Grand Circle-Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyon Lands
We are half way through the Twelve Favorite Places for the twelve days of the holidays. Going through my list of everywhere I have been in my life, I narrowed it down to 12 that are my all time favorites. Also I would love to hear about anyone else’s favorite places.
There is no section of the United States more beautiful than the Grand Circle. What is the Grand Circle? Why it is no other than a collection of America’s greatest Parks all within an easy driving distance. We are talking about the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches, and Canyon Lands.
The best part of these parks is how easy it is to get to them. Las Vegas is probably one of the cheapest places in the states to fly to. The city is one giant money pit, but you need to get there to spend it, so there are always cheap flight deals from all over the US. I have flown there for $200 on more than one occasion. Now if you are into gambling, or as my dad told me when I played video arcades, just love watching your quarter roll down the slot, then by all means, spend some money here. But don’t let it suck you in.. There is so much natural beauty a few hours away that it would be criminal to stay in the land of LV Bags and Hooker–Of-The-Month cards. Rental cars are cheap here so get a round trip rental. Within a three-hour drive you can be surrounded by cliffs, canyons, and 1000’s of furry friends that need love.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
This is first on my list simply because it’s central to everything, and a nice point to stay as the main hub. I also mention this because their mission is important and meaningful to me. It is the largest No Kill animal shelter in the United States, and houses everything from Dogs, Cats, Pigs, Horses, Birds, and numerous other cute animals. They travel all over the US saving unwanted, unloved animals and even went into flooded New Orleans to rescue abandoned pets after Katrina. Its location is absolutely gorgeous spot in Utah where they used to film Ronald Reagan westerns. My sister is so enamored with this place that she goes once a year for the past 14 years, and even got married there. So who wouldn’t want to get a nice cabin in the beautiful countryside; walk dogs, play with cats, and use it as a base camp to see the rest of the Grand Circle.
There is no doubt in my mind that this deserves its own blog, but I will try to do it justice in as few words as possible. Grand is a bit of an understatement to how huge, breathtaking, and enormous this place is. The canyon is 1,904 sq miles and 227 miles long. The South Rim is the most popular, and closest to Vegas, but I prefer the North Rim because less people go there. It’s only open during the summer time. It was made into a National Park in 1919, and thank goodness it was, other wise it would be tacky hotels and bumper cars all over the place. Just another tourist trap instead of the beautiful natural wonder that it is. There are so many stories of people dying here, often from taking photos or selfies before the term was even coined. “Ok honey, just one step back, smile, Oh NO!” There goes the wife and kids over the edge. It’s seriously dangerous so be careful.
It’s standardly a three-day walking journey from North Rim to the South Rim through the canyon, but of course there are those crazy people who do it in a day. Temperatures under the rim can soar over a hundred degrees, and as you go down it gets hotter and hotter. Jeff, Yvonne, and I decided to hike down into the Canyon in 2011 because Jeff always dreamed of doing it. We were not really in shape, equipped, or remotely prepared for it, but between two Eagle Scouts, one a graduate of West Point, and a mountaineer, what could go wrong. Well disaster struck right away, as we pulled up to the rim and opened the trunk of the car all we could smell was whiskey. Jeff’s Bota bag, or wine skin, burst a leak and all our whiskey soaked into my bag. A quick run to the camp store got us a box of wine, 4 or 5 lbs worth, but necessary for the party at the bottom.
Climbing into the canyon is like climbing into history. Not being a geologist or anything, but every layer represents millions to billions of years, and each stratum has its own characteristics. So the canyon is constantly changing colors and shapes, and vegetation. We were hiked down after four to escape the afternoon heat, and the trail was steep but well marked out. As the first it was all fun and games, but as the sun slowly went down, and we were nowhere near the bottom we tried to pick up our pace. At this time the super hikers were passing us from the South Rim, looking like a walk in the park, while we all looked like wiped out. Jeff had a massive camera bag that was heavier than our bags together, and really only held his camera. He was having a jolly time skipping down the trail calling us names while snapping pictures. It was dark by time we reached the bottom and set up camp. Jeff could barely move so Yvonne and I had some warm white wine. It was still really hot, so we chose to lay the tent flat and sleep on top of it. Scorpions, who is worried about them. Yvonne and I were sharing a silk sleeping sheet, being on a slight incline, we spent most of the night slipping out of it.
Next day we were up with the sun and on our way out. Jeff was no longer skipping, and looking rather bad to say the truth. About half way up Yvonne had to take mister “skipping down’s” backpack, while I carried both of our packs. It was damn hot. About a mile and a half from the top there was a water station and we dropped all the bags and flopped on the ground. This was the mule turning point also so it was muddy mess. Jeff made quiet a scene when he started to go into mini seizures from a leg cramp rolling around in the mud. He put his feet up on the bag and kept quoting the ranger about the best way to deal with heat exhaustion. Trying to gain a bit more energy I was digging into some raisons that my dad had given us. I ate half the box, then handed it to Yvonne. She scooped some up, took a bite, screamed, and spit them on the ground. They were filled with maggots, and I had already eaten half. Yuck! You can only imagine the reaction from all the people to our band of maggot eating, seizure having refuges.
By this time Jeff was barely walking fifty feet at a time and stopping. But we were nearly there, only a half-mile more. Slow and steady wins the race. A large group of day tourist walks by us; all clean, fresh, and cheerful looking. A clear contrast to our disgusting state. As they chatter on their way down I hear a high-pitched voice “Hi Uncle Mike”. I look up and it’s my sister Kristin’s family. Not one of them recognized us from our one day at the bottom except my nephew Jake. Two doctors and neither of them noticed Jeff’s condition. But they were quick to take pictures of Jeff and laugh at how disgusting we were. They did get some great pictures of us though. So be prepared if you hike down, people get lost and die in the canyon almost every year.
This Canyon is probably my favorite of the bunch, mainly because it’s so different. Remember when you were a kid at the beach, and you would take really wet sand and let is slowly ooze out between your hands, making a sandcastle that looked like it was made from melted wax. Well that’s what Bryce looks like, and the colors are brilliant reds, whites, and oranges. I have never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. It’s not actually a canyon at all, but a bunch of amphitheaters, and the ridges and pinnacle formations are called hoodoos. There is a lovely drive for 18 miles that allows you to see the majority of the formations. There are many short walks down into the park that are not strenuous, but a lot of fun because you have pillars or rock rising up around you. It would be very easy to imagine this a giant maze with a Minotaur in the center.
Zion National Park
If Bryce is like sand castles, then Zion reminds me of melted ice cream. The formations are like large melted mounds, with lots of striations in them. The canyon trail here is great because you can walk through the center of it, and at times you have to actually walk in the river as the walls close in around you on both sides. But heed the river warning signs, because at times when it rains you can get flash floods with no where to escape to. Also you drive through the mountain, with windows carved out of the rock, so you can see the valley around you.
The great thing about this is you can do this all in 3 days from Las Vegas, though 4 or 5 days would be better. Other parks worth visiting are Arches National Park, Canyon Lands, and Red Rock. If you want to see the only city in America run by Polygamist Mormons, then fill up your gas tank at Colorado City. After all, it’s your tax dollars paying for a large part of the people here, because the states don’t recognize plural marriage, all the extra wive’s and children are on welfare as single moms.
Check out my other favorites: