West Trip Summary

As wrap up for the West Trip (no pictures in this one), here was our basic itinerary. This was recorded after the fact, so it doesn’t show any options or contingencies and some of the drive times are from memory or are otherwise inaccurate. The rough color coding is this: green was as planned and I wouldn’t change the plan; yellow was maybe slightly unplanned or has slight modifications to the plan; red indicates that something should have been done differently. The last few days have a good chunk of yellow because our original plan was to go around to the South rim of the Grand Canyon, which would have taken a few days longer. Since we didn’t do this, these days were kind of planned on the fly.

I think my general perception looking back is that we probably should not have tried to do mountains in conjunction with Arches, Zion and the Grand Canyon. They were simply too far away and required too different of equipment to easily mesh into the same trip. It also was a bit rushed, allowing no time for acclimation to altitude, which probably would have been nice. If going to hike mountains, I think I would try to stay in one place in Leadville for a week and just go from there. It would allow a few days for acclimation and maybe a day for rest as well as eliminating the need to pack up everything in the morning, making for earlier starts which would be necessary.

Another thought is that, as can be seen from some of the yellow, we could have scratched a couple days (probably Grand Junction, Aspen and the slot canyons), which in addition to the mountains would have had the trip down to 8 days, halving the number of vacation days needed. This is debatable, since on one hand it’s nice to conserve vacation days for kayaking and skiing, but on the other, it’s nice to maximize the fact that we had two partial travel days and the cost of flying out west.

Day Itinerary Time Notes
Monday Fly to Denver,
Get food supplies,
Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park
Daytime Drive – 0:30,
Daytime Drive – 1:30
Time to kill in Denver,
Waste less time going to REI and get to Rocky Mtn. Nat. Park earlier
Tuesday Mt. Ida,
Cascade Falls,
Drive to Leadville
Evening Drive – 2:45 Too much wind on Ida,
Wrong trailhead for falls
Wednesday Mt. Elbert,
Drive to Grand Junction
Started at 9:30 – 10:00, returned at 6:30,
Evening Drive – 3:00
Ran out of time, should have been hiking by 7:00AM
Thursday Colorado National Monument,
Drive to Moab
Evening Drive – 2:00 Drive took an extra ~40 min having to return for gas.
Colo Nat. Monument was interesting, but kind of filler – maybe skip and drive straight through to Arches
Friday Arches (early morning) Lightning, hail…,
Should have booked two nights immediately
Saturday Arches,
Drive to Zion
Evening Drive – 5:45 Google maps says that going to 15 would have reduced the drive to 5:30 (enter Springdale from the South, avoid winding roads)
Sunday Early Zion (for Narrows pass),
Get Narrows gear
Hotel was expensive, but maybe needed to get backpacking gear ready for early departure.
Monday Narrows Maybe take lighter shoes since they’re going to be packed most of the time anyway.
The Zion Adventure Co. seemed like they might have been a bit better, BUT not sure they had drypants with booties.
Tuesday Narrows,
Drive to Kenab, AZ
Evening Drive – 1:15
Wednesday Grand Canyon Day Drive – 2:00 each way Should have been to the Visitor Center near sunrise,
Should have camped at GC,
Should have been hiking earlier
Thursday Bull Valley,
Willis Creek,
Drive to Bryce
Day Drive – 1:50 (google maps) Maybe take freeway to Bryce and then looped back to the canyons.
Kind of filler, but ended up very nice.
Friday Bryce Canyon,
Drive to Grand Junction
Evening Drive – 5:20
Saturday Drive to Aspen,
Drive to Denver
Day Drive – 2:20,
Day Drive – 3:35
Drive from Grand Junction to Denver would have been 4:40
Aspen was kind of filler, but was nice for short hikes.
Sunday Pack,
Wildlife Refuge,
Fly home
Time to kill in Denver – REI

West Trip, Day 14 – Flying Out of Denver

We had an evening flight back to Chicago, and most of a day to kill in Denver.  It’s possible we could have avoided spending the day in Denver and instead have had an extra day elsewhere, but that was not how things worked out.

There were two options to continue the nature centric theme – either go to the Denver Zoo or go to the Wild Animal Sanctuary.  After a stop at the zoo, which we decided was too busy, we drove out to the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

The sanctuary was a relatively large expanse of grassland with an elevated walkway through the center of it.  This allowed the rescued animals to live a semi-normal life while allowing people as close a view as possible of them in their ‘natural’ habitat.  All the animals had a description as well as a background story panel.  Most were confiscated from people who imported them illegally, having little clue or concern what kind of care such animals would require.  The sanctuary also had some nice descriptions of the design that went into the spaces – such as the den entrances sloping up then down to form an air-lock of sorts to keep them warm in the winter.

Wild Animal Sanctuary - TIger

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West Trip Day 13 – Continental Divide

Saturday was largely a travel day, but we routed the trip through Aspen, Colorado to do a bit of hiking on the way.

We stopped off at the Maroon Belles and hiked back into the valley a bit. We went in as far as the lake, which I think was the only real ‘destination’ of the hike, before turning around and heading back.  I’m not sure how much further the trail would have gone had we kept going from there.

Maroon Bells

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West Trip Day 12 – Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is known, at least by Janet, for two things – lots of expansive views of the canyon full of hoodoos and bristle cone pines. We’ll start with the latter item first.

