We bungeed our backpacks to the motorbike rack and hit the road to Dong Ha to see the famous Vinh Moc Tunnels. We were excited to go inside the tunnels for a true experience of how the people survived underground during the Vietnam War. We were amazed at the complexity of the tunnels. There are 13 different entrances, 7 of which point out to the sea where they received food and weapons from the north. There are 3 layers of the tunnel system at 12, 18 and the deepest 22 meters. It took 13 months to build and sheltered 300 people. Each family had a very small living space, literally a hole in the wall. The worst part was the fact that there was only ONE bathroom for everyone! ONE… for 300 people! At least the air temperature was cool, being underground and all. When the tour was over I was conflicted with feeling happy to get out, since it can be a little claustrophobic, and a yearning to go back in when the 110 degree heat index and 100% humidity slapped me in the face. The people lived like this from 1966-1972, six years, and 17 children were born in the tunnels. The war ended long ago, but the bomb craters are still visible. The Vietnamese that lived in these tunnels survived during a hard time. I can’t even imagine how awful it must have been.
Ok enough depressing stuff. Our next adventure was at Phong Nha National Park, home to the oldest karst mountains in all of Asia (approximately 400 million years old!). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park has 300 different caves and grottos. We opted to explore Paradise Cave, founded by British explorers in 2005 and recently opened to the public a few years ago. You can walk along a wooden boardwalk for 1 kilometer into the cave but it goes as deep as 31 kilometers. The cool damp air within the cove is mighty refreshing after having hiked a couple of miles in the sweltering heat. I couldn’t stop smiling like a child at the impressive formations within the cave. Every step gets better and better. The park did a fantastic job on illuminating the cave. It felt like being on another planet. The cost was 250,000 VMD each (or about $13 USD). It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in my life and worth every penny.
If you don’t have a motorbike, I highly recommend renting one for the day to explore the beautiful park. The loop around the park is incredibly scenic and there are little side trips to do as well.
We initially only planned to stay 3 nights at Cabo Pulmo. It wasn’t until we arrived to the campground that we realized we had severely underestimated the awesomeness of Cabo Pulmo. The campground isn’t clearly marked but it is the first fenced in area on the beach you see coming into town from the north/east. Surprisingly, we both had cell service and internet in this seemingly off the grid, remote paradise. Not to mention, the cost to camp here is FREE! There are no facilities besides the Sea of Cortez, which is right outside your door or tent flap. Our only fear was having to leave early from running out of water. Thus we immediately began water preservation tactics. We filled up a large pot of water from the sea and used that to pre wash the dirty dishes (then we lightly rinsed them with fresh water). For showers, we swam in the sea. We were able to go ten days on our 70 gallon water tank and could have gone longer (we didn’t run out). We could of bought five gallon tanks at Cabellero’s restaurant in town and manually filled the tanks to stay longer if we wanted to as well.
There are a couple little hiking adventures you can start from the campground. One would be walking down the beach and up to the top of Cabo Pulmo point. Another is a gravel road hike you can access across the road from the campground. The road winds all the way up a mountain and gives you awesome views of the village as well as the east cape.
We were going to go scuba diving but the morning we were supposed to go I was still coughing from getting over a cold. Tim rode the bike up to Pepe’s dive shop and told him I was sick and couldn’t go. Pepe was understanding and even gave us a piece of ginger root to help my cold. You can scuba with Pepe for $100 for a two tank dive. Pepe is a great resource if you want to learn about the history of Cabo Pulmo, he was one among locals that pushed to make Cabo Pulmo a National Park. At Cabo Pulmo campground, you can easily find relics from the fishing village that once thrived. There is a natural reef just outside the campground you can kayak to and snorkel. There are several other reef sites in the area as well.
