Out of the frying pan into the fire

Yup, no one ever willingly admitted I was the cleverest man alive! And it seems for good reason. As if the heat of the Salt Lake and Bryce wasn’t enough, I got talked into visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion, and even Vegas en route to Yosemite. Oh, did I mention that we also drove through Death Valley? (although that was largely self-inflicted and a not a result of Sandra’s persuasion skills).

From Bryce, we continued on some small highways that went south towards Zion. Before entering Zion, we did an overnighter at a hidden gem of a lake: Quail Lake where the waters are warm 24 hours and even when you come out from swimming, there’s always warm air. Almost perfect swimming conditions.

evening gloe after sunset on quail lake

evening glow after sunset on quail lake

Now, IMHO Zion isn’t worth visiting if you’re gonna visit Bryce and Grand Canyon as it’s kinda somewhere between the two and not very big and feels ultra-touristy: think about those hop-on hop-off children’s trains at six flags. Basically you’re not allowed to drive into the main Zion Canyon and must take one of the many park shuttles (remember the children’s trains) to go anywhere in the canyon.

Zion shuttle

Zion shuttle

Even “the parking lot” of the park gets filled to the rim on a weekday by 10am in summer so gotta get here earlier or take even another shuttle from a close-by town. As the shuttle took us into Zion, we were less than impressed with most of the vistas, might be a result of being spoilt by Yellowstone and the like. We took a shot or two and high-tailed outta there in a couple of hours.

looking upto angel's landing, Zion

looking upto angel's landing, Zion

Relived from the tourist traffic, we slowly drove towards Kaibab plateau in Arizona where the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is located. It got hotter and muggier while driving to the point that I was thinking of turning back to Salt Lake! Then we started climbing up on a plateau and the weather changed dramatically: for the first time in weeks I felt cool air on my face from the open window! My heart leapt with joy and I knew I’d be bound to cold climates if I really wanted to be happy: the heat does me no good! (Sandra: Sagi wouldn’t know the first thing about what a treat this warmth is: he loses all but the last of his strength soon as the mercury climbs over 25 Celsius!!!)

Grand Canyon North Rim at sunrise

Grand Canyon North Rim at sunrise

So apparently the North Rim is worlds apart from the South Rim in terms of weather: its in a green oasis in the dessert and weather is vey nice and cool even in mid-summer.

smile of relief: cool morning on the north rim

smile of relief: cool morning on the north rim

Grand Canyon from Roosevelt Point

Grand Canyon from Roosevelt Point

Surprisingly it’s only 10 miles as the raven flies across the South Rim but driving around is a different matter altogether. I was able to sleep again in the van comfortably and we spent a few days reveling in the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Canyon hopping

Canyon hopping

Grand Canyon and Colorado river from Cape Royal

Grand Canyon and Colorado river from Cape Royal

We even took up the challenge to see if we were upto the task of being muleteers for a day riding down the canyon on these interesting animals. They look almost like horses save for long donkey ears and funny tails and an unpredictable temperament. They are more sturdy and sure-footed on treacherous terrains and hence no horses go down to the canyon generally.

Mule riding down the Kaibab trail

Mule riding down the Kaibab trail

You gotta be warned though: these mules have a tendency to always walk on the outer edge of the trail which can be nerve-racking! Once you get used to it (or decide to not look down) you begin to enjoy the ride and the scenery around the canyons. We went a few miles down and then back up the same day which left us in awe of the strength of these beasts of burden.

for once the mule stopped before the edge

for once the mule stopped before the edge

And so the saga of the brown spot continues: we made our way further into the fire towards Las Vegas, Nevada which I barely survived! No one ever said it was a smart idea to go to an already hot place in the heart of summer! The story shall soon unfold!

amazing storm cloud

amazing storm cloud

You can see the full album here:
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In the company of a travelling brown spot

First off, let me share some good news with all those comrades trying to lose those darned impossible pounds: there’s hope! All you gotta do is drive through Utah, Arizona, Nevada etc. in the heart of summer (above 40 Celsius is child’s play and at times gets close to 50) in a non-air-conditioned van and drive all day when the sun’s at its hottest and ta da! You will be a new slimmer self albeit with increased laundry cost from profuse sweating.

Plus if you always have an itch to be outside and refuse to apply sticky sun lotions, you will arrive at the second stage of the accomplishment: a traveling brown spot as I soon became and realized through a multitude of shots that did not make the lime light. All was well with the photos overall: the breathtaking vistas, the beautiful Sandra, and … oh wait…what’s that next to her? Hmmm, must be the infamous traveling brown spot!

In the company of a traveling brown spot

After leaving Grand Teton, we traveled south via Wyoming , Idaho, and Utah to get to Salt Lake City. En route to the city, we spent a night on Antelope Island State Park which was recommended as a great spot to see the Salt Lake. After silently driving through a dry stinking lake bed (think about a dozen of those vault toilets, all left open) of about 15 km, we got to the island and found the heat relentless even in the evening compared to the nice cool of Wyoming but it made for good shots:

Salt Lake from Anetelope Island drive

Salt Lake from Anetelope Island drive

The brave soul that she is, Sandra decided to test the touted buoyancy of the salty lake to get to which she had to wad through massive swarms of flies which have made the lakeshore their home:

Sandra braving the Salt Lake

Sandra braving thre Salt Lake

I fared better with a game drive to see the namesake undulates of the island. We saw many white tail deer and the pronghorns in the evening light. Pronghorns are a relic of a bygone era when there were cheetahs in North America as they are ridiculously fast but have no one else to run from at that speed anymore. All the more to impress the ladies:

Prong Horns

Pronghorns

The beautiful sunset somewhat offset the unrelenting heat and we made our way to Salt Lake City the next morning. The city is very well planned with a natural flowing stream through it as well as greens which were not originally native to this place but planted by the industrious Mormons when they got here over 100 years ago to escape persecution in the then American boundaries with their then leader Brigham Young.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City from temple office tower

We toured through the main attraction, the Temple Square with the help from two Sisters from the Latter Day Saints organization of Mormons. These ‘sisters’ are actually not nuns in traditional sense as they are normal women coming from countries around the world based on a random lottery basis and stay a couple years with a temple. The 2 who gave us the tour came from Canada and Switzerland and were our age. Contrary to popular belief or wishes by some (men), they were not married to the same dude as polygamy was banned in 1890 by the Mormon leaders. We had a great discussion on the similarities of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam as we visited various buildings in the huge complex:

Blessings

Might as well get blessed while we're at it

The Tabernacle building was quite something: built over a 100 years ago, it has such great acoustics that one can even hear a nail drop at the stage from the furthest benches without any sound systems.

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle

I also had an ulterior motive of these urban travels: escape the heat to nice cool buildings :). Although the ends justified the means and I ended up gaining a better understanding of Mormom beliefs.

From Salt Lake City we drove south (slowly via multiple stops to grab ice cold drinks) and took the longer but the more scenic route to Bryce Canyon via Hwy 12 which we’d recommend to anyone. This road is a destination unto itself with amazing views of mountains  and canyons through which it cuts:

Scenic byway 12 winding through canyons

Scenic byway 12 winding through canyons

No amount of guidebooks could have prepared us for the grandeur of the Bryce Canyon with its Hoodoos. Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands.

The actual word comes from voodoo and means to cast a spell; the native Navajo Indians believed these were created when bad people were converted to rock by a spirit fox. Well, the fox cast one amazing spell I tell you:

Hoodoos

First look at Hoodoos

Hoodoos from sunrise point

Hoodoos from sunrise point

To see these hoodoos, visit the canyon rims from Sunrise to Sunset point where most people view them from the overlooks ; however the most rewarding way to see them is by hiking the trails that descend into the canyon. We’d highly recommend the Navajo/Queen’s Garden trail combination. Come early in the cool of the morning unless of course you’d just love to lose them pounds by the hour in the afternoon heat:

Different shades of Bryce canyon

Different shades of Bryce canyon

Hiking the Navajo loop

Hiking the Navajo loop

Scientifically speaking, the hoodoos are a result of erosion at work in this sequential process:

Regardless of how they came to be, looking at the vast valley of voodoos does have a profound and almost spiritual effect. Their shadows seem to dance in the early morning sun as if finishing up a secret play from the night just passed and preparing to stand still again for the day like guardian to the canyon. After a few millennia, the Hoodoos turn into sand and merge back with the earth whence they came like we all will one day:

Hoodoos turned to sand

Hoodoos turned to sand

I was going to talk about our trip to Zion and Grand Canyon in this post but from the looks of it I’ll have to save it for another day and another McDonald’s parking lot (with free wifi)!

– The traveling brown spot

(PS from Sandra: The heat was not THAT bad (maybe somewhat intense) but everybody who loves the summer would be delighted to sit outside in a warm breeze until 4 in the morning at 45 Celcius! AMAZING!!!)

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Land of the Three Breasts: Grand Teton did not disappoint

Yup, that’s right: long long ago in a land not so far away, some French fur trappers (intoxicated I presume) looked at the majestic Teton mountain range and thought that 3 of the closest peaks looked like breasts and hence named the place ‘Trois Tetons’ ! No doubt they had another round of Cheers following that stroke of ingenuity that is so becoming of the Frenchies. Now I assure you that I tried very hard to find a resemblance but alas, all in vain. The Shoshone Indian name for it, Teewinot, is much more befitting as it means “many pinnacles”.

After that massive effort, we decided to do the tourist thing and drove all around the park’s highway loop and got a great look at the towering peaks:

Grand Teton from Willow Flats Lookout

Grand Teton from Willow Flats Lookout

Posing in front of Tetons

Posing in front of Tetons

Teton range from Snake River overlook

Teton range from Snake River overlook

Then we got tired of driving and hit the backcountry trails of Phelps Lake and Death Canyon. The drive to Phelps lake trailhead took all that Jamhuri had to give, it wasn’t even a dirt road but more of a washed trail of sorts with a sheer number of potholes that would even put Kenyan roads to shame.

Phelps Lake in Grand Teton

Phelps Lake

Hiking to Phelps Lake

Hiking to Phelps Lake

The beauty of the Phelps lake is truly something to behold, especially in the early hours of the day when the deep blue of the lake is a placid mirror enhancing the awe of the mountains fringing it:

Death Canyon mirror in Phelps Lake

Death Canyon mirror in Phelps Lake

Cozy rock seats

Cozy rock seats

From our camp on Phelps, we hiked up into Death Canyon:

Death Canyon hike

Death Canyon hike

While not in backcountry, we drove on the small roads that lead from the park to Bridger Teton national forest and parked in beautiful alpine meadows for the night with deluxe views of the mountains.

Jamhuri parked in bush under Tetons

Jamhuri parked in bush under Tetons

Tetons view from Bridger Teton national forest

Tetons from Bridger Teton national forest

Another great hike we highly recommend is Cascade Canyon hike even if you only do a part of it till Inspiration Point. A word to the wise though: get here super early unless you fancy counting people instead of sheep to relax!

Jenny Lake at dawn

Jenny Lake at dawn

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Reached Inspiration Point

Reached Inspiration Point

At the inspiration point, this little inspired chipmunk was ready to learn all sorts of acrobatics to earn its daily bread (it was whole wheat)!!

Do not feed chipmunks

Do not feed chipmunks

We saw bison on the park’s outer loop, deer along the trails and moose on the aptly name Moose Wilson Road. No carnivore sightings here except for me!

We travelled south through Wyoming, Idaho and Utah after spending a week looking at the breasts, but that’s a story for some other time!!

You can see the full album here: