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A Tale of Two Parks

Provisioned, cleaned and warmer, we set off north to Utah, planning to visit the National Parks in  Southern Utah (or at least as many of them as we could manage).  Our big problem was the imminent Memorial Day holiday, which we knew would bring a lot of tourists to the region. So we decided to pay at least slight attention to the two most known parks, Zion and Bryce, as we wended our way towards Capitol Reef and Arches.  Well, the best laid plans of mice and men …

Our stop at Zion was interesting.  We drove in on State Route 9, and having established that we could fit through the tunnel with no additional charges, we crossed the southern section.  The scenery is indeed quite spectacular and we stopped at a couple of overlooks to admire, take photos and generally appreciate.  _ND83976 _ND83979 _ND83980 _ND83982

The tunnel itself was an amazing engineering/construction accomplishment and is all the more unusual for having five “windows” along its length.



These were used to provide ventilation and to expel construction debris. We also watched some climbers as they made their way up a stone face. (See if you can find them in the first photo.)


This may be a bit easier.


The sun even came out for a while, which helped the photos and our enjoyment level!


The main tourist area was a mess, the RV parking area was jammed with cars and a few campers, even at 4.30 PM.  We were not inspired by parking in town and taking two shuttles to see the glories of Zion tourist scenery, so we moved on, spending the night at a very pleasant campsite, the Zion River Resort in Virgin. While not inexpensive, this camp easily makes it into the top five nicest RV parks that we have visited. ( Fred wanted to drive the Kolob Terrace Road, which starts in Virgin but it was unfortunately closed for rebuilding.  So the next morning we heading to the Kolob Canyons section of Zion NP.   Again it was a cloudy day. What happened to the southwestern sunshine we enjoyed last year? We drove the five miles of tourist route and we took various photos on the way up.  We hiked the short trail at the top and appreciated the view, though we wore rain jackets as it looked very threatening.  We ate lunch there because Denise thought it might be clearing a little and indeed it did.  The sun almost came out a few times so we took another photo or two.

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Continuing towards Bryce National Park, we took State Route 148 to 143, stopping at Cedar Breaks National Monument.  It was very closed but had some good views of an amphitheater filled with hoodoos.  Memories of Bolivia were upon us as we were back at 10,500 feet!  We stopped for the night just short of Panguitch in the Dixie National Forest at about 8,000 feet. We may be SOB’s (Survivors of Bolivia), but this obsession with altitude is getting old.


Our departure the next morning was somewhat delayed by a bird who somehow got into the air conditioner enclosure.  Fred had to take one of the grills off and encourage it to exit.  We never actually saw it fly off but the scratchings stopped, so our fingers are crossed that it did indeed leave.  (A tip of the hat to Dan Rehack, who gave us a Number 2 square drive when we got the Tiger, noting that it was the one, essential tool for all purposes on a Tiger!) We replaced the grill and headed to Bryce via Route 12,  which took us through some spectacular scenery.  Once in Bryce, we drove the full 18 miles to the end of the tourist scenic drive and took photos of the various sites.  We had some sunshine at last though it was still quite chilly.  We were unable to park at Bryce Overlook, but at Inspiration Overlook we not only climbed to all three levels but walked a section of the Rim Trail.  Denise’s ankle, though still weak, is doing a little better. The combination of clouds, rain squalls, and sun made for a couple of lovely photos.


We headed to Kodachrome Basin State Park hoping to camp but found “Camp Full” signs up.  So, we checked in with the Visitor Center for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument regarding camping permits.  We were dissuaded from dispersed camping in the Monument as yet another winter storm was approaching. We were told horror stories of Bentonite clay and told that camping permits were not available unless you could specify where you were going to camp, a bit challenging as we could not assess the road conditions in advance and thus had no idea where we might camp.  Apparently the roads in the Dixie National Forest are gravel and better than those in the Monument and one is less likely to get stuck.  So, here we are with a 36 hour storm approaching and campgrounds full for the Memorial Day Weekend.  We decided to head deeper into the Dixie National Forest on the promised gravel road and arrived at the Posey Lake campground (8,500 feet) just as it started hailing.  It was time to regroup and reevaluate what was going to happen next.  Somehow Capitol Reef National Park did not seem that appealing in the rain. We settled in for the night and happily cooked on the diesel stove, the extra heat being most welcome. We woke the next morning to a couple of inches of snow and it continued snowing until about 3.00 PM.