Los Arbilitos is only about five miles further down the east cape road. It costs 30 pesos a person to park here (15 pesos for the ninos). There is a short trail that takes you up to amazing viewpoints of the cape and then down to little coves where you can snorkel and observe many beautiful fish. You can camp at Los Arbilitos but I only recommend small rigs and four wheel drive. We had a hell of a time turning our fifth wheel around after a fellow traveler recommended we stay here. I nearly had a panic attack after two hours of trying to get ourselves out of there. Just don’t do it if your rig is over 20 feet. Anyways, a couple miles even further down the east cape road is Los Frailes. There are a ton of RV’s full timing it among the bushes in the arroyo. The beach is sandy and wide, if you have a kayak go around the point to check out the sea lions barking and basking in the sun.
Our campsite at Cabo Pulmo campground was the best site to camp in the area, in our opinion. It was next to the only palapa with unobstructed views of the sea. Inside the palapa was signed by the family that built it only 2 months prior to our arrival. We checked out their website, homealongtheway.com, and posted a comment thanking them for the building of the awesome palapa we had been enjoying. A couple days later a large motor home shows up, having a little bit of trouble squeezing through the gate. When I heard the tires overturning in the soft dirt, I ran to get Tim from the beach where he was talking on the phone. Tim and Ol’ Oso (our 1999 F250) dragged their 37 foot motor home through the gate. It was a proud moment indeed. We then realized that the family we helped was the same family that built the palapa! We immediately made friends with them. The whole family, including four kids ranging from 3-9, was really cool and welcoming. It was interesting to talk with them and get a feel of how life would be traveling with children.
It was so hard to leave Cabo Pulmo. Out of all the places we have boondocked this has got to be my favorite, followed by the site outside the Grand Tetons, then Moab. With beach access, a palapa, and internet it felt like a private beach house, but free…for now. I am happy to have had a chance to experience such a beautiful place that I will never forget.
On the next leg of our trip we headed back to the Pacific coast, crossing the 28th parallel – the border that separates Baja California north and south. Because we wanted to do some whale watching, we decided to stay south of Guerrero Negro along Scammon’s Lagoon at Ojo de Liebre National Park. To get here we had to drive about 15 miles through a salt flats working area. Camping costs 100 pesos a night or about $5. There are no hookups but there are hot showers. No cell service either. However, we could see the puffs of the whales’ breaths in the distance from our campsite. The park is only open during the season the gray whales migrate to the lagoon, from December to March, where they give birth and nurture their calves in the protected waters.
They do not allow kayaks in the lagoon so if you want to get a close look at the whales you have to pay to go out in a panga. The cost was 810 pesos or about $42 bucks a person. It is well worth the cost since we got to get so close to the whales. Some whales are shy and will dive when the boat gets close but others are curious and will come up to the boat and even allow you to pet them. Initially it was a little intimidating when the giant mother swam under our small boat. They are large but docile, and even playful, especially the calf. I think the mother purposely snorted water at us a couple times. It was a great time.
When we went into the town of Guerrero Negro to do some business we had the pleasure of trying some of the local food stands. We had some fish tacos of course and we also tried a new taco we haven’t had yet. It is called a Birria Dorado. Birria is a moist, shredded beef stewed in a savory beef stock. The birria is then stuffed into a taco and grilled to a crispy perfection (which means dorado, I think). Man it was delicious. I wish I took a picture but it was so good I completely forgot.
Our next stop is San Ignacio, an oasis in the desert, before bouncing back over to the Sea of Cortez.
So we conclude the last leg of this itinerary at Zion National Park. We went to the visitor center in Kanab to inquire about boondocking options and were pointed in the right direction. There is no name for the road, however if you are heading north from Kanab, it is right before Carmel Junction right after coming down the steep grade. GPS coordinates are 37.208999, -112.687259. AT&T works great here but not so much for Verizon. We are parked right next to a narrow section of the Virgin River, which is nice for being able to wash off after hiking in the red, Utah dirt. For groceries, I recommend going to Honey’s Marketplace. The prices were more reasonable than the other major store and they have fresh, smoked, finger lickin’ ribs. For those of you who know me know how much I love BBQ.
