Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Rob and I are in Taiwan now, but we greatly enjoyed the Christmas/holiday season build up during our two weeks in South Korea. Here’s a selection of our favorite decorations.
*Flashbacks continued. Hopefully only one more after this one.*
After waking to a dry morning, we hit the Headwaters Canyon Trail for a quick morning hike. Unfortunately just as the canyon narrowed, a 20 foot pool of water stopped our progressed and we turned back. This was remarkable timing because the weather started to turn and the rain began as soon as we hit the car. Then, driving west through the Waterpocket Fold, the first snow of the trip began to fall. We experienced on and off snow throughout the day as we traveled through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. For the most part, Rob and I stayed dry, but a pocket of precip hit us during the 6 miles round-trip hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Luckily, it stopped on the way back and we enjoyed some sun.
Since it was super cheap to camp after paying the entrance free ($8 entrance or $16 primitive camp), Rob and I decided to stay the night and get some OMG hot showers! We finally took time to do some cooking and made a bunch of chili, too. Since there was only one other group at the campground (in a minivan campervan), we invited them to join our campfire. One of them came over and it turned out that he and his girlfriend were visiting from Germany. We introduced him to S’mores and Rob gave an excellent marshmallow roasting lesson. It turns out that he had tried before, but had just stuck it in the flames.
All the snow from the previous day made Bryce Canyon into a winter wonderland. Kodachrome is below 6000 ft, where Bryce climbs to almost 10,000 ft. It was cold! We shared Sunrise/Sunset points with a busload of Korean tourists. After doing a longer hike from Sunset to Sunrise along the Rim trail, continuing on the Queens Garden trail (there’s a rock resembling Queen Victoria), a bit of the Navajo Loop Trail, half of the Peekaboo Loop trail, the Bryce Point Connector trail and finally back to the Rim Trail to return to Sunset Point, we cooked a quick ramen lunch (finally we ate the Korean ramen we had been hoarding) and ate it during the geology ranger talk. Then, we finished out the day with the scenic drive and the Bristlecone Pine Trail hike.
Lower Antelope Canyon
After talking to the German couple , Rob really wanted to go to Antelope Canyon, so we drove past Zion to get to Paige, AZ camping one night in a primitive BLM campground (White House Trailhead) that was surprisingly popular. En route to Paige, we also made a quick stop at Lake Powell. In the morning, the sky was filled with a multitude of hot air balloons enjoying views over the lake, which was quite a sight.
Since you need a guide to enter the canyons, I looked for the cheapest, well-reviewed tour and found Ken’s Tours, which guides on Lower Antelope Canyon (rather than Upper Antelope Canyon). They had good reviews on TripAdvisor and were only $20 pp + $8 Navajo permit fee + guide tip. We arrived early and managed to get a group of only 4 with a guide who was happy to let us spend plenty of time in the canyon. The Lower Canyon gets fewer light rays because of it’s shape, but during the winter the light rays aren’t as common, so that doesn’t matter as much. This was half the price of visiting upper and probably was quieter because the visit requires a number of ladders you must climb. You can just walk into the upper canyon.
As soon as we entered Zion, I wanted to leave. After the peace and quiet everywhere else, Zion was chock full of people on a random Saturday in November. Cars and people were all over the road. We figured on camping in the first-come first-serve campground, but it was full because even though they had over 100 sites, half were closed because of low staffing. Instead, we found free camping off a forest road near an old ghost town (There are designated sites – might be better for a camper/mobile home). It was great until the winds picked up and the ground was about 2 inches of sand on top of rock. The tent would not stay up and sand got everywhere. I finally convinced Rob to sleep in the car.
The next morning, we woke early and cooked breakfast at the final lookout of Kolob canyon’s scenic drive. We finished the day with a hike up Angel’s Landing. We ended up camping on this private land that many folks in town mentioned (also on freecampsites.net).
The next day, Rob and I rented cold water gear to do the day hike up the Virgin River through the Narrows. The Neoprene socks and dry pants definitely made us forget that the water was 46 deg F. The pants actually kept us dry and the walking stick was really useful for depth and balance checks. The canyon shoes were also nice to have, but our boundary waters wet shoes probably would have been fine.
