National Parks: Phase I {Summary}

Harry, Moby and I left Portland, Oregon on Saturday, September 27, 2014 and arrived at my parent’s house in Holland, Michigan on Saturday, October 18. Here’s a summary of our three-week National Park road trip:

# of days on the road: 22
# of nights on the road: 21
# of miles driven: 4,500
$ spent on gas: $650
Cheapest gas: $2.56 {Gallup, New Mexico}

# of nights we camped in Moby: 14
# of Big Foot sightings: 0
# of days we slept in hotel rooms: 6
# of days we slept in a friend’s condo: 1 {downtown Chicago… thanks, Maureen and Ann!}
# of showers: 9 (Kerry) 7 (Harry)

# of national parks / monuments: 11
{Crater Lake, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Pipe Springs, Vermilion Cliffs, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Canyon de Chelly, Indiana Dunes}

# of states: 11 {Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan}

Number of speeding tickets: 0
Favorite camp site: Hart Mountain, Oregon
Worst camp site: KOA Oklahoma City
Number of reservations: 0
Epic sunsets: Grand Canyon + Hart Mountain, Oregon
Number of river swims: 1 {Colorado River, Lee’s Ferry / Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona)
Best b-b-q: Cuba, Missouri
Friendliest RV-ers: Mark and Karla from Spokane, Washington
Scariest stop: gas station in Tucumcari, New Mexico

# of job offers: 1 {North Rim Country Store, Grand Canyon} I fell in love with this store as soon as we stepped inside. The shop felt warm and homey, the displays were really creative and the location was downright magical (hello, Grand Canyon!) Betsy and Tyler, the owners, were incredibly down to earth and happy to answer all our questions. After we chatted for a while they said that we could come work for them in the spring. Imagine living on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a few months helping out tourists and travelers all day long! Although the timing won’t work for us this year it sure felt nice to make a connection and have a back-up plan. The best part of this story (yes, it keeps getting better!) is that my cousin Maureen actually knows Betsy and Tyler! Imagine how excited we were when we discovered this! What a small, small world.

In a nutshell, Harry and I had the best time driving cross country together. We had incredible weather for three weeks straight and we loved living out of our van. Our pace was slow and we really enjoyed experiencing life one day at a time. We were grateful for our time together exploring a section of the amazing southwest.


Southern Utah *Zion National Park*

Friday, October 3 — We were on a total high when we left Bryce Canyon. Windows rolled down, we were on top of the world when Harry saw signs for homemade jerky. We pulled into the Mt Carmel Junction gas station / curio shop / jerky depot. We pulled away sans really expensive jerky but with a valuable tip on how to find free camping on public land “just down the road”.

A Road Called Ponderosa 

Following directions I’d written on a paper napkin given to us by a certified “local”, we drove west on route 9, turned right at the bend in the road and continued up the really pretty but very windy mountain road. According to my napkin, the turn-off for Ponderosa should have appeared within twenty minutes. Excited to camp off the beaten path we kept driving. When the sun started to set we decided that the directions we received weren’t very accurate and that we might not ever find Ponderosa Road. Feeling discouraged we turned around and went back down the mountain.

Ponderosa Resort Campground

We arrived at the Ponderosa Resort Campground in the dark and discovered that it was crowded and expensive. It didn’t help that it was a Friday night so the weekend crowd was there in full force. We hunkered down for a quick sleep and hit the road first thing in the morning.

Zion National Park

We accessed Zion at the east end of the park which meant we had to descend into the canyon on a narrow, windy, curvy road. If that wasn’t stressful enough we also had to drive through the mile long Zion – Mt. Carmel tunnel. Talk about intense! The tunnel was narrow and dark and a mile never felt so long. Harry was definitely white-knuckled behind the wheel but he did a great job getting us to the bottom on the canyon.

Ideally one would never visit a national park on a beautiful, sunny weekend, and we knew better… yet here we were on a Saturday, surrounded by a bunch of people when all we craved was solitude. At least it was October and not August. We took the required park shuttle into the heart of the canyon and did a few short hikes. Our favorite experience was eating lunch away from the crowds on the bank of the North Fork of the Virgin River, just the two of us.



Zion is an incredibly beautiful and interesting place to visit. If you haven’t already been here I highly recommend this national park!




Southern Utah *Bryce Canyon*

Thursday, October 2, 2014 — We left Cedar Breaks feeling really happy to be in southern Utah. We drove northeast through the mountains and pretty groves of trees, past lakes and clusters of cabins. We stopped in Panguitch to poke around and grab some groceries. We were delighted with this small cowboy town! I tried so hard to find a pair of boots at the cowboy thrift store (it’s everything you’d imagine it to be, and more!) but alias I came up short. Meanwhile Harry was busy making new friends.

Utah, Panguitch Harry + Cowboy

Red Canyon “Campground”

Entering the Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest en route to Bryce Canyon was amazing. The rock formations were truly beautiful in the light of the late afternoon sun. It’s not every day that the road you’re on goes through a rock arch!

Bryce driving through rock

Believe it or not, it was still light out when we found our “campground” for the night. Well, it wasn’t really a campground, it was actually just a random bit of land right off a Forest Service road. Although this is a totally legit thing to do, I can’t say I was completely comfortable… all I could do was imagine Bigfoot walking around our site after we went to bed. But hey, the site was free and Harry was in his element, so there we stayed.

We were excited to be at our campground so early but once we realized how cold it was the fun factor dropped down a notch. I mean, it was really cold; the kind of cold where your hands are numb and all you want to do was go to bed, but it was too early to go to bed. Because it was still daylight. Had we followed our normal pattern to date, we would have arrived in the dark, just in time to go to bed. Ironic, eh.

Harry cooked us a delicious dinner on the camp stove, gathered firewood and then made a fire while I stood around complaining about being too cold (this is mostly true). Actually I was very busy keeping a look-out for strangers and Yeti.

The night finally grew dark and it got late enough for me to hunker down for the night. I was about to crawl into bed when (wait for it!) Harry asked me to check the bottom of our sleeping bags for SNAKES because, don’t you know, snakes don’t like being cold either. I pretty much flipped out on him for that one.

Spectacular Starry Sky 

There weren’t any clouds in the sky, which made it even colder, but Harry was excited about seeing some amazing stars in the middle of the night. At first I told him not to wake me up (because I love to sleep, and I love to be warm, and I can be incredibly lazy at times), but I couldn’t stand the idea of missing out on something so spectacular. We slid out of our warm bags at 3:00 in the morning and stood holding hands as we gazed in awe up at the Milky Way and a gazillion stars.

I woke up when Harry started the van to turn the heat on. Imagine waking up with your fleece hat pulled down over your face for warmth and frost on the windows, knowing that heat was on its way. That’s love! I asked Harry if he would drive me to a heated restroom but he pretended not to hear me.

Bryce campfireBryce Campground

Bryce Canyon

The frosted ground gave way to blue skies as the sun rose. With much anticipation we drove into the National Park, paid a quick visit to the visitor’s center and prepared to hike in the canyon.

The first view of Bryce took my breath away! The layers of red rocks were stunning and even more spectacular by the cloudless sky above. Bryce is distinctive due to geological phallic-shaped structures called hoodoos. We hiked three miles in the canyon via the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden. Every step was incredible! Our trek was slow because we stopped to take so many pictures.

1 2 3 4 6 7 9 IMG_4039

I really loved Bryce and it will forever remain one of my favorite places. I highly recommend visiting this special park!