It was October of 2008, which now, seems like forever ago... I was sitting in the basement of my house at that time, diligently placing markers on a custom Google map of the places I'd like to see in the western United States for what would be my first vacation since moving out of my parent's house. It should be noted that at this point, I was already 0 for 1 for successful vacations on my own.
Fast forward 2-3 years later, a wife, house, and a job later and life was finally ready to let me take a vacation again to many of those original great places. The spreadsheet, vacation.ods had been sitting on my hard drive ever since October 2008 roughly 75% finished waiting for me to finally finish the job. So in March of 2011 I decided it was time to really do it this time. I pitched the vacation to my friend Mike who had a window of time available at the end of May to do the vacation.
Okay, I'm tired of writing in the past tense in story mode! Present tense now! After a week of rest I finally have some time to write up this much needed blog post on my vacation to the Colorado Plateau. This vacation was resurrected this year out of a notion that my life was becoming stagnant/routine and that in 2011 I was going to try to mix things up and put myself in more uncomfortable situations than normal. I was quasi-inspired when I saw a "things to do before graduation" sheet of paper on a high school kid's wall which prompted me to draw up a list of my own of things I wanted to accomplish in 2011. Following through with my 2008 vacation was a top priority on this list. The vacation took me in a giant loop through the state of Utah, into Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Day 1: Salt Lake City
After a long day of traveling via the airlines from Appleton, to Minneapolis we finally arrived in Salt Lake City. Right when I got off the plane I could see the giant Wasatch mountains that surround SLC. Having lived in Wisconsin my entire life, I must say mountains are a dramatic change. I don't recall a single point during my vacation in Utah when I couldn't see mountains towering over the horizon off in the distance. In Wisconsin, we're lucky to to even see the horizon with our flat, tree laden ground.
After getting our rental car, and checking into our hotel we drove around the city. We attempted to hike a large hill on the side of SLC but it started raining and we (mostly me) became exhausted running around in the rain. After that we ate at a really really good restaurant in SLC called Red Rock Brewery.
Day 2: Antelope Island
Day 2 was our day to tour SLC. Having sort of done that the night before, we decided to check out the Great Salt Lake. In that lake sits a state park called Antelope Island State Park. We drove around Antelope Island for 15 minutes and found a hiking trail that leads to the summit of the mountain/hill. Being spontaneous we started hiking up the 3.5 mile trail. The views from atop of Antelope Island were awesome. We enjoyed 360 degree views of the Great Salt Lake and neighboring cities. Also we ran into wild bison roaming the hills 2 miles up the hiking trail.
After almost reaching the summit the weather started getting really nasty, with wind and rain. We took shelter under a radio tower but the situation didn't appear to be improving and the remaining climb didn't look too inviting so we headed back down. On the way down, we saw a 60 year old hiker practically running up the hill. At this point we realized we needed to pick up some hiking gear if we were going to do any serious hiking on the remainder of the trip.
Day 2: Driving to Moab, Utah
The drive to Moab was a 5 hour trip that took us up the mountains, through giant valleys and through snow laden areas of the mountains. Towards the end we started entering the desert and the roads started straitening out again. After a difficult drive through the Ashley National Forest I welcomed these long straight roads. Apparently I enjoyed them a little too much because I ended up getting my first ticket ever in my life (some people find this surprising) while 10 minutes from my destination of Moab.
Day 2: Dancing in a local bar in Moab, Utah
I was pretty wore out after my 7 mile hike on Antelope Island but Mike convinced me to check out a local bar in Moab after we arrived. It's probably a good thing I did this as I was still sort of upset about getting a ticket. When we walked into the bar it sort of felt like in the movies where everyone at the bar realizes your not the normal patrons. However, It was a pretty cool place with a large outdoor patio area and a live band playing country and southern rock music. After a couple non-alcoholic drinks I somehow ended up country/ballroom dancing with an attractive local girl which I consider a highlight of my vacation. I don't know if I'll ever forget the girl repeating "never let go of your girl" in her southern accent as we were dancing...lol. Day 2 complete!
