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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Desert Living

Not a lot has happened since the last post, yet somehow a week has passed. We have mostly been taking it easy in the desert, which has been pretty nice. As fall begins to settle in and we head farther south chasing the sunshine and warm temperatures, I feel more and more like our snowbird RV peers.

From where I left off in Idaho, we traveled south and back to Utah Lake State Park in Provo, Utah, where we had previously stayed on our way north to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Our car was due for routine service and new tires, so we spent the day doing some life maintenance. The highlight of our stop in Provo was probably Bombay House where we dined two nights in a row. Ryan discovered the restaurant and we agree that it is some of the most delicious Indian food we have ever had. If you ever find yourself near Provo, do yourself a favor and have a meal here. 

One surprising thing we have learned from our time in the southwest is that there is a monsoon season. Who knew?! I’m sure many people know that, but it was news to us. We have now weathered three monsoons since we have been in the area. And by “weathered” I mean it rained and thunder stormed for a day at a time. 

From Provo we drove south through some of the most beautiful landscapes in this country. We still contend that southern Utah is incredible, so much so that we nearly scrapped our original plans as we passed Zion National Park and fell in love all over again. As we drove south, the landscape changed from a river valley to the most beautiful rock formations and then out to the flat desert and the Lake Powell area. After some debate, we decided to stick with our plan and continue south toward Grand Canyon. That night we ended up at a campground in Panguitch, Utah, which is where we stayed almost exactly two years earlier when we visited Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. We never thought life would bring us to Panguitch more than once.

Saturday night finally landed us in Grand Canyon National Park in the only overflow campsite at the first come first serve campground. We have counted ourselves extremely lucky with campgrounds on several occasions throughout this trip, and this is one of them. We are so grateful we made it just in time to get the very last spot. We hunkered down for the night as the rains rolled through. 

Sunday morning I woke up at the break of dawn, made tea, and stepped outside to the woods next to our campsite. I have recently developed an interest in foraging for pine nuts, so I stepped into the woods to look for pine cones (to be clear, I would NEVER collect things from a National Park or any other area in which it was prohibited or otherwise discouraged, but I wanted to practice identifying the right pine cones and seeing which ones were likely to contain pine nuts). I had picked up a pine cone and was closely examining it when I heard a subtle noise right in front of me. I looked up and less than 50 feet away (I am the worst judge of distance - maybe it was 20 feet, maybe 100) was a young bull elk munching on some breakfast! I had heard the elk calls throughout the night and pre-dawn morning, but they were off in the distance. 

I froze in place. I had read the warnings in all the National Parks about avoiding wildlife. The elks were in their rut and said to be extra aggressive this time of year, so the last thing I wanted to do was to give him a reason to gore me. He definitely saw me and really didn’t seem to care as he went back to his grazing. I watched him for a while and then went back to camp. I grabbed my camera and went back to watch him from a safe distance, hoping to get a couple pictures of him. He just kept on eating. I could actually hear him ripping the plants out of the ground and chewing. I left him alone for a while, but periodically checked on him until he disappeared. 





Curious about the evidence an elk might leave after grazing, I explored the spot in which I had observed him. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell from the plants that he had been there, which surprised me because he had been eating in the same spot for so long I figured there wouldn’t be any vegetation left. Because it had been raining overnight, I was able to find his hoof prints and followed them both from the direction he came and as far as I could find them when he walked away. It was a lot of fun!



After my adventures with the bull elk, I sat at camp enjoying my tea. A crow had been hopping around our campsite and continued on as I sat there. This wasn’t a normal crow. This guy had an entire repertoire of strange noises he made. There was clicking, chirping, beeping and monkey-type screeches, all while looking back at me, probably to see which noise encouraged me to give him food (spoiler alert: none of them). Later on Ryan asked me about what types of animals had been running around our campsite all morning and when I said it was one crow, he was so surprised. That crow was hilarious! 

We spent the rest of Sunday exploring Grand Canyon. The rains were still spotty, so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a hike in. We stopped at many of the vistas and then in the afternoon, when it seemed as though the rains were done for the day, we set out on a hike down the canyon. We were very careful about how far down we went because the sun was coming out and it’s the hike up that will really get you. It was great to experience the park and descend back in time via the rock layers. Afterward we headed back to camp, exhausted, but not before we saw a mom elk on the side of the road resting while her two kids grazed nearby. 












The campground had cleared out a bit in the morning and the host had asked us to move to a site that wasn’t the overflow site, and we happily obliged. When we returned for the evening, we were surrounded by Europeans. Without exaggeration, every group around us was either French or German. It felt a bit like an exotic vacation. I haven’t looked up the numbers, but to us it often feels like we see more Europeans in the National Parks than we see Americans. 

I stepped outside the camper after the sun had fully set to find the night sky exploding with stars! It was awesome in the truest sense of the word. This was the first time in our 146 days on this adventure that we had been in a dark enough area with clear skies and a New Moon so that we could see the night sky in all  her glory. The Milky Way was so clear and Ryan had a hard time picking out some constellations because there were just so many stars. We even think we may have seen the ISS (International Space Station) fly by. It was mind-bendingly beautiful and we gaped at it until our necks were sore from looking up.

Monday was a short travel day to our current location in Flagstaff, Arizona. Neither of us had previously been to Flagstaff nor did we know much about it, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it tucked behind ancient volcanoes that make up the San Francisco range surrounding the area. We also love the pine forests that cover much of the land. Because we had made it in so early, we had plenty of time to head east to see Meteor Crater, advertised as the best preserved and first identified meteor crater in the world. It is privately owned and I cannot attest to whether either of those claims are actually true. It was, however, the training ground for some of the astronauts that later went on to step foot on the moon.

We checked out the crater and toured the museum. The crater is huge and it can be seen from miles away. It’s hard to fathom what force it took to create it. The museum is well curated and has exhibits on the science of the crater, other meteor craters in the world, and craters on other celestial bodies. There are also walking tours of the crater, but nobody is allowed inside. However, they do have a little photo booth where you can photograph yourself and it gives the illusion that you are standing at the center.







Today is a relaxed day. We’re not sure of our exact plans for the next few days, but we will be exploring Flagstaff and nearby Sedona. There are a lot of outdoor adventures in the area and the weather is nearly perfect. See you on the flip side!

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