Sunday, October 1st – Home to North Platte NE
Packed and on our way by 8:10. Our first destination was North Platte, Nebraska. We had mostly sunshine mixed with threatening clouds and isolated sprinkles. Traveling was uneventful.
We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant near our hotel then came back to settle in, read email, and rest up for another long drive tomorrow.
Monday, October 2nd – North Platte to Grand Junction
Early start – right away we began to see changes in the land, rocky colorful cliffs and bigger and bigger hills.
Our trip was uneventful until Denver then we hit pea soup fog and drove in it for maybe 100 miles. The weather then turned to rain and then to snow.
By that time the roads were twisty and steep. The steep down grades were the worst. Butch was trying to slow down and yet not brake too much. Very nerve wracking.
The scenery was beautiful with pine and bright yellow aspen trees dusted with snow. Grassy areas collected snow too and at the highest elevations snow was 8-10 inches on the ground. Thankfully the roads were very wet but did not get icy or collect snow.
We started to come down out of the high mountains as we neared Grand Junction. There we started to see more and more of the red cliffs and colored mesas. Also very beautiful.
We arrived in Grand Junction at about 3:30 after a very tiring drive. Karen had not slept well for two nights and both of us were very tired. We walked to an Italian restaurant next to our Econolodge motel. Had a so-so dinner and came back to turn in early.
Tuesday, October 3rd – Grand Junction to Page
Both of us felt more rested this morning but we had another long drive in store.
The scenery out of Grand Junction was very beautiful with lots of huge mesas, tumbled rocks the size of buses, and red, peach, orange and purple in the rocks.
Soon after we crossed into Utah, we had planned to drive into Arches National Park. As we came close to the gate we saw a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were disappointed but decided to pass it by.
As we drove we saw lots of fantastic rock spires and balanced stacks and stopped for photos. Karen had planned for several scenic stops including the Wilson Arch and others.
We got to a sign pointing the way to the Needles Scenic Overlook. When we pulled in we saw that it was a drive of 22 miles.
We decided to go since we had missed out on Arches. It was fabulous and well worth the drive. The overlook site is high on one of the mesas and looks over a huge valley far below. There was a little walk, probably about a block long, from one viewing point to another. I went on the trail first and when I saw the view came back to get Butch so he would be sure to see it too. It was awe inspiring.
As we went along we saw Mexican Hat formation and then drove into Monument Valley.
Monument Valley was used as the location of many old westerns. It has iconic chimneys, mesas and wonderful rock formations. We got lots of great pictures.
As we drove we tried to keep hydrated and found ourselves very thirsty. We drank 5 bottles of water in no time. That also meant lots of pit stops!
Somewhere around the time we thought we should be arriving in Page, AZ, our next stop, we realized that when entering the address of our hotel in our Garmen, we chose a location with the exact same street address in Williams, AZ instead of Page. We ended up having to do a 1 1/2 hour back track to get to Page.
By the time we arrived it was late and we were hungry. To avoid fast food, we chose a Chinese buffet that wasn’t that good.
Wednesday, October 4th – Page to North Rim
When we left the hotel we headed for the Glen Canyon dam. The canyon is narrow and very deep at the point where the dam was built…a perfect place to put a dam! Very dramatic and beautiful with the red and gold walls of the canyon, the bridge and the graceful curve of the dam itself.
We set out for the north rim, planning to stop at Horseshoe Bend just a few miles outside of Page. The parking lot was filled with people and we could see a long line of tourists climbing a long hill and disappearing over the top. There was a huge electronic sign warning people to wear good shoes, carry water, and wear a hat. The kicker was the warning off of people with heart or respiratory ailments. We reluctantly concluded that a climb like that was not for the likes of us. So we traveled on. We could buy a postcard!
The drive after that started with a climb to the top of a high Mesa with lots of switchbacks and curves with no railings. There were signs along the road warning that snow would not be plowed and that it would not be patrolled at night. We were glad we had a beautiful sunny day.
We also stopped at the Navajo Bridge across Marble Canyon. There was a scary pedestrian bridge for photo ops. By building the bridge, they cut off hours of travel to the Grand Canyon from a trip of 500 miles to one that is 123 miles. It is still a very round about trip that took us 2 1/2 hours of driving time. The scenery was beautiful and the many colors of the cliffs kept us oohing and aahing all along the way.
When we got closer to the Canyon, the land changed to pine and aspen forest. The aspen were bright gold and glowed when hit by sunlight. They were particularly striking mixed in with the dark pine.
