Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon

Both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are iconic photography subjects, and professional and amateur photographers from around the world come to Page, Arizona, in the northern part of the state, to capture them. Horseshoe Bend is exactly what the name implies, a bend in the Colorado River that resembles a horseshoe with a striking land mass in the heart of the shoe. Tall canyon walls go straight up from the rivers edge and beautifully frame the winding river. Antelope Canyon is on the Navajo Reservation and is a meandering, sandstone, slot canyon that has been dramatically sculpted by water over millennia. I saw photos of these places many years ago and since then have wanted to not only see them, but also photograph them. As we were leaving the balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we checked the atlas and saw that we could alter our route to take them in.

The overlook for Horseshoe Bend is a little over a half a mile from the parking area. As you walk up toward the rim you begin to see the canyon open up to a hole that is enormous and about 1,000 feet deep. The green-shaded water of the Colorado River flows into the picture from the right side of the canyon, sweeps around a pronounced “U” track, and exits to the left. You cannot help but tentatively walk up to the edge of the rim, as there are no guard rails and parts of the sandstone rim are brittle and could crumble if you went out too far. Most stay a couple of feet back, or lay down on their stomachs and inch up to peer over the edge. These seemed like pretty good viewing strategies to me.

Both sections of Antelope Canyon are narrow, beautifully sculpted and winding slots in sandstone, and the only way to get into them is on a Navajo-guided tour. For both the Upper and Lower sections, I signed up for extended photography tours that lasted around two hours, verses the usual one-hour tour. The tight quarters and an almost constant stream of individuals walking through the canyon, made it very difficult to set up my tripod and capture photos that were void of people. Fairly cloudy conditions also somewhat diminished the brilliant sandstone colors that you would normally see on a sunny day. Irrespective of the challenges, it was still incredible to finally see the canyon and photograph the beautifully carved forms as I walked through the deep slot. Below are photos taken in both the Upper and Lower sections of the canyon, as well black and white images that show the shading, depth and form of the flowing rock.

Seeing both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon and photographing them, was certainly worth the wait.   

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.







Fred’s Petrified Forest National Park


Just after sunrise one morning while visiting Petrified Forest National Park, I was out shooting the beautiful, colored mounds in the Blue Mesa area of the park. Layers of blue, purple, white and gray were enhanced by the early morning light. I decided to hike down into what is called the badland area on a trail that snakes between these colorful mounds past wood turned to stone over many, many years. As I was walking along the trail I glanced up and saw a small piece of petrified wood that had just begun to be exposed by the wind and water erosion that had occurred over millennia. It struck me that this was the first time that the now rock-like wood had seen sunlight in well over 200 million years, for that was when it broke apart from the rest of its host tree, fell to the ground, and in the ensuing years was covered by layer upon layer of debris, sediment and volcanic ash. And here I was alone on the trail, witnessing the reemergence of this ancient artifact.

Ancient wood is why this park was established back in 1962, after achieving national monument status in 1906, and it has the largest concentration of petrified wood in the world. It also is where you can see a Painted Desert and the stunning, layered Blue Mesa.

Photos of these elements of Petrified Forest NP are below.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.




Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest NP

There are many parts to Petrified Forest National Park, from the namesake petrified logs that are strewn across the landscape… to Triassic treasures that show the fossil record of Ancient Arizona some 200+ million years ago… to petroglyphs and solar calendars left behind by Ancestral Puebloan people… to a historic inn that commemorates the nostalgia of Route 66… there’s a lot to like here in this park!

Predecessors here in the areaTwo-hundred million years ago forces conspired to give us much of the desert grassland park that we see today.  But it was not always like this.  Once hot, humid, lush and green in the Triassic Period, this area was a prehistoric rainforest with abundant ferns, horsetails, cycads and ginkgoes.  Early reptiles and dinosaurs roamed in these parts as evidenced by the fossil remains found here, and giant conifers dotted the land.  But then time changed everything.  Tectonic plates shifted, moving the continents apart.  Giant regions uplifted.  Waters parted.  The climate changed.  And these plants and animals were buried by layers and layers and layers of sediment.

Petrified logPetrified / Mineralized woodFor millions of years, fallen conifers were buried beneath layers of sediment, thus cut off from the air and protected from decay.  Over time – lots of time! – these buried tree trunks were permeated by water that contained silica which crystallized as quartz, thus turning the soft wood into a hard mineral.  Today remnants of this prehistoric forest lay in sections of the park, giving it its name.

In addition to the petrified tree trunk pieces strewn across the desert sands, the desert sands themselves are a huge part of the park.  This whole area is known as the Painted Desert, which features eroded cliffs of wonderfully red-hued volcanic rock known as bentonite; an absorbent clay.

The Painted Desert
The beautiful red-hued Painted Desert
The blue rock at Blue Mesa
The blue rock at Blue Mesa

In addition to all of the geological beauty that is found here in Petrified Forest, man-made beauty is present here, too.  Thousands of years ago, Native American peoples roamed these lands, and while most of the stories of their lives here have been lost, some remnants remain including pueblos, pottery pieces, projectile points, and messages in stone.  There are more than 1,000 archaeological sites here in the park.

The Painted Desert Inn in Petrified Forest NP
The Painted Desert Inn

Finally, the Painted Desert Inn is another man-made treasure; certainly a worthy stop in the park to learn some incredible history about the trails, rails, and roads that came through this area.  Take the story of Fred Harvey.  He was a railroad man in the late 1800s, and increasingly dissatisfied with his meals and accommodations while traveling, he set out to revolutionize the hospitality industry.  Beginning in 1876, his “Harvey Houses” were popping up all along the Santa Fe Railroad line, ensuring quality and comfort to traveling guests.  

The Painted Desert Inn was built right next to historic Route 66 and the BNSF Railway between 1937-1940 by our national park heros, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boys who were stationed here from 1934 to 1941 to help improve the then-designated National Monument.  In 1947, Fred Harvey took over operations of the Painted Desert Inn and immediately set out to update and enliven the place.  Harvey Girls served at the dining counters, and thanks to the opportunities Fred Harvey gave them, were able to achieve financial independence through their work.  For this and other contributions he made, Fred became known as the “Civilizer of the West.”

Hospitality along Route 66
The Painted Desert Inn, one of Fred Harvey’s “Harvey Houses” provided meals and accommodations to guests traveling along Route 66 from 1947 – 1963

The Painted Desert Inn closed in 1963 after the romance of travel along Route 66 wore off, and a faster and more direct interstate highway system was  built.  Demolition was proposed in the mid-1970s (gasp!) but public protests prevented its razing, and it was reopened for limited use in 1976.  In 2006, after extensive renovation and restoration, the Inn opened as a museum and bookstore.  Today visitors can see efforts of the restoration, and beautiful murals on the walls, commissioned by Fred Harvey and painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie back in the 1950s.  While overnight accommodations and food service are currently not available at the inn, we can only hope that these services might one day be restored, as well.

Indeed, there is a lot to see and history to explore here in this wonderful place, Petrified Forest National Park.

Zuni Indian Harvest Festival


Every fall when I was growing up on the farm outside of Chenoa in central Illinois, when all of the crops had been harvested, my three brothers and I would put on our nicer clothes, pile into whatever car we had at the time, and my Mom and Dad would take us to the 116 Club in nearby Roanoke for our annual harvest dinner. The 116 Club was owned by an Italian family and we would enjoy dish after dish of homemade pasta, delicious fried chicken and mashed potatoes. As you might imagine, four growing boys could really put it away. Even though both my Mother and Father are no longer with us, the tradition of the harvest dinner continues today with my family. When the crops are all in from the fields, you take a moment to celebrate the harvest and give thanks. Recently, we had the opportunity to experience a much older harvest-celebration tradition.

When we were in Gallup, New Mexico, we learned that the Zuni Indians were having their annual harvest celebration on their pueblo about 30 miles outside of Gallup. We were told that it would entail colorful costumes, traditional dances and a market where they would sell their handmade wares. While not my family’s traditional harvest dinner, we were so fortunate to be able to experience the Zuni’s ancient harvest celebration. 