We attempted the lottery for a permit to go to the “Wave”, aka Coyote Butte north. This is a very famous 2 mile hike through a protected stretch of sandstone that looks like a wave. Only 20 permits are given a day. Ten of which you can get through the daily, walk in lottery in Kanab. We weren’t lucky enough to win the lottery, but we did get to do some pretty cool things during our visit here.
In Zion, we entered through the east entrance. As far as scenic drives go, it is up there with the best of them. However it takes about an hour to get to the park from our boondocking site due to the tunnels. The first tunnel is big enough to fit large vehicles but the second tunnel is only wide enough to fit one large vehicle at a time. This makes for a longer drive to get to the park since you may have to wait for traffic to clear through the tunnel. You don’t have to pay the $15 toll unless you have an RV or large bus.
Like all the other National Parks we’ve been to, Zion is crowded. Like the Grand Canyon, you have to take a shuttle to get to most of the hikes. Parking is a problem. Unless you get there super early or are lucky, you will most likely have to leave the park through the west entrance and find a place to park in Springfield. Then you will have to walk back, through the west entrance, to get to the visitor center to get to the shuttles.
We hiked the Emerald pools loop one day and the Narrows another. The Emerald pools loop was nice, my favorite part was the Upper pool. We saw a large tarantula perching itself in the shade atop a large boulder. We also saw some great panoramic views. The original name for Zion, Mukuntuweap National Monument, means “straight up land” in the local Indian dialect. Lets just say you may have a kink in your neck from constantly looking up at the towering mesas. The Narrows trail is a famous slot canyon in the park. Like other slot canyons, it can be dangerous is there is a chance for a flash flood. After all, this is how the slot canyons were formed, water slowly slicing its way through the sandstone rock. After a few thousand years, voila you have a slot canyon. We tromped through the virgin river for about 2.5 miles until we, well, basically got bored and kinda cold so we just turned around. It isn’t all that great. I personally prefer keeping my feet dry when hiking. One thing they do not mention is that you should have hiking poles. Sine you are walking through the river, in some areas you can’t see your foot placement. If you have a walking pole or stick it is easier and you will be less likely to fall.
The city of Kanab has some really great trails too. We hiked the K-Hill Trail and parts of the Cottonwood and Bunting trails. The K-Hill trail was the best. It is easy and only 3 miles in and out. The other two were not marked well so we couldn’t complete them. We also hiked Lick Wash, a slot canyon about 20-30 min outside of Glendale. We wanted to experience a slot canyon without being around hundreds of people like in the Narrows. It was totally worth the drive. Just a hint to get there through the town of Glendale you turn onto “300” road.
We had a great trip, it was the best road trip yet. This east coast girl got a taste of the west, and, well- it was awesome. I will never forget the stars at night in the western sky, the unique rock formations of the Painted Desert, or the ease of boondocking with the right set-up. I am going to have Tim create our itinerary for y’all to see where we went, step by step, on the map. Thanks for reading.
It was a pretty long (and desolate, but beautiful) drive from Moab. I actually set a new record, there is a sign on I-70 that there are no services for 110 miles. My previous record was coming through eastern Wyoming ten years ago with my buddy Justin Mercer where there was a 70 mile stretch on I-80 without services. Luckily it was the usual divided highway that everyone knows as an interstate, there were places in Wyoming and Kansas on that previous trip where the interstate went to a two lane highway(I haven’t see that on this trip at all)! It was quite a mountainous drive on I-70 and I hope to come back and do some boondocking in that area. It seems like you might really be able to get away from other people 😉
Anyways since it was late we missed going to the BLM visitors center in Cannonville. Luckily we had picked out an area in the Days End Directory. You just continue south past the BLM visitors center on main street for ~2.5 miles and then turn onto a good gravel road called Yellow Creek. However when we got there you could see where a number of pullouts had been but they were not usable anymore. A little further down the road we were able to find a spot but I’m still not 100% sure that it wasn’t private land. We were in for a great sunset though(check out the pictures).
The next day we went to the BLM visitors center because you need a free permit to camp in that particular area. When we got there the ranger(BLM people are called rangers too, right?) informed us that it may rain and that the road can get real sloppy if it does and we could be stuck till it dries back out. That didn’t sound good so we went in search of another spot, this time scouting without the trailer since we’d already dropped it. We ended up choosing a spot off of FR117 a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon, there were a number of good spots for any size rig along here. If we were to do it again I would have went a bit further up and taken the second left, there was a sweet spot about 0.25 mile up that road, also suitable for any size rig. As a plus this area was not in that red clay and would be just fine to drive on if we got rain(We didn’t).
Once we got situated we decided to go ahead on to Bryce Canyon National Park. For whatever reason Victoria wasn’t expecting it to be as spectacular as the previous National Parks. However it ended up being her favorite. The views from the rim are simply spectacular and the hiking is very easy. The trails down into the canyon are moderately difficult but you feel like you’re on another planet hiking among the Hoodoos. Victoria said she felt like a goldfish in a fish tank, lol. An interesting fact about Bryce Canyon is that it’s not actually a canyon, it’s a series of giant natural amphitheaters along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Either way, it sure is unique.
The next day we went to Kodachrome Basin State Park. They have 10 or 15 miles of fairly easy hiking with both spectacular views and geology (as usual for around here). Lucky for Marilyn since it was a state park she was allowed on the trails so she could get some exercise after sitting around all day after we were at the National Park. There are 67 large “Sand Pipes” plus a short slot canyon. The slot canyon made a fantastic place to eat lunch. It was roasting outside but in the canyon not only was it shaded but it was also damp and cool. An interesting fact about Kodachrome Basin State Park is that after it was named the state changed it to Chimney Rock State Park because they were worried about Kodak suing them. However a few years later they were able to change it back after Kodak gave them permission to use the name of their famous film. The name was fitting because the colors here were just amazing, the red and white of the rock, the green of the plants, and the blue of the sky all combined into a shocking display of color.
The last park we visited was Escalante State Park. It was about an hour drive from where we were camped but Victoria had been dying to see a petrified forest since we set out from Jacksonville. The hike was fairly short and easy but there was plenty of petrified wood to see. Make sure you do the second loop, it’s steeper but it also has the majority of the petrified wood. The variety of colors contained in the petrified wood is amazing. It was quite hot out while we were hiking and it was great to be able to jump into the lake afterwards. They had an interesting display in the visitors center filled with letters and pieces of petrified rock that they had taken and then sent back because it brought them bad luck. It apparently did it’s job and kept Victoria, a rockhound, from trying to take any home, lol.
Utah is an amazing state with an amazing variety of scenic landscapes. No where else has such a concentration of National Parks, 5 all within an hour or two of each other. On top of that most of the land around the National Parks is also public land providing an amazing array of places to hike and camp. We’ll be back here for sure!
After Yellowstone we continued south into Grand Teton National Park. The easiest way from West Yellowstone was actually driving through the park again. The roads are easily navigated by even the largest rig thankfully. We had originally planned to stay in a campground for a night near Jackson since we had already been boondocking the past five days and needed to dump, fill up, and shower. However the first park we called charged $110 a night! We checked several other and the cheapest was $80 a night. Even the National Park was $40 a night for no hookups and $70 with water. I don’t care where your campground is, we’re not paying that. We ended up paying $4 each to shower in Yellowstone and paid $10 to dump and fill up on water at a campground in town.
Luckily someone on the Boondocking & Free Camping USA Facebook group had a spot they recommended that was down Antelope Flats Rd just across the border of the National Park into Bridger-Teton National Forest. I also spoke with the district ranger and there are spots along Gros Ventre Rd, both dispersed and a large boondocking National Forest Campground. Both spots were listed in The Days End Directory and it mentioned that the view from antelope flats was an amazing, clear view of the Tetons. That clinched it for us.