We came around a curve and there before us was the most vast meadow I have ever seen. A sea of golden grass surrounded by more pine, aspen, and birch. The size and awesomeness of it reminded me of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone but without the bison…just a sea of beautiful emptiness. It was not what we expected to see leading up to the canyon. It must have been a shock for the first people to see the canyon when it rather suddenly appeared before them.
When we arrived at the North Rim the place we found to park was far from the Visitor Center and the Lodge. We decided to walk to the Visitor Center first then go on to the lodge to find out about our cabin. We left our car with virtually nothing…no water, no hats, etc. I grabbed my jacket at the last minute before we locked up. We walked along the trail at the edge of the parking lot and were completely sucked in as little glimpses of the canyon appeared through the trees. A sign told us it was not the real canyon but a side canyon so we kept going along the trail until we could see clusters of people ahead looking out into empty sky.
As we got closer, the canyon opened up in all of its glory. It is a place that words cannot do justice. What an amazing experience to see the depths, the colors, the fantastic rock formations and the vastness of the vision.
We found that we had walked past the Visitor’s Center and had gone all the way to the lodge. It is different than other lodges we have seen. It is a big log and stone building but has no accommodations. Instead it is surrounded by small duplex cabins in a descending rank of fanciness. At the top level were cabins with a view of the canyon, then they became more modest down to the frontier cabin we stayed in which was farther away but cozy and cute. We were lucky to get even that. Normally you have to book years in advance. We called at the last minute on the off chance that someone had cancelled. They had. Great!
We planned to check at the registration desk just to see which type we had reserved and where it might be but as it turned out, they had one ready and checked us in. We had valet service with a driver and a golf cart that took us to our car for our luggage and then to the door of our cabin.
We completely changed our plans for the day. We decided to lounge on the deck of the lodge overlooking the canyon and just soak in the beauty and wonder. We bought a beer from the saloon and sat on the sunny patio.
We joined a ranger talk about the geology of the canyon, had a meal in the deli, then lounged some more as we waited for the sunset. A couple sitting next to us had hiked from the south rim to the north in just one day – 7 miles down, 7 miles across, and 7 miles back up again. They made me exhausted just thinking about it. Butch took beautiful pictures of the sunset but just being there and experiencing it was enough for me. We ended our evening by returning to our cabin for relaxation and more lounging but this time with our shoes off and in our jammies. A-a-a-h…
It turned out that both of us were really bothered by the altitude which is over 8000 ft. at the north rim. We had trouble breathing even while resting and both of us had a headache. I tried to keep hydrated and drank two liter bottles of water in the night. That meant that I had to get up every half hour to get rid of it. I also had terrible dreams about one or both of us dying in the park! Luckily we didn’t die after all and woke up to another beautiful day.
Thursday, October 5th – North Rim to South Rim
We headed over to the lodge in the morning for breakfast in their fancy dining room.
We arrived too late to get dinner reservations the night before so couldn’t eat dinner in the lodge. When we arrived at 6:30 am, there was already a line but we were seated after a very short wait.
Our table was by a floor to ceiling window facing the canyon. The sun was just coming up and we enjoyed the stunning view all through breakfast. Below is a photo of our view, a photographer capturing the morning light as it hit the canyon walls. He had a 4×5 view camera. God love ya, Ansel.
We headed out for the South Rim but missed the park gas station and had to back track. We saw a big herd of buffalo in the beautiful meadow near the park gate. As we drove up we saw two bulls charging each other with lowered heads. [In the lower left]
There were all kinds of goofy tourists taking pictures and venturing much too close to the herd. We even saw three people sitting on the ground less than 50 feet from them.
It is a very long drive from one rim to the other because the only thing you can do is go around. For half the trip we had to go back the way we drove the day before. The scenery was still very beautiful but there were fewer surprises and both of us were tired from our bad night’s sleep. We were saved by finishing our audio book.
This time the approach to the Grand Canyon was more like we had expected with lots of smaller canyons and red cliffs. We pulled off at the first scenic view inside the park to get our first look at the canyon from this side. It is so hard to take in the scale of the canyon much less describe it in words. It is probably the most mind boggling natural feature I have ever seen. Rich colors, unlimited varieties of formations, and depths that defy belief. The Colorado River is really not visible from the north rim but on the south rim you can follow the snaky path through the rocks and can even see places where the river is quite wide and rushing over rapids.