Photos From Day 2
Day 3: Arches National Park
Day 3 started out with a visit to Arches National Park. Most of the beautiful scenery in Arches requires a couple miles of hiking to view. The most famous arch, Delicate Arch is a 1.5 mile hike up a slickrock hill (3 miles total). While the hike takes awhile, it was well worth it! Delicate Arch sits on the edge of a giant canyon and offers a great view of the surrounding area. I was surprised to see roughly 100+ people hanging out at the top of the hike enjoying the view. We ate lunch with the arch in our view and then headed back down.
Next up we embarked on what would be our longest hike of the vacation. Called "Devils Garden". The hike was roughly 9-10 miles total after we checked out everything. We saw Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arc and Double O Arch. I'm pretty sure that by doing this hike, my legs were injured for the remainder of the vacation. Even still, it was worth it as we got to ascned to the top of the park and hike on some pretty primitive trails. At one point we even encountered a guy running through a remote trail of the park drenched in sweat looking for his friends he had gotten seperated from. Fortunately for him, a couple miles later we found that he had caught up with them but we were worried.
I would say, that of all the parks, we probably spent the most time at Arches so I might be somewhat bias in my thinking but I thought Arches and Moab were my favorite stops during the vacation. I'd deffinately like to visit there again perhaps for a bit longer next time.
Photos From Day 3
Day 4: Mesa Verde National Park
Day 4 started out with a lot of pain. While at Arches, we both used sun screen, but forgot to use it on our neck and head. After roughly 8 hours in the Southern Utah sun, our faces were bright red. Also, my legs were pretty much shot from the 12-13 mile hike the day before and the 7 mile hike the day before that. Fortunately, Mesa Verde National Park's hiking trails were all relatively short.
The park literally sits on top of a mountain/mesa. The drive into the park took 30-35 minutes and included going through a tunnel and up long, steep, curvey cliff roads. A lot of people I talk to aren't familiar with the park by name but it's Pueblo Native American cliff dwellings have been featured in a lot of videogames. Below is a video from one of my favorite videogames, XIII, which had levels which were both very similar to Arches National Park and Mesa Verde.
Touring the park was much more "people oriented" than previous stops since in order to visits the cliff dwellings, we had to leave at a specific time with a large group of people and with a park ranger. This led to an amusing conversation with the park ranger and a couple other visitors over my NRA hat. The park ranger jokingly asked if NRA stood for "National Recreation Area". When then talked about the recent law allowing concealed carry on federal lands in which another guy said it was "disgusting". Regardless, the park ranger actually supported the law as well as another visitor. Speaking of laws, we also managed to narrowly evade another ticket on our vacation while at Mesa Verde when we passed a park cop and he quickly spun his car around and followed us after we were driving a bit fast.
After touring the cliff dwellings, we checked out the museum and then went back to our hotel for what would be our only double stay at a hotel.
Photos From Day 4
Day 5: Monument Valley
Day 5 can be summed up by driving. I drove over 400 miles for 8 hours and into 4 different states. The drive took us through some of the most remote areas of our vacation. It's appropriate that the day included a lot of driving because one of my primary stops during our trip was at the famous Scenic Byway of Route 163. Almost everyone recognizes the picture of Route 163 as it approaches Monument Valley. To be honest I don't even know why this stretch of the road is famous, but its been ingrained in people's collective memory somehow. I've always liked how the road appears endless. If you look close enough you can actually see the backside of the buttes in Monument Valley in the distance.
Monument Valley is the only stop we made which isn't a National Park. Like most of the places we visited, there is a great deal of Native American history at the parks but Monument Valley is still owned and operated by it's original tribe, the Navajo. Because the park isn't funded by the Federal Government (assumption here) the dirt road going through the park is pretty terrible. We were driving in our 2011 Toyota Camry rental car so I drove extremely slow. If I had to do the visit again, I would probably just walk the road or see if bike rentals are an option.
Day 5: More Driving
Like I mentioned before, our drive through the rest of Arizona was pretty remote. Our first real sign of civilization was in the city of Paige, Arizona. If I had an extra day during our vacation I would have probably stayed a night in Paige and checked out all the cool sites nearby. Unfortunately I didn't do enough research on the area to learn about them. Paige reminded me a lot of Moab but with much more water. Both Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon are located here. Also, the extremly beautiful Antelope Canyon is located nearby Paige.
Photos From Day 5
Day 6: Bryce Canyon National Park
Day 6 started out in Bryce Canyon National Park. My first impression was "wow it's cold outside". The city that neighbors the park sits at roughly 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation which explains why it was only 40 degree out when we arrived. The road of the park snakes around the rim of the canyon which contains a giant "amphitheater" of spiked rocks called hoodoos. After a short day of touring the park we moved on. It would have been nice to hike around it more as I'm sure there's some pretty cool things to see.
After that we drove back to Salt Lake City up highway 15. It was cool to drive on a road that has a speed limit of 75mph which was the first time I've done that. Unfortunately for most of my portion of the drive it was raining pretty hard so I could really only go 75 or 80.
Day 7: Travel Madness
Day 7 started out in Salt Lake City back at the same hotel we started out at. We had to clean out our rental car and get it washed since it looked pretty bad after a week of driving around in the desert. We also had, somewhere around $40-$50 dollars left of groceries that we never ate so we left all of that in our hotel room. Not sure what the hotel cleaning staff thought of that.
We checked in our baggage and went through airport security. This was the first airport I've been do that had that body-scan security machine. I think I even had my carry-on searched for whatever reason.
During our wandering around the airport Mike discovered that the airport scenes from the movie Dumb & Dumber were filmed at the Salt Lake City airport so I tried to find some of the shots that took place in the movie. Unfortunately I think the airport has been renovated since then. Apparently the scene where Lloyd Christmas falls of the jetway was filmed at gate B2 which I have a picture of below.
Finally, when it was getting closer to our departure time we walked down by our gate only to discover that our plane had been downsized to a smaller one with 30 less passengers. Now we were on a waiting list to see if we would even be able to get on the plane. The next available flight was at 7pm that night, which was 5 hours later than our flight. After about 30 minutes we discovered that we would be able to get on the flight. Once we were boarded we had to wait 30-45 minutes and then the captain told us that the plane's generator was leaking! So then we got off the plane. After another 45-60 minutes we were finally on board a new plane and flying to Minneapolis. While I really enjoyed Salt Lake City I didn't want to stay there another night and have to get a hotel!
When we arrived in Minneapolis it was already at the exact time our flight to Appleton was leaving. I wouldn't be surprised if our very own plane was waiting to get on the runway when we landed. We headed over to the customer service line and found that the next available flight to Appleton would be 2 days away or we could fly to Green Bay the next night. Since my car was parked at Appleton there wasn't much of a reason to fly into Green Bay so we decided we would try to rent a car.
While in line for the rental car a random guy behind us who apparently was on our flight also need to get to Wisconsin. He offered me $75 if I'd drive him to Wausau, which was on our way so I took him up on the offer, considering the blasted rental car was going to be $288! After a 5 hour drive home and several deer sightings we were home around 1am and my vacation came to an end. Miraculously, my luggage somehow made it to the Appleton airport the next day, even though there were no flights scheduled.
Photos From Day 7
I'm super happy that I decided to take the vacation. Even though I spent a little more money that I planned it was deffinately worth every penny. Its easily the most exciting thing I've ever done and also some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. I've already begun researching some other places I could check out in the area because I feel like there's still a lot more to see.
If you've made it this far in reading my blog post, thanks! Its probably the longest one I've written so far!