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Travels with Andrew, Heide and Lachlan. Stories, photos, tips and recommendations for family travel.
Blog Added: May 13, 2017 07:04:17 PM
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Blog Platform: WordPress
Blog Country: United-States/Texas/Harris   United-States/Texas/Harris
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Summer Road Trip – Utah National Parks

Utah National Parks This post will summarize our summer 2016 road trip visiting all the Utah National Parks, with pictures and links to individual blog posts for more details. As well as the parks themselves, we enjoyed the drives between them, so these drives deserved their own posts. Some of the most spectacular scenery we […] The post Summer Road Trip – Utah National Parks appeared first on Airports and...

Utah National Parks

This post will summarize our summer 2016 road trip visiting all the Utah National Parks, with pictures and links to individual blog posts for more details. As well as the parks themselves, we enjoyed the drives between them, so these drives deserved their own posts. Some of the most spectacular scenery we saw was found on the roads between the national parks. Each heading is also a link, click for more info on each one.

Zion National Park

After flying in to Las Vegas and picking up a rental car, our first stop was Zion. This is a great place to start your tour of Utah National Parks. Unlike other parks, accommodations and facilities here are on the canyon floor. Zion has great hiking, with easy trails for families with kids and challenging multi-day back-country trails for the more adventurous.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

From Zion to Bryce Canyon

The distance from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t very far, but there is plenty to see along the way. The road out of Zion park passes through a historic tunnel (with viewing windows cut into the side). It also passes the very impressive Checkerboard Mesa, one of the parks most interesting features. Closer to Bryce Canyon, the Red Canyon area of the Dixie National Forest is also worth a stop.

Zion to Bryce

Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

This is probably the most well known of the Utah National Parks, with good reason. The scenery is other-worldly, you’ll definitely take a lot of pictures here. We were lucky enough to get to join a full moon hike, which was a great experience. If your schedule allows, consider timing your visit with a full moon. There are some easy hikes along the canyon rim, but getting down into the canyon is recommended. Proper hiking shoes are recommended as the trails tend to have loose gravel (and steep drop-offs). Bryce Canyon sits at the highest altitude of the Utah National Parks, so be prepared. Stay hydrated, and build in a bit of extra time when planning your hikes to rest along the way.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon – Sunrise

From Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef

This segment is worthy of a full day with a lot to see and do along the way. Utah Scenic Byway 12 includes some stunning stretches, with breathtaking scenery. There are places to check out along the way like Kodachrome Basin State ParkEscalante Petrified Forest State Park and the Anasazi State Park MuseumHell’s Backbone Grill is conveniently located for a lunch stop and serves healthy and tasty food.

Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef

Views from Utah Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is the least visited of the Utah National Parks, but is definitely worth a visit if you have time. As well as great scenery and hiking (without the crowds), Capitol Reef offers insights into the (hard) lives of the early Mormon settlers. There are still historic orchards in the historic Fruita district. These are now run by the National Parks service, so you can pick your own fruit if you’re there at the right time of year.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

Moab

Arches and Canyonlands are two highlights of any tour through Utah National Parks. Neither of them has any accommodation inside park boundaries, and Moab is the logical place to stay while visiting these two parks. There are some great restaurants and shopping in town. There are also other things to see around town outside the parks. With lots of adventurous activities you can do with one of the many outfitters in town, it’s worth scheduling an extra day or two here.

Moab

Colorado River as seen from Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

Arches National Park

This park contains some of the most iconic scenery in the Utah National Parks. This park is very accessible with many sights that can be seen with only a short walk from their parking area. There are also more challenging hikes for the keener hikers. This park is compact, and gets a lot of visitors. This can result in long lines to get in, so best to arrive early in the day. In summer this is a good idea in any case, to beat the heat.

Arches National Park

Double Arch – Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is in some ways the opposite of Arches. Instead of Arches’ individual sights, Canyonlands is mostly about the wide vistas. This park is huge, and some parts are seriously remote. We chose to join an organized tour (combination 4X4 and rafting) which helped us see parts of the park we wouldn’t have been able to get to by ourselves.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Utah National Parks in Pictures

Check out this post for a gallery of photographs from our road trip through the Utah National Parks. With so much to see, we couldn’t fit all the pictures we took in the individual posts.

Arches National Park

Balanced Rock – Arches National Park

 

The post Summer Road Trip – Utah National Parks appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



Utah National Parks – Pictures

Utah National Parks Pictures We took a lot more photos in the Utah National Parks than we could fit in the blog posts.  Here is a gallery of photos from each of the parks. Zion National Park  Bryce Canyon National Park Capitol Reef National Park Arches National Park Canyonlands National Park The post Utah National Parks – Pictures appeared first on Airports and...

Utah National Parks Pictures

We took a lot more photos in the Utah National Parks than we could fit in the blog posts.  Here is a gallery of photos from each of the parks.

Zion National Park

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 Bryce Canyon National Park

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Capitol Reef National Park

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Arches National Park

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Canyonlands National Park

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The post Utah National Parks – Pictures appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



Summer Road Trip – Canyonlands National Park

The last stop on our tour of Utah’s national parks was Canyonlands National Park. We did this one a little differently, deciding to book a tour instead of self-driving. Canyonlands is so vast and undeveloped, we figured we could see more with some professional help. There are a number of operators in Moab who will […] The post Summer Road Trip – Canyonlands National Park appeared first on Airports and...

The last stop on our tour of Utah’s national parks was Canyonlands National Park. We did this one a little differently, deciding to book a tour instead of self-driving. Canyonlands is so vast and undeveloped, we figured we could see more with some professional help. There are a number of operators in Moab who will take you into the park. We decided to go with Navtec, based on good online reviews and the fact that they offered a combination calm-water rafting and 4×4 trip.

On the Way to Canyonlands National Park

After meeting our guide and the rest of our group at the Navtec office, we completed our paperwork and met our guide, then piled into the 4×4 vehicle. On the way to the park we drove downUtah Scenic Hwy 279, which we had explored by ourselves a couple of days earlier. We got another chance to see the petroglyphs, this time in morning light which was a bit better for photos.

Canyonlands

Petroglyphs on Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

 

Rafting on the Colorado River

As it was shaping up to be a very hot day, our guide decided that we would do the rafting portion of our trip first. One of the reasons we chose this trip was because it included calm-water rafting, not whitewater. We didn’t think Lachlan would enjoy rafting the rapids, as he doesn’t like amusement park rides. When we got to the tour company office to check in, they had a whitewater rafting video playing, and when Lachlan saw it he said “I want to do that!” Lesson – actually ask your kid what activities he wants to do on vacation, don’t assume.

The water was very calm and relaxing, but even early in the morning it was starting to get hot.

Canyonlands National Park

Calm water rafting on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

 

Canyonlands National Park

Calm water rafting on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

As we got deeper into the canyon, the view of the cliffs got more spectacular. This is a perspective you can only get from on the water.

Canyonlands National Park

Calm water rafting on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

We made a couple of stops along the way which gave us a chance to stretch our legs and see some sights, including some petrified wood (it didn’t quite live up the the promised status of “petrified forest”, but it was interesting all the same).

Canyonlands National Park

A stop to see some petrified wood on our calm water cruise on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

4×4 into Canyonlands National Park

After a few hours on the water, we were ready to have some lunch, then get in our (mercifully air-conditioned) vehicle for the second half of our tour. The 4×4 road into Canyonlands National Park started right next to the boat ramp, so it wasn’t long before we were into some pretty spectacular scenery.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands 4X4 Trip

Once we gained some altitude there were some spectacular views out over the river on which we’d spent the morning.

Canyonlands National Park

View of the Colorado River from a stop on our 4X4 trip through Canyonlands N.P.

We were soon on the famous White Rim Trail, which a features precarious drop-off into the canyon.  Although you can rent a 4×4 in Moab and drive yourself on these trails, we were happy to have a professional do the driving.  He was also able to point out features of the park and describe some of the geology. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember any of the scientific details, just that it was all pretty awe-inspiring.

Canyonlands National Park

White Rim Trail – Canyonlands 4X4 Trip

A highlight of the tour was the spectacular Musselman Arch. Unlike the arches we saw the previous day at Arches National Park, we got to look down at this one (then even further down into the canyon underneath it). Heide was brave enough to walk out onto the arch. As you can see, I took her picture from a safe distance away from the edge.

Canyonlands National Park

Musselman Arch, Canyonlands N.P.

The tour continued, and we eventually made it all the way to the canyon rim, and a quick stop at the visitors’ center before heading back down into the canyon. Here’s the view from near the top showing part of the road we’d traveled over the course of the afternoon:

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

We traveled back down a different road, the first part of which was … interesting.

Canyonlands National Park

Heading back to Moab – Canyonlands National Park

We just managed to squeeze through under the rock.  On the other side we found an unfortunate group whose car had overheated coming up the hill. This was a final reinforcement of our decision to go with a tour. We definitely got to see places that we wouldn’t have been able to get to by ourselves.

Practicalities

Note – this section includes an affiliate link. If you use it to make a booking, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

As per our previous post, Moab is the place to base yourself to visit Canyonlands National Park (as well as Arches National Park and other scenic attractions) and for a wide range of activities. We stayed at Cali Cochitta Bed & Breakfast, which was great. The service was very friendly, and the atmosphere is nice and laid-back.

We booked our trip into the park with NAVTEC Expeditions, and we’d definitely recommend them. There are other companies in Moab who also offer trips into the park, so there are plenty of options depending on exactly what you want to see and do.

If you self-drive into Canyonlands National Park, you can see some breathtaking canyon rim views. This is definitely worth doing, but if your schedule and budget allows, it’s worth considering a guided trip into the park.  We had a great day, and it was a fitting finale to our tour of Utah’s national parks.

The post Summer Road Trip – Canyonlands National Park appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



Summer Road Trip – Arches National Park

Note – some links in this post are affiliate links. If you use them to make a booking or buy a product, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).   The next stop on our Utah road trip was Arches National Park. After eating an excellent breakfast and filling our water […] The post Summer Road Trip – Arches National Park appeared first on Airports and...

Note – some links in this post are affiliate links. If you use them to make a booking or buy a product, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

 

The next stop on our Utah road trip was Arches National Park. After eating an excellent breakfast and filling our water bottles at our B&B (Cali Cochita Bed and and Breakfast), we headed out early in the morning to try and beat the heat and traffic. We had a full day of looking at awesome rocks ahead of us.

There is no accommodation and there are no restaurants in Arches National Park itself. Because of this, we’ve covered the logistics about where to stay and eat in nearby Moab in a previous post. This post will focus on what to do in a full day’s visit to the park. Like Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, we definitely could have spent longer here. However, as we were on a “sampler” tour of the Utah national parks, we had one full day to see what we could.  This was enough to see a good selection of Arches highlights. We also managed to do a few very short hikes, although it was brutally hot, so we didn’t get too ambitious with these.

Here’s what we saw:

The Windows

We first headed to The Windows area, starting with North and South Windows.

Arches National Park

The Windows, Arches National Park

 

Arches National Park

The Windows, Arches National Park

 

As you can see, we had a perfectly clear blue sky for our visit to Arches National Park. This was great for photography, this is scenery that doesn’t need any help from interesting clouds.

There is an easy one mile loop trail around North and South Windows that is great for even small kids. It gives you a feel for the landscape around all the spectacular rock formations. You can also check out the flora and fauna in the park.  We were lucky enough to see a kangaroo rat (right after I told Lachlan not to get his hopes up because they are mostly nocturnal).  We also got a very close up view of a desert cottontail rabbit.  Lachlan pronounced this “very cute” (not sure if that’s an accurate zoological description).

The next formation we visited was probably the most impressive formation we visited all day – Double Arch. Check out the people in the picture below for scale.

Arches National Park

Double Arch – Arches National Park

You can climb up to stand underneath and between the two mighty arches. This allows the avid photographer to take artsy, semi-abstract photographs.

Arches National Park

Double Arch – Arches National Park

 

Sand Dune Arch

Next we headed north to check out a lesser-known but potentially interesting arch. On the way we stopped at the Salt Valley Overlook to check out a nice view and learn about how all these amazing formations came into being.  Spoiler alert – you can check out this video if you want to find out about the park geology before you visit.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is not just about arches – this is the view across the Salt Valley

 

Getting to Sand Dune Arch involves a short (one third of a mile) but very cool hike from the parking area. It’s a fun walk, as you enter between a narrow passage two “fins” to get to the arch itself.

Arches National Park

The Trail to Sand Dune Arch – Arches National Park

Although not the largest geological feature of Arches National Park, Sandstone Arch is unique because of where it has formed. It’s also interesting because you can see how the arch will eventually break down.

Arches National Park

Sand Dune Arch – Arches National Park

Park Avenue

After Sand Dune Arch we were ready for lunch, and a break from the sun. We left the park and headed to The Atomic for some lunch and air conditioning. You can check out this post for our review.

Coming back into the park, our first stop was Park Avenue, an impressive structure that shows that Arches National Park is not just all about arches.

Arches National Park

Park Avenue – Arches National Park

 

The La Sal Mountains Viewpoint is nearby, with sweeping views to the landscape surrounding the park.

Arches National Park

La Sal Mountains Viewpoint – Arches National Park

 

Balanced Rock

The next stop was one of the most famous landmarks in the park, Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park

Balanced Rock – Arches National Park

The statistics on this hunk of rock are impressive – 128 feet (or 39 meters) tall and weighing 3,600 tons (more than 4 million kilograms).  It also provides the opportunity for cheesy novelty photos.

Arches National Park

Lachlan in a Silly Cliche Tourist Photo Op at Balanced Rock – Arches National Park

 

Delicate Arch – The Icon of Arches National Park

Probably the most famous feature of Arches National Park (it’s on a lot of the tee shirts and stickers) is Delicate Arch. There’s a three mile hike to get close up to it, but it involves scrambling over open slickrock with no shade, so we weren’t up for it on this occasion. Next time, for sure.

Instead, we took the much shorter hike to the Delicate Arch viewpoint. This gave a good view of the arch and surrounding area, although in the late afternoon we were on the shady side of the arch. Early in the morning would provide better light for photos from this viewpoint.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch – Arches National Park

Fiery Furnace

Our last stop was to see the late afternoon sun lighting up the Fiery Furnace area.

Arches National Park

Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park

This is a challenging area to hike, you can easily get lost in the maze of rocks. In fact, you are only allowed to enter the area with a permit (after watching an orientation video) or on a ranger-guided hike. We were content to check it out from the viewpoint above, and this was a memorable final stop in our one day self-guided tour of Arches National Park.

Summing Up Arches National Park

This is one of my favorite national parks.  I had been here before several years earlier, and I enjoyed introducing Heide and Lachlan to such a special place.  As you can see from this post it’s possible to see a lot in one day here. However, if you have more time, you can do some of the longer hikes to see some of the more remote features. This would also allow you to get away from the crowds – Arches is not a place of solitude in the summer vacation season.

Arches National Park – we will be back again some some day …

The post Summer Road Trip – Arches National Park appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



Summer Road Trip – Moab, Utah

The next destination on our summer road trip was a little different to our previous stops in Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. We planned to spend three nights in Moab as a base to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. This was by far the biggest town we had seen since Las […] The post Summer Road Trip – Moab, Utah appeared first on Airports and...

The next destination on our summer road trip was a little different to our previous stops in Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. We planned to spend three nights in Moab as a base to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. This was by far the biggest town we had seen since Las Vegas. We were definitely ready for a bit more “civilization” after spending time in the more remote areas of Utah. Moab offered a wider selection of restaurants, and even the chance to do some shopping. Because it is more of a base for the surrounding natural wonders than a destination in it’s own right, this post will start with the logistics section that you would find at the end of most of the other posts on this site.

Where to Stay in Moab

Note – links in this section are affiliate links. If you use them to make a booking, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

We stayed at the Cali Cochitta Bed & Breakfast, which turned out to be a great choice. It’s centrally located, serves a great breakfast and has comfy rooms and lovely grounds. There is a wide range of accommodation in Moab, from budget motels to high-end lodges. You’re sure to find something to suit your taste.

