Week 49.2: Canyonlands

Sorry, friends, it’s been a while since we posted one of these.  But now we’re back!

Let’s return to early June.  As our final day trip from Moab, we headed out to Canyonlands National Park, the final of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks.  Canyonlands is split into three districts, and we visited the most popular and well-developed district, “Island in the Sky.”  We had also planned to visit The Needles, another district to the south which focuses on hiking, but we ended up skipping out due to the constant 100+ degree temperatures.

Canyonlands’ third district is known as The Maze, and it is a natural preserve devoid of services, “one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the United States.”  We weren’t too keen on recreating the events of 127 Hours – which took place just to the west of Canyonlands – so we decided to stick to Island in the Sky.

We have no regrets.  Island in the Sky’s evocative title is fitting: this section of the park encompasses a massive, flat-topped mesa, and the district’s scenic drive took us around the rim of the plateau for stunning views in every direction.  The park reminded us of the Grand Canyon, and although the vistas may not be quite as spectacular, they are much more varied and weird.

And we like weird.

You Got Your Arches in My Canyonlands

We started things off with an incredible view – through an arch located on the edge of a cliff.  It was pretty early in the day, so we probably didn’t fully appreciate how cool this was at the time.  But that’s why we take photographs!

Awesome.  After the arch, we had fun climbing around on some giant, spherical mounds that arise out of the center of the plateau.  They connect to each other on each end, looking a bit like a giant stone caterpillar or snake.

We also hiked around Upheaval Crater, which scientists believe is either (1) a collapsed salt dome, or (2) the impact crater of a large meteorite.

To be honest, it wasn’t that thrilling in person, but the surrounding terrain was beautiful.

As you can see, we took a lot of nifty photos of each other standing on cliff edges at Canyonlands.  For the below shot, we wandered slightly off the trail to take some cool adventure shots.  Jake had everything lined up when a Swiss hiker saw what we were doing and decided to get his own photos.

He did this by walking directly into the frame, then up next to Heather – where he proceeded to stand and obliviously admire the view for about ten full minutes.  Seriously.

That’s fine, random Swiss guy, take your time.  We’re just standing around here, holding a camera and posing and glaring at you, for your own amusement.  At least the photos turned out pretty well, once he left.

I can see for miles and miles…

After the crater, we stopped for lunch at one of the prettiest picnic spots you will ever see, located right on the edge of the plateau.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice, unfortunately.

From there, it was just one stunning overlook after another.

If you need an awesome picture for your Facebook profile, we recommend Canyonlands.

Roads go ever ever on

On our way out, we stopped at an overlook we had skipped in the morning.  (As crafty national park veterans, we knew its east-facing view would be better once the sun had risen higher.)  There was a rather cool cliff to stand on here, and walking the narrow ledge to get there was only slightly gulp-inducing.

We love that shot, but we mostly wanted to draw your attention to the road you can see running down the canyon.

That’s White Rim Road, a crazy, 100-mile dirt road that you can drive with a 4×4 vehicle.  We actually saw someone driving it in a jeep.  It takes 2-3 days to drive the whole thing, at which point we assume you are helicoptered out because you had to saw off your own arm.

Here’s how you get down.

Dead Horse Point State Park

OK, so you’ve already gotten the cliffside arch, the stone caterpillar, the crater, the overlooks, and the crazy dirt road – but wait, there’s more!  Right next to Canyonlands is Dead Horse Point State Park, which was named after early settlers herded wild horses onto the plateau, tamed a few, built a wall to hold in the rest… and then inexplicably left all the horses to die of thirst.

Sorry, horses, that’s some pretty terrible stuff.  Today, the park exists as basically a single, $10-per-vehicle overlook, piggybacking off of the national park next door.  But man oh man – what an overlook!

One of the prettiest views we’ve seen.  If you’re curious, the bright blue water in the last few photos is from a potash factory.  Obviously unnatural, but kind of beautiful anyway.

That’s the end of this blog post, and as it turns out, the end of our stay in Utah.  Stay tuned for a quick diversion to Colorado before we get to the biggest, baddest parks of them all.

Roadtrip Time Travel

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We’ve reached the end of our roadtrip!  We’ve settled down in Denver, but we’re going to keep making blog posts and posting our favorite photos from the trip, so stay tuned for more.

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Week 48.2: Wild Horses & Goblins

We last left off at Capitol Reef National Park, in the terrifically tiny town of Torrey (say that five times fast).  We headed northeast from there, through a part of Utah you might call “lightly settled.”  One town marked on Google Maps appeared to contain a total of six houses…

After about an hour and a half, we pulled off the highway in an area known as the San Rafael Swell.  Even in a state with crazy geology, the Swell is an area known for its crazy geology.

Things are going to get weird.

Into the Crevasse

If the previous area was lightly settled, the place we stopped was downright empty.  There were no signs of civilization aside from the long, straight roads cutting through the southern Utah desert.  But when we pulled off, we found something cool: the government has established a number of free campsites here. There’s no hookups, but there are vault toilets (read: permanent port-a-potties) and trash cans, and you can park in one of several dirt lots for as long as you like. As it was Memorial Day, there were quite a few RVs.

We parked our RV in one of these lots and drove our car about 10 miles towards – into? – the Swell. This area is almost completely unknown, but it is incredibly cool, full of towering rock formations banded with bright colors. Far back near the hills, we spotted many RVs and tent campsites – it struck us as the kind of place you could go and live undisturbed for a decade.

We nervously followed our directions deeper and deeper into the Swell, concerned that we might be lost, until finally we stumbled onto… a completely full parking lot.  Oh right – Memorial Day.

Well, it’s the desert, so we just kind of found some dirt and left our car there. Then we headed into Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon.

Walking through a tight slot canyon is a thrilling and unique experience.  It’s also pretty rare, and something we otherwise only really got to do at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks in New Mexico. Little Wild Horse is much tighter and much longer, however, and at times we had to literally climb the walls to pass over obstacles – or, more commonly, to get around people who walked in part-way before turning back.

At times, we had to haul ourselves up onto rock ledges, or pick a trail over fallen boulders. Occasionally, the slot canyon opened up into hugely wide areas, still bounded on both sides by rock walls. Then, just as mysteriously, it would compress itself back into a tiny crack.

This is not a good place for the claustrophobic.  Similarly, as this incredible story attests, it is not a good place to be when it rains.  Luckily for us, the skies stayed clear.

After about two extraordinarily slow miles, we reached the end of the slot canyon. We could have headed back, but in the spirit of adventure, we took the opportunity to walk through some Utah back-country and return through a different slot canyon.

It was pretty, although the images don’t completely capture the fact that it was 90-plus degrees out and the baking desert sun was now directly overhead.  Fortunately, we had learned well from our dehydrating visit to Big Bend National Park, and we brought plenty of water. Still, it was shocking how tiring it was to hike under that sun, even over mostly flat terrain.

Friends, do not get lost in the desert! We actually almost did, until we noticed the large rock arrow pointing towards the trail we had nearly missed.

Eventually we did reach the other canyon, named Bell Canyon, and things got much cooler once we were back in the shade.  This canyon wasn’t as tight, and so it was relatively quick work to get back to our car – and its sweet, sweet air conditioning.

The Power of the Voodoo Hoodoo

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon was sweet, but we have been burying the lede here a bit, since that’s not really why we stopped. The main draw for us was something else entirely: Goblin Valley State Park.  It is strange in the best possible way.

We talked a lot about hoodoos in our post about Bryce Canyon National Park, and Goblin Valley has a lot of them too.  Unlike the tall, beautiful spires at Bryce Canyon, however, the hoodoos at Goblin Valley are short, squat, and kinda… melted.

There is a near-endless sea of these weird little formations, so-named because early settlers imagined them as goblins. Having canvassed much of the United States, we can say confidently that Goblin Valley is one of the strangest places we have ever been.

The goblins are a lot of fun to photograph, but due to the crushing heat, we didn’t stay long.  We would have loved the chance to see them at twilight, but Moab awaited.

By the way, you may remember the story a few years ago about a Boy Scout troop leader who pushed over a natural rock formation. Well, that was at Goblin Valley.  Incidentally, the man’s claim that he did a good thing because the rock was going to fall over soon is just preposterous.  The rocks here took millions of years to form into these crazy formations, and we sincerely hope that future visitors leave the goblins alone to fend for themselves.

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We’ve reached the end of our roadtrip!  We’re settling down in Denver, but we’re going to keep making blog posts and posting our favorite photos from the trip, so stay tuned for more.

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Week 46.1: Salt Lake City

In mid-may we traveled southeast from Twin Falls, headed for Salt Lake City.  It was a long day’s drive, but for once, we didn’t mind the distance.  We were finally in Utah! The Promised Land of our road trip, mountainous Utah is home to five national parks, numerous state parks and national monuments, and – indisputably, in our opinion – the most beautiful scenery in the continental United States.

We spent a month in Utah, beginning in mid-May, and we took a lot of photos – a whopping 8,633, to be exact.*  It’s a mind-blowing place, and we are pretty excited to finally get to share it with all of you.  In fact, 11 of our next 13 blog posts are about national parks – so stay tuned.

* Heather deals with all the photos for our blogs (Jake does the writing), so… sorry, dear.

Mountain Temples

The drive to Salt Lake City is absolutely stunning, in every direction.  The city sits on a broad plain, but it’s surrounded by mountains, especially to the east.  Of course, being Utah rookies, that’s exactly where we had made reservations to stay.  We didn’t realize it when we booked our site, but our campground – located in nearby Park City – was at more than 6,100 feet!  Salt Lake City is only at about 4,000 feet, and there was a LOT of vertical climbing to get up to our spot.  Luckily, our RV made it just fine, and we got to enjoy staying in a beautiful Utah state park, one of the nicest we had seen since Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico.

We took a day trip down from the mountains to visit Salt Lake City, the last large city we would see for two months, and we actually came away pretty impressed.  The city itself is clean and pretty, with lots of trees for shade and intentionally wide streets.  There were a lot of people on bicycles – always a good sign – and even some hipster types, with piercings and tattoos and beards.  That was a little surprising to us, because Salt Lake City is the center of the Mormon world, and they are a particularly clean-cut group.  If you didn’t know, Utah is something like 98% Mormon – primarily because nobody else wanted to live in what used to be an unforgiving desert.

As the headquarters of Mormondom, there is a lot of work and money put into the city.  It’s particularly concentrated in and around the Mormon Temple, a beautiful series of structures with exquisite landscaping.  Some areas were off-limits to us heathens, but frankly, the outside was pretty enough to satisfy.  And we weren’t the only ones who liked it – we counted at least six wedding photo shoots in the half-hour we were there.

We had planned to tour inside the Tabernacle, a round dome with perfect acoustics.  Jake visited as a child, and vividly remembers sitting in the back seats and hearing a pin drop on the altar.  However, we got a little scared off, and never went in.  See, every tour comes with a recruitment pitch, and, well… Heather isn’t great at saying “no.”

We’re happy with our current religious status (and we like alcohol and caffeine), so we skipped out on the tour.  With some time to kill, we instead headed out to the beach.  The Great Salt Lake isn’t the ocean, but it’s as close as you’re likely to find in the interior of the country – big, blue, and briny.

There wasn’t a lot to do there, though, so we headed back into the mountains.  We spent a few hours touring Park City, a classic ski town.  This is where the 2002 Olympics were held, and while the Olympic Village is now just big box stores and coffee shops, many of the athletic facilities still exist.  Unfortunately, the Olympic Park was still closed for the season – we were there one day early! – so we didn’t get to try out any of the attractions, like the zip line that runs down along the ski jump ramps (!!).  D’oh!

Stymied, we drove over to the older part of Park City.  It was actually quite cool – or, in what we can only assume is the local parlance, “chill, brah.”  There were lots of charming little shops, and the whole area reminded us of a Swiss ski town named Zermatt we visited a few years ago.  There weren’t a lot of people around yet, but we found something better than people: a brewery serving real beer!

If you’ve never been to Utah, you might not realize how exciting this is – even in bars, beer sold in Utah is typically 4.2% alcohol (or lower) by law.  Drinking a glass of the good (read: strong) stuff while relaxing on a mountain patio was a rather nice way to finish the afternoon.

As a bonus, as we walked back to our car, we found some street art, courtesy of the one and only Banksy!  We were amused (but unsurprised) to find it protected by glass and a metal frame.

Planet Utah

That was pretty much it for our first visit, but our tour of Utah was a big loop, and we returned through Salt Lake City a month later.  We had originally planned to go back to the Olympic Park, but the vagaries of RV campsite reservations left us north of SLC, in Ogden.  We took advantage of our new location to visit Antelope Island State Park, a large island in the Great Salt Lake connected by a causeway.

The island was beautiful.  It’s surprisingly mountainous, and many locations offered striking views of the water and Salt Lake City.  We intended to hike up to the peak at the center, but… it was hot.  Really, really hot.

So, we cut our hike short to go wildlife watching.  A herd of bison roams free on the island, and they are fun to photograph.