Canyoneering with Zion Adventures
For our last day in Utah, we booked a canyoneering trip with Zion Adventures. We opted for dry canyons after a day in the river and our guide, Jon, took us to the Hunted and Huntress Canyons. Jon taught us how to set up a number of different rope configurations, including rappelling with an autoblock as a backup, meat belay, bottom belayed rappel and top belayed down climbing. He let us belay him, so I guess he thought we knew what we were doing. Friction climbing was a fun change to normal gym top roping, although I would definitely wear crappier clothes next time because you can go through pants quickly doing this type of activity. Our guide had a butt pad to protect his pants, but still mentioned going through many pairs during a season. Rob and I both had a great time and would recommend the experience to anyone visiting Zion. Unfortunately, I don’t think Washington has the similar canyons, so we could do this closer to home.
**Flashback-I’m attempting to finish out catching up on our US road trip heading back to Seattle. **
For the next two nights, Rob and I based ourselves out of the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab, UT. For just under $18 we could camp and have access to a kitchen, bathroom, laundry (small extra fee) and showers. When we pulled into the hostel parking lot for the first time (it’s behind a storage unit complex), we were both pretty uncertain about the place. A corner of the parking lot had a number of tarps haphazardly stretched over an eclectic assortment of old furniture (indoor and outdoor). Rob looked around the camping and compared it to Nickelsville, a homeless encampment in Seattle. With this first impression, we drove back to another camping place in town, however, they wanted $40 a night for a site, so we were back and checking into the hostel not long after leaving. It turned out to have some really nice folks; many of whom are living there for the season as this place is the cheapest housing in town. Laundry was another couple bucks per load.
The night we arrived turned out to be Halloween. Rob helped me set up camp, scarfed dinner then prepared himself a Capital Reef (it’s another Utah National Park named because settlers with a marine background called the obstacle a reef) diver costume to go out bar hopping with the other hostel denizens. It was nice for him to let loose and for me to have a quiet evening doing laundry, hanging out watching old Halloween movies and catching up on the internet.
The next day we continued our explorations of Arches National Park. The previous day we hiked the Devils Garden and Balanced Rock before going to the hostel, so we wanted to explore some of the other areas.
On this day, we rented a off-roading jeep since one of the shops had a November discount (yay November 1st). This shop also happened to be one of the only places in town that would rent you jeeps to take on a course called Hell’s Revenge (although there’s a whole list of obstacles, including the Hot tubs, Escalator, Hell’s Gate and Potato Salad Hill, that are excluded). We began using some of the 4×4 roads in Arches National Park to go out to see the Tower Arch. Since I’ve never been off-roading, starting on something easier seemed like a good idea, especially after Rob’s story about a family vacation where the Smiths rented a jeep and Bob drove the hardest road. Our first road turned out to be more than just a beginner road. At times, we were so sideways that I had to hold myself in the seat and Rob was watching to make sure we didn’t hit the mirror on the roadside embankment. We also went down a steep decent with 2+ foot rock drops the entire way down. After surviving all of that, Sand Flat National Recreation area, home of Hell’s Revenge, was the next stop. The course is 6.5 miles of driving that’s suppose to take 2-3 hours.We called it quits part way through opting for the shortcut since it was getting dark. It still took us a couple hours for the 3 miles we did. I was so thankful we made it back to the pavement in one piece. Only then did Rob tell me how freaked out he had been and was afraid he had almost tipped us.
The next morning, we set out from Canyonlands Island in the Sky section. Unfortunately, we got a later start due to cooking some good breakfast and returning the jeep, so we missed sunrise at Mesa Arch. Just as we got into the park, we saw this really neat road (Schafer Road), so we decided to go for a drive before exploring the rest of the park. It was pretty narrow in spots and there were a few rocks in the road, but overall not too bad a drive. Luckily, we only passed one car on the way out (but of course it was during the 2 minutes I decided to change shirts in the car. Grrr.). After our scenic detour, Rob and I did the obligatory hikes – Mesa Arch, Upheaval Dome and the Grand View Point.
Looking for a free place to camp between Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Goblin Valley State Park, I found the San Rafael Swell, a popular off-roading area and neat geological formation. We drove through a canyon like area and discovered a number of boondocking sites in a wider section. We parked to car to do better scouting on foot and after seeing no one for awhile, another car pulled in and parked right next to us. As we looked for campsites, they went to examine the large pictographs on the canyon wall that we hadn’t noticed, but just happened to park right next to.
