30 hours! It seemed inaccurate, so I hit the refresh button and waited. Yep. Home was definitely a lot further away then I initially thought. After all, I had taken the trip out West in short little bursts, stopping at parks and having a jolly good time along the way. But now it’s pretty much a straight shot back to the east coast, with one tiny layover in Tennessee to visit my brother and his family.
I typically don’t do well with long, extended time in the car. My back gets sore, my bladder seems oh-so-small, and I feel pretty loopy after staring at so many car bumpers. Yet Arizona was the perfect stopping point in my journey. I was halfway finished with my quest to visit all 47 parks in the contiguous U.S., and the cooler weather was a sign that it was time to head home. With the holiday season around the corner, I’m quite content to take a break for a while and regroup. Come spring, Clarence the MyPod and I will once again hit the road and continue our epic adventure.
I made a list for my multi-day, multi-hour, multi-mile upcoming drive.
Petrified Forest national park is chock-full of fossilized wood. Based on the pictures I’d seen, I figured that there may be a couple of key places where one might be able to see this mineral-permeated organic matter. After all, how much “rock-wood” can actually be found in an arid desert-like environment?
Apparently a lot.
Thanks to plate tectonics, this area of Arizona used to be near the equator, resulting in a lush, rain forest environment. These trees got buried under layers of sediment, became saturated with minerals, and turned to stone. (This all took many, many years, of course). There are big chunks that can be found at the Long Log section, and smaller multi-colored pieces that are strewn all about the Crystal Forest.
It’s pretty. It’s unique. It’s science!
I also had a chance to tour the Painted Desert Inn, an old traveler’s rest stop that now serves as a museum. In the spirit of Halloween, we took the entire tour in the dark. Using only glow sticks to light our way, the ranger told stories and tall tales about a myriad of suspicious and creepy behavior that happened in the old inn. Spoiler alert: someone actually did die there. We entered the basement through a locked door – a place where park visitor’s are only allowed to go once a year. The floor creaked and the dumbwaiter was super eerie.
Was it truly haunted? The park rangers and volunteers seem to think so.
“I hope you’re not scared of heights, cuz I’m going to assign you one of our tallest mules.”
“That’s fine. Will I be riding that one over there?”
“No, yours is in a separate corral. She needs to be isolated from the other mules.”
And that’s how my mule riding adventure at the Grand Canyon began (not the most comforting thought to be told you’ll be placing your life in the hands of an ornery animal who has social issues). Yet mule riding and the Grand Canyon go together like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, and other food-related famous duos. How could I not ride on the back of one of these stubborn, sure-footed creatures overlooking one of the most famous canyons in the world?
My ride was fabulous. Cher ended up being a little bit of a handful, but didn’t launch me off the edge, so I was happy. Each turn along the trail brought another view of the canyon’s sheer expansiveness.
Litter! (Tossing sunflower seeds, nut shells, and food scraps on the ground is rude and unacceptable. Yes, it may be biodegradable, but it’s not native to the desert environment, it’s an eyesore to your fellow hikers, and it will take a long time to decompose) #leavenotrace
Last November I visited Zion national park and was completely astounded at what I discovered. My eyes were opened up to a whole other world that existed beyond my day-to-day reality. Looking up at the cliffs, barely acknowledging the below-freezing weather, something inside of me shifted. A blatant desire was born – a passion to see more of the beauty in America hidden in plain sight within our national parks.
Thus, Zion has a special place in my heart. Returning to this park made me realize how far I’ve come on my journey – both geographically and experientially.
Many people see Zion as a sacred place. In fact, early pioneers named various features of the park in such a way as to describe a spiritual awareness. Angel’s Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, Temple, Great White Throne… all of these majestic places are truly awe-inspiring.
Despite the crowds, I enjoyed viewing parts of the park that I didn’t have a chance to during my first visit. The Narrows was an interesting hike. Wading through water along a slender canyon was an enjoyable challenge. It was slow-going; I was extremely cautious not to lose my footing on the slick rocks and plunge into the 49° water. The Museum of Human History was another place in the park that was fun to explore.
I reveled in the feeling of coming full circle at Zion national park. Looking back at all of the adventures I’ve had fills me with a genuine sense of fulfillment. And now I look, once more, to the future. Ready to engage in more exploits and take on the world… one park at a time.