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Fred’s Capital Reef National Park

Capital Reef National Park is not an easy park to get to. Located in southern Utah, it is pretty much a long way from everything. It is a wonderful park, however, and in some respects reminded us of Arches NP in terms of geology and striking rock formations. But whereas Arches NP has busload after busload of visitors clogging up the roads in that park, and when these visitors get off of their buses overwhelming the more popular hiking trails, because of this park’s remoteness you can cruise one of the few roads in the park unencumbered and hike on trails virtually alone. In an earlier post I shared my images of the lunar eclipse that I took on a remote mountain top in the park. Below is a collection of photos from various areas around the park which will provide you with a view to its spectacular beauty.        

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef NPThe name of this national park suggests a nautical theme, but Capitol Reef is far from the sea.  And while it was initially far from our minds — honestly, we had never even heard of it before we set out on our adventure to visit all 59 of the national parks — it won’t be any more.  This park is a stunner!  We were told it’s a favorite of Utah natives because it doesn’t draw the crowds that Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Zion do, and this was evident during our visit.  We loved our quiet time here and would love to return!

Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef NP
This is Waterpocket Fold – what Capitol Reef NP is all about

Capitol Reef National Park protects the ridgeland that was formed when a fault line moved some 50 to 70 million years ago.  The earth’s crust buckled to create a “monocline” that goes by the name Waterpocket Fold.  The ridge is relatively narrow but it extends nearly 100 miles in length.  The national park surrounding the fold protects beautiful red rock canyons, buttes, ridges, and monoliths in south-central Utah.

The Castle rock formation in Capitol Reef NP
The Castle – one of the stunning red rock formations in Capitol Reef NP

Gifford Farm Barn
The old Gifford Homestead barn, circa the early 1900s
The life-giving Fremont River in Capitol Reef NP
The life-giving Fremont River runs across the otherwise-desert park

We spent three days in this park and found that was just the right amount of time to see everything.  Most of the park consists of multi-hued, beautiful rock formations here in the heart of Utah’s canyon country, making it inaccessible to all but the hardiest of backcountry visitors.  

Only one road goes through the park, and off this road are signs of life that used to be lived here.  Old fruit trees harken back to the time when a few hearty Mormon families tried to make a go of living here.  The settlement, aptly named Fruita, was situated next to the life-giving Freemont River which provides water in this otherwise strange desert landscape.  There were never more than ten families living in this small, isolated community, and in 1969 the last place was finally sold to the National Park Service after nearly 80 years of habitation.  An old homestead,  an old schoolhouse, and the old Fruita school are all that remains of the place now, and all have been refurbished and are on the National Register of Historic Places in addition to being part of the national park.

U-pick apple picking in the park
Fred picking apples in Fruita, the little desert oasis opulent with apples, peaches, pears and cherries in season

The orchards, originally established by these pioneer families, are today preserved and protected by the National Park Service.  A small staff cares for the now 3,100 trees including cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut varieties.  Historic cultural irrigation practices started by the early farmers are still used, but today’s caretakers of these awesome fruit trees also prune, mow, plant, map, graft, and manage pests in these beautiful orchards with spectacular rock wall backdrops.  Visitors can pick and eat fruit right from the trees, which was a nice afternoon treat.  We also paid a nominal fee to bring some apples home with us, and I made some homemade applesauce with them that evening – yummy!

Incredible hiking terrain at Capitol Reef NP
Red rock hiking terrain in Capitol Reef
Hickman Bridge
It was an easy 2-mile out-and-back hike with a little bit of elevation to get out to Hickman Bridge, easily the most popular hiking destination in the park

The park offers a bit of hiking, but only unpaved roads penetrate most of this remote backcountry place.  We enjoyed a pretty little hike out to the Hickman Bridge, a natural bridge that is really quite grand, then Fred hiked past it a bit more for some higher views.  We also drove some 40 miles down a winding state road outside the park, then crossed into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and drove another 30 miles before re-entering the southern end of Capitol Reef where roads are non-existent.  Good ol’ Toad, our Subaru [incidentally named Toad because we tow him behind Charley, our RV] easily managed another 15 miles out on a dirt and rock road — his most challenging trek yet — to the place called Strike Valley Overlook where, after a short hike across some slickrock, the Waterpocket Fold is best viewed.  

Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef NP
Fred at Strike Valley Overlook — we hiked here to see Waterpocket Fold

It’s a good thing we ventured out there, for we came across a Jeep that got stuck; he high centered himself on a rock that he was not able to get off.  As darkness wasn’t far off when we rescued him, we gave him a ride back to the closest town, Boulder, so he could find a hotel and make arrangements to get towed the next day.  Then we had ourselves a fine dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grill; an award-winning farm-to-table organic restaurant out in the middle of nowhere Utah — truly one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed during our 16 months on the road!  Thanks, Chris and Keith, for the restaurant suggestion.  Who would have thought such a fabulous restaurant existed in these remote parts?  Now we have two things to return for — the park and Hell’s Backbone Grill!

Here are a couple other favorite photos of our time in Capitol Reef National Park:

Long line-up of rent-a-campers on a tour
Funny to see this long line of Rent-an-RV campers on a tour as we headed into the park
Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef NP
The rugged beauty of Capitol Reef National Park
Charley's digs for the four days we were in Torrey outside Capitol Reef NP
Charley’s digs for the four days we stayed in Torrey, the small town just west of the park

A heck of a place for a flat!

We knew life wouldn’t always be sunshine and warm chocolate chip cookies out here on the road and that there were going to be some setbacks that we’d have to face.  Well October 8th on this dirt road in the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico presented us one such setback.

Not the most ideal spot to get a flat tire...!

Seeing as how we had nearly 27,000 miles of driving on Toad’s original tires plus another 18,000 towing miles on them, we knew we were pushing our luck on this set, and we were going to be replacing all four tires when we got to Flagstaff a few days later.  Really, we were…!  Well, we didn’t quite make it to Flagstaff.  En route to visiting a remote national historical park; actually leaving the site and heading back to main roads to pick up Charley and continuing west on Route 66 towards Flagstaff, one of our tires had had enough road use.  We heard a pop and a fizz and immediately understood our grim situation.

Fred fixing our flatFortunately the little spare ‘donut’ tire that we found in the trunk was inflated, so with a quick peek at the manual to make sure he knew the best jack point, my strapping, strong husband went to work to get us mobile again.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we made it out to the paved road — after the tire change we still had 14 miles left on this 20-mile dirt path that was full of rocks, large and small.  We felt a bit more confident when we got on the highway heading in the direction of a larger town.  And we were really pleased when we found a tire place in Gallup, NM, our destination town, that had four of the tires we needed and that they were open until 6 o’clock.  

The boys at American Tire made quick work of removing, balancing, and replacing our four worn tires with four new ones, and with that, we were on the road again, grateful for new treads and for the fact that our tire episode wasn’t so bad after all… says the one who didn’t have to change the tire!  

Fred’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta


They start to arrive as early as 4:30 in the morning, wanting to beat the traffic and not wanting to miss the beginning of the show. Most mill about on a midway of food and merchandise vendors, and sip their coffee and eat their breakfast burritos as they wait for some sign of activity on the launch field. Loud music is blaring above the hum of the crowd. The local news stations are already set up and running through their sound checks and camera shots as the mass ascension this morning and the ceremony that precedes it will be covered live on TV. I walk by the booth of a radio station that will also carry the launch live, and when I stop to listen to the weather report that they are transmitting, the radio personality gives me a wave and then says to his audience that while the sky is cloudy this morning, there is only a small chance of precipitation. I look back out to the launch area and see a steady stream of trucks and vans pulling trailers roll onto the field. The trailers carry the stars of today’s show: a wicker basket, propane tanks and a burner, and of course, the balloon, or envelope in ballooning vernacular. Each truck and trailer moves to a designated launch spot and begins to unload its cargo. In the distance you see sporadic burners being ignited, as the pilots want to ensure that their equipment is working properly.

This increased activity starts a migration of individuals from the midway area onto the launch field. One of the wonderful things about this event, is that spectators can be in the launch area and move right up to where the balloons are being prepared for flight. Many congregate around the first balloons that will launch on this morning while it is still dark. These first balloons to take flight are called the Dawn Patrol and they are scheduled to go off around 0600, with the others to follow an hour later just before sunrise. Each of the eight balloons in this group is now being filled with air by two large fans running at high speed. When an envelope reaches the required level of expansion, the pilot begins to fire the burner and the super-heated air is driven into the envelope by the fans.

The volumes of intense, hot air created by the burner blasts slowly expand the eight envelopes even farther, and like lumbering animals that have fallen and struggle to get back on their feet, the envelopes begins to rise. A cheer goes up from the crowd as a balloon crew throws their full weight into bringing a basket upright and the attached envelope tentatively rises from its prone position on the ground. With each blast of a burner, a multi-colored envelope is illuminated in a vivid flash of color. With passengers now on board, the pilot squeezes a couple more blasts of super-heated air into the envelope and a very slight breeze out of the north begins to nudge the balloon across the ground. With a couple more burns the balloon rises and  the crew lets go of the basket and guide lines and the balloon slowly ascends into the night sky, lighting up with each burst from the burner. It is a spectacular sight against the now dark blue, predawn sky. Following that first one, the others begin to rise one by one into the night sky until they are all aloft and moving away from us, randomly firing their burners and looking like fireflies in a large field on a summer’s evening.

The flight of the Dawn Patrol is captured in the first set of images below, followed by photos from Laura and my ride in a balloon the morning of the opening ceremony and its mass balloon ascension. How incredible it was to be in one of the 500 or so balloons that went up that morning. Another morning’s activities are chronicled in the third set of photos,  while in the fourth photo set varied framing aspects of a collection of balloons highlights the beauty of their different colors and design.                                         

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.






Up, Up and Away!

Balloon Fiesta grounds
High above the Fiesta grounds — we floated on the air currents nearly 2,000 feet up

Attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is something that’s been on Fred’s Bucket List for a long time now, so when we were in this area back in the springtime, he looked into it and at that time made a reservation for us in a campground about a mile from the Fiesta grounds where we could enjoy the opening weekend of this magnificent, colorful, playful event.  [I use the term ‘campground’ term loosely; it was dry camping (no power or water hookups) very close to our neighbors; they really packed us in in an old gravel parking lot!]

The first of October found us making our way down to New Mexico, and then last weekend, together with 120,000+ people and 2,400 RVs, we packed in to watch each morning as hundreds of balloons took off into the Albuquerque sky.  It turns out that Albuquerque is an ideal location for this event because of something called “the box” which is a set of predictable wind patterns that can be exploited to navigate these otherwise “unsteerable” balloons.  Winds in the higher elevations tend to be northerly while lower elevations are normally southerly, so balloonists use this theory to navigate their balloons in a box-like shape.

The "Dawn Patrol" launch
The Dawn Patrol launch on Saturday morning

On the first morning we got up at 4 a.m. to watch something called “Dawn Patrol” which features a few balloons filling up early, then turning on their propane burners which illuminates their beautiful balloons in the still-dark early morning hours.  Once these balloons take off and the skies lighten, hundreds of balloon teams then begin their own launch sequence and take to the peaceful skies.  If seeing the Dawn Patrol wasn’t enough, Fred surprised me, and instead of just watching the rest of the balloons take part in the opening day launch, we actually went up in one of them!

I will report that my first balloon ride did not disappoint!  It was a wonderful, freeing feeling to take off and ascend up, up, up into the skies as hundreds of these wonderful rip-stop nylon creations prepared to do the same, and the enthusiastic crowds below cheered us on.

Here is a little photo set showing the sequence of our balloon launch: