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Showing posts from November, 2009

Biding Our Time in Bandera

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The weather is once again having an impact on our travel plans. This time we're being held-up a day instead of being pushed out early as we were a few weeks ago in Nevada and again in New Mexico. A cold front combined with a storm system passing through this area have combined to bring a couple days of cloudy and cold and wet conditions to South Texas. We had expected to leave Bandera and arrive in Rockport tomorrow, Tuesday. But we've extended another day here in Bandera and will now be on the move Wednesday.

Yesterday, Sunday, we took a drive through the Hill Country. Our first stop was good old Luckenbach. We stopped there almost two years ago and found it a friendly, if quirky, place. [journal entry from 2008]  There's an old building that serves as a general store, a saloon, and the Post Office, there's a large dance hall with a stage, and just a few other small scattered structures for restrooms, storage, and such. That's it -- it's not much. What attract…

Brazen Bold Bandera

After a dinner of Thanksgiving Day leftovers here at Pioneer River Resort in Bandera on Friday night, a large group of us headed up-town. One of the great advantages of this RV Park versus some others around town is that we're within easy walking distance to all the action on Main Street. As the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Capital of the World", you can be assured there's no shortage of honky-tonks for all the cowboys and cowgirls who fancy live music, Texas beer, and dancing -- especially on Friday and Saturday nights. The little town can really get rockin.

We sampled live music at two establishments -- Arkey Blues and Blue Gene's. The talent was great and the crowd lively. Dar and I are still trying to get the hang of the Texas Two-Step, an un-natural variation of the simple two-step dance that anyone can do. It seems Texans are born with the innate ability to dance their version without even thinking. Small town boys (at least this one) from the upper Midwest, who…

Leftovers

I was not among the throngs of people, whipped into a lather by advertising and promises of big sales, that were headed to the malls and retail stores of America this morning at 5am. We even saw that some stores were opening at Midnight. Sheesh! If fighting crowds and standing in lines is what trips your trigger, I hope you enjoy yourself today. But this consumer is staying home and finding more productive and less stressful things to do.

Our Thanksgiving dinner here at the RV Park was wonderful. About 35 people showed up and there was enough food for twice that number. Isn't that the way it always is with Holiday feasts -- way more food than necessary? So tonight at 5pm, we're all re-congregating at the club house for round 2, Thanksgiving the sequel, Holiday redux, leftovers. Yummm!

Dar is now officially up to date with our online photo albums. After a typical day of exploring she downloads all the photos from the day into her computer. Then she culls the obvious bad ones, s…

Thanksgiving Day

During the holidays, many fulltimers and "snowbirds" do their best to justify their absence from family holiday gatherings back home, or up north, or wherever. They say the cost, stormy weather, and the hassle of traveling during these busy travel days makes it tough and, often, impossible for them to be with family during the holidays. Dar and I have said the same thing.

There's no doubt about it, missing these family get-togethers is one of the big negatives of this lifestyle. We try to compensate by being with friends and like-minded people wherever we happen to be. We make heavy use of the phone on these days in an attempt to "be there" if not in person, then in voice, as inadequate as that is. But nothing can relieve that gnawing knot of nostalgia that comes from not being with loved ones on these traditional family days of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Today, we'll be having Thanksgiving Dinner with about 40 others from the RV Park here in Bandera. I…

Is that Roast Turkey in the Air?

We're going to take part in the Thanksgiving feast offered by the RV Park here in Bandera tomorrow. Everyone who signs up to attend also signs up for a dish to pass. Dar's taking a 3 bean salad that's actually going to be a 4 bean salad, she tells me. I think I'll take a bag of Snickers bars. Enjoying holiday dinner with family would be better, but being with new friends and like-minded travelers in a setting like this is an acceptable second choice.

Things have been slow these past few days, which allowed me to knock a few more things off my to-do list. One of the chores I've been working on is Dar's health insurance for next year. The policy she's currently under, a high deductible policy coupled with a Health Savings Account, went up by $1200/year -- a 30% increase from last year -- despite the fact that she paid all of her few medical expenses out-of-pocket from her HSA account. Anyone who feels we have the best medical care system in the world should h…

Memories of La Posada Hotel

A while back I wrote a journal entry about our visit to Winslow, Arizona and promised to write more about the La Posada Hotel.  -- the last and most elegant of the great railroad hotels built in the West. Since there's not much else to write about today, I guess this would be a good time.

First, let me set the stage. The time was the late 1920's... the roaring 20's. The country was in a period of unprecedented affluence and in the midst of the industrial revolution. Between the automobile and the railroads, the average person was suddenly thrust into a world that could travel at 40, 50, 60 miles per hour -- a far cry from the 3 mile an hour world of a just a generation or two earlier. Most families could afford a car for the first time. Railroad travel over long distances was financially possible for most people. And air travel was another wonder that was just beginning to assert itself as yet another transportation alternative -- at this point mostly for the rich.

It was …

Simple Sunday

Nothing complicated about our day today... we did take a few hours this afternoon to walk around downtown Bandera. It seems the countryside around town is a real destination for motorcyclists from all over South Texas... winding curvy roads, interesting scenery, and the terrain of the hill country tends to limit the winds most days. In any case it sure beats riding the flat dry range land found in much of the rest of the State. During weekends there are motorcycles everywhere.

We spent some time with Gary and Monica, and checked out their new motorhome. And for dinner we threw a couple burgers on the grill. Then we settled in for a football game (Go Eagles!) before nodding off for the night.

Not a very taxing day in Texas...
Thom

By the River in Bandera

Our night of boondocking at the Visitors Center in Ozona was a good one... no problems at all. The fact that we were parked across the street from the police station probably helped alleviate any concerns... concerns that can grow larger and more threatening the darker and later it gets when you're by yourself in the middle of a parking lot. But we're becoming desensitized to these mostly imagined threats. The reality is they're blown way out of proportion by active imaginations. For the most part, few people even notice we're there and most all of them just don't care.

Boondocking get's us up early and on the road early since there's not much that needs to be done before rolling. Just a few mile down the road we stopped at a truck stop to fill the diesel tank, and while we were at it filled our stomachs with a good hot breakfast. Haven't done that for a while.

The trek today was about 160 miles. I-10 east from Ozona to Kerrville where we picked up SR-1…

Overnighting in Ozona

We're boondocking in the parking lot of the Ozona Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center in Ozona, TX. We got a later start this morning than we'd have liked -- about 10am. Once we crossed the state line into Texas another hour instantly evaporated as we entered the Central Time Zone. At noon we only had 45 miles on the trip log.

But the rest of the drive went smoothly despite scenery that, for much of the way, was boring with a capital B. With a tailwind and our primarily downhill route the fuel mileage was looking good too. Dar took over the helm at Fort Stockton and a couple hours later we decided to throw out the anchor here in Ozona.

After checking in the Visitors Center that it was OK to overnight here, we walked up the street to a local eatery and ate dinner. We'll be in bed early tonight and that means we'll be up early tomorrow. The drive to Bandera is another 170 miles or so which should put us there around noon.

Looking for ozone in Ozona...
Thom

Moving Into Texas

This morning we pull the jacks and say good-bye to The Ranch RV Park and hit the road for Texas. The plan is to take US-285 south through Carlsbad, across the border into Texas and all the way to Fort Stockton. There we pick up I-10 and head east. When we're tired of driving, we'll stop somewhere for the night. Tomorrow, Saturday, we'll drive the rest of the way to Bandera, TX., where we have reservations for the week of Thanksgiving.

I'll post updates on our progress during the next day or two as I'm able.

Rollin' down the road...
Thom

Living Desert State Park

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Just down the road from our camp is a small State Park named the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. It's located on top of a hill just North of the town of Carlsbad. Yesterday, Wednesday, we stopped by for a visit.

Driving into the parking lot it was clear we weren't going to be bothered by large throngs of people as we explored the Park -- there were only a few cars to be seen. This is probably a tough time of year for facilities like this one that thrive by tapping into summer vacationers that come to see Carlsbad Caverns. The population of the entire county that includes Carlsbad and Artesia is only 50,000 people so maybe they can pull in enough locals on the weekends to justify the expense of keeping it open. I hope so.

The focus of the Park is the plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert. There's a well-done visitor center that includes interactive exhibits, informational displays, and an extensive mineral exhibit. Out back is a 1.3 mile trail that takes visitors throu…

50 degree swing

Another cold morning -- 19.8f on the thermom. Should climb to 72f this afternoon.

Not sure what we'll be doing today -- no plans at all. Dar has a couple more albums ready to view in our online photo collection and I've been working on financial and administrative stuff, and reading a little more than usual. Not very exciting, is it?

Cooling it near Carlsbad...
Thom

The Fisherman and the MBA

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

"How long it took you to catch them?" The American asked.

"Only a little while." The Mexican replied.

"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" The American then asked.

"I have enough to support my family's immediate needs." The Mexican said.

"But," The American then asked, "What do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time …

Cold Carlsbad

Here at The Ranch near Carlsbad it's downright cold this morning. My outdoor recording thermometer bottomed out at 20.5f degrees -- not the worst state of affairs for those tough and hardy people from the upper Midwest, but colder than we're used to and colder than we prefer. Here in the high country of the West the typically dry air can get very cold very quickly at night. But the flip-side to that is the normally bright sun usually warms things up just as quickly the next day. Today should wam up into the 60's, tomorrow and the rest of the week into the 70's.

Putting on a second pair of socks...
Thom

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

On Monday, after a cold morning (low of 30f) and a couple pots of coffee, we headed out to explore Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It's about 50 miles from our camp at The Ranch, but an easy drive and it was a great sunny day.

This corner of New Mexico is desert -- Chihuahuan Desert to be precise. Of the four recognized deserts in the USA (Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan) the Chihuahuan Desert is higher in elevation and slightly wetter than the others (but still less than 10 inches of precipitation per year). Even now, during a relatively dry period, the desert is full of life and the drive to the Caverns was quite agreeable.

The tours available at Carlsbad Caverns range from easy (take the elevator, walk on hard surfaced pathways) to the challenging (hardhat, sliding and crawling on your belly through tight cramped spaces). We decided to forgo the challenging tours and take the basic self-guided Big Room tour, but instead of taking the elevator down, we made it a lit…

Cell Phone Savings

Dar and I used to have two Verizon phones under a "family share plan". It was the least costly family plan available which came to about $85 per month after taxes and other fees. For that we got 700 minutes "anytime" minutes, free nights and weekends, and the usual stuff that comes with a cell phone plan these days. Because we try to bunch calls to family and friends on the weekends, the number of "anytime" minutes we used in a month was usually in the 300 to 400 minute range.

One day we talked about whether we could get by with only one phone. Since we're usually together anyway a single phone would serve our purposes just fine the majority of the time. But there are times when we're apart and it's handy for each of us to have a phone along -- for safety, convenience, and to have the ability to reach each other. That second phone is something we decided was too important to give up.

But what if we modified this single phone idea? We could ma…

The Satellite TV Experiment

The bus-house came from the factory with an automatic satellite TV receiver up on the roof. We variously referred to it as "the dome" or "the low-clearance early warning system" (it's the highest point on the bus-house). From the time we took delivery of the camper in April of 2007 until last January, we hadn't subscribed to any satellite TV provider. We're not huge TV fans and had trouble justifying the cost. But I had this lingering notion in the back of my head that at some point I'd like to give it a try... if for no other reason than to see if the dome actually works.

Well in January of this year, 11 months ago, we bit the bullet and subscribed to DirecTV. The experience of getting the service up and running was a challenge but we did find out the dome works just fine. We signed up for an 18 month "commitment" with a discount to about $32/month for the first 12 months, after which the price goes to the regular rate of somewhere around…

Quiet, Enjoyable Saturday

This will be a very short entry, as we did NO exploring today. In fact, we did almost nothing. We knocked out a few mundane chores but if I wrote about them you'd be switching to another blog in short order.

No change to our status: we'll be here at The Ranch until next Friday. While the wintery precipitation looks like it'll stay well north of us, the low temps are expected to drop into the 20's on Sunday or Monday night. It should moderate upward from that point the rest of the week.

You'll hear no complaints from me...
Thom Hoch

It Was All Downhill...

We got a good start from our camp this morning on the Plains of Augustin... near the Very Large Array and not far from Magdalena, NM. By 9am we were headed down the hill and, except for a few intermediate mountain passes along the way, it was mostly downhill all day long. The one thing we did fight today was wind. In my experience New Mexico can often be windy, but the approaching winter storm has generated some high wind warnings for much of the state today and tomorrow. During today's drive through those intermediate mountain passes we had tail winds, head winds, side winds... you name it and we had it. There were a couple good gusts that hit us sideways in the passes that moved the whole bus-house like it was a billboard on wheels. Come to think of it, it is a billboard on wheels -- at least size-wise.

But we made it to our intended destination, an Escapees RV Park called The Ranch. It's located about 18 miles north of Carlsbad, NM -- down in the southeastern corner of the …

Into New Mexico

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This morning we left our boondocking spot near the south entrance to Petrified Forest National Park and headed toward New Mexico. Our path was US-180 to Springerville, AZ. where we picked up US-60 toward the state line. We settled tonight near the town of Magdalena, NM, high on the Plains of San Augustin about 40 miles west of Socorro, NM. This area is a large elevated plain -- 7,000 ft. above sea level -- and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. Tonight we're camping at our highest elevation ever, 7120 ft. We have power tonight, a real treat after boondocking the past couple.

The reason I wanted to stay up here is that the VLA, the Very Large Array Radio Telescope, is here.


This is an installation of 27 individual parabolic receivers that are hundreds of tons in weight and can be moved into different configurations depending on the demands of the projects their assigned to. During our visit, the antennas were tightly configured near the center of the triple axis arrangement o…

Petrified Forest National Park

If you've seen the Ken Burns/Dayton Duncan film The National Parks: America's Best Idea, you're familiar with the background music that emotionalized those incredible video images. When we were in Bryce Canyon a few weeks ago we bought the soundtrack of the film on CD -- which is now in the toad's CD player slot 3. Since that time, as we're driving through a National Park we often play that music and the result is very much like watching the film, except that we're actually there, in the Park, and in the "film". We've driven winding Park roads through jaw-dropping scenery at Zion, Bryce, The Grand Canyon, and now here, at Petrified Forest N.P. -- with the soundtrack playing -- and we can go for miles without saying a word, just the scenery, the music, and the motion of moving through the scene. I've got to tell you, it's a powerful way to add a little emotion and enjoyment to what's an already incredible experience.

The Park is spread…

Very Hard Wood

We're boondocking tonight just outside the Petrified Forest National Park. The drive here from Rimmy Jims, near the Meteor Crater, was less than 70 miles, so it was an easy day. Once we got settled we drove into the Park and scouted around a little, did a visitor center and a short hike.

Where we are tonight there is NO ONE for miles around. Not a soul with the exception of a few pronghorn antelope. It's so quiet, so peaceful. We're without hookups of any kind and running on batteries and LP gas. It's relatively warm outside tonight... about 62f degrees at 7pm... and no wind at all.

More adventure tomorrow in the Park.

Thom Hoch

On a Corner in Winslow...

This'll be a short update tonight. We've been going all day and didn't get back to the bus-house until almost 8pm. Then make dinner -- one of the best deals around right now... the 12 inch Supreme Pizza from the Walmart fresh deli area for only $5. There's enough goop on it that we can stretch almost two meals out of it. And it's suprisingly good. (End of commercial ad.)
We did visit the meteor crater earlier today. Just a 5 minute jaunt down the road from our camp, it's the best preserved impact crater in the world but not the largest. This one is 4,000 feet across and 550 feet deep -- and created from an meteor impact some 50,000 years ago. They estimate the meteor was about 150 feet in diameter and it hit the earth traveling about 10 miles per second... far faster than the fastest rifle bullet... and the resulting crater is still here after all that time. It was an enjoyable stop and it's certainly something you don't see every day.
We then headed into…

From Canyon to Crater

We had very mixed emotions about leaving the Grand Canyon this morning. This is the perfect time of year to be at the Canyon -- as the crowds we ran into attest. It's relatively cool compared to the intense heat of the summer. And even though it was busier than we expected, compared to the millions that show up during the summer, the late fall crowds are easy to take. We know we'll be back, we know we'll do more hiking deeper down into the Canyon, we'd love to take a float trip down the Colorado river, a helicopter flight down the middle of the Canyon would be good too. It may sound touristy, but these are other ways of experiencing one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. There's something about it... once you see it you want more. You want to see it from different places, angles, elevations, seasons. You want to hike, float, climb, jump... did I say "jump"? Hmmm. Scratch jump... touristy enthusiasm.

Anyway, we were on our way before 10am. The o…

Now That's Some Hole

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We're back from our hike... no twisted ankles, broken bones, or pulled muscles. My GPS reported we walked 8 miles today including our walk from camp to the trail head, but GPS's only report the horizontal distance traveled, not the vertical distance. The vertical distance, or elevation change, today was about 1,400 feet -- first down, then back up -- and almost all that change was in just 3 miles of the total 8 we walked today.

The trail we hiked was the Bright Angel Trail, the most heavily used trail in the Park. It can take you from the South Rim all the way down to the river... 4,500 feet down and 3 miles to the north. You can cross the river on a suspension bridge and then hike another mile or so to Phantom Ranch, a touch of civilization at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where a hiker can stay overnight in a small lodge or cabin. We didn't get anywhere close to Phantom Ranch during our hike today.


The Bright Angel Trail is a shared use trail, with both people and mules…

Cold Slow Saturday Morning

Dar's sleeping in this morning. I've been up for almost an hour, have had a couple cups of coffee already, and perusing the internet. We have great speed on our Verizon aircard here at the Park which makes anything internet-related much faster and more efficient -- very little wasted time waiting for pages to update.

The Grand Canyon airport is reporting 21f degrees this morning. But the wind is calm and it doesn't feel like 21f. The next 5 days look like carbon-copies of yesterday... sunny, clear, bright, highs in the low 60's, lows around freezing. We can deal with that just fine.

We're going to hike down into the canyon a ways today... NOT all the way down, not 4,500 vertical feet down and 3 miles horizontal to the river. No sir! We're not geared up for that as they recommend at least two days for that. We're going to take the Bright Angel Trail down about 1,000 feet to get a feel for what the place looks like from down there. By the time we're back …

The Grand Grand Canyon

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Today, Friday, we spent the day exploring the Grand Canyon Village area on the South Rim. We started at Mather Point on the east side and finished at Hermit's Rest on the extreme west side... a total of some 8 or 10 miles. There's a walking trail right along the rim from one end to the other. We walked segments of our trek, drove a small portion of it, and used the Park's free bus shuttle system for part of it too. We probably walked 4 or 5 miles during the day... not that much really... but a portion of it was somewhat steep and it felt like more than it was.

First off, let me say how fantastic the Grand Canyon is. From the South Rim it's easy to see the North Rim, and with binoculars, the North Rim Lodge some 10 or 11 miles away. Here on the South Rim we're at about 7,000 feet of elevation above sea level, the North Rim is about 1,000 feet higher. Between the two rims is the most incredible and massive canyon cut by the flowing water of the Colorado River over ma…

The South Rim Boogie

evening edition
Well, we made it... all 257 miles from our camp in Zion to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon without major incident. There were a couple of minor ones... headlight problems with the motorhome again (an electrical gremlin I'm sure) and a flapping chunk of back tire rubber resulting from a curb strike while squeezing ourselves into the overly-narrow driveway at the Glen Canyon Dam Visitors Center in Page, AZ. The former has been nagging me for months... one headlight is working fine but the other is a mear glow of it's former self. I've been counseled that it's probably a ground issue with the headlight fixture, but I haven't taken the time to really dig into the issue. However, today I flashed my bright-beams at someone I was starting to pass (a real stick-in-the-mud if I have to pass him) and the brights stayed on... I couldn't flip them back to normal beam. Hmmm. This is not a major issue because we almost never drive at night. But it sure is s…

Tunnel Travel into Arizona

morning edition
Yesterday,  Wednesday, we stayed close to the bus-house. Dar worked on pictures -- the 500 photos we snapped at Bryce Canyon created a lot of work for her. I worked on getting my chores done in preparation for moving tomorrow. Before settling in for the night we visited with a couple we met at Bryce -- Lawrie and Monica from British Columbia. They're camped here at Zion now and came over to our camp where we watched the stars while talking about earlier working days and travel experiences encountered along the road. This is one of the things we really like about our lifestyle... meeting usually interesting and talented people along the way.

