thebiggertrip

The National Park tour

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

South Rim to Mesa Verde – via Monument Valley

The original plan for today was to travel to Monument Valley and then on to Mesa Verde tomorrow. However the travelling was so interesting, with continually changing landscapes,that we kept going until we reached Cortez which is a small city 4 miles from Mesa Verde.

As we left the South Rim we had the clearest view of the canyon to date, with very little haze.

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Leaving the South Rim we again travelled across the Painted Desert. It is another immense area covered with a variety of different landscapes and almost no vegetation. The colours vary as you travel across it and the size makes it impossible to photograph or fully describe.

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Leaving this area we came to some coal and uranium mining areas before entering Monument Valley. When we came over a rise and had this in front of us we knew we were in for a treat.

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I have wanted to visit Monument Valley as long as I can remember and I was not disappointed.

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The area is part of Navajo land and the group administers the area. They have built a very sympathetic Visitor Centre that blends beautifully with the surrounds.

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At the entrance were two VERY large grasshoppers.

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There is very little shade in the valley, as demonstrated by this group of horses competing for a spot under a very lonely looking tree.

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As we crested a hill the landforms were still amazing, but the colour changed from red to cream. As we neared a town called Mexican Hat there was a mountain that had an amazing pattern on it, a mixture of different rocks and shadows.

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Shortly afterwards we left Utah and entered Colorado for the first time this trip. At the same time we left behind the Navajo land and entered Ute areas. The landforms were again intriguing.

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Grand Canyon – South Rim

After enjoying the North Rim I was not sure how I would feel about the tourist orientated South Rim but I need not have worried. It is impossible not to be in awe of anything so massive and colourful and it is large enough to spread the tourists out. When we arrived in the park we travelled along the Desert View Road to the east.

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At the end of this drive is the area of Desert View which was one of the original tourist areas. In the ’30’s the developers built a rock tower based on traditional Indian buildings and it is still used as a scenic viewpoint.

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Returning to our camp we discovered elk visiting, including one of the biggest stags we have ever seen (he would cause a riot at Yellowstone).

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Our camper is often a source of conversation. All Cruise America campers are highly decorated and the doors have smiling people, excited kids or a dog peering out. We scored and got the dog, but it means people often have to have a second look as they pass by.

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We also decided that we should start eating our Independence Day cupcakes as they are due to expire before the 4th of July!

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Yesterday we had the full day in the park and used the shuttle buses to explore the area between the village and Hermits Rest in the west. Near the village it is possible to see the Bright Angel Trail leading to the canyon floor.

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Flagstaff

It was evident that due to the heat we would not be able to complete the walks we wanted to do around Page so decided to head elsewhere. Looking at the map we decided to head for Flagstaff which research told us was much cooler than Page (the max in Flagstaff today was the same as the temperature in Page about 7.30am). Page looked delightful in the morning light as we left and we had no plans as to how to spend the day.

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To reach Flagstaff we had to cross the Painted Desert, an area with many different landscapes from Badlands through to almost gibber desert. As we neared Flagstaff this changed rapidly to a type of grassland and then into forest with ‘real trees’ which was a novelty after the last couple of days. Seeing a sign for the Sunset Crater National Park we decided to turn in and spent a lovely few hours in an area where a volcano had erupted about 1,000 years ago. It was in a forested area, but there were large lava flows and ash deposits very much in evidence.

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There were also wildflowers, including the prolific Apache Bush which looks a little like a tea tree blossom but then develops large fluffy heads.

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It was much more pleasant to be walking the Lava Trail in 28 degree heat compared to the canyons in 38+.

After checking into a campsite we spent some time birding and then investigated the old historic area of Flagstaff. To our surprise we also discovered we had ended up on Route 66 and the main street is full of small ’50’s style motels, Thelma and Louise style.

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This evening was spent at the Lowell Observatory where we looked through a number of telescopes including seeing Saturn through a 126 year old refracting (rather than reflecting) telescope. It was an awesome evening.

We have also noticed increasing amounts of preparation for the 4th July, including decoration of houses.

 

The record temperatures that have been occurring have led to a number of very large bushfires. In one are of Colorado they have evacuated over 12,000 people. They are also occurring in places we have been in Utah and Wyoming. A fellow camper has told us they could not get over the state border from New Mexico to go to Mesa Verde due to fires in that area. We are having to keep a close eye on these developments as we may need to change our plans to avoid these disasters, some of the fires are the biggest on record for their areas.

 

Page (part 2) – Internet has returned.

This is the Navajo Bridge that I mentioned before the internet died this morning. The bridge on the right is the original and the one on the left is the new road bridge.

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It is an awfully long way down, this is looking straight down at the river bank where some rafters have pulled ashore for lunch and a trestle table is set up for them. The rafts hold several people.

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From there it was only a few miles into Page, a town on the edge of the Painted Desert. It was built as a construction centre for the Glen Canyon Dam but has developed into a type of resort town as a result of the recreational use of Lake Powell, which was created by the dam. The lake is huge and surrounded by mesa, butte and desert, as is the town. It is a stunning location but seems very odd as does the coal fired power station next to the outcrops. Many movies including Maverick were shot in this area and it reminds me of photos of Monument Valley, which is not far away.

Seeing huge marinas in the desert is very strange.

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At the end of the afternoon we retreated to the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Centre to escape the 104 degree heat. The dam tour was the whole of $4 and very interesting. The dam is twice as high and twice as long as the Gordon Dam and is built into Navajo sandstone which is porous. This has resulted in some amazing engineering to cope with seepage. They also had to build a bridge similar to the Navajo bridge before they could begin construction, otherwise it was a 200 mile trip from one side of the dam to the other. To cope with the temperature they had an ice plant attached to the concrete processing to keep it at optimum curing temperature.

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We finished the day watching the sun set on Navajo Mountain just outside of town.

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Page – feeling like we should be in a Western movie (part 1)

Jacob Lake was a very pleasant place to camp overnight, lovely temperature, lightly wooded and lots of hummingbirds. Deciding I should look at the lake before we left I wandered down the hill. I had heard it was not very large, but in actual fact it was just a pond in paddock. Jacob Lake is on the Kaibab Plateau, an exceptionally low rainfall area and virtually no storage, so I guess anything that holds water may be exciting.

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For the past few days we have been in areas of extreme fire danger due to the high temperatures and low snow fall they have had this year making everything dry earlier. In addition to the usual restrictions there are signs on the roads telling people to smoke only in their vehicles.

Initially we regarded today a ‘travelling’ day and did not have key areas of interest in mind. How wrong we were, it was again a day with stunning scenery and interesting places, all the better when you aren’t expecting them. Dropping down off the plateau we reached a large plain, to our left were the Vermillion Cliffs which we knew we would see, but we did not realise their range and followed at their foot for most of our journey. They were aptly named with lovely red hues along their length.

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While we were had these cliffs on our left, it we looked out our right window we had the large plain with a huge cleft in it – the Grand Canyon and some of its side canyons.

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Along the Vermillion Cliffs we stopped to watch a coyote and noticed heaps of tumbleweed against the fence-line.

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There were also a couple of small (very small) settlements along the way and we spent a large proportion of the journey travelling through Navaho land. In these areas of Arizona it appears that indian vendors are allowed to set up at selected roadside spots to sell their jewellery, beading and pottery. There are some lovely items available on these stalls.

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This group were in an small settlement called Cliff Dwellers where a small adobe lodge was built in the 50’s and has several odd adobe outbuildings built around the strangely shaped rocks in the area.

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Shortly past this area we turned off for the short side trip into Glen Canyon and Lees Ferry which is located at its base. Lees Ferry was developed by a Mormon family in the late 1800’s as a Colorado River crossing for the people moving west. It stayed in use until a bridge was built in the late 1920’s. It is the only place you can drive to the Colorado River in over 700 miles in the Canyon Country area. It is also the place the raft trips down the Grand Canyon leave from, after here you are on the raft with no way out for 3 days if you want to climb up the Grand Canyon or at least 5 if you want an easier way out. It is a fabulous river, this is the first set of rapids on the raft trip.

If you look at the photo carefully you will see Graham, giving an idea of the scale. This area was also abundant with reptiles.

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It was becoming very hot at this stage so despite attempting one of the walks in the area we did not get very far and decided it was best to return.

Heading out of the canyon we came to Navaho Bridge. This is a steel bridge build in the late ’20’s and was the only crossing of the Grand Canyon system for over 900 kilometres until the nearby bridge to support the Glen Canyon dam was built in the 60’s. It is an amazing steel structure.

 

North Rim – Grand Canyon

Another day of contrasts. We left Zion as the sun was reaching the peaks and travelled through the tunnels towards the Grand Canyon. We had to wait for our turn in the convoy, giving us the opportunity for some photos.

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This one shows the beginning of the switchbacks that lead down to the canyon floor.

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The tunnel is over a mile long and travels through the side of a mountain with windows out to the facing canyons. We took the opportunity to take some pictures through the windows as we passed through.

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And the end of the tunnel.

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We stopped to have our breakfast overlooking Checkerboard Mesa before leaving the park. What a lovely place to eat your eggs and bacon.

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Twice today we came across disguised Sherrifs, but none as well costumed as the one we saw previously. If it is common practice you have to wonder how effective it actually is.

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After passing through rural areas and some Kimberley like scenery we passed into Arizona and it immediately took on a flat barren look. We were passing through areas we had seen in the distance from Highway 12.

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After quite a while we reached the Kaibab National Forest and began the climb to higher elevations and timbered areas. As we neared the entrance to the North Rim National Park there were similarities to Yellowstone with meadows leading into forests of fir trees. There was even a herd of bison, or in this case the remains of an early experiment crossing bison with cattle called Beefalo!

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Reaching the North Rim it was almost impossible to grasp the actual size of the canyon. We sat on the verandah at the Lodge and absorbed the scenery.

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Stirring ourselves we headed out on a twenty mile drive to viewing points around a small proportion of the rim. It was amazing how many different types of outcrops occurred and stunning to consider we were looking across ten miles to the opposite rim. At times we could see the mighty Colorado River winding through the base. It will be very interesting to compare it with the more tourist orientated South Rim.

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Towards the end of the drive was a massive outcrop with a triangular hole through it. You could walk out and get a magnificent view, my dread of heights is being dealt with very severely! The views make the trepidation worthwhile. If you look carefully you can see tiny people at the end of the outcrop, we went there too!

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Zion Canyon

We can categorically state that we are not disappointed with Zion. Being so impressed with the previous canyons it had been a concern but again we were in awe of the sheer cliffs in a canyon that looked so very different to the others. In actual fact it reminded us of a cross between Yosemite and Katherine Gorge. Given that it was so hot yesterday and the forecast was the same for today we rose early and took the shuttle to the end of the canyon road. Private vehicles are not allowed in and everyone has to travel on the shuttles but the wait is never more than a few minutes.

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At the head of the canyon we did the Riverside Walk before too many people appeared. This takes you to the Narrows where the canyon becomes the width of the narrow Virgin River with sheer cliffs on either side. 

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Walking this track there were many birds and animals. A dipper was spotted (in our third different park), as well as many other varieties. We also came across some deer and rock squirrels.

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There were some ‘normal’ reminders to be well prepared, and some we were not used to seeing.

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Hopping back on the shuttle we headed to the Weeping Rock. There are numerous areas where springs emerge through the rocks, but in this area it also ‘rains’ down off an overhang. The mini ecosystem is very different with ferns, moss and many other moisture loving plants.

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At the base of this walk a number of Blackheaded Grosbeak were optimistically waiting for some free food.

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Further along we decided to take another wander, this time from The Grotto to the Lodge, even though the day was warming up rapidly. This turned out to be a good move as we saw some interesting lizards and a fledgling hummingbird being fed by a parent.

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Reaching the lodge we decided an ice-cream and a rest under a tree on the lawn was in order. The only excitement occurred when a very large branch fell out of an old tree nearby. Before I saw the cloud of dust I thought there must have been a rockfall in the canyon as it was very loud.

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By that stage it was mid-afternoon and the temperature was again heading over 100 so we retreated to our air-conditioned camper for a relaxing afternoon.

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Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park

It was a great day. Yesterday we put our names on the waiting list for a ride to the bottom of Bryce Canyon and to our delight this morning we had a place. It was tempered with some trepidation when I considered I had not been on a horse for 25 years and realised that the drop of the edge of the path would look even more daunting from the extra height.

We were matched up with our rides and I asked if I could have a mule as I had never ridden one before and was allocated “Clancy”. Graham had a ‘normal’ horse called El Paso and was in charge of the camera work for the morning. The brief mentioned the fact that there tends to be two types of beasts, those that stick to the cliffside of the path and those that cling to the edge, I quickly discovered Clancy was an ‘edge hugger’. That is Clancy and I at the back of the line.

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The ride began with a sharp drop down towards the canyon floor, in all we went down about 1,000 feet.

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We also had some stretches where we had to ride up and down various switchbacks to reach different areas.

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Clancy was a great ride, fairly independent but after a while we reached an understanding.

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It was a totally different perspective seeing the canyon from below.

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However it was still spectacular.

 

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John-Henry was our guide and he is not in costume. We have seen numerous cowboys on the ranches we have driven through and the all have the hats, chaps and moustache. They also usually come with a lasso.

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Leaving Bryce we were only a short time back on Highway 12 and we reached Red Canyon, another spectacular landform and the first of a few tunnels for the day.

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We then passéd through some lush riverside areas before reaching Zion National Park. Again we were in awe of the scale of the park as canyons and outcrops dominated the scenery. To access the park we needed to travel through a mile long tunnel through a mountain and due to the RV size had to buy a permit and move in convey with one way traffic straddling the centre line.

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As you passed through there were large ‘windows’ cut into the rock face and you would glimpse the faces of the huge canyons outside. From the tunnel you drop through a series of switchbacks to the floor of the canyon and are continually confronted by spectacular scenery on a scale impossible to photograph. 

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It was 102 (in the shade) so we decided against any walks and settled in by the river next to our campground in the shade of a tree. 

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Again we have spectacular views from our camper (and hummingbirds flying around).

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Bryce Canyon National Park

There was no reason to worry about being disappointed. This park is phenomenal, but in a totally different way to Capitol Reef. It is the most amazing country and it is a pity that we tend to have the big city stereotype in our minds when we think of it.

The canyon is about 18 miles long and 2,000 feet deep, the formations are between 7,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level. It consist of wildly eroded landforms in amazing colours. The focal point of the park is Bryce Amphitheatre which is a huge area of “hoodoos”. We began the day in the recommended manner of driving to the end of the road (canyon) and slowly making your way back. All the focal points are to the west so this is the safest method. However, it did not matter where you stopped as every outlook, while different, was jaw-droppingly beautiful. There is no way the scale of the park can be shown in photos.

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As we continued along the road there were large numbers of bikers. This had been consistent in this area with large groups of recreational bikers enjoying the roads. The bike of choice 99% of the time is a Harley Davidson and there is no requirement for anyone over 18 to wear a helmet so many are in shorts and tshirts (all ages). This group gave us a wave as they went by, what they did not know was that about half a mile previously we had stopped to see if we could help someone who had slid off the road on their bike.

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About half way along the canyon is a formation called Natural Bridge. According the the experts it is actually an arch not a bridge due to the manner in which it was formed.

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Sometimes the road signs are a little confusing, we have come to terms with the 4 Way Stop sign, but occasionally come across signs like this – the arrow is the opposite direction to the corner. We have also had it happen at junctions.

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I am pleased to say that I seem to finally be getting to grips with the constant high altitude. Today I walked up a steep climb to Inspiration Point without gasping all the time. However the high altitude and sun caught me out as I have some inspiring sunburn and had to wander down to the ‘outfitters’ and buy a collared long sleeve shirt to wear tomorrow. The temperature today was very warm and it was still about 27 at 9pm, however it becomes very cool overnight. It is several days since we saw a cloud.

The main area of the canyon is spectacular, you think you have seen amazing sights and then come to this huge amphitheatre where the hoodoos raise in tiers and fill a huge area. The depth of the canyon here is about 2,000 feet. The trees you can see in the photos are full size Ponderosa Pines.Image

In this picture you can see people standing on the rim if you look carefully.

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The really freaky part is that in most areas you can stand on the edge of the canyon without any form of fences or barriers, in fact there are paths through them that go along the top of ridges with huge drops on either side. These paths are about 5-6 feet wide and the warning is that they expect you to be sensible and  responsible for yourself.

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I still have some reservations, but my fear of heights is diminishing.

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It is altogether a remarkable spot.

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Highway 12

Leaving Capitol Reef the concern was how could the other parks compete with the splendour we had seen, so we had one last drive down the Scenic Road before we left.

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The bonus was that we would be travelling down Highway 12, another All American Road in the same way as the Beartooth Highway. These are roads special enough to be considered destinations in themselves and we were not disappointed. What was a short leg of about 100 miles turned into an all day affair as we continually stopped, gawped and marvelled as the sights.

From Capitol Reef we had a long climb up Boulder Mountain, reaching an altitude of 9,600 feet. There were a number of lookouts, mostly over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a huge wilderness area north of the Grand Canyon and from that height you can see approximately 100 miles. It was stunning, overlooking desert and escarpments.

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This was followed by some travel through large colourful canyons. At times you could see into their depths and spot the channel of greenery.

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Also in this area was the famed “Hogback”; this is an area of road that follows a narrow ridge between two canyons, again without guard rails. But that is ok as it was only a couple of thousand feet down each side.

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Continuing on we passed through many changes of landscape, all rugged but with different colours and features.

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We passed through some very small towns, including Henrieville. Although it is hard to see they actually fly a large American flag on the large white rock outcrop behind their town.

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Nearby is Kodachrome Basin State Park, renowned for the colour and strange shape of the formations it contains. We called in for a look and had a false alarm on a road runner. I will definitely be on Road Runner alert from now on.

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Continuing on we reached Bryce Canyon late afternoon. The road near the park gave some hint of what laid in store.

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Arriving in the park we decided we decided to see some of the features in the afternoon light. We also found a number of very friendly ravens. These birds are much larger than our ravens at home.

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