25 May 2012

The Grand Teton National Park, WY

We had read the weather report for both Salt Lake City and Jackson (the nearest town to the Grand Tetons) and both had said that thunderstorms were on the agenda for the next few days. We found a little state park campground on the way up and it snowed while we tried to cook dinner! The little van is really only a fair weather vehicle, it is not pleasant when it's raining or snowing as the space inside is very limited and you pretty much have to go to bed.

We arrived on the second day and found a camp spot in Gros Ventre campground which is just outside the Grand Teton National Park, but run by the park. It is close enough to Jackson for us to go in and get dinner. You can’t cook if it’s raining! Unfortunately Lindsay had already started cooking on the first night before we realized it would rain and he got wet.

Bison in our campground

The next morning we woke up to snow! We spent the next couple of days in the same campground and went into Jackson during the day and for dinner. We had a great dinner at an Italian Cucina called Nani’s. The only place in town to have a shower was the recreation centre, so we spent an afternoon sitting in the hot tub, sauna, steam room and pool. It turned out to be the worst shower as there didn't seem to be any hot water!

Jenny Lake
We hiked up to to Taggart Lake, keeping an eye on the sky as we could tell that the clouds were building. On the way back Lindsay grabbed my camera and started running back to the car, I couldn't keep up and it started raining just before I got back.
Taggart Lake

12 May 2012

Yosemite National Park, CA

When I booked our campsite in January I was actually trying to find a spot in June but backtracked to May to get five days in a row. We could only get space in a campsite outside the Village. Forty-five minutes away. Next time I would book single nights if possible and jump online as soon as the window opened for the dates we want.

I rang the information line to check if the Tioga Pass was open as it isn’t due to open until June, but they had a mild winter and it was opened a week before we arrived. We stayed the night before in a campsite called Lee Vining named after the town we had just come through. There were others along the route but luckily we hadn’t keep going as they were all closed. This was our first encounter with the bear boxes. You have to put all your food and toiletries – basically anything that has a smell – into metal cabinets. And yes locking them is a good idea – luckily there weren’t any bears around as Lindsay didn’t shut ours properly – potentially we could have lost all of our food! Good lesson before the real thing in Yosemite.

the Tioga Pass
So we were able to drive along the Tioga road in the morning and what a beautiful drive it is, there was still snow along the side of the road. Pine trees, snow, creeks, frozen lakes – it was gorgeous. Where we spent most of our time in Yosemite is a lot lower in altitude and there wasn’t any snow, but it is still very pretty. At the end of the Tioga Road, our campsite was eight miles in the opposite direction of the Valley, so we went there to stow away our food and checked the guide to see what we wanted to do on our five day stay. They have ranger walks everyday, mostly at 10am and a bear walk at 3pm during the week. This was Sunday, so we just went for a drive and I booked myself in for the camera walk on Thursday at the Ansel Adams Gallery. They have a bus system here too, but it doesn’t really go anywhere except around the Village which is fine for a few things and if you were staying in the Village, which of course we weren’t. On our way back to camp we saw a black bear sow (which are actually brown) and her cub. There are only about 25 bears in the valley area, so it isn’t a common sighting. They turned out to be the only bears we saw.

Our first black bear
The first ranger talk was about the waterfalls and rivers. All the water comes from the snowfall. The second one was on geology and the third was on trees. All of them were really interesting. The bear walk was talking about the bears, not actually seeing any! In the beginning, the rangers used to feed the bears and it took them some time to realise that it was bad for not only their health but bad for their behaviour. All food has to be locked up and out of your car, I’m not sure how many car break ins they get now, but they scare you into thinking they had one last week. You are fined $500 if you leave food in your car at any time. There was one bear that learned how to open car doors, another that worked out if you jumped on the roof of a Vdub, the doors popped open! A lot of the bears are tagged and monitored. The last walk I did was a camera walk by the Ansel Adams gallery. This was the least enjoyable, but I still learned a couple of things.

May is a good time to see the waterfalls in the park

El Capitan
Salt Lake City
We stayed in Salt Lake City at the KOA campground which is the closest RV park to our Caravan Parks that we have been in. It is an excellent place to stay. We got a shuttle from the campground into the city to do some window shopping and went out for lunch. For a restaurant the name the Cheesecake Factory doesn’t really conjure up a good feeling as we think of our Cheesecake Shop at home, but this place was great, great atmosphere, we ate outside and a great menu. The following day I decided to try out their medical system and our travel insurance. The staff at the medical centre and hospital were fantastic and so were the SOS people who liaise for Zurich regarding the travel insurance. It was the first time I had relied solely on our credit card insurance, it doesn’t usually tick all the boxes, so I usually take out additional cover, but this time it did. I think they were very relieved that it wasn’t anything serious. After a couple of days of rest, we headed north. I had wanted to go to Antelope Island but on their website they had a warning that the gnats had just hatched and were everywhere. It said that insect repellant didn’t work, so we decided we didn’t need the aggravation and skipped it.

6 May 2012

Zion National Park, UT

The drive into Zion from the eastern entrance is very windy, tight and narrow. There are a number of tunnels to go through and RV's need to be escorted as the road needs to be blocked off for them to fit through the tunnels. Driving through, we weren't impressed. This is Utah's most popular park. Zion is busy, really busy. We had to share a group site the first night and were ready to leave the next day because it was so horrible. The next morning we found a spot at the Southern campground which is near the river with lovely trees all around us which squirrels run up. The main hike people do here is up the narrows but you need a wet suit as you are walking up the river, so we won’t be doing that one!

What a difference a nice camp site makes. This is really nice, cottonwood trees blow fluff through the air and there is a creek a few hundred metres away. They have an excellent bus service here, so I stop off first at the three Patriarchs which unfortunately are in shade and then head to The Grotto.

the Three Patriarchs
Right next to the bus is a ranger with a group of people and they ask me if I’m joining them on the Kayenta Trail ranger talk. I wasn’t, but I do. The walk takes you along a track to the Emerald pools and back to the Zion Lodge. Along the way we talk about all the plants in the desert, yes this is a desert, but it doesn’t look like one. The river changes everything. It is very interesting and I learn a lot. One problem though, is that Lindsay doesn’t know where I am, so I leave everyone at the lower Emerald pool and head home as fast as I can. The next day Lindsay and I take the Pa’rus trail from the South campground to Canyon Junction which takes you along the river over quite a few bridges. We take the bus to the Patriarchs so that I can get a picture of them in the sunlight and then head to Zion Lodge to get an ice-cream, with the emphasis on ice, they weren’t creamy at all. I want to take Lindsay on the Kayenta trail that I did the afternoon before, which starts at the Grotto bus stop. We take the trail a bit further though, right up to the Upper Emerald Pool, which was a hot uphill jaunt.

The view at the end was worth it and there were quite a few people there sitting around the pool.

As we have a booking at Yosemite NP for the 13 May, we need to start heading west. On our way through Nevada, Lindsay noticed an oil leak when we was filling up with fuel. We got it in time and luckily only had to spend two days in Caliente to have it fixed. It was just a $20 part, which could have turned into a disaster had we not caught it in time.

4 May 2012

Bryce Canyon, UT

Another place I was really looking forward to see, and wasn't disappointed. It is breathtaking. I would love to come here when the hoodoo’s are covered in snow. We got a campsite in the Sunset campground and we had collected wood before we got in so that we could have a fire. The campground is lovely and the rest rooms are nice and clean, with trails in the middle so that you don’t have to walk through anyone’s camp site or back along the road. The campsites are surrounded by Ponderosa pines which are beautiful and as Lindsay said, you don’t have to worry about them dropping their limbs, like gum trees. They do have a bus service but we decided to drive to some of the points. Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce Points.

Bryce Canyon

I wanted to check where Thor’s Hammer was for the next morning, so walked partly down the Navajo trail to the two bridges. I had told Lindsay to go back as he had pinched a nerve in his back, but I didn’t know if he had taken that as back to the car or back to the campsite. So I came back without completing the loop. Part of that loop was closed due to reconstruction and the loop I would have taken would have joined up with the Queen’s Garden and taken about 45 minutes – providing I had found the right turn! Walking back up was really hard work, it was steep and I was hot and we are talking about 9,000ft above sea level. I had to stop frequently to drink my Gatorade which gave me the energy to go the next bit along. The colours during the day are not washed out like the Grand Canyon. Sunset was at 8:22pm, so we decided to have dinner first. What we hadn’t checked on was that Lindsay’s watch matched the time on the phone and we had switched time zones again! As we were washing up, Lindsay said that sun is coming down, you better go. So I grabbed my camera and tripod and walked as fast as I could to Sunset Point. When I got there, I was too late. I asked some British tourists what time they had, and they had the same as Lindsay. They thought that because of the valleys, sunset was different than here. I still hadn’t twigged that we all had the wrong time. I stayed and took some shots at a slow shutter speed which look really good and another torist let me try his 1.5x teleconverter. I need one of these too! A friend had lent him his 5D, 70-200 f/2.8 lens and teleconverter! Lucky guy. I want one of these lenses too as mine is only an f/4 and the teleconverter drops down a stop. So the trip wasn’t wasted, there always seems to be a reason we do things, we stop somewhere and we meet someone, who tells us something that we need to know. The next morning, I set the alarm on my iPod for 5:30am. When I woke up, Lindsay said it was only 4:30, so I stayed in bed. Then I thought that I better check the time on the mobile. It was 5:40am by then! So up I get and rush off to Sunset Point again. Lindsay wanted me to get a shot of Thors’ Hammer.
Thor's Hammer
On the way there I saw some Pronghorn (elk) grazing in the grass but it was too dark to take a picture of them, besides I was on a mission. It was freezing and I had my gloves, jacket and beanie on. Camera with two lenses and tripod. I had to walk down the Navajo trail a little bit to get the right perspective of Thor and by then I was very hot. The sun was behind him, which meant the rest of him was in darkness. The shots we had seen had him blanketed in a beautiful light from the front and behind. The light it turns out, at a certain time of the year bounces off the rock behind you and lights up the front. Not so in May! I moved on and went down to sunrise point to get some more pictures and walked a little way down the Queens Garden trail. It was too far to walk back to the campground so I decided to take the bus, so I only had a short walk to the Sunrise carpark. And I waited, and waited and waited. I was cold, I was tired, I was hungry. Lindsay was worried and went looking for me at Sunset point but of course I wasn’t there. It felt like an hour before the bus came, he said they were doing 40 minutes intervals at that time of morning. Right. I don’t think so, someone had a nap. I had to go down to the Visitor centre and change buses, to get the one coming back. I think I was away for about three hours. Lindsay wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy either. By the time I walked in from the bus stop to our campsite I was exhausted. We had to leave our campsite by 11am as we weren’t staying the night. We had been invited to dinner by a photographer and his wife who were having friends over too. Luckily they have showers at the General Store, so we could have a shower and wash our hair.

Bill had told us a couple of nights before about a camping spot not far from Bryce, so we went somewhere in that vicinity to spend the day. It turned out it was bear and mountain lion country, but we didn’t see any. Dinner was great and Bill was taking a photo of the full moon, so I grabbed my camera and tripod and he told me what setting I should have on my camera to get the best result. You can see the shading on the moon, I am very pleased with the result. He also took me through his gallery showing me some of his favourite pictures with moons in them. It was a great night and we stayed the night near their hot houses and had breakfast in the morning with them. Lindsay had had too many Margaritas to drive to our camping spot nearby.

1 May 2012

Underground secrets

Antelope Canyon, UT

I had been looking forward to this site ever since I found out it existed. We got into Page and had lunch on the lush green lawns of the visitor centre of the Glen Canyon Dam which sits on Lake Powell.

Lake Powell, there are a lot of houseboats on the water
I then needed to find a tour company to do Antelope Canyon as it is on Navajo land as you can’t go in there by yourself. There are two parts to the canyon, upper and lower. I decided to do the most popular, the upper one. I also decided to do the photographic tour which is two and a half hours (the other is 1.5 hours). I had read a couple of reviews on a few companies and couldn’t really decide, so we went to the visitor centre. Two doors down was Antelope Canyon Tours and we went in there and booked. We were lucky that Lindsay had decided not to do it as there had been a cancellation that day for tomorrow, with the next available spot more than three weeks away! That night we found a commercial campground in the Glen Canyon NP. $24 with set out campsites, beautiful new and clean rest rooms in the Adobe architectural style with views from our site of the house boats on Lake Powell. For $2 we could share a 15 minute shower in a private family bathroom! Perfect.

Antelope Canyon, Upper Canyon
We got our times mixed up again and I thought we were running late for my tour, so we had to pack up really quickly. On the way back to Page I worked out that the time was an hour out, so we had time to get me some lunch and organize myself. I had to make sure I had an extra CF card, my remote button, tripod, water, food and of course, camera. We had to meet at the shop front and they drive you in, and I got to sit in the front seat while everyone else was in the back of the semi open 4WD. The track in was a little like boggy creek near Alice Springs, with deep soft sand. I had read a review of one company whose car had got bogged and the replacement car took a long time to come, they asked for a partial refund and were refused. Our guide Al was fantastic. There were a lot of times he would tell me where to stand and where to shoot. I was having trouble with my tripod, it just doesn’t allow you to take a portrait shot pointing upwards. I need a new one with a ball head. Luckily my new lens is very fast which allowed me to take photographs in the low light without blurring them too much. I won’t really know how sharp they are until I see them on my iMac at home though. The colours the camera takes are very different to what you actually see, it’s amazing. I wasn’t disappointed at all. The upper canyon is best at midday, so the 11.30am tour was perfect. Next time I will take the lower canyon tour which is best at either end of the day. I will try for the 4pm tour.