Needless to say, this seemed an excellent reason to stay put for a second night.  The campsite is lovely with pines, aspens and a lovely view of the lake (through the snow!), plus the usual chipmunks and a selection of wild turkeys.  So far no bears or mountain lions although there are food safes at all the campsites.

And Onwards to New Mexico

Once out of Florida, we knew we had a target date for arrival in Flagstaff so it was “pedal to the metal” time.  That said, we did manage to linger a few times along the way, though not as many as we would have liked.  We found a lovely National Park Service campground on Davis Bayou at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, near Biloxi,  in Mississippi and spent a very pleasant evening and night there.  We think that Blue stayed up too late there, checking out the wildlife!  He slept like a log all the next day!

We then headed into Louisiana on 1-10 but tried to cut across too far north.  All the charm and wonderful seafood we remember from our previous visit to Louisiana last year, was absent.  Oh well, we shall know better for the future … stay by the coast in Louisiana!  And then on to Dallas.  We had requested a driveway and some Texas brisket from an internet friend of Fred’s and indeed we received both!  A wonderfully large and effective washing machine solved our dirty laundry problem and a dinner at Spring Creek Barbecue produced brisket so tender you could cut it with a fork.  ( To say that we ate too much is putting it mildly!  There is a lot to see and do in the Dallas Fort Worth area so we shall most definitely stay longer next time, but the weather was iffy the next day and storms were forecast, so we headed out. We did take a moment to view the ranch used as “South Fork” in the television, “Dallas.” (Ironically, neither of us has ever watched the show.)

And indeed we drove through a spectacular storm with sheeting rain and lots of thunder and lightning.  Fortunately for us, the tornadoes stayed north so we did not have to deal with those.  Two cars that had passed us at speed did end up in the ditch (KARMA!) and there was considerable standing water/flooding around the road.  We decided that we needed a dose of nature so headed to the Palo Duro State Park and obtained a space in the primitive camping area for two nights. The landscape around Palo Duro is a bit flat:


But then the canyon opens up:


Blue is getting much better at going outside on his leash and he enjoyed the smells of the campsite.  We had several wild turkeys near us, preening, fighting and just plain eating.  Mating season perhaps?  We also heard coyotes fairly close by, both in the evening and during the night.  The next day dawned decidedly “misty and moisty” so we headed out of the park and went to Canyon where there was a well recommended museum to see and a coffee shop to enjoy.

Both turned out to be excellent choices.  We sipped cappuccino and checked on  our lunch options, before heading to the Panhandle Plains Historic Museum at West Texas A & M University.  The girl at the coffee shop ( did warn us that another severe weather front was heading in and indeed it was just starting to rain when we approached the museum and found that we would not fit in the museum reserved parking.  Fred asked a WTAMU policeman for advice and he gave us permission to use one of the university permit only parking lots.  He even drove us to the front door of the museum as it was raining hard at this point.  Denise’s first ever ride in a police car!

The Museum provided a thorough background to life in the Plains in all its aspects from Aboriginal Indians through Plains Indians to the early Spanish explorers an all those who followed.  It covered local paleontology, the petroleum industry, windmills, water use, dry farming and ranching and included a fully reconstructed pioneer town.  All items were original to the area and each had its origins and ownership displayed.  Great display of old cars as well, some with historic pictures with their owners. Definitely recommended. (

For lunch we treated ourselves to a feast at Pepito’s Used Cars and Restaurant. No cars for sale, but the staff was charming and the food was quite good, all of the flavors being distinct. (No website:


The weather had cleared by the time we returned to Palo Duro so we took a short walk. Denise’s ankle is still bothering her, especially on rough surfaces so we could not hike.  We woke the next morning at 5.30 AM to the sounds of sheeting rain, thunder and lightning, again.  It was too loud to sleep, so in the end we gave up, got up and prepared for the road.  By the time we left it was sunny again as the front had passed.

From Canyon, we turned south to Lubbock. Denise is a great Buddy Holly fan so we went to visit the little museum/shrine. Other than having Buddy Holly’s last Strat, (For guitar geeks only: the museum is a bit underwhelming. (


On the other hand, the less known National Ranch Heritage Museum is simply wonderful, much like Weald and Downland Museum in England, or the museum of the American frontier in Staunton, Virginia. ( We had a great wander.

An impromptu stop at the Very Large Array, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, also proved to be well worth it.  The array consists of 3 arms of antenna dishes, totaling 27 dishes, positioned on railway lines so that they can be moved around and extending up to 11 miles from the center.  All data is then fed into a supercomputer and such topics as black holes and galaxies are studied by astronomers all around the world.  The self guided tour was most interesting and we were lucky enough to watch some of the dishes being rotated.  ( You will have seen the Very Large Array as a backdrop in several movies, including, “2010”, “Contact”, and “Independence Day”. For us it made a great backdrop for lunch.


The Adventure Begins…on the road again and the wonderful 60 to 80’s!!

It was April, spring was beautiful in Arlington this year and it was hard to leave, especially as French friends were stopping by and we would not be there to see them.  But leave we did, as we had commitments in the south and to be honest, it would be nice to be warm after the winter we had experienced.  It had been one of the chillier ones in the Northeast and it was not made any warmer by visits to New York State and Maine with multiple feet of snow on the ground.  (Diesel heat in the Tiger is a wonderful thing!) So, we set off in fine form except for Denise who had sprained her ankle!

First stop was South Carolina, where we spent a morning at Tiger getting a couple of quick adjustments made, and then visited friends in Taylors, SC, a suburb of Greenville.  We had a wonderful visit (even Blue enjoyed visiting a new house and seeing a new dog!) and enjoyed a stroll down by the river in Greenville, followed by lunch with a view of the river.  The stroll was short as Denise’s ankle was still bothering her but it was a beautiful day and much too nice to be inside.


Then onto Savannah, GA where we visited a friend from Panamá and Liberia and discovered the Skidaway Island Campsite, where we camped in a wonderful shady spot.  ( The weather was kind, sunny and not too hot, and knowing nothing about Savannah, we signed up for the hop on hop off bus ride.  We barely scratched the surface of what Savannah had to offer but we did get a feel for the history and the charm of the city so it is on our “must return” list. Preview for the history buffs, Savannah was established as an English military colony to protect the rich plantations of South Carolina from the Spanish. Savannah’s old downtown is famed for its many lovely parks, each dedicated to an historic personage or theme.

We then headed into Florida with rain and storms predicted for the day and night.  And storm it did, but despite downpours we made it safely to our campsite in the Ocala National Forest at Lake Delancy.  A charming Forestry Commission site, we were the only people there!  We dutifully paid our fee and dropped it in the box.  ( It was soggy and humid all night but we were comfortable and headed south the next day to St. Petersburg, FL where we had reservations at Fort DeSoto Park campground for three nights.  Ft. DeSoto is on Mullet Key, a barrier island at the mouth of Tampa Bay and we had lovely views of the bay and a chorus line of mullets jumping out of the water for us and providing hours of entertainment as we sat by our camper and enjoyed the view.  (


Despite calling St. Petersburg home for decades, Fred had rarely visited the park. Denise’s ankle was improving so we were able to do couple of shortish walks, one on the beach and one in a nature trail, and also to visit the fort.  Fred was fascinated by one inlet which had hundreds of fiddler crabs all moving in unison.  We also saw multiple nesting ospreys with young in the nest.

Then, on to Orlando and our son’s MBA graduation.  We enjoyed a lovely family weekend, some excellent meals and the presence of both our children (and our son-in-law) as well as friends of our son’s.  Again the weather was determined to charm us with balmy temperatures and sunshine.


Our last stop in Florida was at a Harvest Host site, Golden Acres, where we camped for the night.  Golden Acres is a small farm which specializes in goats and sheep, though there are an assortment of chickens and guinea fowl running around the yard.  All the animals are guarded by big white fluffy Pyrenean dogs, who apparently excel at that and keep away other dogs, coyotes etc.  We bought some Mayhaw jelly, made from the wild may haw trees in the lake and look forward to enjoying it. (

N.B. Any camper owner likes wine and is not a member of Harvest Hosts is missing a trick. (

So what are the 60 to 80’s? That is the temperature range, in Fahrenheit, for some lovely camping weather. Warm enough to go out without a coat (a nice change from this winter) and cool enough overnight to be comfortable without air conditioning.

The Lion and Lamb Tour

The old adage is that March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” We have just returned from a trip that began with camping in temperatures down to about 10F and ended with us running the air conditioner. We spent at lot of energy and money to create a true, four season camper, precisely so that we would not be limited in the winter, but we do have to confess though that we can see why more people do not travel in the northern USA in the winter. With apologies to W.C. Fields – it is basically closed, even in March.

We started in the Hudson Valley of New York State and headed into Connecticut for our first stop. We were not in the mood for interstates so we ambled across country on state roads enjoying the scenery and spent our first night at the New England Air Museum, near Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, Connecticut. ( We had visited the museum years ago and wanted a return visit as it is well worth an hour or three if you like planes as Fred does. He especially likes the Sikorsky flying boat and fully restored B-29. We could not see the outside planes unfortunately as they were still under snow but the inside sections kept us busy for several hours. As a bonus, the Museum also belongs to the Harvest Hosts camping group and we were able to spend the night in their parking lot, which was nice and flat and very convenient! (

Lion-Lamb 1We had managed to find a KOA campsite near Plymouth, Massachusetts that is open year round so the following day we headed there first under beautiful blue skies and freezing temperatures to see if we did indeed have a reservation. We checked in and found them plowing our space so we left them to it and headed to Plimouth Plantation about 30 minutes away.

The Plimouth Platation had just opened and we were so glad that it had; it is a really magnificent display, much like Colonial Williamsburg or Olde Sturbridge Village. We passed a fascinating afternoon learning about the Pilgrims and the colony that was founded there and chatting to the costumed interpreters who were thrilled to chat, as there were very few visitors. It was another sunny but chilly day and we were happy to warm ourselves by their fires and hear about the hard winter they experienced after landing in November. Especially fascinating was the use of Original Pronunciation, which is a theme we had met before in Shakespearean plays and other works from the era. After warming up with a much-needed cappuccino, we went to admire the Plymouth Rock and then headed back to our campsite, which was now ready for our use. Our water access tap was still frozen but they found a hose to get us water from the next site over (still under snow) which was working.

The next day also dawned sunny and cold and we headed this time to Cape Cod. As we expected it was quite closed, but we enjoyed our day. We visited the Glass Museum at Sandwich and enjoyed the glass blowing demonstration, though managed not to buy anything! ) Then back on the road through a series of quaint little towns with charming architecture. We ventured as far as the remnants of the Marconi transmission station tourist site (the actual station and site has since fallen into the sea) and went down onto the Marconi beach just to say that we had. Then we were back into Ndeke Luka to warm up and head back to our campsite.

Lion-Lamb 9The final leg of a trip was a visit to some friends in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated (it even snowed on one day) but that only made us more determined to return to see it in better conditions, perhaps with leaves on the trees? But we visited Fort William and saw the most photographed light house in Maine, had a wonderful day shopping in Freeport and a wonderful meal at the Boat House, where the Maine lobster was fresh and much enjoyed.


Next visit, we shall see more of Portland and her museums, all of which were (wait for it!) closed! We would also very much like to explore Maine further in future trips.

Lion-Lamb 11 Lion-Lamb 10

Hate to admit it, but these are even louder than the new air horns on Ndeke Luka. ;-(

Lion-Lamb 12

There really is a lake here, you just have to come back in the spring to see it.

Fall Frolics and a Touch of Midwinter Madness

Fall Frolics began this year in early October. Ndeke Luka had been left at Provan for some upgrades during our trip to the UK (see “The Sonne in Splendour”) so we began our trip by packing a rental car with the usual “stuff” including the cat and cat box and heading south. To our surprise, the cat did not like riding in a car, though he likes his camper! Which is just as well! Upon arrival in Columbia, SC and having reacquired Ndeke Luka, we headed off to Asheville for the first East Coast Overland Expo.

As before, we camped at the Provan site and Fred also gave presentations and led panel discussions. Denise showed Ndeke Luka to interested buyers and those who were just generally interested, which proved to be a steady stream of folks. As part of the ever evolving life in a camper, we had some annoying issues with our composting toilet, which we have since solved. And yes, it is working perfectly again. Its quite amazing what one becomes expert in, from time to time!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Expo both catching up with old friends and making new ones. We even managed to leave without acquiring a puppy from the Animal Shelter stall across the way. It was a close call at one point, but reality reared its head!

After Expo, we headed north up the Blue Ridge Parkway heading indirectly for the Hudson Valley and our granddaughter’s 4th birthday party. The fall color was just beginning at the middle elevations but was quite noticeable at the higher elevations. I must confess that the best color we saw was in Pennsylvania near Scranton, but our drive up the Parkway was pleasant. We camped at National Park Service Campsites, where it seemed to rain every night and we were so thankful for a warm, dry Malayan and that we were not trying to keep dry in a tent as we saw some bicyclists doing. We took advantage of a couple of the walking trails and decided that we would most certainly be back.

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Fall Frolic  010

The highlight of this section of the Parkway was a visit to the Blue Ridge Music Center at mile 213. The Center has a most interesting museum explaining the development of music in the Blue Ridge as well as different instruments and local musicians. We were fortunate enough to be there for a live performance by Willard Gapheart and Bobby Patterson, which we enjoyed very much. We even bought a CD! Guitar geeks will love the song about “playing mountain music on my Henderson guitar.” (Hendersons, hand made in the area, are very highly sought after.)

Fall Frolci  003

On our way up 1-81 we stopped at a National Park Service Historic Site called Steamtown. We had seen the sign many times on our way up to the Hudson Valley and decided that this time we would finally stop and see what it was. Steamtown has a huge selection of various steam locomotives, both big and small, with outstanding historical and technical displays about how the railroads of the region developed. Quite fascinating; Fred was in seventh heaven.

While in the Hudson Valley, we always walk on the Wallkill Rail Trail when the weather permits. This trip we discovered a 940-foot long truss bridge, built in the mid 1800’s as a railway trestle bridge. It has been renovated and opened to the public in June 2013 to link parts of the Rail Trail. Apparently, there were always concerns of its sturdiness and ability to support trains but we enjoyed our walk and the views from the bridge without mishap!

Fall Frolic  011

We now turn to Midwinter Madness. Another trip to the Hudson Valley began in early December when the weather was considerably less pleasant than in October.

Our first overnight was at a lovely Delaware State Park called Lums Pond. Plans to walk around the actual “pond” were thwarted by sheeting rain but, as it is quite close to home, we will be back. The next day we headed to Winterthur, former home of Henry Francis Dupont. We had tickets to visit the mansion decked out in its Christmas finery with many Christmas trees and decorations and also to visit the Downtown Abbey exhibit. The latter was very interesting as it included costumes from the BBC series and the history of the various fabrics. We have visited a lot of stately homes in the UK and particularly enjoyed that the exhibit discussed parallels and contrasts of life and customs between British stately homes and the mansions of the era in the US. It felt like a very British day being very ”misty and moisty”. So cold and soggy that we passed on the garden tour.

We discovered that it is hard to find much open in December so we camped that night in a private campsite. The next day we visited and took a tour of the Martin Guitar Factory. Another fascinating spot, with an extensive museum that described the history of the Martin company and Martin guitars owned by the famous. The tour likewise showed us how handmade Martin is made, and why some cost as, little or as much, as they do.

Fall Frolci  001

We have since made two more family trips to the Hudson Valley in Ndeke Luka. Temperatures were down in the lower teens during our last visit. We were parked on a sheet of ice and at least 6 inches of snow fell during our stay. The Malayan remained warm and cozy though we did have to run the heat day and night. The cat does like to be warm! We did have to break down and hook up the electricity towards the end of our stay. In cloudy and cold weather, the solar panels can only achieve so much when it is overcast and we were not driving. But we were pleased with Ndeke Luka’s performance; truly a four season camper!

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Rocky Mountain High and Higher!

It is going to feel very strange when we finally do come down the mountain(s); we have been at anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 feet in altitude for the last couple of weeks. We are actually used to it now! Memories of life in La Paz, Bolivia.

Although our goal when leaving Utah was Durango, Colorado, we allowed ourselves to succumb to temptation and stopped at Mesa Verde National Park.  Although we had already visited Bandelier National Monument and also Chaco, the ruins at Mesa Verde are on a much larger scale and we felt that this visit would complete the experience. So, we stopped at the Visitor Center and both acquired all the information we needed and checked out the excellent displays, before heading to check in at the campground. We then headed to the museum up the mountain. It was a longish drive, about 15 miles, and the views were quite wonderful. Canyons below, cliffs above and snow capped peaks in the distance – plus various outlooks where these could all be photographed. The museum was interesting with a selection of dioramas of Puebloan life at different times and stages of occupation at Mesa Verde and we watched the excellent movie, which gave a good background on the life and history of the pueblo, as far as it is known.

We then headed down to the “Spruce Tree House”. This house did not require the purchase of tickets for a ranger tour, though we did buy a self-guide booklet. We had a good idea of what we would see and indeed, the site was bigger and much more complete but we were able to recognize the various features.  There was a rebuilt kiva complete with entrance, so of course, Fred had to go down to take photos. The rebuilt kiva really brought the other ruins we had seen to life.

Mesa Verde  001

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Mesa Verde  003After hearing so much about “kivas” at other sites, we finally had some reconstructed ones.

Mesa Verde  004The kiva interior was quite spectacular.

After our visit, we drove the Mesa Top Loop.  This had a number of overlooks where we could see a pit house, visit the sun temple and also see across the valley to various sites including the Cliff Palace. This is probably the most famous of the sites at Mesa Verde and requires a ticket for a ranger led tour. We decided that the view from across the valley would be enough, especially when we saw the hordes of tourists milling around.    Mesa Verde  005For scale, zoom in on the people on the right.

The highlight of the evening was a number of mule deer grazing around the campsite. They seemed to have reserved their favorite site.Mesa Verde  006


They did not seem to need any “hookups.” 

Just a Little Corner of U (Utah, that is)

So much to see and so little time has led us to leave our explorations of Utah for the next trip west. However, we did enjoy the short time we spent there and will look forward to  next time.

After leaving Monument Valley, we headed into the Valley of the Gods, in the rain, to camp. We did stop at Mexican Hat to take a picture of the namesake rock. We were a little underwhelmed, it was quite small and, especially in the rain, looked rather bleak.

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Ndeke Luka quickly got covered in a nice layer of red mud, which makes it look rather macho! Jesting aside, we found a lovely campsite near some buttes in the Valley of the Gods and spent a relaxing day there. ( N.B., The Valley of the Gods was used to film parts of the TV shows “Airwolf” and “Dr. Who.” Thanks to Tiger owner Jack Arnold for the suggestion that we go to the Garden:

VGods  0002 Battleship Rock

VGods  0004 Pretty Balancing Rocks (Several hundred feet high.)

We took a walk in the afternoon, after the rain stopped, and Denise saw at least two new types of spring flowers. One of the joys of this trip, has been the number and variety of spring flowers that we have seen blooming in the desert. We do not always know what they are but we do enjoy seeing them.

As we were so close, we went to see the Natural Bridges National Monument. Our road led us out of the Valley of the Gods, up an amazing road to Cedar Mesa, via the Moki Dugway. The road was a series of steep and sharp curves, as we climbed up and the views back towards the Valley of the Gods were amazing, especially as the rain had cleared any dust or smoke. Quite spectacular. The link from “Dangerous” sets the right tone:

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There are three natural bridges at the Monument; Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo.  ( There are trails to the bases of all three, the first two being a little rougher and more challenging than the third. We descended Sipapu to a marvelous oak grove at the stream under the bridge, via a series of paths, rocks, steps, ladders, and hand rails for great views and a little much needed exercise! We also climbed down to Owachomo, which proved somewhat easier and less strenuous (at least going down!) but also was well worth it.

The primitive campground at Natural Bridges was full, so we camped in the forest outside.

Natural Bridge  001Sipapu from the overlook. Hard to see the bridge at first, then you see the hole and can see how the water originally went around the pier of rock to the left of the photo.

Natural Bridge  002Sipapu from 3/4 of the way down. Note the beautiful green trees.


Natural Bridge  003Sipapu, seen from the bottom.

Natural Bridge  005 Denise at Owachomo.

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And on to Colorado. Utah we hardly knew you, but we’ll be back!