This morning we hope to pull the jacks about 8am and head toward the Grand Canyon. The first leg of the trip should be interesting as we've got to go through the Zion - Mt. Carmel Tunnel and some narrow roads, tight curves, and fear-inducing switchbacks on our way out of the park. Since we're too big to go through the tu…

Native Pictographs in Zion

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Yesterday we joined Zion camp host Mike Fousie and new friends Julianne and Jimmy on an exploration of some caves here in the Park. I won't reveal the location of the caves because the park is trying to protect the sites from vandalism by keeping traffic to a minimum. You'll understand why in a minute.

After a short hike and a degree of scrambling up loose rock and sand we found the first cave, a rather shallow affair that certainly offered early peoples a degree of protection from the elements. At first glance, I really didn't see the pictographs that we went there to see. But then, I found one... no, a group of them... and then more. It's like your eyes have to adjust to "antiquity mode", and then you start to see them.



These ancient figures are pictographs -- paintings, as opposed to petroglyphs, which are etched or carved into the rock itself. The people who made these paintings are thought to have been hunter-gathers who lived in the Zion area about 2,60…

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

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Yesterday, Monday, we got an early start and drove to Bryce Canyon National Park. It's only about 80 miles from our camp in Zion so we thought we'd take a day and do the Bryce Canyon 101 overview. The weather was perfect, traffic was light, and the little Ford Focus performed flawlessly, reporting 41 mpg at the end of the day.

Bryce Canyon is only about a fourth the size of Zion -- and Zion isn't large compared to the big parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, or Glacier. Bryce is at a higher elevation than Zion, with much of the park over 8,000 feet. At Zion, visitors are at the bottom of the canyon looking up; at Bryce, you're at the top looking down. And what you're looking at is something you just don't see everyday.



In pre-historic times this whole area was the bottom of a shallow sea. The sediments that built up on the bottom of that sea, which were subsequently uplifted by tectonic activity deep within the earth, now make up the layers of rock and sandsto…

Biking Through Zion

Sunday was a slow day for us. I need one of these every once in a while.

We did shake the dust of the bikes and took an easy ride up the canyon on a dedicated bike path that kept us separate from the weekend traffic on the Canyon Road. The bright sunny skies and temps in the high 70's made the ride even more enjoyable. The views from the bike are more dramatic and, it seems, closer than what you experience from inside a car. From a car, you're looking at scenery; from the bike, you're in the scenery. I keep trying to capture what we're seeing with photos, but I'm growing weary of my meager and disappointing efforts.

After a great Mexican dinner that Dar through together, we sat outside in the early darkness, and watched the full moon rise over the canyon rim. While waiting, we saw a shooting star and a couple satellites pass by -- a bonus sky show that, in my book, can easily replace TV any day.

Today, Monday, we're planning an early start and driving up to Bry…

Confusion in Zion

Our trip to the Kolob Canyons part of Zion yesterday was more of the same... incredible scenery, a sensory festival that's hard to believe is real. Indeed, since we're relatively close to Vegas and California -- two places that thrive on the confusion of the real and the fake, the true and the false, reality and fantasy -- I was initially skeptical that Zion was real. I kept looking for, but never finding, the theme parks, casinos, and the local Cirque du Soleil theater.

No, Zion National Park is real. And, once again, I'm having trouble describing it in words. The brilliant colors of the canyon walls -- the shades of red, crimson, vermilion, browns, tans, whites, pale yellow, black, gray, slate -- all of them mixed or streaked or layered on the vertical, 2000 foot high canyon walls... The realization of the time frame it must have taken to create this... The textures of the various layers and types of rock... The effects of erosion and weathering... It must all be seen in…