Where to Eat in Moab

Like accommodation, there are plenty of restaurant options in Moab. They range from casual to classy, with a focus on classic American and Southwestern options. As you would expect with so many people coming to Moab for outdoor activities, there are healthy organic restaurant options, too.

Here are a few places we tried and would recommend:

Moab Brewery – After a hot day’s hiking there is nothing like a cold local beer to cool off. The food is fairly straightforward pub fare, but good and hearty. This is a family-friendly dining option (although most restaurants in Moab are fine for kids).

The Atomic – Gourmet burgers and a cocktail lounge with a vaguely 50s theme. This place is a very handy place to stop for dinner on your way back from Arches National Park or any of the sights north of town.

Peace Tree Juice Cafe – If you’re getting tired of road food that isn’t particularly healthy, check out this place for organic salads, wraps and more. As the name suggests, they have great juice and smoothie combinations as well.

Moab Diner – If you haven’t yet had your fill of classic road food, head for this place for all the standards. If you want something semi-healthy, I recommend the Crispy Chicken Taco Salad. I’m not sure how healthy it really is, but it’s tasty.

There are plenty of other options, so this is a good place to splurge on a nice meal or two before you head back out into more remote and restaurant-less areas

What to buy in Moab

As well as more dining options than anywhere else we’d been in Utah, Moab provided more shopping options than previous stops. If you’re looking to pick up a Utah souvenir, this is a good place to look. You can find everything from cheesy tourist-trap souvenirs to high-end artwork.  Here are some places where we browsed and bought:

The T-shirt Shop – This place has been selling old-school transfer print t-shirts since 1982. You choose the color and size you want, grab it off the rack and select a design from the hundreds plastered all over the walls. It doesn’t look like they’ve retired any of the designs since they opened, so you can get great retro designs. They also sell stickers and other fun novelty items.

Moab

Moab Souvenir from the T-Shirt Shop

Moab

The T-Shirt Shop in Moab, Utah

Triassic – For more classy momentos, Triassic has amazing products made from local natural materials. They have a tree service which sources raw material for their own sawmill. They turn the resulting timber into awesome products ranging from kitchen spoons to furniture. We picked up a couple of spoons, as they were a bit more practical to take home than the furniture (and a bit less expensive, to boot).

Moab Made – There are many art galleries and gift stores along Main St, so your best bet is to wander and check out as many as you have time and stamina to see. Moab Made was a standout for us. We bought a print depicting Delicate Arch in a psychedelic style that Lachlan took a liking to. They have lots of other fun things, all made by local artisans and artists.

This just scratches the surface, so you’ll have to explore for yourself and see what the many stores of Moab have to offer. As well as souvenirs, you’ll find gear for outdoor adventures, photographic supplies and other practicalities.

Things to See Around Moab

The main attractions that draw people here are Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We’ll deal with each of those in a separate blog post. There are other things to see in the area, so it’s worth setting aside some time for exploring outside the parks.

After checking in to our accommodation and resting up from our day’s driving, we decided to take advantage of the early evening sunshine and see some sights. We decided to take a drive down Utah Scenic Hwy 279, also known as the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway.

Moab

Colorado River as seen from Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

Branching off from the highway just north of town, this road follows the Colorado River. There are a number of things to see along the way. The first reason to stop was to check out some Fremont Indian petroglyphs. These are well-preserved as they are high off the ground, so aren’t vulnerable to modern day graffiti. Apparently there was a lot of debris resting against the cliffs when these were carved, so “ground level” at the base of the cliff was higher than it is now. This debris was all cleared away when the road was built.

Moab

Petroglyphs on Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

A little further down the road are some dinosaur tracks. It’s a short but steep hike up to see them. This was good for us, as we had spent so much time if the car traveling from Capitol Reef National Park, it was nice to stretch our legs.

Moab

Dinosaur tracks near Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

The last sight on our scenic drive was the aptly-named Jug Handle Arch. Although it looked impressive to us at the time, this was really nothing more than a taster to whet our appetite for the next day’s adventures in Arches National Park.

Moab

Jug Handle Arch, Utah Hwy 279, the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

Shortly after Jug Handle Arch, the sealed road ends and a gravel road winds it’s way up into Canyonlands National Park. At the time we didn’t realize we’d be back here in a couple of days on our 4X4 adventure into Canyonlands – but that’s a story for another post.

This was the only scenic drive we had time for while we were in Moab, but there are other places worth seeing outside the national parks. One place we definitely will make sure to get to Moab is Dead Horse Point State Park. The pictures we saw from this place look amazing.

The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah Highway 128) also looks like it’s well worth checking out.

Things to do around Moab

Moab is an active outdoor enthusiast’s mecca. You can try out calm-water or white-water rafting, and the mountain biking is considered to be some of the best on the planet.  The world-famous Slickrock Trail is here, for the avid mountain biker. There are plenty of outfitters in town who will sell or rent you any gear you need, or take you on an organized adventure.

If you prefer your outdoor activities motorized, there are 4X4 trails to try out.  If you haven’t brought your own 4X4 you can rent one. You can also go sky diving, hot air ballooning or go golfing or fishing for a more sedate activity. The list of activities you can do here is pretty impressive.

 

To wrap up, there is a lot more to Moab than just the national parks. You should definitely build some time into your Moab itinerary to spend some time outside the national parks. Next time we’re there we’ll definitely try to stay longer.

The post Summer Road Trip – Moab, Utah appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



Summer Road Trip – Capitol Reef National Park

After Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park was our next stop.  This is the least-visited of Utah’s national parks. However it is well worth a visit, with some interesting historic attractions to go with the usual geological wonders. Introduction to Capitol Reef National Park It was another hot summer day in Utah, so we got […] The post Summer Road Trip – Capitol Reef National Park appeared first on Airports and...

After Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park was our next stop.  This is the least-visited of Utah’s national parks. However it is well worth a visit, with some interesting historic attractions to go with the usual geological wonders.

Introduction to Capitol Reef National Park

It was another hot summer day in Utah, so we got moving early in the morning on the one full day we planned to be in the park. As soon as we crossed into the park we encountered some quality scenery worthy of the National Park designation. We stopped at the aptly named Panorama Point to get our first good look.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Our next stop was the Visitor Center, which nestles beneath a photogenic rock formation. The friendly rangers gave us some good information about the park and which hikes would suit our (lack of) fitness level. They pointed us in the direction of the park’s Scenic Drive. At the end of this drive is the trailhead for the Capitol Gorge Trail, which would be our hike for the morning.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center

Capitol Gorge Trail

After parking our car near the Capitol Gorge trailhead we put on our sunscreens, hats and hydration packs and set off into the gorge.

Capitol Reef National Park

Hiking Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

This is a fascinating walk, with lots of history, as well as spectacular scenery. The first point of interest we came to was some 1,000 year old Fremont petroglyphs.

Capitol Reef National Park

Petroglyphs, Capital Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

For many years, this was the only way through the barrier-like rock formation known as the Waterpocket Fold. In fact it wasn’t until Utah Highway 24 was built in 1962 that Capital Gorge was closed to vehicular traffic. In the late 19th century, the traffic was horse-drawn. The Mormon pioneers left their mark, inscribing their names and dates of passage on the canyon walls in the area known as the Pioneer Register.

Capitol Reef National Park

Pioneer Register, graffiti left by Mormon pioneers, Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

The trail continues, a fairly easy hike along a sandy wash between steep canyon walls on either side.

Capitol Reef National Park

Hiking Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

About a mile into the hike we reached a short (but steep) trail up to some natural water pools that were very convenient for the early settlers moving into the area to replenish their water supplies as they travelled.

Capitol Reef National Park

Hiking to the Tanks, Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

 

Capitol Reef National Park

Tanks (natural water pockets), Capitol Gorge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park

After the climb up to the tanks and back down into the gorge, we headed back down the trail to the car.  The return was a bit of a hard slog, with the heat of the day increasing. We were glad to make it back to car and turn the air conditioning back on for the drive back down the Scenic Drive.

Fruita Historic District

After our morning’s hiking exertions, we headed to historic Fruita district we’d passed though on the way to Capital Gorge. The lush green lawn and shade trees next to the Fremont River provide a place to rest up and have a picnic lunch. There is no restaurant in Capitol Reef National Park, so we made do with some home-made pie from the store at the Gifford Homestead.  You can buy hand-crafted items and rustic souvenirs as well as pies and home made ice cream treats. There are a number of historic orchards in the area under management of the National Park Service where you can sample the fruit in season.

Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park

Capital Dome and Beyond

We had thought that we might hike another of the park’s trails after lunch, but with the summer heat and our tired legs we decided to do a driving tour instead.  Our first stop was to check out Capital Dome, the most impressive of the dome formations that gives the park its name.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Dome, Capitol Reef National Park

We then headed east outside the park boundaries to explore some back roads. This let gave us the chance to see a bit more of Utah outside the national parks.  We came across a historical marker that told a story of a small, close-knit community that had eked out an existence here under trying conditions.

Capitol Reef National Park

Just Outside Capitol Reef National Park

Stargazing in Capitol Reef National Park

Utah in general, and Capitol Reef National Park in particular is a great place to do some stargazing. So far on our Utah road trip the moon had been full or close to each night. This gave us the chance to do an awesome full moon hike while we were in Bryce Canyon National Park, but we also wanted to see some stars. Lachlan has grown up in the city surrounded by light pollution, so doesn’t see many stars in his everyday life. Heide and I have memories of star-filled skies from growing up in Montana and Australia, so we were hoping that Lachlan would get the chance to do some stargazing.

Checking the moonrise on the chart at the park visitors center, it looked like there was some time between sunset and moonrise that would provide an opportunity to see a sky full of stars. Talking to Lachlan, we realized that he had never seen the Milky Way, which we intended to remedy. After dinner we headed back into the park to Panorama Point.

Before the stars came out we enjoyed a lengthy sunset and twilight. At least we enjoyed it for a while, then got tired while waiting for the stars to show up. It had been a long day.

Capitol Reef National Park

Sunset, Capitol Reef National Park

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right camera equipment with me to capture the stars when they eventually showed up, but you can check out this page to see what we saw.  We achieved our goal of seeing the Milky Way and a multitude of stars over Capitol Reef National Park. Then we headed back to our hotel where we slept very well after our long day.

Where to Stay and Eat Near Capitol Reef National Park

There is no lodge in the park, so if you want to stay in the park you need to camp. The campground is very conveniently located in the historic Fruita area, right next to the park’s Scenic Drive.

For a solid roof over your head, there are options in the nearby town of Torrey. We stayed at the Capitol Reef Resort, just a mile from the park boundary. We chose a traditional style hotel room, which was quite comfortable. There are also cabins, tepees and even Conestoga wagons for more adventurous options. As Capitol Reef National Park sees fewer visitors than other Utah national parks, the accommodation rates tend to be lower. There are couple of motels are the most budget-friendly options, or you can go for a bed and breakfast for a more deluxe experience.

The resort’s restaurant served a decent breakfast, but we chose to go elsewhere for dinner. The night we arrived in Torrey we ate at the Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe. Like the Hell’s Backbone Grill on the drive from Bryce Canyon, it serves healthy local food.  The next night we went for old-school burgers, fries and shakes at Slackers Burger Joint, which hit the spot after our morning hike and fruit pie lunch left us needing a hearty dinner.

If you are headed to Moab after Capital Reef like we were, the Mesa Farm Market is worth a stop. It’s about twenty miles east of the national park, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. They sell organic produce and artisanal bread, as well as cheese from the goats that they raise sustainably on site. It’s the sort of place you would expect to find in a hipster enclave, not in the wilds of Utah.

 

We would definitely go back to Capitol Reef National Park.  We would like to hike some more of the trails, and maybe pick some fruit next time. Some of the areas that we didn’t get to (like Cathedral Valley) require a high clearance vehicle to access. The downsides of less development in the park (lack of restaurants and lodging in the park) are offset by the lack of crowds. It’s a more low-key experience, but definitely a worthwhile addition to a Utah road trip itinerary.

 

The post Summer Road Trip – Capitol Reef National Park appeared first on Airports and Sunsets.



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