Our first National Park was Joshua Tree. The famous trees that are iconic to this area start filling the wide dusty open spaces between the highway as you drive into town. The town is small but has great quirky restaurants like the Saloon where we heard an amazing blues band play and devoured burgers, mac n cheese and beer.
We made sure we started a hike in the middle of the desert very early, we got there before the park opened. Fortunately it’s always open and we had bought an annual parks pass for $80 the day before. The pass is an incredible deal, some parks are $35 for one day and we visited a few so got our moneys worth. We stopped a couple of times on the way to our first walk and made the most of the quiet morning. It was already reaching high temperatures at 6am. We decided on a short walk through the desert and hiked through cactus, Joshua trees and discovered that there is an abundance of little critters skittering around like desert squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and chipmunks who became a favourite to watch throughout the roadtrip.
Near Joshua Tree is an old west town called Pioneertown which was founded by Hollywood investors 1946. They dreamed of creating an Old West set that was actually a town worth visiting, with 1880s-style false-front facades but interiors that had stuff for visitors to see and do too. Up went (from the outside) frontier stables, saloons, and jails; inside, they housed ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, and motels. More than 50 films and television shows were filmed here in the 1940s and ‘50s.
We came back in the evening, chasing the setting sun just in time to watch it sink away across a vast viewing point called Key View. On a clear day you’re meant to be able to see a mountain in Mexico. Maybe not for ever if someone gets their wall… The colours could never be captured enough on the camera, it was an incredible experience to see how many colours are in a sunset with changing vistas colouring the mountains below in different tones. We also played Blues Brothers on the way, just to set the mood…
Joshua trees are actually apart of the Yucca family and are apparently named because Mormon settlers were reminded of a biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands to the sky. We thought they looked like a Dr Seuss story. Each to their own.
Next was the Grand Canyon. I had visited this park with my family many years previously and couldn’t wait for Stuie to see it. We decided to head to the south rim to view the sun rise. We had to set off from Flagstaff, which is an hour and a half drive at about 4am. We knew a popular area was Mather Point so we decided to beat the crowds and walked to Yaki Point where we had the sight of watching a perfect and beautiful sunrise all to ourselves. Of course we had to make sure Mark and Sam joined us.
We walked to the other visitors centre where I had previously seen with my family. It’s such a busy and popular area to visit. Coming early in the summer heat is the only way to do it. There was no way we would have got a parking spot so easily or handled the hike we did as it got to lunch time and we were in the peak heat. The views are forever changing with the height of the sun, it’s so impressive. Next time we’d want to come for the white water rafting, we didn’t have time on this trip but it’s on the never-ending list of things to do.
It’s not a National Park but we made sure we did a tour of the Slot Canyons in Page. We were fortunate to walk through the orange/red spirals of the canyon on a Navajo Tribal Park. We sped through bumpy and winding tracks in a truck to the canyon. It was the most surreal and beautiful thing to see. Out in the middle of nowhere the canyon is only there due to water that for thousands of years has worn down rock to create tunnels that look fiery orange and red making the heat of the day vanish as you step into the shadows to explore them.
We also got to do the most intense short walk ever to see Horseshoe Bend. The tempretures were in the 40’s and the sweat dripping down our faces proved it was melting. We got the photo, saw how dangerously close to the edge people were getting and cooled off in a Walmart near by for fluids and AC.
Arches National Park in Moab Utah was a great day driving around and hopping out for quick sweat inducing hikes. The history behind the delicate and wonderful architecture of the land is dated back to roughly 65 million years. So it’s old. Much like the colour of the landscape at Slot Canyon the Arches sandstone has been warped away by millions of years of water, wind and exposure. The different colours and layers you see in every rock are a timeline of this. The park is really busy with lots of people driving around, some areas are a little less crowded. We were expecting this anyway coming in the height of summer. It was easy enough to see the main sights as well as veer off away from crowds and explore different areas.
Zion National Park in Springdale Utah was one of our favourites. We got a very early hike at the Hidden Trail. The elevation at the start is crazy but bearable in the morning coolness, as we were making our way back down at lunchtime people were really struggling demanding to know if it’s all worth it… which it definitely is. The view at the top is mind-blowing, its tight paths winding up and around the steep climbs with no safety net so people fearful of heights were turning round at this point. It slopes down into a valley where you do have to rock climb a little to get to the end of the Hidden Trail.
We were lucky enough for the timing to be perfect to see the Perseid meteor shower at Zion that evening. The Rangers put on a talk in the open air at 9pm because there was a meteor shower happening. They even had a huge telescope set up to see the stars and planets up close and personal. The sky was thankfully clear and we got to witness thousands of stars and so many meteor showers that we lost count. Stu was ridiculously awesome at capturing the nights sky. We stayed at the park until 2am laying on the grass and watching the night light up.
We had planned to visit Yosemite but unfortunately it wasn’t possible to visit due to forest fires that had ravaged through a big and main area of the land. There was many detours because of this and it’s something that is battled with the hot summer heat every year. Driving through many small towns and park areas were signs saying how much they loved and appreciated their emergency services. This did change our plans quite a lot though and we decided to head to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is a huge area, roughly 2.2 million acres and it is full of geysers, forest and wildlife. It was cooler up here in Wyoming so we went for a much longer hike. We got up at 5am to enter the park to get a parking spot and to start the hike to Fairy Falls. Along the way we got to view the Grand Prismatic geyser from a higher viewing platform so you see the entire circumference and colours which seemed fake with the mountainous range behind it. We ended up hiking to Fairy Falls but then cutting onto other trails and hikes of our own as well. We got back after 6 hours of walking, no bears were spotted as much as we tried. The landscape feels never ending and a lot more rugged than our previous hikes so far. We only had a day in the park but we did make the most of it.
Crater Lake in Oregon is the bluest colour I have ever seen. The deep yet vibrant blue that never can be captured by a camera. The crater is roughly 1932 ft deep, it’s the deepest lake in the States. It was created by a huge volcano erupting and exploding 7,700 years ago. We got to hear about the impact of humans introducing non indigenous fish to the lake and messing with the eco system, it’s a daily battle to try and keep amphibians that are only found here alive and multiplying due to crayfish being introduced and trout. They encourage people to fish in one specific area to try and combat the imbalance that we as humans had created so long ago before the research had been done. There’s lots of hike around and only one way of getting to the bottom where there’s a jetty and you can board the speed boat at a fee or fish. They do have a floating tree that they have named The Old Man which is a vertical tree stump that has apparently been spotted bobbing up and down int he water since 1867. It dances around the whole lake so Rangers don’t know where it’s going to turn up that day.
Redwood National Park in California is huge. Not just the size of the area but the trees themselves. We were lucky enough to get a good amount of time here and do a hike but just driving through the area was amazing in itself. The shade and density of the forest really does cancel out so much sound and we feel like an ant compared to these giants. We even did the classic drive your car through a tree. It was a tight squeeze but a fun novelty. There was so much wildlife around here as well. We were really lucky to come across a herd of Roosevelt Elk, they are huge and so beautiful. We got really excited to see so many in the wild, they had at one point been dangerously close to being extinct but the National Parks Service intervened at the right time and it’s one of their biggest conservation success stories. This park is also great because you can be in the thickest part of the forest but a little drive out and you’re by the beautiful west coast sea spotting seals, whales and dolphins.
Next stop is some of the city’s we visited on the way and our favourite ever Airbnb!