-min

Summer wildflowers at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah

The overlooks at Cedar Breaks are stunning, of course, and well worth the trip to go see.

Amphitheater at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Cedar Breaks National Monument – WOW!

Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Stunning red rock views at Cedar Breaks

Storm clouds over Cedar Breaks National Monument-min

Monsoon clouds over Cedar Breaks

The wildflowers, however, are out of this world. They aren’t everywhere, but we found them in thick pockets here and there. They were especially dramatic on a hillside along the highway on the back side of the Monument. What a gorgeous and colorful meadow!

Wildflowers on a hillside Dixie National Forest Utah-min

Hillside full of wildflowers at Cedar Breaks.

Texture and color in field of wildflowers in Utah-min

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Field of summer wildflowers Dixie National Forest Utah-min

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Soft, undulating shades of lavender filled the hillside, and we wandered among the flowers for a long time admiring the blanket of pastel hues.

Purple wildflowers near Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Cedar Breaks National Monument Wildflowers in Utah-min

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Hillside of summer wildflowers Dixie National Forest Cedar Breaks Utah-min

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Little sprigs of red Indian Paintbrush were visible here and there. What a lovely contrast to the purple flowers and green grass all around.

Hillside of summer wildflowers Dixie National Forest Utah-min

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Indian paintbrush and purple wildflowers-min

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Field of wildflowers Dixie National Forest Utah-min

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Indian paintbrush and wildflowers Dixie National Forest Utah-min

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Red and purple wildflowers in Utah-min

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Summer wildflowers Dixie National Forest Utah-min

A red paintbrush in a canvas of purple flowers

Over the years, when we’ve chatted with other travelers about this area, they’ve often asked us, “Did you go to Brian Head?”

Well, “Brian Head” is the name of a ski resort near here, and after hearing so much about Brian Head we made a special trip to the ski resort years ago. It was an interesting place, but didn’t impress us as being some kind of magical “must see” spot.

This year, while we were out and about, we noticed a sign at the start of a dirt road that said: “Scenic Vista.” This sounded promising!

The road wound around and climbed up a steep ascent. At the top, we realized we were at Brian Head — the Brian Head everyone had been talking about!

Brian Head is a knoll at an elevation of over 11,300 feet, and it offers a commanding view of the surrounding area. Back in the 1930s the CCC built a stone monument for visitors at the top.

Stone building at the Brian Head overlook in Utah-min

At the Brian Head overlook there is a stone building built by the CCC in the 1930s

Stone building at Brian Head Utah-min

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There are a few trails that take you to various views, and they were all terrific. But the most dramatic was the one overlooking the amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument in the distance.

Puppy looks at Cedar Breaks National Monument from Brian Head-min

The red rocks of Cedar Breaks glow in the distance.

We had arrived on a blustery late afternoon during the “golden hour” just before sunset, and the red rocks of Cedar Breaks were lit with a magical glow.

Cedar Breaks National Monument as seen from Brian Head-min

What a cool view of Cedar Breaks!

From this perspective we could see how the Cedar Breaks amphitheater was cut right out of the side of the mountain. How totally cool!

Cedar Breaks National Monument from Brian Head-min

Cedar Breaks seen from Brian Head

There are several hiking trails around Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Alpine Pond Loop Trail is where lots of wildflowers hang out. However, it is not pet-friendly. So we walked the dog friendly trail between the main overlook, Point Supreme, and Sunset View quite a few times, and we found lots of wonderful flowers in bloom.

Some of them seemed to have been carefully arranged by a divine hand.

Nature's flower arrangement-min

I looked down and saw this awesome little flower arrangement right at my feet

Natural landscaping with wildflowers-min

Nature’s handiwork

Columbine wildflowers-min

A pair of columbines

Yellow wildflower in Utah-min

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Bee on a flower-min

A busy bee

Indian Paintbrush with a log-min

Mother Nature’s arrangement of Indian Paintbrush with a log in the background

Puppy checks the wildflowers-min

Buddy checks out some flowers

On our RZR rides in the area, I had noticed a clump of purple flowers nestled against a triangular rock. I had a hunch they would be especially pretty at sunset, so I headed out one evening to take a pic. I wasn’t disappointed — what a beautiful flower arrangement Mother Nature had made!

Wildflowers in Dixie National Forest Utah-min

This cluster of flowers looked so cool during the day I returned at sunset to capture them with a pretty sky

As the days went by, some types of flowers began to fade while others began to bloom. Patches of bright yellow flowers appeared here and there.

Yellow and purple wildflowers near Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

When one group of flowers faded another bloomed. Yellow flowers appeared after a few days.

Hill coveed with wildflowers in Dixie National Forest Utah-min

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We met lots of different folks who came to the area to see the exotic red rocks at Cedar Breaks, but we also came across a few travelers who were visiting at this time specifically to see the wildflowers too.

Indian Paintbrush-min

Indian Paintbrush

If you decide to put Cedar Breaks National Monument on your travel itinerary, be sure to get to Brian Head, the “real” Brian Head!

And if you go in mid-summer, keep an eye out for Nature’s handiwork in the colorful wildflower displays all around.

Columbine wildflowers-min

Columbine

Purple wildflowers in Dixie National Forest Utah-min

A soft blanket of flowers

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The Day the Sheep Moved In!

August 2019 – Our favorite thing about our unusual lifestyle is that we never know what will happen next. One day this week when we were driving home after a day of exploring, we were surprised to see a huge truck with a ramp parked in the middle of the road, blocking the way ahead of us.

Unloading sheep in Utah-min

We turned down a normally quiet dirt road to find a huge truck blocking our way.

It turned out that a bunch of folks were unloading a whole ton of sheep to graze in the meadow!

There were several big livestock trailers parked all around, and the guys began fitting the ramp to the second story of the truck in front of us.

The sheep were stacked in two layers in the trailer!

Unloading sheep in utah-min

The guys connected the ramp to the upper level of the livestock trailer.

We heard a commotion in the upper deck of the trailer, and then a sheep headed down the ramp. The rest followed right behind!

Sheep comes down loading ramp in Utah-min

After some confusion in the trailer, stomping of hooves and banging around, a sheep appeared and headed down the ramp.

Sheep come down loading ramp in Utah-min

Soon dozens of sheep were running down the ramp.

We watched in amazement as the sheep came down the ramp. They just kept on coming and coming — dozens and dozens of sheep. Some even jumped when they got to the bottom!

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

Some of them leaped to freedom at the end of the ramp!

I don’t know what made them jump, but quite a few took a flying leap off the bottom of the ramp.

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

Weeee!

Sheep jumps off loading ramp in Utah-min

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Then they all trotted around to the quickly filling field to start grazing with all their friends.

Unloading sheep to pasture in Utah-min

The sheep continued running once they hit the grass and quickly joined the rest of the herd grazing.

Grazing sheep in Utah-min

Ahhh… There’s nothing like tall lush grass!

The family that owned the herd was very friendly and explained that the sheep had originally belonged to the granddad who had driven one the of the trucks in. His son had purchased the herd from him years ago and continued the family tradition of raising sheep for meat and wool.

We talked a little about the meat and wool markets and were impressed when we learned that they have found a happy wool buyer in the US government. Some of the new military uniforms are going to be made from wool, in a nod to the uniforms and military of yesteryear, and the sheep we were looking at would be providing it!

The herd had almost 2,000 mamas along with all their babies from this spring, and the sheep had been moved from a mountain grazing area down the highway to this area. The family had obtained a sheep grazing permit from the US Forest Service and planned to keep them in these meadows until late October or early November.

We were fascinated listening to all this, but Buddy was much more interested in their dogs. They all made a quick round of introductions.

The dog sniff-min

As we talked to the sheep herding family, the dogs made their own introductions

These were working dogs, and they had different jobs according to their breeds.

The three or four border collies and a red heeler mix were the ones who helped round up the herd and head it in a particular direction. The four Great Pyrenees were the sheep dogs who lived with the herd, 24/7, and protected them from coyotes, mountain lions, and other predators.

Dog friends-min

The border collies and a red heeler mix were there for sheep crowd control

Dog friends-min

The four Great Pyrenees dogs were there to protect the sheep from predators.

When we were in Buffalo, Wyoming, two years ago, we took part in a huge celebration of the Basque sheep herders who had settled that area over a century ago.

Descendants of the original Basque families paraded down the main street of town and a bunch of sheep wagons that the shepherds of the late 19th and early 20th century lived in all summer long were on display (blog post here).

Sheep herder trailer-min

The shepherds’ little trailers reminded us of the historic Basque sheep wagons we’d seen in Buffalo, Wyoming two years ago.

Unlike cattle that are more or less left to their own devices to wander around their grazing areas in the National Forests and on BLM land, sheep are watched over quite closely.

There is a long tradition of the Basques and others living in small wagons or trailers out in the fields with the sheep. Over in Ketchum, Idaho, we had learned that Peruvian sheep herders had had such a big operation there in the 1920s that Ketchum was the second biggest wool producer in the world at the time, behind Sydney, Australia!

Nowadays the shepherding job is hired out. Peruvian shepherds are brought in each summer on special visas to live with the sheep as they graze. Being accustomed to high altitude living, the Peruvians are probably more comfortable living at 10,000 feet for months at a time than many other folks would be, although a new friend of ours in town said there are help wanted ads for shepherds in the local paper. For anyone looking, this could be a cool summer job!

The trailers they live in are very simple and are reminiscent of the historic Basque sheep wagons we had seen in Wyoming. Staying out in the meadows until late October, they must experience overnight temperatures in the 20s for the last few weeks, so the little smoke stacks on the trailers made lots of sense and were reminiscent of the smoke stacks for the woodstoves we’d seen on the Basque sheep wagons!

Shepherd trailers and sheep-min

The shepherds take their trailers to a campsite where they can watch over the flock.

That night it poured cats and dogs and was very cold. As we snuggled under layers of blankets and piled blankets on top of Buddy too, we thought about the thousands of sheep and the sheepdogs sleeping out in the fields. Brrrr!

The next morning we woke up to the ba-a-a-ah sounds of sheep grazing all around us. What a sight!

We also kept hearing bells! We looked around to see if the shepherds were ringing bells and then realized that a few sheep had bells on their necks, undoubtedly to make it easier to locate the herd when they wandered off.

Grazing sheep in the morning sun-min

What a surprise it was too look out our window at dawn and see hundreds of sheep!

Bell on a sheep-min

A few of the sheep wore bells, and we could hear them coming!

Buddy was as fascinated by our new neighbors as we were. What a crazy scene this was!

Suddenly, he went nuts and ran across the field in an all out sprint. He had seen one of the Great Pyrenees dogs and was overjoyed!

We had tried to explain to Buddy that these are all working dogs, not playmates, and that they were on the clock. But he figured any dog out in his yard was fair game to be a fun playmate.

Dog friends border collie mix and Great Pyrenees-min

Buddy was excited to see the Great Pyrenees he’d met the day before.

Despite their huge size difference, this particular sheepdog took a liking to Buddy and they hung out together for a while.

When we’d first come across the trailer loads of sheep the day before, I had asked the family how the herding dogs and sheep dogs learned their jobs and what kind of training they did to teach them to herd or to protect the flock. The gal I was chatting with shrugged and said, “It’s instinct. We don’t train them. The puppies learn their jobs from the older dogs.”

Dogs watching sheep-min

Keeping an eye on the sheep.

Well, we soon discovered that the instinct does run deep, even in a mixed breed pup.

The presence of all these sheep began to inspire Buddy’s inner herding instinct. We don’t know his exact breed — undoubtedly he’s a mix of at least four or five different kinds of dogs — but our little pup has a huge talent for running.

Dog watches sheep-min

Buddy felt his inner herding instincts calling.

Before we could stop him, Buddy decided to try his hand at moving the sheep.

Dog chases sheep-min

And he was off!

Dog chases sheep-min

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Rounding up sheep with a dog-min

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Sheep roundup with a dog-min

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Our jaws dropped as he expertly got them all to head in one direction up the hill. He was really good for a roockie!

Once he had cleared the field of all but a few stragglers, we noticed a Great Pyrenees dog head lying low in the flowers and grass. The dog had watched the whole thing from a front row seat! He seemed as impressed as we were.

Sheep dog in the grass with sheep-min

“Good job, young fella!”

Later in the day the flock returned. They were like a giant lawn mower moving across the grass. The field was full of very stinky white flowers, and we hoped the sheep would find them particularly tasty!

Sheep grazing in Utah-min

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Grazing sheep in Utah-min

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Sheep in Utah-min

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Sheep looks back-min

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One of the Peruvian shepherds emerged from the woods to have a look at the flock. We waved and then he disappeared back into the trees.

Shepherd on horseback-min

The shepherd kept an eye on the flock from a distance on horseback.

I had learned the day before that the Great Pyrenees dogs literally live with the sheep their whole lives.

When they are mere puppies they are put into the middle of the flock with the sheep and the older sheepdogs, and they live all together from then on.

Great pyrenees sheepdog with a flock of sheep-min

The Great Pyrenees dogs kept an eye out for any threats to their sheep companions.

Sure enough, out in the flock we saw three of the Great Pyrenees milling around with the sheep. They barked to each other and all gathered together for a few minutes when they saw us, and they approached us as a group. Once they recognized us and realized we weren’t a threat they disbanded and went their separate ways.

Great Pyrenees sheepdog oversees his flock of sheep-min

On patrol.

It was fascinating watching these dogs moving among the sheep.

Great Pyrenees sheepdog with a sheep-min

The Great Pyrenees take their protective role seriously. They know the sheep and their ways very well!

The Great Pyrenees dog that had befriended Buddy earlier broke away from the dog pack and came over to visit.

Dog buddies-min

Buddy was delighted to make friends with his favorite of the Great Pyrenees.

They sniffed each other and hung out for a while. And then Buddy ran back to our trailer, grabbed his favorite sandal and began running around with it. He really wanted to play with his new friend.

Playful puppy with Great Pyrenees sheepdog-min

Buddy wanted to play with his favorite sandal that he found while we were out hiking a few months ago.
The sheepdog was intrigued but didn’t really get into the game.

Even though the bigger dog wasn’t really into playing, the two new friends bonded anyway.

What a special encounter this was for all of us!

Dog friends Great Pyrenees and border collie mix-min

We never know what we’ll find on the less traveled roads of this beautiful country, but we always make interesting new friends!

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Cedar Breaks National Monument – Wild Skies & Summer Storms

July 2019 – Cedar Breaks National Monument is a stunning landscape of red rock pinnacles and hoodoos in any kind of weather, but when clouds form and rain starts to fall in the distance, it is truly breathtaking.

Cedar Breaks National Monument Summer Storms

Cedar Breaks National Monument is spectacular when summer storms sweep through

As storm clouds began to gather, we made our way out to the main overlook at Point Supreme. What a fabulous drama in the sky was unfolding! Black clouds were dumping torrential rain in the far distance, but our little spot at the overlook remained dry for the moment.

Storm clouds at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Storm clouds with rain in the distance at Cedar Breaks National Monument

Rain at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

What a spectacular sight!

Once in a while the sun peeked out from behind the storm clouds, casting shafts of light across the red rocks. Then the clouds would close ranks around the sun once again, sealing off all but a thin ray from the heavens.

Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah storm clouds-min

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Light shafts Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

A shaft of light broke through

As we set ourselves up to take pics, a gal scurrying back towards her car laughed as she ran by. “This kind of weather is when the photographers come out and when everyone else leaves!” Sure enough, we were soon alone at the overlook as the storm clouds rushed to surround us.

Even Buddy wasn’t so sure about the wisdom of being here in this kind of weather. He took shelter in Mark’s arms and advised him of the best techniques for taking photos of the incoming storm.

Photography at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Mark sets up a shot as Buddy looks on

Wild skies Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Wild skies

Shafts of light at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Heavenly light.

Finally, the rain hit us with full force, and we bolted back to the truck. The downpour as we drove through the woods was a deluge!

Pouring rain in the woods in Utah-min

The rain came down in buckets

Even though most mornings were sunny, storm clouds returned to Cedar Breaks with punctual regularity every afternoon. It didn’t always rain, but the bright blue skies of early morning were filled with puffy clouds by noon and were buried under heavy dark clouds filled with heavy raindrops by afternoon.

Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah clouds parting-min

The sky was slightly more tame after the deluge.

Cedar Breaks National Monument colors-min

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Visiting the overlooks at the golden hour late in the afternoon, we watched the red rocks take on a brilliant glow. The sun pierced the clouds and bathed Cedar Breaks in a rich orange light.

Golden hour storm clouds Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

The colors were incredibly rich at the golden hour before sunset

Chessmen Overlook Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

One of the “chess men” at Chessmen Overlook

Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah Golden Hour-min

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Red rocks Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah Golden Hour-min

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One evening, as we walked out onto Point Supreme overlook at sunset, we found a group of tourists huddled along the fence watching the show. One brave person was even standing on a fence post!

Standing at Point Supreme overlook Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

At sunset a small crowd formed along the fence — and on top of it!

We explored the other overlooks too: Sunset View, Chessmen Ridge and the North View. Each one offered a unique view of unusual shapes and colors.

Colorful Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Beautiful Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah pink orange and white cliffs-min

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Inner light Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah pink orange and white cliffs-min

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Pink and orange Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Because the road along Cedar Breaks National Monument is a fairly busy highway, we took our truck on each visit. The Polaris RZR side-by-side wasn’t getting much use at all. One day when we called Buddy over to get in the truck, he ran over to the RZR instead and sat next to it, as if to say, “Why can’t we take the RZR this time?”

Puppy wants a Polaris RZR ride-min

Buddy wanted to take the RZR instead of the truck!

We did get out into the woods a bit wih the RZR, and Buddy was our little trail scout, as he always loves to be.

Puppy runs down a dirt road in the woods-min

He got his wish and had fun running through the woods

Cedar Breaks and the surrounding area lies at 10,000 feet elevation. That is, it lies 4,000 feet higher than the peak of famous Mt. Washington in New Hampshire!

Being so high, it is cold and is prone to all kinds of crazy weather. As I mentioned in our last post, we’d seen patches of snow in our wanderings, even during the last few days of July, right in the middle of a heatwave that had engulfed the whole country!

One day while we were out exploring we turned a corner and found a particularly enormous patch of snow.

Snow in Utah in mid-summer-min

A big patch of winter snow that’s still left at the end of July

Snow in late July in Utah-min

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Buddy loves snow, so we decided to let him play in it for a while.

Puppy plays in Utah mid-summer snow-min

A happy little puppy in a big field of snow!

Oh my, was he in heaven once he figured out what he was standing on! He went wild, running in crazy circles, throwing up snow and ice all around him as he took hairpin turns at top speed and dove into the show head first. He galloped at full speed in sheer joy.

Puppy plays in the snow-min

“Weeeeeee!!!”

Galloping through summer snow-min

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Diving into summer snow-min

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Puppy plays in the summer snow-min

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Puppy plays in the summer snow-min

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After he had gleefully burned off enough energy for all three of us, we finally told him it was time to go. He was soooo disappointed.

He stood by the edge of the snow and forlornly watched us walking away, making no move to follow. He could have happily stayed at his private summer snow park for a few hours more!

Puppy love the summer snow in Utah-min

“Do we have to go??!!”

Not far away from the patch of snow we found some beautiful wildflowers in full bloom. The bees were busy gathering pollen in the bell shaped flowers, and despite the nearby snow, the flowers reminded us that it was indeed summertime, even here in Utah’s higher elevations.

Columbine wildflower-min

Columbine

Bee in wildflower-min

Busy bee

Indian paintbrush wildflowers in the Utah woods-min

Indian Paintbrush

Most of southern Utah is in the 4,000 to 7,500 foot range of elevation and is quite warm or even blazingly hot in mid-summer. But for those who love blustery weather and snow, there’s a bit of that waiting for you atop the plateau at Cedar Breaks National Monument.

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Cedar Breaks National Monument – Glorious Amphitheater of Red Rocks!

July 2019 – After enjoying many trips to the edge of the Grand Canyon this summer, we were ready for a little different scenery, so we headed north to one of southern Utah’s most dramatic yet less visited red rock wonders, Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Cedar Breaks National Monument RV trip in Utah-min

Cedar Breaks National Monument – An Amphitheater of Red Rock Glory!

Located close to the famous National Parks at Zion Canyon and Bryce Canyon but situated at of 10,000 feet, a much higher elevation than either of the other two Parks, it is a place that is forever haunted by wild weather patterns that make the extraordinary red rock vistas and dense woods even more dramatic.

As we arrived in the afternoon, the sky was wearing a forbidding grimace, and we quickly changed from the shorts we’d been wearing for the last few months into long pants and jackets!

Even more startling, we saw patches of snow in the woods as we drove. Holy smokes! It was late July and there was knee deep snow on the ground in some places!

Storm clouds over fifth wheel trailer-min

Wild storm clouds greeted us as we arrived at Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument is known not only for its eye popping amphitheater of red rock hoodoos but for its vibrant display of summer wildflowers. The wildflower season runs from mid-July through August, and the flowers were showing off their most brilliant colors everywhere.

Puppy in a field under storm clouds-min

Our first glimpse of the colorful wildflower display was a field of yellow flowers – under threatening clouds!

Wildflowers and storm clouds-min

How cool is this?!!

We hustled out to Point Supreme, the main Cedar Breaks overlook, as quickly as we could. Rain clouds were threatening, but what really caught my eye was the wonderful contrast of the soft green hillsides peeking over the mile high walls of red rock cliffs.

View Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

At the main Cedar Breaks overlook, Point Supreme, the layers of colors were just fantastic.

Green mountain and red rocks at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Green hillsides above the red rock cliffs and hoodoos where the mountain has fallen away.

If doesn’t matter how many times we see these red rock cliffs and spires, whether here at Cedar Breaks or over at nearby Bryce Canyon, they are spectacular. The bright colors and the towering “drip castle” types of formations that look like they were made by kids at the beach are just astonishing.

And from the top of the canyon, looking down into the bowl shaped amphitheater, we always find it so hard to comprehend just how enormous the seemingly tiny pinnacles are. But a look at the tall pine trees snuggled up to the bases of the hoodoos gave us a sense of their immense size.

Red rock pinnacles Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

How big are those red rock hoodoos? The tall pine trees are dwarfed by them!

Pinnacles at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Brilliant red rocks Point Supreme Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Fabulous layers of color and texture.

The sun was obscured by the threatening black clouds which softened the colors of the canyon and eliminated the harsh contrast of light and shadow on the ridges.

Then, suddenly, the sun came out in force for a little while, and the amphitheater was bathed in golden light.

Colorful red rocks Point Supreme Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

The nuances of the red rock hues are easily seen when the rocks aren’t lit by the sun.

Red rocks at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah-min

Bright sunshine created dramatic contrasts.

Golden hour Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Amphitheater Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah Point Supreme-min

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Like all of America’s National Parks and National Monuments, dogs are allowed on leashes but only in certain areas. Point Supreme, which lies directly behind the Visitors Center, is one of the few areas at Cedar Breaks where pups can get a look at the eye-popping view, and Buddy gave the grand vista a cursory look and sniff.

But he was much more interested in other things at Point Supreme, like watching the ground squirrels running around the base of a tree in the distance, and he quickly took up a position in the middle of the overlook with his back to the view to keep an eye on the squirrles and also act as the Official Greeter.

Puppy is the greeter-min

Buddy turned his back to the view so he could greet everyone arriving at the rim and keep an eye on the ground squirrels too!

There was only one other couple at the overlook, and they had already given Buddy a pat on the head, so they resumed admiring the breathtaking views. But Buddy sat stock still for several minutes until a family suddenly appeared on the path walking towards him.

They had a little toddler with them who was as thrilled to see a puppy as the rest of the family was thrilled to see the views for the first time. As I watched Buddy and the toddler interact, I wasn’t sure who was more fascinated by their new friend, the puppy or the baby!

Puppy makes a new friend-min

Who’s more intrigued by whom? These two played together very happily while the adults savored the views

While the toddler and her old sister played with Buddy, our focus returned to the incredible 270 degree views surrounding us. What a place this is!

Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah Point Supreme-min

Cedar Breaks

Towers and pinnacles Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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Suddenly, the sun began to play games with the clouds, and we watched in awe as light and shadow chased each other across the vast landscape and the heavens opened above us with shafts of light between the clouds.

Monsoon light Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah81-min

The weather turns on a dime at Cedar Breaks, and suddenly the heavens opened above us.

Cedar Breaks National Monument Stormy sky-min

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Mark grabbed his 12 mm fish-eye lens for a very creative shot.

Fish-eye view of Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

A fish-eye view!

And then he asked me and Buddy to pose by the railing. Sure!

Happy Campers at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah-min

Two happy campers

Little family groups came and went at Point Supreme, but we stuck around for a while to watch the show.

Vivid colors Point Supreme Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

Vivid colors.

Colorful Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah Point Supreme-min

Each cliff, hillside and hoodoo was unique in color and shape

Then we took a stroll down a path that was lined with beautiful wildflowers. The little bluebells were so delicate!

Wildflowers at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

The wildflowers peak at Cedar Breaks between mid-July and mid-August

Wildflowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

The tiny bluebells start as pink buds and then open up to a pretty shade of blue

Wildflowers at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

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And the columbine wildflowers were dancing in the slight breeze. Some of the columbine were pure white and others wore a wonderful combo of blue and white with yellow trim at the center.

Columbine wildflower at Cedar Breaks National Monument Utah-min

A beautiful two-tone columbine flower

There are lots of things to see at Cedar Breaks National Monument, and we’ve written about them in the past.

The Alpine Pond Trail hike is a great place to savor the wildflowers and the Spectra Point Trail hike is an absolute Must Do if you don’t have a dog or don’t mind leaving him/her in the car. The hike takes you out on a long peninsula that juts into the red rock amphitheater, and at the end you find yourself surrounded by thousand year old bristlecone pine trees.

We didn’t do those hikes on this visit, but we marveled at the power of summer storms as huge black clouds let loose a deluge that afternoon and all the next day.

We got hail interspersed with heavy rain punctuated with ferocious growls of thunder and too-close-for-comfort bolts of lightning.

So, we bundled up and Mark baked banana bread and put turkey pot pies in the oven too to keep our rolling home warm inside.

All this was happening during a blistering heat wave all across the country that delivered the hottest week of the summer to almost every corner of our beautiful nation!

During a brief break in the tempest around us, we snuck out to the rim of Cedar Breaks at Sunset View Overlook which is at an elevation of 10,354 feet. The sun was nowhere to be found, but the rain let loose once again, and we laughed along with a handful of other tourists who ran out of their cars in raincoats, braving a downpour to take a look at the red rocks in whiteout conditions!

Cedar Breaks National Monument whiteout-min

You never know what you’ll see at the Cedar Breaks rim til you get there. Pouring rain and swarming mist is a very good possibility!

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a fabulous RV destination in any kind of weather. And it’s almost guaranteed you’ll have some kind of intense weather if you visit mid-summer when the southwest monsoon season is underway. Bring shorts but pack long pants and a raincoat too because you just never know!

Puppy watches the sunset-min

Sunset at the end of a red letter day!

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Kanab, Utah, 4th of July – Stars & Stripes in the Red Rocks!

July 2019 – One of the great things about traveling in the summertime is being able to enjoy the 4th of July celebrations in a special place. This year we were near the small town of Kanab, Utah, and we eagerly went into town to see the parade.

4th of July parade Kanab Utah-min

Uncle Sam greeted us as we came into town!

We were staying over the border in Arizona, and we’d forgotten that in the summer months Arizona and Utah are in different time zones. Utah is always in Mountain Standard Time while Arizona floats between Mountain and Pacific Standard Time depending on the time of year because they don’t change their clocks for daylight savings.

We’d planned to arrive about a half an hour before the parade started, and as Mark parked the truck he glanced at the clock on the dashboard and was about to say, “Perfect timing, it’s 9:30,” when he noticed our truck’s clock said 10:30.

Oh no!

4th of July parade Kanab Utah Parry Lodge-min

We missed the start of the parade, but what we saw was wonderful.

Luckily, the parade was still going on and we saw some fun things roll by. A bright red fire engine went past and then there were a bunch of RZRs all dolled up in red, white and blue. There were some other interesting contraptions too.

4th of July parade Kanab Utah RZR group-min

A RZR brigade in red, white and blue (hey, what are they passing to each other?!)

4th of July parade Kanab Utah RZR group-min

More RZRs!

Tricycle Kanab Utah 4th of July parade-min

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4th of July celebration in Kanab Utah-min

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A few antique cars beeped as they passed by the historic Parry Lodge where all the Hollywood stars of the Golden Age stayed when they made hundreds of movies in the beautiful red rocks around town.

Parry Lodge 4th of July parade-min

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Antique car 4th of July parade Parry Lodge Kanab Utah-min

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Antique car 4th of July parade Kanab Utah-min

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Smokey Bear made an appearance in the back of a US Forest Service truck. And then one of the Hot Shots standing on a Forest Service fire truck gave us all a big spray.

Kanab is an hour’s drive from any town big enough for a city-sized supermarket, but the grocery store in town, Honey’s Market, keeps everyone’s pantry full. A lady clown from Honey’s Market brought up the rear of the parade, slowly making her way down the street, chatting with friends and neighbors and giving out goodies to the kids.

Kanab was settled in 1864 when Fort Kanab was built, and in 1870 ten Mormon families moved into the fort to establish the town. A huge mural on the side of a building depicts the arrival of a wagon train at Fort Kanab.

Mural Wagon trains arrive at Fort Kanab_-min

The full mural of the wagon train arriving at Fort Kanab

There is lots of detail in this mural — the excited pioneers at the front calling out to the people at the fort, the weary travelers further back in the line, and the folks hanging out at the trading post as the wagons slowly come in.

Mural Kanab or Bust-min

“Kanab or Bust!” – The wagon train was greeted warmly when it arrived.

Mural in Kanab Utah weary wagon train travelers-min

It was a long journey, and some walked much of the way…

Mural in Kanab Utah welcoming party at Fort Kanab-min

Shooting the breeze at the trading post

Back in the glory days of Hollywood, Kanab played host to visiting celebrities making movies, but today it is a tourist town. It isituated conveniently between three of America’s major National Parks: Grand Canyon (North Rim), Zion and Bryce Canyon.

It is also close to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Cedar Breaks, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Kanab Utah is near many national parks-min

Kanab is conveniently located in between many gorgeous places.

Over in the town park the 4th of July festivities were in full swing when we walked up. The lush green grass and the vibrant red rock backdrop were beautiful, and the mood was decidedly festive and upbeat.

4th of July celebration Kanab Utah-min

Kanab has a beautiful town park and the party was well underway when we got up there.

Red, white a blue stencils of all kinds had been spray painted on the grass, and lots of people were decked out in stars and stripes.

4th of July party in the park Kanab Utah-min

An old windmill honors Kanab’s ranching history.

Dressed up for 4th of July-min

Everyone was wearing red, white a blue, and some outfits were really cute!

Tents were set up with all kinds of beautiful arts and crafts for sale, and the food court was humming.

4th of July party in the park Kanab Utah-min

There were arts and crafts and food galore!

4th of July party Kanab Utah-min

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The most fun — and coolest — spot to be was near (or in) the water fountain. The water jets sprayed on and off in all directions, and the kids had a blast.

Playing in the fountain 4th of July-min

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Playing in the fountain 4th of July-min

What a great way to cool off!

Buddy wasn’t sure what to make of the constantly moving streams of water, but he was grateful for a drink from Mark’s helping hand.

Puppy gets a drink-min

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It was a wonderful and hearwarming day and a great way to celebrate the 4th of July. If your travels take you near Kanab, Utah, on Independence Day some year, stop on by. This town puts on a wonderful celebration!

4th of July Celebration Kanab Utah-min (1)

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Mexican Hat, Utah – A Special Hoodoo in the Red Rocks

March 2019 – The Utah red rocks are full of whimsical formations that are easily recognizable. One of the most charming is Mexican Hat, a rock formation that unmistakeably resembles a sombrero.

Mexican Hat Utah RV trip adventure

A Mexican sombrero caps off the landscape in Utah.

We were traveling through southeastern Utah with our RV, and before we arrived at this fantastic stone hat we found some wonderful patterns in the red rocks. We spent a little time doing some wide angle photography, playing with the colorful lines in the sandstone.

Leading lines in wide angle photo in Utah-min

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As the golden hour unfolded before sunset, I was astonished to look down at my feet and see a rainbow of colors!

Wide angle photography in Utah-min

So much color right at my feet!

The red, yellow, orange and gray stripes were beautiful, and we explored these unusual patterns at dusk and again at dawn.

Sunrise with puppy in Utah-min

Buddy watched the sunrise with us.

In some cases we focused our photos on the tiny patterns at our feet, but the size and scale of these immense rock landscapes was mind boggling.

Utah landscape-min

Huge landscapes dwarf Mark and Buddy on a rock outcropping.

In many places the sandstone was solid underfoot, but in other places it gave way to patches of red beach sand and small dunes.

Red rock patterns in Utah-min

Ancient sand dunes turned to stone — lines and patterns everywhere.

Buddy loved lying in the hot sand in the heat of the day and rubbing himself in its toasty warmth.

He also got a kick out of chasing the lizards and birds that live in this exotic land. Of course, the bigger birds just stood their ground when they saw the excited puppy coming.

One crow began to tease him, flying just out of reach and squawking. Buddy took the bait and tore after the crow, running and jumping as the bird swerved and dipped his wings near him.

Suddenly Buddy took a big leap, eyes focused intently on the crow. He misjudged the uneven ground beneath him, lost his footing, and crashed into the sand chest first in a cloud of red dust.

When he stood up and shook himself off he was wearing a pink bib and gloves!

Puppy in red rock sand Utah-min

Buddy sports a peach bib and gloves after taking a flying leap after a bird and crash landing in the sand.

Rivers and waterways are responsible for the fantastic landscapes in this area, and when we drove over a bridge crossing the Colorado River we loved the contrast of the crimson cliffs and snowy mountains in the background.

Colorado River in Utah Glen Canyon-min

Snowy mountains and red rock cliffs.

The landscapes were filled with color and vibrance.

Colorful landscape at the golden hour in Utah-min

Vivid colors at the golden hour.

We crossed the San Juan River at the town of Mexican Hat. After driving over a hundred miles through vast empty landscapes, this village perched above the river was a fun surprise, and we got out to explore a bit.

Colorado River Bridge at Mexican Hat Utah-min

The village of Mexican Hat is perched along one side of the river.

Someone had put a three-legged chair in a spot with a great view of the village on the opposite bank. You never know what you’ll find out here!

Town of Mexican Hat Utah-min

Have a seat — but don’t fall over!

We continued on and the skies clouded over. Storms brewed in the distance while the sun lit portions of the land here and there. What a magical place.

Storm clouds and rain over red rock landscape in Utah-min

Storm clouds and rain drift across the red rock landscape.

Storm and dark clouds in the Utah red rocks-min

The rain never made it to us, but what a wonderfully brooding sky this was!

The village of Mexican Hat is named for the fun rock formation that looks like a Mexican sombrero. It was easy to spot and made us smile. What a perfect name for this formation and the village nearby!

Mexican Hat rock formation under storm clouds in Utah-min

Mexican Hat is impossible to miss!

Buddy decided to try it out and see how it fit.

Sombrero Mexican Hat over puppy-min

Buddy tries the hat on for size.

Catching it from different angles and zooming in, the hat really dose look like a sombrero.

Mexican Hat Utah-min

It’s a true sombrero from this angle!

Just how big is this rock formation? Enormous! There were some hikers standing at its base…

Hikers at Mexican Hat Utah-min

It doesn’t look that big until you notice the hikers!

As the afternoon wore on, the hat cast its shadow across the valley below.

Shadow of Mexican Hat rock formation in Utah-min

In the late afternoon Mexican Hat cast a shadow across the valley.

And as the sun set it became a silhouette against the sky.

Mexican Hat Utah sunset silhouette-min

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And then it grew wings.

Sunset at Mexican Hat Utah-min

With colorful flying clouds!

Continuing on, we saw incredible wavy patterns in the red rocks.

Clouds over red rocks in Utah-min

We noticed vivid patterns in the distant hills.

We hopped in the RZR to drive into the landscape a little further. We rounded a bend and found a couple taking a break from their Jeep ride to enjoy a quiet moment in their camp chairs with a fabulous view.

Polaris RZR ride in Utah red rocks-min

We followed a jeep road into the landscape.

Exotic landscape in Utah-min

A couple relaxes in their camp chairs in the middle of their Jeep ride!

These landscapes just begged us to head off into the red rocks to take photos.

Photographer in Utah red rocks-min

Mark heads out to take some pics.

We were drawn to the swirling patterns on the hillsides and couldn’t stop our cameras from clicking away.

Swirling rock formations in Utah-min

Triangular patterns swirled across the base of the mountains.

Red rock swirl formations in Utah-min

Red rock waves.

Wave patterns in Utah red rocks-min

An undulating landscape.

Just how big are these wavy patterns? I had wandered around on foot exploring and then I looked up and noticed our RZR leaning up against this jaw-dropping landscape. Wow!

Wavy patterns in red rocks with scale shown by Polaris RZR-min

How big are those patterns? Pretty big!

With that in mind, here are a few more images taken as clouds rolled in overhead.

Wavy red rock patterns and swirls in Utah-min

Approaching clouds played with the light.

Utah red rock wavy patterns and swirls-min

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We wanted to stay longer, but it was still quite cold in this part of Utah. Our fingers and toes were tired of being numb! We had been in long pants and jackets for too long and we were ready to get back to central Arizona where the temps were hovering in the high 70s. Ahhhh….!

Fifth wheel trailer RV triple tow-min

What a great area. We’ll be back!!

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Traces of Antiquity and the Not-So-Ancient in Utah!

March 2019 – Over the years we’ve been asked how we plan our travels, and we’ve usually said that we move on or stay put on a whim. But it might be more accurate to say that we generally follow the weather, staying put when it’s nice and moving on when ugly conditions are expected.

This has made for some hasty departures with rain, sleet or snow looming, but until this past week we have never been stuck right where we were because of deep mud!

Utah RV trip

Hitting the road is easier when you don’t have to drive through a foot of mud

The Utah desert is filled with sandstone, sand and silty stuff, and when it is dry it hardens to something like concrete with a soft layer of dust around the edges. But when it rains for 48 hours, as it did while we were camping, the water soaks into the silty sand and makes a very squishy mud.

Factory Butte Utah-min

An immense tower rises out of Utah’s red rocks courtesy of rain, wind and sometimes drippy muddy conditions

As we drove to and from our campsite every other day or so, our truck swam through portions of the road, even in 4×4 low gear at 5 mph. There was no way we could tow our 14k lb. trailer out of there.

So, we stayed put and we waited for the mud to dry!

Utah landscape near-far wide angle image-min

While we were waiting for the mud to dry we practice the near-far composition techniques we’d learned in our photography workshop the week before.

We kept busy practicing the wide angle photo techniques we had just learned. The key to putting some real zing into this kind of photography is having a fabulous sky and a fabulous foreground right at your feet. Finding those things is no small trick, though, even in this wonderfully scenic part of Utah.

Puppy Uah landscape near-far wide angle image-min

The near-far wide angle view is a new way of seeing for us, but we’re starting to get the hang of it!

We spent hours scouring the area looking for engaging backdrops in the distance and fascinating foregrounds at our feet while hoping we’d get a jaw-dropping sunrise or sunset to top it off.

The sky didn’t cooperate, but we did find some lovely places and really enjoyed the search.

Utah red rock landscape-min

Low toadstool hoodoos and softly rounded mountains

Of course, what’s funny about doing this kind of photography with our pooch Buddy along is that he has a habit of photo-bombing our shots. We’d get everything set up just so, and then Buddy would suddenly wander right through the middle of the photo, sniffing around and curious about what we were up to.

Utah red rock landscape with puppy-min

Buddy stops by right in the middle of things to say hello!

While I was crawling around on my hands and knees to try and capture these ground level images, Mark hiked up onto the colorfully striped mounds in the distance and took some stunning pics of the softly rounded shapes from eye level.

Striped hills in Utah-min

Up close, the softly rounded mounds were very beautiful

Colorful hills and mounds in Utah-min

The hills were a wide variety of earth tone colors

Utah striped mounds-min

Natural patterns

Slowly, the mud slowly began to dry everywhere, and it made pretty patterns of cracks as it shrank. Mark noticed the pattern of a tree in one set of cracks.

A tree in the cracked mud in Utah-min

The image of a tree appeared in the cracking mud

With the mud quickly drying, we realized our escape from our campsite had to be timed so that the mud on the road was sufficiently dry but the predicted strong winds hadn’t yet begun whipping dust around. Everyday we surveyed the mud and it seemed like our leave-taking was still a few days away.

But Mother Nature has her own sense of timing and her own schedule.

One day, just as we were returning from a walk down the road and agreeing that we should give it another day or two, the predicted winds suddenly arrived and kicked up some huge clouds of dust.

Yikes!

Dust and high winds in Utah-min

Buddy squints his eyes as he makes his way through a swirling dust cloud.
Wild dust storms are the desert West’s answer to the hot and muggy stickiness of mid-summer in the East!

When the desert becomes enveloped in dust storms you can get white-out conditions, and that thin layer of silt finds its way onto everything in the camper, even with the doors and windows closed. Just one swirl as you open the door and dash inside can be enough to coat the counters and table with grit.

It was time to leave!

Within an hour we were swimming down the muddy section of the road, but we had just enough traction to make it out.

Once the tires hit the pavement we heaved a huge sigh of relief!

We headed south on US-95 which is also known as the Bicentennial Highway because it was completed in 1976. It is one of Utah’s most spectacular scenic drives with occasional pull-outs where you can stop to take a photo or rest a bit. After driving for a while we pulled over to stretch our legs.

Hog Canyon Utah-min

The beautiful scenery on the Bicentennial Highway was a welcome sight after our great escape!

A gorgeous yellow Corvette had stopped too. We’ve often said that if we ever stop traveling by RV we might start traveling by sports car and motel. Wouldn’t that be fun! What better way to see America’s incomparable scenic drives that in a zippy and maneuverable Porsche?! We had the chance to do just that in Colorado a few years ago, and what a blast that was! (Blog post here).

RV and Porsche and side by side-min

There are many ways to travel and they’re all fun!

We wandered through the brush by the side of the road and crossed a narrow stream and found ourselves in a shallow cave. Such wonders. Our spirits soared as we roamed around.

View from cave in Utah-min

Mark takes a pic from the floor of the cave

One of the things I love most with Utah’s red rocks is the “desert varnish” on the surface of many cliff faces. It appears as though the gods have taken cans of paint and spilled them over the edges. Jackson Pollack may have made human drip painting famous, but for me, these paintings made by Mother Nature have him beat.

Desert varnish on red rocks in Utah-min

Nature’s drip paintings on towering red rock cliffs.

Artistic expression fill human history back to prehistoric times, and the ancients who lived in Utah thousands of years ago were no different. Using some kind of method to impregnate the smooth cliff walls with various colors, they created pictographs that remain to this day.

Buddy came across an especially beautiful one.

Puppy finds Moqui Queen pictograph in Utah-min

“Look what I found!”

It was about five feet tall and seemed to depict a person wearing a crown of some kind, along with decorations across the neck and shoulders as well as earrings. The figure appeared to have bird wings with long flight feathers, or perhaps it wore a cape that concealed its arms.

I have no idea what the thing next to this being was. But surely the person who meticulously created this image eons ago knew exactly what it was. If only it were possible to know the origins of the artwork in the context of the culture that created it.

Gazing at this image of a very specific something — human? god? — I remembered my astonishment when we watched a school field trip of young kids visiting the evocative ancient pyramid ruins at Monte Alban near Oxaca in southern Mexico.

As the kids sat attentively listening to a guide teach them about some huge stone carvings the Zapotecs had made, he pointed to various images in the stone sculptures and asked the kids if they recognized who they were.

With each question, a few kids’ hands shot up and they answered eagerly. They had studied the ancient mythology that had its roots right where they were sitting.

Moqui Queen pictograph in Utah-min

This intricately detailed pictograph is about five feet tall and appears to be a person wearing a crown and ornaments around the neck and shoulders, and it seems to have either an elaborate cape or wings.

Not too far from this incredible pictograph we found some more recent petroglyphs. The difference between pictographs and petroglyphs is that the pictographs are made by impregnating pigments into the rock face while petroglyphs are made by pecking out an etching.

It’s not so easy to make images by pecking, and in many places we’ve seen poor modern attempts to scrape the rock alongside the expertly made petroglyphs that are hundreds or thousands of years old. However, in this spot some enterprising people whose petroglyph efforts are now fading into recent history did a pretty good job of making a lasting impression.

These petroglyphs dated back as far as 1941 which was long before the Bicentennial Highway was built in 1976 and also before Glen Canyon was dammed to form Lake Powell in 1963.

In the 1940s there was just a rough 4×4 road that, legend has it, a local miner had built between Hanksville and Hite using a borrowed bulldozer!

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“Roy Despain + Madeline II – September 1, 1941”

Roy and Madeline covered some rugged terrain to put their mark on these rocks. I wonder if they are still around and if they ever return to see their names on the cliff wall.

Nearby Brig Larsen left his or her name and listed the town of Moab, Utah (his/her hometown?) and the full date of May 21, 1947.

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“Brig Larsen – Moab Utah – 1947”

In 1946, a year prior to Brig pecking out his petroglyph, a geological survey described the concept of a future road going between the mining town of Hite (now submerged under Lake Powell) and the Mormon farming town of Hanksville. A quote from that geological survey says:

“Plans are being considered for a road across the Colorado River at Hite and eastward… At the present time (1946) the road follows the bottom of North Wash and a cable-barge ferry is maintained for crossing the river. In time, no doubt, an improved road will be built that avoids the canyon bottom and crosses the river by bridge, probably near the mouth of the Dirty Devil river. Such a road would be one of the most scenic highway in America.”

How right they were as they looked 30 years into the future!

Nearby a Mr. (or Ms.) S. Allan also made a petroglyph with the date “41.” Was he (or she) traveling with Roy and Madeline in 1941? Maybe they all reached this spot together and decided to put their names on the rock much as the Mormon pioneers had done at the Mormon register which is now inside Capitol Reef National Park.

Ironically, someone named Lockyer visited to the same spot in 1978 after the Bicentennial Highway was fully built and paved with asphalt. I wonder if he intended to write over S. Allan’s date or if he realized only after he got going with his rock pecking that he hadn’t allowed enough room for his name.

Modern petroglyph in Utah-min

“S. Allan 41” and “Lockyer 78”

Either way, I’m just assuming that the numbers “41” and “78” refer to years these people were here in the 1900s. But who knows, they could be their birth years or they could be numbers from their high school varsity sports jerseys!

So it goes with the masterful guesswork of archaeology, whether studying the artistic footprints left 80 years ago or 800 years ago or more.

One thing we’ve noticed in the shifting sands of time here in southeastern Utah is that it is not so easy to leave an indelible footprint. We’ve been here only two weeks, yet the footprints and tire tracks we first put down two weeks ago have almost disappeared. The rain and wind have all but erased them from ever being.

Even the muddy tracks on the dirt road had already begun to flatten out.

Photography in Utah landscapes-min

Happy times in Utah.

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Map of the Bicentennial highway

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SE Utah – A Mars Colony, Wide-Angle Photography & Snowy Mountains!

March 2019 – We arrived in southeastern Utah just as snow flurries were abating. It was unseasonably cold, but at twilight the Henry Mountains were utterly radiant, a visual gift that was a happy exchange for having to run around in hats and mittens in mid-March!

Henry Mountains Utah at dusk-min

Henry Mountains at dusk

We snuck out at the first light of dawn and found the red rocks were glowing with an inner beauty.

Utah Red rocks glow in early morning light-min

Radiant red rocks at dawn

When a thick blanket of clouds filled the sky and chased the sun away for a few days, we could see the myriad of colors that are hidden in many of the exotic rock formations.

Colorful rocks in Utah-min

Lots of earth tone colors in the rocks

Off in the distance the classic desert mesas led the way to the horizon in receding layers.

Layered mesas in Utah-min

Mesas on the horizon

An excursion to the Dirty Devil River revealed an immense canyon reminiscent of tributaries within the Grand Canyon.

Dirty Devil River and canyon-min

Dirty Devil River and Canyon

We got a few sunny days, and with the ground still damp from the recent rains, we enjoyed some dust-free rides on our Polaris RZR.

Polaris RZR and puppy with driver in Utah-min

“Are we going for a ride? Yippee!”

Puppy and Polaris RZR in Utah-min

“I want to run alongside for a while.”

These UTV rides took us into the back country of Southeastern Utah where we went from one jaw dropping landscape to another. In some places the desert was flat and wide with immense jagged boulders balancing on the soft soil here and there.

Rock formations in Utah-min

It’s easy to get lost in these rocks!

In other places vividly striped mounds formed a gently rolling landscape.

Puppy explores striped red rock dunes-min

Buddy checks out the rounded mounds of purple, pink and deep brown rocks

Snow capped mountains and purple striped red rocks in Utah-min

Moonscape

“It feels like we’re on another planet!” We kept saying to each other!

This land is so photogenic it’s hard not to take a photo with every step. And it is so whimsical and cheery you just have to strike a pose in a lot of shots too!

Rock formations in Utah-min

Buddy watches Mark pose praising the heavens under a jagged spire.

Utah’s breathtaking and otherworldly landscapes are beloved worldwide, and lots of folks from all over the place come to visit in large numbers between Spring and Fall.

Purple striped red rocks in Utah-min

A huge labyrinth of a layer cake.

When we arrived in Hanksville, a massive and sweeping public land bill had just become Federal law with enthusiastic support from almost everyone in Congress.

We hadn’t known anything about it, but as we talked with the locals we soon discovered they weren’t too pleased. They were frustrated that motorized and mechanized vehicle access to some of the most popular places nearby will be prohibited because they’ll be designated “Wilderness” areas. Also, the locals hadn’t been notified of the bill until three days before it was voted on, so their views were never heard.

With those conversations still ringing in our ears, we were astonished to take our RZR around a corner on a well trodden road on the Bureau of Land Management’s vast square miles of open public land and suddenly see a sign planted in the ground that said:

“The Mars Society. Private Property. No Entry Please.”

Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

Mars…or BLM land in Utah?

We stood by the sign and stared at the buildings lined up against the striped red rock mounds in the distance. There was a collection of what can only be described as Mars Pods along with a large solar panel array installed on the ground nearby.

We looked at each other in amazement. What in the world was this?

Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

A Mars colony

We heard voices yelling in the distance and saw the door of the main pod opening and closing repeatedly as young, energetic people ran in and out the door. The yelling didn’t sound like English.

I cupped my hand to my ear to see if I could figure out the language they were speaking, but I couldn’t tell. My first guess was Spanish, and then I thought I heard some French.

Main Pod Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

There was lots of commotion in a foreign language.

Suddenly, a side-by-side four wheeler came driving out from the pods towards us. There was no engine noise. It looked to be a Polaris Ranger UTV that had been converted to run on an electric engine.

Then two more Mars Rover side-by-sides appeared behind it.

The three vehicles zoomed passed us in a flash and disappeared down the road. One had the word “Opportunity” across the front hood, and they all had a pair of young folks in the seats.

Mars colonizers at Mars Desert Research Station Utah-min

Three UTVs converted to electric engines zipped by

We decided to head into the compound and see if we could learn a little more about what this place was. Driving a short distance, we arrived at the main pod and were greeted by a friendly dog and a young man.

“What is this place?” I asked him.

“Private property.” He said with a strong accent.

“I thought this was BLM land. Public land.” I said.

“We’re borrowing it.” He told me.

Mars Desert Research Station-min

Mars Desert Research Station

I asked if he meant they were leasing the land from the BLM, rather than borrowing it, and he nodded, and then I asked where he and his friends were from, and he said Peru.

He went on to explain that international groups of kids visit this place on two week rotations to live in the Utah desert and drive around in electric UTVs so they can get the feeling of what it would be like to land in a desolate landscape on Mars and establish a human colony.

We later learned that one of their current tasks is to fly teams of 8 drones at a time over the Utah landscape to make digital image maps.

We also learned from some Utah Capitol Reef area tourist literature that describes this Mars colony that whenever the kids step out of the pods into the Utah landscape they are supposed to be wearing space suits just as they would on Mars.

Curiously, we did not see a single space suit on any of the kids going in and out of the pods or driving the UTVs across the desert. They were in street clothes and they looked no different than any other ATV/UTV owners who like to cruise around on dirt roads and go exploring.

Mars colony rovers in Utah-min

Future Mars colonists drive off into the desert in their UTVs to map the desert by flying teams of 8 drones at a time! Despite claims they wear space suits, they actually wore street clothes and looked no different than any other ATV/UTV group playing in the desert.

When we left, we saw a large sign on one of the building pods that said, “All funding by private donations. The Musk Foundation.”

The Musk Foundation-min

Major Sponsors (all funding via private donations)
The Musk Foundation

As I’ve said many times before, the public land debate is immense and complex and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

We continued on our own little safari at a modest 18 mph down the dirt road, lost in our own thoughts.

Suddenly, a huge SUV came up behind us from the direction of the Mars colony at about 40 mph and swerved around us, narrowly missing the left side of our little open air buggy. The driver hadn’t beeped to let us know he was coming, and we were left in a cloud of dust.

Dust flies off fast car on Utah desert road-min

Yikes! That was close!

We had come Utah very early this spring to attend a photography workshop with Ian Plant that soon got underway. It was focused on how to take wide angle images that emphasize near-far contrasts.

This was fascinating to study, and we had some outstanding experiences both in the classroom and out in the field.

It will take us a while for us to master the techniques we learned, but we had a lot of fun starting to retrain our eyes to look for interesting patterns at our feet and combine them with interesting things in the distance.

Near-Far wide angle perspective-min

We practiced near-far compositions that go from the shapes at your feet to shapes on the horizon

Morning glow on Utah red rocks-min

More practice with some red rock hoodoos at dawn.

Utah pinnacle at sunrise-min

Early morning light envelops a distant pinnacle.

There are quite a few slot canyons in the area, and these proved to be wonderful for wide angle photography and playing with the shapes created by shafts of light.

Leprechaun Slot Canyon Utah-min

Beautiful light inside Leprechaun Canyon

At one point our instructor, Ian, walked towards Mark as he was taking a photo. The light hit Ian perfectly and suddenly he looked like he was receiving a message from God or being beamed up to the USS Enterprise!

Ghost in the light in a Utah slot canyon-min

The ghost of our instructor

Mark also got a fantastic selfie at a slot canyon opening.

Slot canyon in Utah-min

Mark took a selfie.

There are sand dunes in the area too. Talk about an other-worldy landscape!

Sand dunes in Utah-min

Maybe this really is Mars

After the workshop was over, the rain and snow returned. We watched in awe as banks of black clouds came in.

Incoming storm in Utah red rocks-min

An approaching storm

The snow-covered Henry Mountains were suddenly surrounded by swirls of clouds that changed shape with every passing minute.

Henry Mountains with snow panorama Utah-min

Clouds surrounded the Henry Mountains

Clouds over snow capped Henry Mountains in Utah-min

Late afternoon light on the clouds and snow on the Henries

Henry Mountains with snow and red rocks Utah-min

Snow-capped peaks above and red rocks below – Magic!

Snow and clouds on Henry Mountains in Utah-min

The mountain was whisked away by the clouds…!

Snow on Henry Mountains Utah-min

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There is so much to see in southeastern Utah that we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface despite several return visits. We think we’re headed back south to Arizona now to finish up a few things there, but the lure of these exotic red rocks and spectacular vistas will probably keep us here a little while longer!

RV Camping in the Utah Red Rocks-min

Southeastern Utah is a beautiful area.

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Monument Valley & Hite Scenic Overlook – Stone Towers from Below & Above!

March 2019 – What with triple-towing and having a new Polaris RZR side-by-side these days, we had decided not to travel long distances in 2019. But when I got an email announcing that a photographer we admire, Ian Plant, was hosting a four day workshop in southeastern Utah, we decided to make a run for it and take our RV on a nearly 500 mile adventure ride past stunning scenery between Phoenix, Arizona, and the tiny village of Hanksville, Utah.

Monument Valley framed by Navajo jewelry stand-min

Monument Valley framed by a Navajo Jewelry stand.

After a crazy cold winter in the Arizona deserts, the temps had just started to warm up in the Phoenix area. But we we hightailed it north for Utah’s higher elevation (and colder) red rock and snowy mountain scenery anyway. Brrr!

What were we thinking?

Just as we crossed through the Navajo Nation into Monument Valley on the border of Utah, the navigation screen on our truck began to flash a Severe Winter Storm Warning for the area!

Monument Valley skyline RV trip-min

Monument Valley skyline

Despite (or because of) the incoming storm, the towering rock formations that form the gateway to Monument Valley stretched across the horizon in dramatic fashion, and we just had to get out and hike down one of the dirt roads to get a better look at them.

Puppy at Monument Valley Utah on RV trip-min

It was time to stretch our legs — whether we had four to stretch or just two.

The clouds intensified as we walked. Every once in a while the sun swept across the vast landscape with the dark storm clouds in hot pursuit. Um… in cold pursuit!! Over on the other horizon a row of red rock cliffs lit up as the sun brightened.

Red rocks in Utah with puppy-min

In another direction a line of red rock cliffs glowed for a brief moment in the distance.

Turning back towards the monuments we noticed a cool cloud had formed above them in the sky.

Monument Valley Utah at twilight with clouds-min

An unusual cloud drifts by in the sky.

We hopped back in our truck for another twenty miles or so and were pelted with rain. But when we turned the corner at Mexican Hat the rain abated just long enough for us to get out again and have a look around.

The Mexican Hat rock formation is very easy to spot!

Mexican Hat Utah

There’s no doubt how the town of Mexican Hat got its name!

Just south of Blanding, Utah, we turned west onto US-95, also known as the Bicentennial Highway, and plunged down lots of 8% to 10% switchbacks to the desert floor far below. This is a fantastic scenic drive that leaves our jaws agape every time we drive it. Even this time in the rain and fog — and snow in the mountains we were passing! — it was still a glorious drive.

How funny, though, in the middle of all that majestic scenery to see an old dilapidated Winnebago sitting in the middle of nowhere. Mark hit the brakes so he could run back for a shot!

Old Winnebago in Utah-min

It might be a little drafty sleeping in there!

Some of the best views on this drive are when it descends into Glen Canyon. I fondly remember how the first time we drove it I was so excited by the beauty that I sat in the window of the passenger’s seat snapping pics as Mark drove!

This time we were driving in rain and mist, but as we pulled into the Hite Scenic Overlook the sun made a valiant effort to push its way out from behind the heavy blankets of clouds.

Hite Overlook Utah-min

The Hite Scenic Overlook is well worth a stop.

The view from the overlook was out of this world.

Hite Overlook Lake Powell Glen Canyon Recreation Area RV trip-min

What a view. That is Lake Powell down there!

What a spot for photography!

Photography at Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell-min

Mark sets up a shot of the valley (he’s on the far left side with Buddy!)

We hung around for several hours taking photos. We were standing on a peninsula with views in every direction, and the views went on forever.

The massive stone towers on the desert floor below us looked like they had strayed from Monument Valley.

And how amusing it was to look back at a blog post I wrote about this same area seven years ago and find that I took almost the exact same photo (in sunshine) when we were there!

Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell Utah-min

I took almost this exact same photo 7 years ago!

The tiny ribbon of US-95 snaked around in front of the enormous stone towers.

Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell RV trip-min

Dazzling scenery, even in mist and fog.

Even Buddy seemed to appreciate the view. He was very cautious looking down over the edge too, holding his weight back as he craned his neck forward to look down at the flat land below.

Puppy at Hite Overlook Glen Canyon Recreation Area Lake Powell RV trip-min

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Behind us a row of red rocks that stood cheek-by-jowel like city buildings overlapped snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Snowcapped mountains and red rock pinnacles Glen Canyon Lake Powell Utah-min

No wonder we were in jackets and hats — there were snowy mountains right there!

The skies finally began to clear and the last miles of the Bicentennial Highway were flanked with red rock cliffs as we approached the village of Hanksville.

Views on the Bicentennial Highway Utah RV trip-min

Once the rain cleared I got a few pics of the gorgeous winding road that is US-95
The Bicentennial Highway.

At Hanksville, the Bicentennial Highway joins up with Scenic Highway 24 which heads west into Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

All of the land in the lower half of Utah is spectacular beyond words.

Red rocks on the Bicentennial Highway Utah RV trip-min

Views on the Bicentennial Highway (US-95).

Hanksville is home to about 250 people, and its two gas stations, restaurants and motels are all clustered around the intersection of US-24 and US-95. Most of the back streets in town are dirt. We went exploring and came across the ruins of an old stone homestead. We learned later that this is part of the Giles Ghost Town.

Stone house window Wayne County Utah-min

Someone put some care into building this solid home.

Those stone walls were pretty thick!

Stone house ruins Wayne County Utah-min

This is part of the Giles Ghost Town

All around the area there were lots of exotic rock formations. Some formed beautiful patterns…

Red rock patterns in Utah-min

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And others made recognizable shapes!

Pinocchio in the rocks in Utah-min

Pinocchio!

Exploring the Utah desert-min

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We’ll be in this area for another week, improving our photography by day and fending off sub-freezing temps by night!

Sunrise on the Henry Mountains Utah

First light!

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Canyon Country Highlights – Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend & More!

January 2019 – Our wintertime National Parks Snowstorm Tour to Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon was incredible. What a thrill to see snow at both of those gorgeous National Parks. But the drive to get there and back was also spectacular, as it took us past many wonders of Utah’s and Arizona’s “Canyon Country.”

Canyon Country Arizona and Utah Glen Canyon Lake Powell Horseshoe Bend-min

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Just outside of Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite places, Red Canyon. We love the hiking trails there. What fun it was to see its two tunnels through the red rocks decorated in snow!

Snow at Red Canyon Utah tunnel-min

Red Canyon has two charming tunnels in the red rocks – and in winter they have snow!

The area around Bryce Canyon was beautiful in its winter finery, and we got a huge kick out of driving the scenic roads and seeing familiar red rock formations peeking out from beneath a layer of snow.

Red rocks and a stream in Utah during winter-min

A glimpse of the edge of Red Canyon across a wintry landscape.

Snow on red rocks approaching Bryce Canyon Utah-min

Bryce-like rock formations peered out from the mountains a few miles from the actual Canyon.

Snow at Red Canyon Utah-min

Red rock country makes for wonderful scenic drive in summer, but how beautiful to see it with snow!

The valleys near Bryce Canyon stood silent in their winter slumber save for a few homesteads here and there.

Winter outside Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah-min

The quiet life.

As we descended out of the high 8,000′ plateau where Bryce Canyon is situated, we said goodbye to the snow one last time.

Puppy poses in snow in Flagstaff Arizona-min

Buddy loved the snow, but it was time to leave it behind.

The wonderfully scenic US-89 passes through spectacular red rock landscapes as it approaches and then leaves Kanab, Utah, and we reminisced as we passed the turn-off for the incomparable Wire Pass Slot Canyon hike and the charming Toadstools Hike, both barely noted with small brown signs on the highway.

And then we were suddenly immersed in the beauty of Glen Canyon. This exquisite canyon was carved by the relentless flow of the Colorado River which has sculpted the surrounding colorful sandstone into a myriad of shapes.

Afternoon shadows Glen Canyon Utah-min

Late afternoon at Glen Canyon.

The Colorado River was dammed here to form Lake Powell, and the vivid blue of the lake set against the towering stone cliffs was jaw-dropping in the morning sun.

Glen Canyon and the Colorado River in Arizona-min

Lake Powell is the centerpiece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Glen Canyon in Page Arizona-min

Lake Powell (Glen Canyon).

Glen Canyon Page Arizona morning light-min

Lake Powell (Glen Canyon).

We had seen brochure pictures of Lake Powell like this, but to see it in person was a feast for the eyes. What a fantastic contrast — or complement — to the snow at Bryce Canyon and the mysterious light show at Grand Canyon that we had just witnessed days earlier.

Glen Canyon Page Arizona morning light-min

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Glen Canyon Arizona morning color-min

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We drove down to the beach to get a little closer to the water.

Driving on Glen Canyon beach in Arizona-min

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The stone monoliths towered on the other side of the small cove. What an exotic landscape!

Photography at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

This is a fabulous spot for photography!

There is a marina, hotel and restaurant complex on the shore at Lake Powell, and we could see the marina docks in the distance. The air became a little hazy as the day wore on, but the deep crimson red rocks were just stunning!

Red rock mesas at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

The distant red rocks were a deep crimson!

A group of houseboats anchored in the bay looked very inviting. We told each other we’ll have to do an overnight in one someday. A concessionaire for the National Park Service rents them out!!

Houseboats at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

Houseboats anchored in the bay. What a fun excursion that would be!

RV camping on the beach at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

Other worldly!

Lone Rock Glen Canyon Arizona-min

This guy loved the beach!

The eye-popping Horseshoe Bend Overlook is a little bit south of Lake Powell, and although we’ve visited before (blog post here), we couldn’t drive through the area without stopping in to take another look.

We were shocked when we arrived to see that massive construction is underway in the parking lot and on the hill between the parking lot and the overlook to make it easier to support the enormous crowds of tourists that flock here every hour of every day.

What used to be a small parking lot will soon be at least four times bigger. A slew of vault toilets have been installed, and it looks like a road is going in to take tourists right to the rim.

Horseshoe Bend Overlook Page Arizona-min

Horseshoe Bend

Right now visitors still walk straight up over the berm on a dirt path to the overlook. The new road will go around the berm on the south side. It’s not clear whether walkers or motorized vehicles or both will use the road, perhaps only tour buses. We were also quite astonished to see a railing protecting part of the rim now as well. Now, anyone who is unnerved by standing on the edge of a several thousand foot drop can stand by the railing with confidence.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona Colorado RIver-min

The rocks near the edge of the overlook have fantastic markings.

Most of the rim is still wide open and easily explored, however, and plenty of crazy people were doing their selfie stunts just inches from a lethal fall (a girl fell off and died over Christmas this year). But it was the beautiful lines and patterns in the rocks at our feet that really caught our attention.

This is a special little gem of a spot.

Horseshoe Bend Arizona fisheye lens-min

A fish-eye view catches the wake of a boat cruising by on the river below!

Whereas Horseshoe Bend is busy busy busy and a true jaw-dropper to boot, a nearby scenic overlook at Glen Canyon Dam is fully developed for people to explore but had no visitors but us when we stopped by one morning.

The Colorado River is visible four thousand feet below — just as it is at Horseshoe Bend a few miles away — and the rust colored canyon walls are incredibly sheer.

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook Page Arizona-min

The Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook was beautiful and dramatic — and we were the only ones there!

We just loved the lines in the rocks and the infinite variety of patterns they create.

Lines in the rocks Glen Canyon Dam-min

Such wonderful lines in the rocks!

It is a kid’s paradise for running around on the rocks.

Scenic Overlook Glen Canyon Dam Page Arizona-min

These rocks are very cool to climb on.

Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook with puppy-min

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Windblown puppy Glen Canyon Dam Scenic Overlook-min

Mark won a photo contest with this unique photo of a strong gust of wind blowing on Buddy!

Glen Canyon Dam is a short distance away tucked between massive cliffs!

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook in Page Arizona-min

To get a sense of scale, notice Mark in the upper right corner taking a photo of the dam!

Scenic Overlook Glen Canyon Dam in Page Arizona-min

Top dog.

Meanwhile, storms brewed above the mesas and mountains on the horizon.

Storm on the horizon Glen Canyon Lake Powell Arizona-min

Storm clouds gathered.

This whole part of Canyon Country between Bryce Canyon, Utah, and Page, Arizona, is exquisite, and is truly a delight for photography. We were up with the chickens one morning to see if we could capture something special down at Lake Powell. And sure enough, the sun gave us a show to remember!

Magenta sky and water before dawn Glen Canyon Arizona-min

When we first arrived at the shore at dawn, the sky and water took on shades of purple and magenta.

The sunrise was brilliant, but even as the sun made its appearance on one horizon, storm clouds were forming on the other. We loved the contrast of light and dark.

Sunrise at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

The day awakens.

As the sun cast its last glow across the land before giving in to the coming storm, it lit the horizon’s classic southwestern horizon of mesas and rock pinnacles.

Stormy skies at dawn at Glen Canyon Arizona-min

While the sun rose on one side the storm clouds grew darker on the other.

Mesas and rock formations Glen Canyon Arizona at dawn-min

Morning light.

What a beautiful way to end our quick trip through Canyon Country to see the Best of the West under snow!

Before long we were back in our trailer in Phoenix getting ready to head out with our new RZR and try our new triple-towing adventures. But this week-long interlude at some of America’s most beautiful places in mid-winter is a trip we will remember forever.

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