We entered the south rim through the east gate but did not stop too many places because it had been a long day of driving and we were quite tired. We drove by most of the sites we wanted to spend more time in tomorrow. We decided to head to our hotel in Williams south of the park. We discovered there were two motel 6 hotels practically across the street from each other and of course we went to the wrong one. Hotel is OK but our room is far from the wifi hub so all technology was frustrating.
Friday, October 6 – Grand Canyon South Rim
We did a quick tour of the South Rim near the Visitor Center when we got to the park yesterday. It was really crazy with many cars, many people, and many huge shuttle buses moving people around, not to mention all of the campers and private tours bringing in even more people. We were surprised at how hectic it was and dismayed because it felt more like Disneyland than a national park.
So, we decided to have a calmer day by driving the Desert View Drive up to the Desert View Watchtower.
We went the whole way to the tower without stopping which is very near the east gate of the park . We joined a much smaller number of tourists who visited the impressive stone tower, walked a leisurely half mile trail, and shopped in the gift shop. We then headed back toward the visitor center stopping at each stunning overlook along the way.
Each time, we saw a new view of the Colorado River far below along with the variations in color, the shapes of the cliffs, and the narrow canyons below. In the picture above, you can just see the Watchtower that we visited on the edge of the cliff on the right.
It was a great opportunity for people watching and we saw lots of visitors from abroad, including France, Germany, British Isles, and China among others. Below, you see two crazy visitors who ventured out to a chimney that they could fall from!
We also had brief chats with other people enjoying the views. The weather was perfect: sunny and cloudless with temperatures in the mid to high 60’s.
We also visited the Tusayan Ruins and Museum which was the remnants of a small pueblo village with about 30 residents. All of the walls had collapsed except for about 2-3 courses of stones at the base. The site also included a small plaza, now overgrown by plants, and two or three kivas.
The museum had artifacts from the time but not from the site. The most interesting thing to me were small split stick figures of elk. They said these figures have only been found in caves or hidden places but there is no way to know for sure why they might have been left there or what significance they held.
Our last stop of the day was the IMAX Theater in Tusayan just outside the park. The movie was called, Grand Canyon, The Hidden Secrets. It gave a short history of the human interaction with the canyon from prehistory through exploration and on to present times. Like all National Geographic movies it was beautifully filmed. It gave us a chance to see a view of the bottom of the canyon and the river that our old creaky bodies otherwise prohibit. It made me wish I was fit enough to look up those soaring cliffs to the sky above. It also showed that it can be a pretty dangerous place and deserves respect.
All in all it was a wonderful, peaceful, slow paced day that we enjoyed very much!
Saturday, October 7 – Williams to Albuquerque
After an impressive breakfast at the Grand Canyon Cafe in Williams, we started out for our first stop, the Meteor Crater. We thought it would be a short stop for a quick picture and some oooohs and aaaahs but instead we found an impressive visitor center and site. The property is privately owned and from several people who were making a return visit we learned it has been greatly expanded in the last 10-15 years.
The crater itself is enormous and is the most perfectly preserved in the world. In the 50’s a scientist named Shoemaker explored the crater and established that it was created by a meteor and advanced the knowledge of meteor science across the world. The huge meteor that crashed into Jupiter was named Shoemaker in honor of his work. We learned a lot and got some great photos.
Here is Butch standing by the biggest chunk of the meteor that they have found. It is solid metal and weighs as much as a Volkswagen.
Next we traveled to the Petrified Forest National Park. Again, this park was much more than we expected. There is a hill filled with huge logs and chunks of petrified wood by the visitor center and a drive that covers the length of the park. We learned a lot at the Visitor’s Center and the drive had lots of natural features and rock formations that we hadn’t seen anywhere else. Again, lots of pictures and memories.
At the very north end of the park was the Painted Desert National Monument. We did not go to the visitor’s center because we spent more time than we planned and did not want to arrive in Albuquerque too late. But alas we did. Albuquerque is on mountain daylight time and it was after 7:00 when we arrived. It just happened to be the first day of their huge hot air balloon festival which accounts for our difficulty in getting a motel room. Also restaurants were very busy.
Sunday, October 8 – Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos
We slept in until 8:30 local time, had breakfast and started out.
Our first stop was Santa Fe where we went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum. Because it was Sunday, her home and studio tour was not available. It was interesting to learn about her as a pioneer in abstract art. She painted in the late teens of the 20th century on up in to the early 70’s. Her style of art was very new at the time and of course few women were painting like her. The museum has a big collection of her paintings as well as a large collection of black and white photos by her husband Albert Stieglitz and other famous photographers like Ansel Adams. We enjoyed the photos as much as the paintings.
Down the street from the museum was a local artists’ open air show. We saw many things we liked but did not buy anything.
We drove into Taos in late afternoon and found our hotel, El Pueblo Lodge.
It is a sort of complex of several buildings surrounding a large shady yard with a pool, scattered lawn chairs, and shelters. Our room was very nice but it was on the 2nd floor, which meant dragging all our stuff up the steps. After we checked in we drove back into town to look for a place to park so we could shop a little.
We saw many nice things and Karen ended up buying a pair of earrings and probably paid too much. She bought them directly from the artist so we didn’t mind.
We had dinner along the main tourist road. It was expensive but by far the best meal we have had so far. Butch had a pork loin chop and I had stuffed poblano peppers. Both were delicious.
Monday, October 9th – Taos to Manitou Springs, CO
Woke up this morning to some bad weather. We were worried about snow and sleet in the high country which we did run into. It didn’t stick to the road so much but it was foggy in spots. The drive to Manitou, kind of a suburb of Colorado Springs, was about 3 1/2 hours but with little traffic.
We arrived about 1:00 but our check in time was for 2:00. We stayed at Town and Country Inn which is a collection of very nice stucco cabins. Ours had two bedrooms and a bathroom. Just outside our door was a creek with a small waterfall which was very picturesque. It would be fun to stay here in warm sunny weather to make use of the pretty creek side area.
We had planned to explore the cliff dweller site but the rainy, cold weather put us off. I ended up taking a nap and Butch worked on our pictures. The nap was heavenly since I didn’t sleep well the night before.
Later we drove around the historic area but many stores were already closed. We ate at another Mexican restaurant then came back to our cabin to relax. We think we will check out a southwestern pottery place before we set off in the morning.
Tuesday, October 10th – Manitou Springs to Laramie, WY
The pottery shop was closed so after a nice breakfast at the Bon Ton Diner we set out for Laramie to visit with Guyla and Ed Nowak, Patty Walker’s sister and brother in law. We had met them several times over the years but felt we know them from hearing about them from Patty and Sue.
We arrived at their house at lunch time. As we ate a delicious lunch, we visited like old friends which was very nice. We then left for a car tour of the area. Ed drove us to some of their favorite spots. The ground was covered with snow but the roads were clear and the sun was shining. We got some great pictures of the snowy landscape.
Butch and I are not used to altitudes and one spot was over 12,000 ft and was a little challenging for us. We were glad to have our winter coats up there. We saw lots of antelope and herds of wild horses on our drive. It was great to see some wildlife.
When we got back to town we went for a beer at the Buckhorn Bar and Parlor.
Butch and Wendy had gone there with Ed and Guyla when they passed through Laramie on the way to Mills College. The walls are covered with mounted hunting trophies of all kinds. From there, they treated us to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. The food was plentiful and delicious. Guyla and Ed were wonderful hosts and we really appreciated them welcoming us.
Guyla drives to Cheyenne 3 days a week to babysit their grand daughter and leaves the house at 4:30am so we all turned in early.
We left at 8 am for our long drive to Lincoln, NE
Wednesday, October 11th – Laramie, WY to Lincoln , NE
We knew today would be a long drive so we tried to get an early start. Both of us were tired and since we were on the way home, we were ready to be there.
Western Nebraska is very beautiful and is definitely cowboy country. As we got closer to Lincoln it changed into flat farmland for the most part.
Butch knew that his great-grandfather, Monroe Thorp, had died in Lincoln and was buried in a pauper’s cemetery. He had called a fellow who was in charge of the cemetery and asked him if he could help him find his unmarked grave. Butch called him at noon when it looked like we would not make it to the cemetery before his work day was over. He very kindly went out to the cemetery and marked the grave with a cross before he went home for the day. We drove there when we arrived and easily found the grave.
We found a restaurant near our hotel and ate dinner before we checked in. We were both tired and had no desire to leave the hotel after we got our shoes off!
Thursday, October 12th – Lincoln to Cedar Rapids
We slept late and took off for home. It was great to cross the Missouri River into the green rolling hills of Iowa. We arrived home at about 5:00. We saw beautiful sights and enjoyed our trip very much.