We started the next day at Goblin Valley State Park ($10 entrance fee), which is right next to San Rafael Swell and made a great stop between Moab and Capitol Reef. This was a fun couple hour detour, although you could get lost in the Goblin Valleys (there are 3) for much longer. With the surreal landscape, we felt like we were on another planet-mushrooms and drip castles galore. They let you climb on whatever, so it’s a fun place to scramble around.
The winds were howling as we drove into Capitol Reef National Park. Once again, we ate lunch in the car to escape the ferocious gusts. Afterwards, we hiked the Grand Wash and did the scenic drive. The Grand Wash is neat as you’re following one of the water paths through the Capitol Reef. These are really the only ways through the formation (the Waterpocket fold). Initially, there’s a road, but eventually you park and start walking in the wash itself (normally dry, but you need to watch for flash floods). There’s a section about a mile in, where the walls are quite high and the passage narrows to several feet wide.
On recommendation of one of the rangers, we also hiked up to another canyon, Cohab canyon, and viewpoint. Finally, we camped at one of the free primitive campgrounds in the National Park, Cedar Mesa. Located in the southern park section, we had to drive back east through the park before heading south along a mostly dirt road. The rain began as we hit the dirt road, but luckily it was only off and on, so we had a chance to rig up a dining tarp when we got to camp (The only other folks there were staying in their Unimog. Rob and I were amazed at the number of these crazy vehicles we saw on the trip.). The last time it rained on us camping, our tent vents were open and Rob got rained on. After some futzing with the fly and vents, we managed to get it sealed up this time and stay dry.
Amanda and I have flown to Korea to start our tour of Asia and New Zealand/Australia, and we don’t plan to make it back to the U.S. until Memorial Day. Packing for this leg of the journey was quite the challenge due to the many different climates and activities we have planned for the next half year, but we managed to fit everything into our (heavy) backpacks.
We flew to Seoul and spent two days there to begin our trip and adjust to the new time zone and now are working our way around Korea.
Here is our itinerary so far: Amanda and I are in Korea for two weeks, and then we fly to Taiwan. We will spend three weeks in Taiwan and then we head to Japan on January 9th. We are renting a campervan in Japan to drive around the islands and will spend over a month in country before finally flying to Thailand on February 11th. That is as far as we have plane tickets booked, but the idea is to spend 2 months travelling around Southeast Asia, and then head to New Zealand around April. Let us know if you’ll be somewhere in these areas and want to meet up. As you can tell, we’re pretty flexible on the planning.
As Rob and I got in late the night before, we didn’t get to check out the amazing view from Goosenecks State Park until the morning. You drive in and it looks like nothing, but once you enter the park, there’s a great view of two river bends, goosenecks, that the San Juan River makes. There are a number of unofficial campsites beyond the designated eight if you keep driving along the rim road.
Leaving the park, the next stop was Mexican Hat to check out the rock formation and the free BLM land camping we had passed up. The rock was neat but the free camping was pretty much just a parking lot off a dirt road with no privacy – not great for tent camping.
Monument Valley was our major destination for the day followed by Natural Bridges National Monument. We drove south and crossed into Arizona onto Navajo land to go the the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
When we drove up to pay the fee, it turned out the park was closed for two days. It seemed like everyone was going in anyway, so we followed the crowd and drove through the park. Everything was actually open except the fee collection and the restaurant- the souvenir shop, the people at the pull offs selling things and tours, all open.
Our next Utah experience was surprisingly the drive to Natural Bridges National Monument. I had seen a sign the day before the mentioned RVs and trailers not recommended on a section of the road. After looking at the map zoomed in, it became clear why.
We drove toward a steep wall and then the road became gravel, under construction, steep and narrow for 6 miles as we switch-backed up a rock face. Later, I found out this section of road is known as the Moki Dugway.
At Natural Bridges National Monument, there are three noteworthy natural bridges, which differ from arches as they are formed when a river erodes the neck of the gooseneck bypassing the bend and creating a natural bridge. Arches are formed by freeze thaw linked erosion. We hiked to all three natural bridges then headed on to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.