While we were watching and taking photos with our zoom lens, we got to see a real Planet Earth moment.  A coyote came out of the brush and approached one of the young bison, obviously hoping for a snack.  However, a full-grown bison noticed and charged full-steam at the coyote, which wisely retreated back into the brush.  You can see this below – the coyote is the blotchy grey spot in the lower left.

The coyote wasn’t going home empty-mouthed, though, and it trotted over to a different part of the herd, prowling around while two bison eyed it.  It was hard to see what happened next, but the coyote must have found a bird’s nest in the tall grass, because suddenly some birds started swooping at the coyote aggressively!  Unfortunately for the birds, the coyote didn’t seem too bothered, and we’re guessing it ended up with some eggs or chicks for dinner.

Good for the bison, good for the coyote, bad for the birds.  Nature can be rough.

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Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Pittsburgh, PA, seeing some friends and family and living in denial about the end of our road trip.

Next location?  TBD as always.  Upstate NY, maybe?

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Weeks 41-42: The Redwoods

After leaving behind beautiful Napa, we embarked on a two-week tour of the redwoods of Northern California.  During those two weeks we stayed in three different towns, visited 5 state and national parks, and had our minds blown too many times to count.  But rather than try to break it all down into a bunch of little blog posts (and because we’re hopelessly behind), we decided to just compile the whole thing here.

To put it another way that could not possibly be taken out of context, if you’re looking for pictures of big wood, you’ve come to the right place.

Obligatory Redwood Facts

Before we begin, we have to make clear:  redwoods are pretty much the coolest trees ever. We didn’t know that much about them before we went, but here’s what we learned.

1. “Coastal” redwoods are one of the two main types of redwoods (a third type was recently discovered in China). Compared to giant sequoias, their cousins from the Sierra Nevada mountains (we saw some at Yosemite), coastal redwoods are taller but thinner, their bark is a deeper red/brown, and they look more like normal, but huge, trees.  To make things a bit easier, if we say “redwoods” in this post, we are referring to coastal redwoods.

2. The oldest known redwood is about 2,200 years old, which means it was born before Julius Caesar.

3. Redwoods can grow to be nearly 400 feet tall and 30 feet wide! It takes centuries to grow so large.  The location and size of the largest trees ever found are intentionally kept hidden to prevent visitor damage.

4. Redwood bark contains chemicals which repels insects, including mosquitoes (!!). They are also incredibly resistant to fire and decay, and due to these properties and their immense size, it can take over 500 years for a fallen redwood to decompose.

5. Because they require very specific conditions, including huge amounts of water, coastal redwoods grow only in a thin strip along coastal California and southwest Oregon. They typically grow near rivers in areas that receive regular fog; these trees grow so tall that it is difficult to move water all the way up the trunk, which means starting the water halfway up (via fog condensation) is helpful.

6. Like giant sequoias, redwoods used to be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, but due to extensive logging, old-growth redwoods (the really big ones) can now be found only in state and national parks. Only 5% of the original trees remain.  We owe the fact that any redwoods exist at all primarily to dedicated conservationists, most notably the Save-The-Redwoods-League, founded in 1917.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park & the Avenue of the Giants

Chances are that if you’ve been to a redwood park, you’ve either been to Muir Woods near San Francisco – where the trees top out at “only” 260 feet – or you’ve driven the Avenue of the Giants.  The Avenue of the Giants is a 30 mile long scenic road that cuts directly through a huge, old-growth forest.  We stayed overnight in Stafford, at the northern end of the park, and only drove the last 10 miles – but it was spectacular.  In our opinion, this might be the best redwood park.

This was our campsite in Stafford, where we parked by the stump of an old growth redwood (with some new redwoods growing out of it). The stump dwarfed our RV.

After settling into our campsite, we headed to the Avenue of the Giants, and saw our first old-growth redwoods. We were blown away by their size and beauty.  Sadly, no picture can ever do them justice.  The groves we saw along the Avenue of the Giants were peaceful, quiet, and perfect – there is something indescribably serene about walking beneath the redwoods with nobody around.  The short hike we took through Rockefeller Grove was one of our favorites of all time, as was a random grove we visited along the side of the road.

There are some true skyscrapers to see.  Founders’ Grove contained some truly massive trees, including Founders’ Tree, at 346 feet high, and a fallen tree that was even larger.

Semi-fun fact! Humboldt Redwoods State Park was preserved when the Save-The-Redwoods League convinced John Rockefeller to donate two million dollars with a picnic in an old-growth grove in the park.  That grove is now known as Rockefeller Forest.

We drove out to the descriptive Big Tree Area, but it was located across the river from the parking lot, and the bridge had not yet been put up for the season.  Luckily, a fallen redwood provided a natural – and highly scenic – alternate crossing.

After hamming it up, we made our way across to Giant Tree, an incredible 363 feet high with a 53 feet circumference.

Giant Tree is most likely the biggest redwood we encountered on our travels, and it was extra-sweet because absolutely nobody else was around (or dared to walk the bridge).  The driving through Avenue of the Giants is also spectacular, not just on the main road, but especially on the Bull Creek Flats side road we took.  The road weaves carefully between giant trees, in places wide enough for just one car, while the branches form a vaulted cathedral ceiling overhead.  It’s pretty magical.

A Brief Civilization Interlude

After the Avenue of the Giants, we headed to the tiny town of Trinidad, California, just north of the larger towns of Eureka and Arcata.  Since it was the “shoulder season,” a term we recently learned, RV camping was wide-open, and we scored our cheapest spot ever… in a redwood forest! The extremely chill young woman at the RV park stacked some discounts for us, and our stay worked out to about $13 per night for a week.  (We later added one additional night, and a different, extremely un-chill woman yelled at us for having so many discounts and made us pay $40.  Boo!)

Speaking of chill, Arcata is probably the most hippified town we’ve ever been to.  We enjoy that sort of thing, but it does take a while to accomplish errands when every person in town appears to be stoned.  There was a lot of patchouli and slow-motion cashiering, which for these former NYC residents can be a little frustrating.  One fun anecdote: while we were waiting for our groceries to be bagged, a former employee of the grocery store was behind us in line, and the manager came over to say hi.  She then told him that he had left his watch at the store, and she had it in her office, where the watch alarm goes off at 2 p.m. every single day.  “I haven’t worked here for two years!” he said.

Yes, things move a little differently in northern California.  Unfortunately, it’s not always hella good.  We had high hopes for the town of Eureka, known for its Victorian architecture, but didn’t do much sightseeing since it was totally overrun by sketchy drifters.  We’ve noticed a lot of drifter-types on the West Coast in general (mild climate), but Eureka was in a class of its own.  We did get a few things fixed on our RV by an awesome service technician, but otherwise, we mostly stuck to the trees.

Prairie Creek State Park & Redwood National Park

Speaking of the trees, we visited Prairie Creek State Park and Redwood National Park, which are adjacent.  There’s tons to do, but but we focused on two hikes.  The first, within Redwood National Park, was a loop through some dense, green woods to a rare find: a waterfall within a redwood grove!  It was all quite pretty, although the moss-covered trees here were less memorable than elsewhere.

Prairie Creek was a little cooler.  We did a very long hike – around 12 miles – through the forest, stopping for a picnic at a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  Then, we hiked into Fern Canyon, a long, steep-sided canyon absolutely covered with ferns and moss.  It feels very prehistoric, and indeed, a scene from Jurassic Park II was filmed here!

But it was also extremely wet, and with the bridges not yet up for the season – a running theme – we had to step carefully as we crossed back and forth over the stream that runs through the canyon.  Jake’s hiking stick was invaluable for balance as we jumped between fallen branches and slippery rocks, and we made it in and almost all the way out – until a rock turned over on Jake, and he had to walk five miles back with soaking wet socks.

Semi-Fun Fact! Unusually, the 6 main redwood parks are operated jointly between the federal government and the state of California, which is why they’re called the “Redwood National and State Parks.” The only exception is Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which is run by California alone. The sixth park is Del Norte, which we never visited; it’s close to Jedidiah Smith State Park.

Soggy hosiery aside, this was a long but beautiful stroll through the redwoods.  Except for the areas right next to parking lots, we were all alone.  On the way back, we went more than four miles without seeing another soul.

The drive to and from the park is spectacular, although a little sad, as Highway 101 cuts a four-lane swath directly through pristine forests.  (While building it, they even tried to route the highway through the middle of several old-growth redwood groves – why??!)  In places, Highway 101 runs alongside the Pacific Ocean, as well as grassy green meadows full of wandering elk herds.  If you can overlook the wanton obliteration of nature required to create it, it’s definitely a drive worth doing.

Jedidiah Smith State Park

Our final redwoods trip was to Jedidiah Smith State Park, which sounds suspiciously like a place from the Simpsons.  We stayed in tiny Crescent City, California, right next to the ocean.  It was great, except for the nearby lighthouse, which made a loud “boop” every six seconds or so, all day, all night.



The redwoods themselves were great.  Jedidiah Smith is the least-developed of all the parks, requiring a bumpy drive along a dirt road through the forest to reach the biggest trees.  After seeing so many beautiful groves, it is easy to feel jaded, but the Endor-like forest and the mammoth Boy Scout Tree (5th picture in slideshow) amazed us anyway.

It’s really a bummer that redwoods grow in such a small part of the world, because they’re pretty awesome. The redwoods were #1 on Jake’s pre-roadtrip list of things to see, and they didn’t disappoint. It was a rare privilege to do so many redwood hikes, and not an experience we’ll forget.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Longmont, Colorado, beating the heat currently enveloping the Dakotas.

Next location?  The Badlands in southwestern South Dakota, and the numerous associated parks (including Mt. Rushmore!).

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Week 36: Vegas, Baby!

Death Valley National Park was awesome.  However, it lacked some of the things we’ve grown accustomed to, like electricity and Internet, and we are Millenials through and through.  We will happily live, drive, cook, shower, and poop all in one vehicle, but not being able to browse reddit is a dealbreaker.

So, we hitched up our electric wagons and drove towards Las Vegas.  Let us tell you, friends, there is a whooooole lot of nothing between Death Valley and Vegas.  It’s as empty as a New Year’s resolution.  The only point of interest was a gas station on the California / Nevada desert, where we had planned to fill up.  When we arrived, we discovered that the gas station was named “Area 51” and it was decorated extensively with green alien stickers, statues, and banners.

That was weird enough, but it got stranger.  Because it was in Nevada and this is legal there, there was also a brothel.  Right behind the gas pumps.  Looked just like a motel, except charging more of an hourly rate than daily (we assume).

We were a little unsure of how to handle this unexpected scenario, so we ended up driving by it altogether.  That was a mistake – it turned out there weren’t really a lot of other gas stations for the next 50 miles, or any for that matter, and things got a little hairy, fuel-wise.

On the other hand, neither of us got VD.

The Strip

Las Vegas has a LOT of RV parks because it’s a popular destination for the winter snowbirds.  We are talking about winter travelers, of course, not actual birds – there isn’t a whole lot of nature going on in the City of Sin.  This was both of our first times there, so we did take a visit to the famed Strip, but we can’t say we were too impressed.

The Strip is an impressive display of commerce, but it feels like everything there is designed to siphon money from you (and it is). It’s like a retail/gambling version of the Vampire Squid article about Goldman Sachs.  Not wanting to repeat the plot of the movie Lost in America – which we were warned about many times, for obvious biographical reasons – we decided not to gamble, and without that, the only option that seemed to be popular was getting drunk on something neon-colored in a 30-ounce cup.

We declined that option as well, and just wandered around for a bit before returning to our RV.  Maybe we’re just getting old, but the fountains at the Bellagio were our favorite part.

Our phone pictures were bad, so photo credit: Wikimedia.

Better Than The Strip

We expected all the above, so we came prepared with nature-related backup plans.  We first visited the Hoover Dam, where we admired the engineering and the art deco styling. We also got a great view of the dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which was completed in 2010, and rerouted US highway 93 – the only way across the canyon – from its previous path along the top of the Hoover Dam. We can’t even imagine how much of a bottleneck US 93 must have been prior to 2010, since the road across the dam is full of pretty views, hairpin turns, and tourists that do not understand how sidewalks work.

To put it another way, if you enjoy commuting through an active farmer’s market on the edge of a cliff, this is the drive for you.

We also enjoyed some views of lovely Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam, which was very low at the time.  The white “bathtub ring” in our photos shows you the old water level. The reservoir has since dropped to its lowest level ever, which we’re sure is nothing the Southwest needs to worry about.

The Hoover Dam was cool, but our favorite trip was further out of town, at the Valley of Fire State Park.  The landscape here was stunning, and possibly Heather’s favorite of our entire trip so far.  The desert rock formations were varied, colorful, and highly reminiscent of a Roadrunner / Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

We took a hike through the White Domes area, which featured great views and spectacular, colorful, wind-eroded rocks that alternated layers of orange, white, pink, and yellow sandstone. Pretty! It also had a great, narrow slot canyon, which is our favorite hiking feature.  Spooky!

Another one of our favorite features of the park was the Dr. Seussian landscape at “The Wave.”  The bright swirls of colors are really like nothing else.  Maybe the world’s biggest and least-edible latte art?

There was a lot more, including petroglyphs and an old movie set.  As it turns out, many movies have been filmed in the Valley of Fire, including Casino, Austin Powers, Con Air, Total Recall, and the first Transformers movie.  We can see why – the backgrounds are magnificent, and the cars here turn into giant robots.  (Probably.)

Such a cool place.  If you ever have a day to kill in Vegas, the Valley of Fire is a must-visit.  Even if you don’t have any time to hike, the road through the park is super cool!

The only downside?  It felt like we took about half the park back with us inside our shoes.

Then again, every good trip needs a souvenir!

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Bryce, Utah, tired out after exploring Bryce Canyon National Park and its famous hoodoos!

Next location?  Capitol Reef National Park, followed by a week in Moab to visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.  We lead a tough life.

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Weeks 4-5: You Connect, I Cut

It’s been a while, but we’re back with a travelogue covering Weeks 4 and 5 of our epic road trip, which we spent in Jake’s home state, the great and tiny Connecticut.  This will be a long one, so buckle in (assuming you’re also reading from a driveable house), and prepare for an exciting game of that classic Connecticut Rochambeau variant:  Rock, Beach, Mosquito, Goat, Double Bus Explosion.

Black Rock State Park

The first stop in our CT odyssey was Black Rock State Park, located in Thomaston.  We stayed at the nice RV park across the street, but hiked at Black Rock for two days – which unfortunately happened to be two of the hottest days of the year.  The trail was rocky, full of mosquitoes, and at one point appeared to lead through an electrical substation, but it did have a satisfying view from the top.  Overall, we rate the park “sweaty.”

We did not have a car, and moving the RV around is not that easy, so after our hike we needed to walk somewhere to get a late lunch.  Amusingly, the closest restaurant was actually a new location of Senor Pancho’s, a Mexican place which originally opened in Jake’s hometown, Southbury, CT.  Senor Pancho’s’ food is notoriously terrible, so their business model always seemed to be “don’t check IDs.”  That business model has apparently been successful enough for three locations!  As legal drinkers who have tasted actual Mexican food, we wisely chose instead to walk about fifteen minutes in the sidewalk-less heat to a nearby restaurant, Rozzi’s, for a pretty good lunch.

Next time, buddy.

We also met up with Nothing Mundane’s official sister, Kate, and her friend Tanya, along with Tanya’s cute new baby Kennedy.  We neglected to take any pictures, so you’ll have to take our word re: cuteness.

Hammonasset Beach State Park

Next up was Hammonasset Beach, a state park on the Connecticut coastline where the cool kids partied back in the day.  It’s probably the only Connecticut public beach worthy of the name, as the others tend to use “rocks” instead of “sand,” although there are no real waves since Long Island steals them all.  We had a great time at Hammonasset, which suggests we may ourselves have now become cool kids (doubtful), possibly since we get to go to the beach instead of going to work.  We also got to visit with some of our friends and family still cruelly forced to live in the CT.

Our favorite part of Hammonasset was the sunsets.  With beautiful hues of orange, pink, and lavender, they looked like God had thrown up Gatorade and a Yankee Candle all over the sky.  So romantic!  We took pictures, but some things just need to be experienced.

Hopeville Pond State Mosquito Sanctuary

After Hammonasset, we continued our eastward trek, spending some time at Hopeville Pond State Park, an obscure park near Connecticut’s eastern border.  It was fairly overgrown and had very few other residents, possibly because there were no flush toilets.  We, however, scored one of the few sites with an electrical hookup, and so had the unique pleasure of laying in our comfortable, air-conditioned RV, drinking french-press coffee and using our computers and watching TV (more on that later), while the people around us lived in tents, attempted to make fire, and used what was basically an outhouse.

Friends, we are living the good life here.

The only downside of Hopeville Pond, aside from the infrastructure, is that – and this cannot be said properly any other way – there was just a shitload of mosquitoes there.  We tried to hike into a nearby state forest, but the mosquitoes were so thick that even an irresponsible amount of bug spray did nothing to keep them away.  There was an actual cloud of them following each of us.  The huge amount of flying insects also supports an equally huge amount of spiders, so the narrow trail was full of spiderwebs, lined up right at mouth level.

You may not be surprised to learn we did not complete that particular hike.  What you may be surprised to learn (we were!) is that a cloud of mosquitoes will follow you forever, through the woods, out onto the road, and even down the road, and they do not care if you you walk quickly and then jog and then run.  They do not care even if you just start sprinting, confusing the passing cars and especially your own body, because mosquitoes are Liam Neeson from Taken mixed with vampires.

We probably will not be back to Hopeville Pond, but we did snap a few pictures of the forest in between swats.

Niantic, CT

While in eastern Connecticut, we stopped to see Jake’s dad, who was gracious enough to put us up for a night and let us store some stuff at his house.  He also spent a few days helping us with some RV fixes and enhancements, using a technique we hadn’t tried called “actually being handy.”  The sweetest of these was figuring out a mounting system for our 55″ television, which happens to fit perfectly onto the long shelf in our tiny bedroom.  (We take it down to travel.)  The result is getting to watch what feels like a huge screen while laying in our own bed, an experience you can’t get at the big chain cinemas without a lot of negotiation.

While staying with Jake’s dad in Niantic, we stopped at a very cool place called the Book Barn, which features a huge number of books (they claim over 500,000) spread across numerous buildings (some across town).  The main compound is extraordinarily whimsical, and includes a small tower, fairy garden, faux cemetery, chalk body outline in the crime section, goat petting zoo, and about 1000 things more.  It’s weird and awesome.

All bookstores should have goats playing “king of the hill” with a large plastic castle near the fiction section!

Bonus:  We saw what can only be called a “double bus” in a parking lot in Niantic, and no, there was not really any more explanation than that as to why it was there.  As for the explosions, well, maybe Heather added them in, or maybe they actually happened spontaneously in real life because Jake is so damn awesome.  We’ll never know for sure.

But it was probably the second one.

What’s next:  Currently, we are in Massachusetts near Boston, and we just finished buying a car to tow behind our RV!  Now we just need to install the parts so it is actually towable… We’re headed to Maine and New Hampshire tomorrow.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  We’re also in the market for a deranged stalker; please glue your application directly to our door.

Shamefully missed a prior update?  You can catch up below; we’ll keep your dirty secret in the meantime.

Next Post: Week 5: Underwater


Week 3: Watkins Glen is Magic

To start off Week 3 of our roadtrip, we spent 3 nights camping at Watkins Glen State Park.  Watkins Glen is a jewel of a park located about 30 miles west of Ithaca, NY, where we stayed in Week 2.  It is rated #3 on USA Today’s list of Best State Parks in the United States, and it totally rocks.

Watkins Glen seems like the sort of park that hobbits would build, with a hiking trail that wanders through a beautiful, steep-sided gorge, handcut stone walls and bridges, sparkling waterfalls, and even a lily pond.  The trail is cut into the walls of the gorge itself, and it goes much closer to the water than you normally can at these kinds of parks.  Possibly this is because the park was first built in the 1860s, before we had the word “safety.”  (As you will see in our photos, the park also features what can only be described as a “pre-ADA number of stairs.”)

Whatever the reason, the park is frankly breathtaking.  Rather than try to describe it further, just look below at some of the many, many pictures “we” (OK, Heather) took at the park.  There are captions on some of them if you click through the gallery.  Keep reading after the gallery for a few bonus pictures and some shameless self promotion.

Bonus stuff:  The campground at Watkins Glen State Park was fantastic, with generous camping sites nestled beneath gigantic trees.  Our neighbors were slightly insane, but aside from that, it was as good as it gets.

After hiking, Jake successfully made a “fire,” cementing his place as one of history’s greatest heroes and outdoorsman.  We made s’mores and high-fived ourselves for going on this trip.

On our last night in Watkins Glen, a huge thunderstorm was forecast to hit us dead-on, but luckily just missed to the south.  This was good, since the lightning we could see from our window was enough to scare anyone.

Following the storm, the sky – which, at 6 o’clock on a bright summer day, had gone almost as dark as night – lightened into an amazing sunset.  Heather endured many, many mosquito bites to photograph it for you, so be sure to feel appropriately appreciative.

What’s next:  We’ve had a few adventures since Watkins Glen which we’re going to write about separately, including trips to a ridiculously cool sculpture park and Lake George.  Currently, we are in Connecticut near Black Rock State Park, where it is rocky and extremely hot.  Later this week, we’re traveling to Hammonasset State Park to get our beach on.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  If you like what you see, we would be very grateful if you could tell your friends and online advertising buyers about us.

If we get ten more followers, we’ll buy one of you a puppy!  So, please check for packages regularly.