Bristle cone pines are a very slow growing tree, which will easily be out competed by other varieties at lower altitudes. They grow very gnarly , in part because the majority of the tree can, and probably will. be dead while still supporting a small offshoot. According to a fellow tourist, they will eventually be extinct because of global warming allowing the competing pines to take over the higher reaches where they live. For our purposes, they make some really cool pictures of old, twisted, knotted, weathered, dead or mostly dead trees.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos

The hoodoos are rock formations which consist of many ‘small’ towers of rock left by years of erosion. I’d venture a guess that they’re formed in a similar manner to the fins that we saw in Arches, where layers were deposited, which a more durable layer on top which partially eroded and left small caps, protecting the column of rock under it from eroding away. Bryce is not the only place to see these, but it has a very high density of them.

Bryce Canyon Bristle Cone Pines

Bryce was mostly a driving tour with one longer hike at the end of the day on the Navajo Trail.  I think we drove as far as Grand Junction that night.  Most of the pictures for this day don’t have much in the way of captions, since the captions would be something along the lines of tree #1, tree #2, tree #3.

As a side note from the trip, I think Bryce Canyon was probably one of the most difficult places on our trip to take good pictures.  I took hundreds of them, but very few really look the way I want them to.  There were two things that stood out:  First, I thought it made sense to use a polarizing filter.  This cuts down on the light from the sky, evening out the brightness contrast in the shot (see thing two), but does so unevenly.  Since the sky was clear and very uniform, this leaves an end image with an odd gradient across the sky, or nice blue sky with a near white horizon line.  I probably should have just bracketed some shots for later compilation.

Two, in contrast to our time in Arches, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at Bryce.  This made all the lighting very harsh and highly contrasted with the shadows being cast by the cliffs that we were standing on.  This combination causes a shot with a very high dynamic range and is difficult for the camera to deal with.  I think Canon is seriously lagging in this area also (http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Camera-Sensor-Ratings) with the best sensors today having 17 stops of dynamic range vs. my 60D having just over 11.  For those who don’t know, a stop is a doubling of light, meaning that my camera can handle about a 2^11 (2048x) difference in light from darkest to lightest before things start looking pure white or pure black.  A sensor with a dynamic range of 17 stops can handle a difference of 131000 x which is significant.

As a result of these two items, some of the pictures, which could be quite amazing, will probably take a good amount of post processing work just to get to acceptable.  There is also the fact that professional photographers will go to a place when the lighting is right to compliment that place’s features.  We, on the other hand, were going to these places on vacation and just engaging in the hobby of photography along the way.

West Trip Day 11 – Grand Staircase Escalante

The Sun-n-Sand Motel was where Janet had stayed during her last visit to the area, and is an interesting enough place that it was kind of the destination in and of itself. The next morning, we got to meet Wayne in person, and the reviews are accurate – he is a character, if a bit unkempt. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g57030-d1229438-Reviews-Sun_n_Sand_Motel-Kanab_Utah.html

In talking to Wayne, he mentioned that we should get tickets to The Wave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wave,_Arizona), which was true – if we had known we would still be in town that morning, we should have gone the previous morning and put our names into the lottery. I believe only 20 people are allowed in per day, as a means of preserving it, and it’s a very well known destination for photography. Unfortunately, we weren’t planing on being there a second day, so we didn’t have tickets.

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West Trip Day 10 – Grand Canyon

We only spent one day at the Grand Canyon, having decided not to spend the two days or so it would have taken to drive around to the South rim. The South is the more tourist laden We stayed in Kenab, AZ which is the closest town to stay in, but which really isn’t that close – about an hour and half drive to and through the park to get to the hiking. If I were to make a return trip to the North rim, I would definitely stay at the campground, probably for two nights. It was cheap, and didn’t involve an hour and half drive in the morning to get where we wanted to be for the day. Two nights would have eliminated the need to pack up the next day and would have been good because we would likely be too tired to drive that night anyway.

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West Trip Day 8 & 9 – The Narrows, Zion National Park

Day 8 was The Narrows day 1.  The hike almost ended before it began when we parked in the wrong place and walked up to the wrong bus stop.  The shuttle driver called my phone, but I had turned it off and left it in the car given the expectation that it was going to be useless in the Narrows anyway.  Luckily, he stuck around long enough to find us and we were on our way.   Given that he bothered to wait around for us, and was friendly and informative on our way up to the trail head, I’ll say that this guy was the exception to the previously mentioned rule that the people working at Zion Rock Guides were oafs.  It was about an hour and a half drive through twisty bumpy roads to the entry into the Narrows.  Once we got there, our driver basically pointed us in the general direction we needed to go and said good luck since there wasn’t much more he could do.  We used the bathroom and got ready to head out just as another van, presumably from the other outfitter showed up with eight or so more people.

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West Trip Day 6 – Arches National Park

We headed back into Arches National Park for a second day.  After a brief stop on the drive in at Fiery Furnace, we headed to Landscape Arch, or rather, the trail head near it.  Prior to Landscape arch, we stopped at Pine Tree Arch, which as you may guess, is an arch with a  pine tree growing in it.  Landscape Arch is naturally an arch that lends itself well to being shown in landscape format (as opposed to portrait).  It’s also, I think, the most recent site of a collapse and the only one caught on picture.  Landscape Arch is open for distance viewing only from a defined path, maybe because of the recent collapse, maybe because it’s just kind of rough terrain to get to it.

Arches National Park Map

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WPC 31 – Eindhoven, NL

Standard disclaimer applies – even though the trip is for work, no work will be discussed.  Reasons:  you don’t care, it’s not interesting and this way I don’t have to be careful that I only say things that are publicly available information.  As it turns out, I have nothing to say about this trip, just some pictures.

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