The free camping at Newspaper Rock was closed and amazingly all of the BLM designated free campsites were full on this random Thursday night. Luckily we were able to fall back to a nice boondocking site along a road to a cheap (but not free) BLM campground called Hamburger Rock.
The next morning we got up ready to do some actual hiking. We were limited on starting points by not having a 4×4 but we were still able to get to the trailhead for the Joint Trail and Druid Arch. Our goal was to combine them into one long day hike, which we did by doing the Joint trail segment out and back to save distance/time. Both the Joint Trail and Druid Arch are amazing and shouldn’t be missed on a visit.
After hiking, we cooked up some curry ramen at the Ranger Station while we waited for the Night Sky Program to begin. Canyonlands is a designated dark sky park and ranger had a fancy telescope to look at some different star clusters and nebula. He also showed us how to find a teapot who’s “steam” is the milky way. Camping was again off the same road but a different site as the one we had used was already taken.
Rob and I had designated Utah as our primary attraction for the way back to Seattle so after the F1 race, we hit the road headed northwest. Zigzagging our way across Texas, we reached Roswell, NM our first night back on the road. A bit of research led us to Bottomless Lakes State Park, which turned out to have a surprising number of folks camped there on a Monday night. We were able to find a nice campsite for the night and in the morning, we explored the “bottomless” lakes, a series of limestone sinkhole lakes of various sizes. There was a small visitor center with a neat display about the salt and alkaline content of the water staffed by the most unenthusiastic rangers ever. This might have been a longer stop in the summer when you can swim in the biggest of the lakes, but at this time of year, an hour was plenty.
After finishing at the state park, we drove into Roswell, NM to get gas and check out the Roswell Museum and Art Center, a free museum that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. We were pleasantly surprised to find a nice collection of modern and southwestern art as well as an exhibit replicating Goddard’s rocket lab. I really liked the special exhibitions of guitar-like sculptures and textile wall hangings.
After wandering around the center, we gassed up and headed to Albuquerque. Since New Mexican food is pretty different from Tex Mex, Rob and I decided that the main attraction for today would be lunch. With a bit of help from yelp, we found Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant. We both ordered combo plates with a chile relleno with green sauce and a red sauce covered tamale for me and a red sauce covered burrito for Rob. Both plates came with a sopa, an amazing savory puff of dough. I wanted more! That and the chile relleno were the clear winners. If we’re back in the area, I would definitely come by again and maybe try the huevos rancheros that they’re famous for.
Since we still hadn’t figured out exactly where in Utah we wanted to head first, we pulled up the best breweries in NM list on beer advocate and headed to the best one in town, La Cumbre, where Rob and I ordered a massive sampler tray of all the their beers on tap. The bartender checked our IDs and asked if there was a WA convention going on. Turns out the couple next to us at the bar was also from the Seattle Metro area. They were vacationing in Santa Fe and stopped in to catch a beer before their flight. After talking with them for a bit, we got some productive trip planning done – we booked one-way plane tickets to South Korea with miles and figured out a route to Utah that would take us by Mesa Verde National Park.
After a few hours of driving and a quick stop a Ska Brewing (thanks to Allison and Stephen for the rec), we reached our destination. A boondocking site outside Mesa Verde National Park down some dirt roads from the main highway. Luckily, the directions were really great because finding these places in the dark is often quite a challenge.
We awoke in the morning to the frigid temperature of 25 deg F. Brrr. Our site didn’t have any great spots to cook breakfast, so we headed into Mesa Verde National Park to find a scenic picnic table.
Just before the park entrance, a visitor center sold us tickets to the only cliff dwelling open to touring and gave us an opportunity to use the real bathrooms. Turns out the cliff palace, the largest of the dwellings, is under renovation and the Spruce House had been declared structurally unsound the week prior. Thus, we ended up visiting the Balcony House, which requires a bit of ladder climbing and a crawl through a small tunnel. The visitor center had replicas for these for folks to see/try before committing to the tour.
Despite being small, the Balcony House was still neat as one of the better preserved dwellings. It had 2 kivas, circular sunken rooms with hearths, and housed ~20 people. Afterwards, we checked out the scenic drive and did a few short hikes to viewpoints of other structures. We were all Kiva-ed out by the afternoon. Also, we mailed our absentee ballots from the park like the good voters we are. The postwoman who took them knew exactly what they were because she has relatives in our area.
A brief stop in a nearby town for provisions and Rob and I were on the scenic road to Utah headed for Mexican Hat and Monument Valley. Despite a quick pull off at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument to check out the neat yellow Cottonwoods along the river valley the road followed, we made it to camp at Goosenecks State Park just before sunset. Utah at last!
Rob and I arrived in Dallas just in time for one of the biggest rivalries in college football, the Red River Shootout. Played at the Cotton Bowl in the Texas State Fair, the Red River Shootout features OU (Oklahoma) vs. Texas with fans traveling from both sides of the Red River (the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma) to pack the stadium with half burgundy and half burnt orange with the 50 yard line as the divider. Texas has been terrible this year, so we were pleasantly surprised to watch a competitive game with a UT victory.
After the game, we managed to hit a few of Rob’s parents’ favorite Texas State Fair sights despite the crowds – the fancy knife demonstrations, the butter sculpture, the Texan dairy free ice cream and the midway barker that appears to be missing legs (thank you mirrors). We also tried some chicken-fried bacon, which was more crispy batter than bacon.
Rob’s extended family lives in Dallas, so we finished the day watching more college football with them over dinner. TCU, Rob’s grandmother’s alma mater, was losing to Kansas State for most of the game. You knew it was bad when she started using “fresher” language at increased volumes. I think it runs in the Smith family. We also had a great lunch with Grandmother at the Forum where she lives and got a chance to show her all the pictures from our travels thus far.
Since Rob and I have spent so much time in Texas, we tried to fit in visits with as many friends as possible. A number of friends have landed in the Metroplex, so we had a good excuse to explore new places and catch with folks.
My friend from HS in NJ, Erin, was recently transferred to Fort Worth from Montreal, but fortunately for us she found the folks in Dallas were more “her people,” so is living pretty close to Rob’s relatives. We managed to meet her for dinner at a Texas ice house/food truck rodeo place called the Truckyard. Then, we caught up with our friend, Jen, from Rice at a dive bar near Love Field.
Rob and I also timed our Dallas visit to coincide with a smoked chicken/board game party that our friends, Chris and Jess, were throwing in Denton. We’ve known Chris since freshman year at Rice. He lived in Seattle for a time where he met Jess. Although we were sad they no longer live so close, at least they’re in a convenient spot to visit. We had a great couple days with them drinking amazing beers, playing new board games and eating tasty foods. I totally got a kick out of trying to mow their lawn with a implement that’s like a blade on the end of a golf club.
After visiting the Metroplex, Rob and I headed to Tyler for a couple days to see Grammy and Grampy, his maternal grandparents, and his uncles. We did some early Christmas tree assembly and decoration pulling out.
Next, we visited Dallas and stayed with Rob’s cousin Allison and her husband, Stephen. They love beer and wine, so we had fun opening some different beverages and cooking dinner. We also got to meet their new dog, who is super sweet.
For our last stop in Texas, we spent a week in Austin to visit Rob’s parents and the few remaining friends in the area. With Bob and Kathy, we did a day trip to Dripping Springs area to visit Jester King. En route we spotted Last Stand Brewing, so popped in there for a pint and another humiliating cornhole defeat for the “kids.” Then, we caught the last tour at Jester King then had a pint and watched the sunset. For dinner, we decided to hit the original Salt Lick since we were already out that direction. It’s BYOB, which necessitated a service station stop. The one we chose actually had a beer called Chupahopra that we had hear about and he been wanting to try. One of the best beer names ever!
The US Grand Prixe also happened to be the next weekend, so we decided to stay and see the race. Rob’s parents bought tickets because Elton John was the act for the post-race concert.
Between Bob’s work and Craigslist, we were able to get tickets for Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a miserable washout where zero cars moved on the track. We finally gave up after hours of been cold and damp. Sunday the weather finally improved and two rounds of qualifying were run in the morning followed by all the normal racing. Lucky for us that they were honoring Saturday tickets for Sunday, so we were able to use our Saturday main grandstand tickets and get Sunday main grandstand tickets. This was especially awesome because GA was a mudpit. It was cool to watch the race from the grandstands and be able to see all the festivities as well as the start and trophy ceremony.