They were right, the view was simply amazing. By far the best view of any campground we’ve stayed at. There were around seven sites, half of them would fit large units. There were also several dispersed spots if you continued past the campground. Unfortunately we didn’t see those until after we’d already setup camp and it wasn’t worth it to me to move for a slightly better spot. It was very easy to get to, the road is paved for the first four miles or so and then a well maintained gravel road for the last mile. Just be sure to stay on Antelope Flats Rd as you have to turn to stay on it. We were there for labor day weekend and even then there were spots available every night. We were literally feet from the National Park and 15 miles north of Jackson, which has a real grocery store.
After we got setup we went for a walk past the dispersed spots and then up a trail to a peak for a fantastic sunset. The next day we went for a hike to Taggart Lake which was also simply amazing and then went and stocked up on groceries($200+++!). The next day we hiked into Cascade Canyon which was so beautiful I would put it right up there with the hike into the Grand Canyon. What makes the Tetons so scenic is that there are no foothills to block your view. These huge 13,000 ft + tall mountains rise straight up from the Jackson Valley floor at 7,000 ft. They are famous for their steepness but none of the trails we were on were actually that steep, but then we weren’t trying to summit either, lol, just walk into the valley between these monsters.
The last day we decided to go for a kayak trip down the Snake River to take in the beautiful Tetons from another perspective. We were able to do the same as before and left our bikes at the takeout and then road back to the truck so we didn’t need a shuttle. However it still cost us $25 as the permit to boat in the National Park was $10 and they required a $15 AIS sticker which you could purchase online. They checked for all of this as you come through the gate and they will check your boat for invasive species. It was still well worth it if you consider what going with a raft company would cost. Although there are no real rapids within the Park the river can still be quite tricky as it will split into multiple channels and only one will be deep enough for even a kayak. This has the potential to be pretty dangerous as even with the water being very low we had about a 6 mph.
We also drove to Granite Creek which was an hour and a half ride from where we were camping. It was worth it though. It’s a natural hot spring high up in the mountains. They actually built a pool on the hot spring with a deck and everything. It was $3 a person to get in but man did the water feel good. It’s in the 90’s in the summer and varies a bit with the snow melt. People also come out here on their snowmobiles in the winter and since there is no runoff in the winter it gets up 112! There were a ton of boondocking spots all along the 10 mile gravel road to the hot spring. I would recommend simply pulling up for a day or three rather than drive like we did.
Yellowstone may have the more unique environment with all of it’s volcanic features but Grand Teton beats it on shear beauty. Especially if you can stay in the same campground we did. The hiking and kayaking is fantastic, if a bit crowded. We were there for Labor Day so that certainly doesn’t help. Even with the crowds it was well worth it and we will certainly be back. Enjoy the pictures!
We found a nice large spot to boondock near Hebgen Lake right before Cherry Hill campground off Denny Creek Road also known as FR 167. There are multiple designated dispersed campgrounds off this road. I was able to have AT&T coverage in this area but no Verizon. We were also told we could find dispersed camping along FR 1700 which would have been our plan B. From our spot, it takes about 25 minutes to get to the west entrance of Yellowstone NP.
Since it was Saturday, we decided to wait on Yellowstone and attempted to reach the Gallatin Petrified Forest from the Tepee Creek trail off highway 191, in the Gallatin NF which boarders the park. We never made it to the forest because we had to take a detour when we reached the boarder of Yellowstone NP. From our map it looked like there was a trail along the boarder but either it disappeared or was never there. The grass was really tall, and I ended up getting a rash from the grass touching my legs the whole time, I lost one of my hiking poles when we were trying to find the trail along the boarder and I never even got a piece of petrified wood. It was a bummer, but we ended up seeing moose and some really spectacular views from the peaks.
The next two days, we tackled the north and south loop respectively. There are multiple geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles along both loops (considering the park is right above a super volcano that is overdue to erupt at any moment). Be prepared as the thermal areas do reek heavily of sulfur. The highlight of the northern loop is Mammoth Hot Springs. There is a long board walk that takes you to all the major thermal activity sites. This area of the park is a mad house, almost like going to Disney. However it is worth visiting as it is unlike any natural wonder I’ve ever seen. The bacteria that live in the thermal areas produce beautiful colors of the entire spectrum. Boiling hot water flows down travertine steps white as snow.
The highlights of the south loop are Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where you can see the Upper and Lower waterfalls. Old Faithful can take anywhere from 30 min to 1.5 hrs to erupt. We were VERY lucky since we only had to wait 10 sec lol. As we were walking up I saw it spatter and I said “OH she’s about to BLOW!” Tim didn’t believe me but a few moments later she started up. The Falls is where Yellowstone gets it’s name, I think (the walls of the canyon are yellow). The lower falls has an awesome trail called the Tom Miner trail. It is about 300 something iron stairs that takes you almost all the way down to the river and is very steep. There are plenty of places to stop and rest and the views are breath-taking (or maybe it is from all the steps). We saw more bison along the southern loop, hanging around the thermal areas the way families gather around campfires. Other areas in the southern loop worth visiting are Grand Prismatic Spring, Wet Thumb Geyser Basin, and the Sulphur Caldron/Mud Volcano.
We had a great time visiting Yellowstone, it truly is an extraordinary place. A place where the ground steams and boils, rivers and lakes flourish between the mountains, and wildlife freely roam. Next we plan to boondock outside of Grand Teton NP. We most certainly will not be paying to stay in an RV park since they charge between $80-120 a night!!
Firstly you might wonder why it is called a National AND State Parks, this is because the National Park was not formed until 1968. However prior to that a large portion of the area was state parks. Now it is managed jointly by the National Park Service and California State Parks, hence the name.
Since only days before we arrived here we were in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park viewing the redwoods family member, the sequoia, you may wonder what is the difference between the two species of giant trees. The first major difference is where they grow, the sequoia only grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Mountains between 4,000 and 7,000 ft of elevation and the Redwood only grow in the coastal areas of Northern California, along with a few miles into southern Oregon. Giant Redwoods live up to 2000 years, grow up to 380 ft tall, have bark up to 12 in thick, and a diameter of up to 30 ft. In contrast a Sequoia can live up to 3000 years, grow up to 300 ft, have bark up to 3 ft thick, and also grow to a diameter of up to 30 ft. The Giant Redwood are the tallest trees in the world but on the other hand the Sequoias are the largest trees in the world by volume. This is because the sequoias carry their girth almost the full height while redwoods taper more. Either of them can have branches that are as big as the truck of a regular large tree. On average, in my experience, the redwoods tend to be taller while the sequoias have a larger diameter.
The two parks are in quite different ecosystems as mention above, Redwood National Park runs along the beautiful northern California coast while Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are in the stunning Sierra mountains. What this means in practice is that there is a lot more “civilization” surrounding Redwood Nation Park. Both have national forests nearby but it would be a longer drive to boondock in one near Redwood NP. The road to Redwood NP, while a bit windy and hilly, is nothing compared to the roads leading into Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP.
This also means in general that the hiking in Redwood NP is much less strenuous. You can also hike along up and down the coast which could make for a very unique backpacking trip. We hiked the James Irvine trail to the coast, then down the coast for a mile, and the took the Miners Ridge trail to loop back to our car at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park visitors center. It was a perfect day hike in that we got to see a number of ecosystems in ~8 miles and were able to make it a loop. There were also a number of short hikes right off the road that were very nice also. At this point I should also mention that simply driving Highway 101 will provide you with some beautiful scenery, huge trees, and the opportunity to see some gray whales.
As far as my perspective on the trees themselves I found the sequoias to be individually more impressive. Go back and look at the picture of me on the stump in that post or the picture of the tree that was used as a HOUSE for example! However collectively I thought the Redwood forest was more impressive. This was because while the sequoias seemed to be scattered here and there, the redwoods dominated the forest. We hiked and drove for miles and miles all while being surrounded by a majority of redwood trees. Either way both parks are recommended, neither more than the other. It simply depends on what your looking for. If you want to go backpacking I’d say Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP would be the choice. If you’d prefer to stay in a cabin or with full hookups in your rv and tour by car I’d recommended Redwood NP. Redwood NP also tends to be more temperate, while they were getting snow in Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP we were enjoying 60 to 80 degree days. Both parks will blow your mind.
We decided to stay atElk Country RV Resort and Campground which was just outside of the National Park. We didn’t bother to try to stay in the National or State parks as many of them had restrictions on the size of your rig and had no hookups but cost just as much without being in any better location. We had full hookups and the park was nearly empty. The elk in their name is no joke, at any point in time you might look out and see 20 of them chowing down in the prairie. I also saw a fox and a skunk while walking around at night. Thankfully the skunk turned and ran as soon as he saw me. They had two different areas you could choose from to camp (it used to be two different campgrounds). One was in a heavily forested area and the other was a wide open field. We chose the forested area, of course, but to each their own.
Although the owner seemed like a nice enough guy, he was a bit of moron. Even though Victoria, I, and the few other campers who were there(including two of his camp hosts!) we were unable to get onto the advertised free WiFi for our entire stay. He continued to insist that since it worked on his phone there was nothing wrong with it. So if you need WiFi avoid this park(and be sure to let them know why, maybe he’ll get the message ;). With Verizon I did have both voice and data(as usual) while Victoria with AT&T did not(as usual).
One of the experiences unique to California I was most looking forward to was seeing and hugging the giant trees out here. Yes I said hug. I’m a tree lover and proud of it! I was more choked up seeing my first Sequoia than my first sight of the Grand Canyon. It is humbling to stand next to such a huge living thing that has been alive for 2000 years and survived so many storms, fires, and…well, humans.
Tim had planned to boondock along forest service road 14S46 but to our dismay it was not going to work. We drove up a couple miles up a very narrow, very windy road before deciding to turn around, luckily there was a spot to turn around. We attempted calling the National forest district office for advice but the guy was absolutely no help, saying he had no idea about the condition of forest roads (you don’t know if the roads in your district are open or not? Really? -Tim) and places to disperse camp (Every other ranger has been extremely helpful, He probably wasn’t a real ranger, just answers the phone -Tim). It wasn’t until after we paid to stay at Azalea campground and talked to the National Park ranger did we realize that we could have disperse camped at any of the turnouts along 180. Azalea campground is very nice don’t get me wrong but it sucks paying $18/night for no hookups. We arrived at the campground after dark because of our attempt to boondock. Tim was having trouble backing in the fifth wheel because he couldn’t see well. We were both exhausted having just driven the longest driving day, 12 hours on the road. I was on the brink of tears. After finally finding a site in the cold, dark night, I prepared our emergency Ramen noodles dinner and we both crashed.
They next day I felt refreshed and excited to see the biggest trees in the world. First we checked out Big Stump Trail, a short 1.5 mile trail that takes you to see about 5 Sequoia stumps (hence the name) cut down a long time ago. One of the tree stumps, named the Mark Twain stump, was cut down for educational purposes. You may have seen the cross section of the tree on display at the Museum of Science and History in New York. There were so many huge trees on the Big Stump Trail, the first one is a mere 50 feet from the trail head. Sequoias can live up to 3000 years old. When they start growing the young trees boost into the sky about 300 feet. Then they quit growing tall and they grow wider and wider, up to 40 feet in diameter. Even after they fall they don’t die. Their wood is highly resistant to decay and therefore in a way they continue to live after death, providing nourishment to the other trees. General Grant is the second largest tree in the world. He is fenced off to help him keep growing. Apparently foot traffic around the giant trees compacts the soil, making it harder for them to grow. General Sherman is THE largest tree in the world and he is in the park too.
After visiting General Grant, we drove to King’s Canyon, about an hour from Azalea campground. The hour goes by fast as you wind your way into the canyon. We stopped a few times along the way to see waterfalls and take in the views of the canyon. We parked at Road’s End and hiked to Zumwalt Meadow, an easy 3 mile hike. The lovely green meadow is surrounded by granite canyon walls. You can’t help but to stare up open-mouthed at the thousands of feet towering above.
The next day we learned some bad news of the possibility for snow. When we woke up it was cold and gray. Then an ominous fog rolled into camp and we decided to get the hell out of there. I was disappointed because we were supposed to hike the Redwood mountain grove and see General Sherman. But since General Sherman was an hour south of Azalea campground, we knew we couldn’t do it. We had to leave and play it smart. If it was going to snow we didn’t want to be stuck up there in our fifth. At least we had a blast the one day we spent out and about, and I’m glad I got to hug a Sequoia (another item off my bucket list). We will be back to see you one day Sherman!
Whelp, I’ve slashed off another item off my bucket list. Before I go into the details of the awesomeness, let me tell you about where we camped. Man I’m glad we have the means to disperse camp, because the campgrounds around here are pricey and fully booked! We camped right outside of Tusayan in the Kaibab National Forest. We drove up Forest Road 302 a mere ¼ mile before we found a bunch of nice options to choose from. It was the perfect spot, only a 5 minute drive to the entry gate of the Grand Canyon National Park AND we were able to pick up wifi and cell service since we were so close to town. The only thing, (as there always is one thing) were the helicopters constantly flying to and from the airport. They make quite the business from paying customers who want to see the Grand Canyon by air. However it wasn’t a big deal because we spent the days out and about anyways.
When we approached the gate there were 5 lanes filled with cars. It felt like going into Disney World. Once again our America the Beautiful pass got us in for free, otherwise you have to pay $25 per car/7 days. The park attendant hands you a worthless map and you proceed to the visitor center. I say it’s worthless because it doesn’t give any detail about roads or trails. They pretty much herd all tourists to park at the visitor center and utilize the buses to get around. I guess this is efficient to prevent traffic jams within the park. At the visitor center there is information about the trails and which bus to take to get to the trail heads. The trails range from easy paved ridge walks to extremely difficult. Tim and I agreed on the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point. A 12 mile round trip classified as extremely difficult with a projected 8-12 hour finish time.
So now the climatic moment of my first view the canyon. We took the blue bus to Bright Angel TH. As I ascend up the hill, my eyes eagerly focus ahead for the first glimpse, my foot steps carefully approach the railing and then….it’s there, stretching to the horizon. I initially had to hold on to the railing to fully take it all in. It was so beautiful it didn’t feel real, it seemed like I was looking at a large beautiful painting on a projector screen. After a few moments I said, “okay lets go” and we descended into the canyon.
Down, down, down we go, passing by heavy dry-mouth breathing, red-faced hikers of all ages and sizes coming up. I started to dread the return trip. I pushed the thought behind me and focused on my footing. Two hours later we reach the campground where we had lunch in the oasis. Beware of the squirrels! They are cute indeed but they are very aggressive. While Tim and I snacked on Cheeze-Its, they creeped up and stared, expecting us to throw one. Tim had to stomp to make them run away, otherwise I’m sure they would of jumped us. After lunch and evading the squirrel attack, we proceeded to plateau point. It…was….hot…. No shade, no water, be prepared if you plan to do this hike. It was very rewarding as you get a spectacular view of the roaring Colorado River. They are plenty of opportunities for cool pictures if you are brave enough to stand on one of the rocks that jut out into the canyon. Ascending the canyon was a grueling 3000 elevation gain. It took us 8 hours to hike the whole trip. I must say this was probably THE most difficult hike I’ve done.
The next day we were both sore and exhausted so we did the easier South Rim trail. It’s paved, easy, has many awesome viewpoints of the canyon, BUT – this is where all the tourists come since you can access the trail from the visitor center. If you walk a mere 100 feet from Mather Point, the tourists thin out significantly. Dogs are allowed on the South Rim Trail, so Marilyn got to enjoy the view too.
We have officially hit our one month anniversary for full-timing (que applause). We’ve had a few hiccups, but we are still truckin’ to Seattle. Next stop, Sequoia National Park.