Southwest National Parks, 2012

This is a brief summary of our 17 day trip to the national parks of the American Southwest in 2012.  This is the 5th trip of this sort we have made over the past 25 years, and these notes cover only the experiences of 2012.  For context, we are both in our early 60's, and go for scenery, hiking, and other outdoor experiences on these trips.  We are no longer looking for back country camping (something we have done in the past) or grueling day hikes, but still like to fill our days with opportunities to see the best of Nature.  We plan our National Parks trips to camp about every other day.  Camping is really the best way to experience the parks because you can easily do things at dawn and dusk, see the wildlife which comes out at those times, and experience the night sky far from urban areas.  (Most of these parks also have lodges, but they are often sold out to bus tours months in advance).  Our camping gear is left over from backpacking trips 25 years ago, a lightweight tent and sleeping bags with a small gas stove for cooking, which means it fits easily in a car and stays out of the way on days we don't camp.  The southwest is ideal for tent camping, since it rarely rains in early summer and there's no dew overnight, making packing up the geear and moving easy.

Pictures from this trip are on Flickr at:

Day 1 -- Denver

From Northern Illinois it really is possible to reach Denver on the first day, and for what we want to do there is little reason to stop short of there.  We got up in time to leave by 6AM and stopped only briefly to rest and/or refuel every 3 hours or so, reaching Denver around 6PM (after a time change).  There is a complete assortment of chain motels within a few miles of where I76 meats I70 on the west side of Denver -- take your pick.  We had dinner at Hops, a brew pub chain restaurant with decent food and okay beer (In spite of the name, no extra-hoppy IPA on tap), and rested.

Day 2 -- Colorado National Monument

From Denver the landscape gets interesting fast.  I knew this would be a little different trip when after taking US 6 over Loveland Pass, where usually in late May you see the snow covered slopes of A-basin still serving skiers, we saw little but grass.  A few back country skiers were gearing up at the summit to seek out the remaining stashes of old snow on the highest slopes, but A-basin had clearly been closed and bare for some time.

A second indicator of the snow drought came at Glenwood Canyon, an interesting example of the challenge of blending environmental preservation and transportation, where a year ago the Colorado River was over-running most of the pedestrian and bike trails and big standing waves were visible in the river, but this year it was placid and low.  It was also an indication of things to come that we couldn't get a parking spot in the most popular parking area for exploring the area (in fairness it was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, but also about 200 miles from any large population.)

We reached the monument mid morning, and quickly went to the campground to grab a site.  The campground here doesn't usually fill, and we had no problems grabbing a prime site on the outside with lots of space and an unobstructed view of the grand valley.  Colorado National Monument is a good first stop on a tour of the southwest, because it has a lot of the rock features you will see later on but is more manageable in scale than, say Zion or the grand Canyon.  There are lots of short to moderate hikes off a 23 mile scenic road.  Having done a lot of them a year ago we did the viewpoints and a few short hikes and made time to go back into the valley to taste wine at Two Rivers Vineyards.  The wine was very good and reasonably priced, and the free tasting very generous.  There are a bunch of other wineries in the valley east of Grand Junction, but we had plenty to taste there.  We bought a bottle for our camp dinner and returned to enjoy sunset.

Day 3 -- Arches

The best route from Grand Junction to Arches is to turn off the interstate for the scenic route at an exit that used to be labled "Cisco -- No Services", referring to the near ghost town of Cisco several miles off the main road.  It seems someone got them to pull that sign instead mention  some other small town in the area, though Cisco remains as empty as before.  After Cisco the road descends to the Colorado where it enters a red rock canyon with stone pillars known as Castle Valley, before emerging onto the main US Highway a mile from the entrance to Arches. 

Arches park has been gaining popularity for years and they have rebuilt the entrance and visitor center to accomodate more visitors, but parking remains limited at the best trails.  There are two good places to park and walk -- at the Windows area and at the Devils Garden area, so given it was still early we went straight to the Windows and claimed one of the last spaces.  Not only cars and RVs, but also tour buses stop here, so the trails were crowded.  The trails here are all short so you can do them all easily, and they give interesting views of both windows, Turret arch, and the iconic Double Arch (which appears in the beginning of one of the Indiana Jones movies.)  After spending an hour or two here we headed straight for Devils Garden.

Devils Garden is at the end of the paved road, and is the base for several more arches and longer trails.  We had a picnic, then headed off to do Tunnel and Landscape Arch.  The trail continues past there for those not intimidated by hiking on slickrock ridges (we've done it, but not that day).  Landscape Arch is huge, and this year they reconstructed some of the trail to give you a better view than in the past, when they had closed off access for fear that more of the arch would fall away.  We also did Sand Dune and Broken arch in this area, and the viewpoints for Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock.  (You can hike to Delicate Arch, one of the most amazing stone features anywhere, but it's a long hot trail not for anyone with a problem with heights.)
You can camp in Arches, but we've never done it, in part because it's hot, and also because the campground is small and sold out months in advance.  The town of Moab has lots of accommodations and restaurants and we had a nice dinner at Moab's brew pub.  (At this point it's worth mentioning that Utah is the land of strong sun and weak beer.  Utah has odd liquor laws, which result in limits on the amount of alcohol in locally brewed beer.  The brew is flavorful, but low kick, which isn't bad given you will probably want to drink a lot just to replace fluid lost to long sunny days.)

Day 4 -- Canyonlands

For this trip we planned a camping stop in a new park for us -- Canyonlands.  Canyonlands is a huge park, mostly wilderness, and divided into 3 zones by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  The Maze district west of both is rarely visited, accessible only by long trails, the rivers, or rough 4WD roads.  The Island in the Sky district has a road from north of Arches, trails, and a primitive (no water) campground, while the Needles district can be reached from a long side road 50 miles south of Arches and has a normal campground and trails.  We headed for the Needles.  I was a bit nervous about getting a campsite, since this park does sell out nearly every day in the summer, but arriving at about 10AM is perfect -- you get there about when others vacate their sites.  The park is open and dry here, but the campsites are sheltered on one side by a low stone ridge and have some trees that grow in that shelter.  We had only one visible neighbor, a nice camp site. 

The Needles area has several short tails, the most interesting of which is probably Cave spring, which accesses ruins of  cowboy pioneers, and Native American cliff dwellers, as well as some nice slickrock hiking.  There are several longer trails in the canyons of this area, which require a certain amount of scrambling on slickrock and may present problems for anyone with short legs or fear of heights.  After a day of short hikes, we settled in to watch the stars.  Note if you go here that the campground is 50 miles from the nearest town, and while there is a store selling gas, ice, and other necessities near the entrance to the park (maybe 10 miles from the campground), you will pay dearly for anything you buy here so come prepared.

Day 5 -- Natural Bridges and Capitol Reef

Heading south from the Needles you hit Natural Bridges national monument.  Bridges and Arches are similar features made from similiar rock, but Bridges have the openings cut by streams, which usually wind up flowing through the opening.  Natural Bridges Monument encloses 3 good examples that can all be seen from lookouts on a short blacktop road loop.  Do take the time to hike down to and under at least one of the bridges (the last one in the loop is the easiest).  There is also a hike to view the Horsecollar ruin of the cliffdwellers.  It's interesting, but not especially impressive.  There is a very small campground here, but it's popular and has no water.

West of Bridges is one of the most scenic and remote roads of the west, Utah 95, which crosses 100 miles of bare slickrock country, crossing the Colorado in a spectacular red rock canyon at the upper end of Lake Powell.  Capital Reef is about 50 miles further.  The park encloses a 100 mile long ridge of rock created by a big fold in the rock layers, which presented a barrier (or "reef") to early settlers.  Most of the park is remote and accessed only by 4WD roads, but there's a nice scenic drive on the west side of the ridge which is outstanding to do in the late evening when the warm sunset light falls on the ridge.  There are also some small trails.  We've done the washes (which are narrow canyons that flow through the ridge), but this trip we did Hickman Bridge, a large natural bridge in a side canyon above the highway requiring some climbing on slickrock but well worth the effort. 

There is a campground at Capitol Reef, but while the trees have grown some since we rejected it as exposed and hot in 1994, it's still more like camping in a public park than in a remote natural setting.  There are several motels within 5 miles of the park so we stopped there, having a nice meal at one of them (in spite of the restaurant also handling a large bus tour).

Day 6 -- Grand Staircase/Escalante and Bryce Canyon.

This was another day I wasn't sure of where we would stay.  I tried to reserve in Bryce, but the national parks camping reservation system seemed to be broken there, suggesting no room.  Most of the campsights in Bryce though are not reservable, so we thought we could get in by getting there early.  I also considered stopping at Calf Creek, one of the few campgrounds in Grand Staircase and a very nice (and small) site.  Grand Staircase/Escalante is well worth a day or two on this kind of trip -- you can explore trails and at least one nice paved road (the Burr Trail), and more if you have a high clearance vehicle you are willing to take some risks with.)  This time though having explored this area on our last trip we pressed on to Bryce.

Once again arriving mid morning allowed us to grab a prime camp site, then hit the trails in the Bryce Ampitheater.  Bryce has a shuttle system like some other parks, but unlike the others, where shuttles cover the long roads in the park that access viewpoints and trails, in Bryce they ferry people from the cluster of motels and parking lots at the entrance only as far as the Bryce Ampitheater.  This is probably the best part of the park with the most trails.  The result is that while parking is a lot easier here than before, the trails are VERY crowded.  You can still find places where you can take pictures without other tourists, but it's not easy.  After lunch we did the scenic road, which accesses many other viewpoints and some short trails.  This was mostly uncrowded, probably because so many people ride the shuttle to Bryce Ampitheater and don't take the road as a result.

The whole reason to camp in Bryce is to be able to experience sunset and/or sunrise here, where you can walk from the campgrounds to viewpoints.  Here we had our only rain of the trip -- a few sprinkles and rumbles of thunder, which made sunset a bit dim, but still scenic.  We didn't make it up for Sunrise, but early morning light here is still very nice.  After another short hike to a waterfall created by an irrigation project a century ago, we moved on.

Day 7, Cedar Breaks and Cedar City

50 miles west of Bryce is Cedar Breaks National Monument -- similar landscape but 2,000 feet higher and much less visited.  It's so high it's often snowbound even in mid June, but not this year.  (There was some snow in the gullies among the hoodos, but visitor facilities were open).  There are only a few short trails here and 4 viewpoints, so after doing them we moved on to Cedar City down in the valley for a round of golf on Cedar Ridge golf course.  The course is interesting, especially for it's large colonies of endangered Utah Prairie Dogs, whose holes present some additional hazard to golfers.  It's worth noting that we had no problem walking on to this course on a Saturday afternoon with no reservations.  We rented clubs, which came with carry bags, allowing us to walk the course and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  Cedar City has a full set of chain motels.  We had dinner at Wingers, a sports bar chain place with brews made for them.  Not bad, given the caveats about Utah beer.

Day 8, Great Basin National Park

Great Basin is one of the most remote sites you can visit in the lower 48 states -- 150 miles northwest of  the nearest Interstate (15) just over the border into Nevada.  The park was chosen to represent the basin and range country of the great basin and encloses a 13,000 foot mountain range with limestone caves.  The drive to the park is lonely -- 150 miles of highway in which all you are likely to encounter is a few stray cows and "kamikaze" birds (lots of little grey birds that hang out along the highway and seem to be genetically programmed to fly into the path of oncoming cars).  Again, arriving mid morning allowed us to claim a prime campsite (there are 4 campgrounds, 2 with water, but all relatively small).  We took the road to the 10,000 foot level and did some walking on trails near the top (you can hike to the top of the mountain, to alpine lakes, or to a grove of 3500 year old bristlecone pines.)  Other years we have been there we couldn't even reach the top of the road due to snow, but we had time only for some short walks.

The cave was the first feature preserved here, a nice limestone cave with reasonably priced tours (not covered by your annual park pass).  Take the longer tour if you can to see the whole cave.  The campground here is as remote as you will find, meaning lots of stars at night and a chance to see unique wildlife.  Also a lot of very nice sites.

Day 9, Grand Canyon

Normally after Great Basin we would go to Zion, but it turned out that that day was the only one we could get a campground reservation for at Grand Canyon.   The Campground at the north rim of the Grand Canyon is all up for reservations, and there are few alternatives if you can't get in there, so we sucked it up and drove all the way there.  We made a brief stop at the Kolob Canyon section of Zion.  This really requires a half day and a moderate hike to appreciate, but it's fun to look at the red rock canyons and makes a reasonable rest stop on the way.

I've said elsewhere that the North and South rims of the Grand Canyon are really different parks, and to determine which you want to visit consider your reaction to the concept of a theme park.  If you want to go there, go to the south rim.  If you want to go anywhere else, go to the North rim, which has many fewer visitor facilities, fewer visitors, and nothing artificial.  There is a long road (open to cars, unlike on the south rim) to viewpoints and short walks, which is well worth doing (in addition to the sights, we got nice views of a Coyote here).  One reason to camp here is to hike to Bright Angel Point, only 1/4 mile of mostly paved trail along a narrow ridge that puts you in the canyon with a 360 degree view and 2000+ foot cliffs all around you.  Normally we would do it 3 times -- full sun, sunset, and sunrise, but on our day we had 40 mph winds, and once was enough -- you can watch sunrise and sunset safely from the porch of the lodge too.

One thing worth noting is that there aren't a lot of spots to picnic on the road to Grand Canyon North.  Unlike many other national forest areas with lots of picnic areas, the Kaibob National forest has them only in the one campground, where they want to charge for it.  The national park has some more promising picnic spaces.

Day 10, Zion

From Grand Canyon we backtracked to the east entrance of Zion park, and enjoyed the early morning sights and the moderate hike to the valley overlook near the tunnel on route 9.  As we entered the park there were dire warnings about crowding, and they weren't kidding.  We managed to get a space in the overlook trail lot (not easy), but then after waiting some at the tunnel (the 1920's era tunnels aren't large enough for 2 RVs, so if you have an RV you pay an extra fee to have them stop traffic from the other direction to let you use the whole road through the highest part of the tunnel, which means there's usually a short wait to go through the tunnel), we found no spaces in the lot at the visitors center.  You have to park there to catch a shuttle for the road in Zion Canyon, which accesses most trails and viewpoints, but after 2 passes through the main and overflow lots, no luck.  There is a second shuttle from various motels in the adjacent town of Springdale, but given we couldn't check in there yet and going there meant going out of the park and in through the gate again that was hardly attractive.  Eventually I pulled off the road in a sunny gravel siding near the Zion Canyon Road just to eat lunch, but after watching the shuttles go by realized we were actually close to a stop and could simply walk from there and get on.  It was clear others knew this trick since all the pullouts in this area were full of empty cars. 

We rode the bus and took some short hikes.  Two things became apparent.  First, the park has way too many visitors.  The shuttle solved the parking problem on the road (really bad 10 years ago), but not the crowding on the trails.  Expect heavy traffic everywhere you go.  Second, there aren't enough trails accessible to most visitors.  The real problem here is that most of the park's real estate requires long scary climbs out of the valley to reach, and few people have the physical ability and lack of fear of heights to handle them, so everyone wants to walk the short trails in the valley  On our visit this was exacerbated by repairs to the popular emerald pools trails, further restricting where people could go.  The water level in the virgin river was also a lot lower than we experienced before.  The most popular river trail -- a mile and a half paved trail ending at the narrows, was filled with people, and at the end, rather than the deep water and big standing waves we saw last time the river was only a trickle, and the tide of humanity continued up the nearly dry river bed.  (after having to wade the creek).  I wasn't too sorry we didn't have footgear for wading at that point as hiking the narrows in a mob wasn't that appealing.  Zion is beautiful, but overloved.  Perhaps the best solution would be to develop more facilities in other parts of the park and divert some visitors to see other areas, but that would no doubt create other problems (like threatening the remaining natural habitat.)

Zion has two nice campgrounds, which sell out early in the day.  Given we had camped two nights before though we opted for a motel in Springdale.  When we did this trip in the past this was an easy last minute decision -- no problem getting rooms, but this time I reserved at the Best Western Zion Park, which gave us a very nice room and included an exceptional breakfast buffet (with a cooked to order Omelet).  Springdale has a lot off restaurant options.  We opted for the Switchback, nice seafood.

Days 11 and 12, Page and Glen Canyon

Heading back through the tunnel and over to the town of Page, we took a bit of time to set up our next 2 days.  Page is a town built as a base to build Glen Canyon Dam, and now serves as the base for exploring the lake powel area.  It's got a lot of motels as well as a nice resort 5 miles out of town on the lake.  (We stayed there in the past, but the only downside is that they cater to bus tours, which creates crowding in the restaurants and noise, so we opted for a place in town).  It's really the only visitor friendly facility in that part of Arizona. 

Antelope Canyon

One thing to do in Page is take one of the tours of Antelope Canyon.  The canyon is on Navajo land and can be accessed only via a Navajo approved tour.  They are cheap enough and involve a ride of about 5 miles on paved roads and 3 rough miles on soft sand to reach the upper canyon, a narrow slot with fantastic features.  The first time we went there I had read that it was basically "combat photography" -- a struggle to take pictures that weren't full of other tourists.  It was busy then, but had no trouble though showing up and jumping on the next tour.  This time it wasn't so easy.  Arriving mid morning the first tour we could get was 3:30.  That meant we would miss the light shafts penetrating the canyon at mid day, but I thought that might mean it would be less crowded and would give my pictures a different look, so we took it and after some other sightseeing returned for our tour.

When we returned I thought we were in luck when there were only a few people waiting, but then the bus arrived -- SINHA tours -- 37 Chinese tourists who mostly seemed to have no idea why they were there or where they were going.  They packed us all into open transports and each group had it's own tour guide, but the wave of bus tourists refused to stay with their guide and were constantly pushing on the groups ahead.  When you tour here you get about an hour and 15 minutes in the canyon, making one pass through and then returning.  I did a bit better taking pictures on the way back, but still found myself mainly shooting up to avoid other people, and like the other photographers in there struggling to place my tripod without getting trampled.  There are other slot canyons in the area that can be toured, and though less famous and a bit more costly, they might be a better option for anyone interested in photography.

Glen Canyon Dam, Lees Ferry and Navajo Bridge.

Before 9/11/2001, you could tour Glen Canyon dam on your own, taking the elevator down to the powerhouse level and viewing generators and water handling facilities.  Now you can only go on tours, and they are limited and subject to periodic shutdowns for dam work.  We couldn't get on one this time.  Still, it's interesting to look at and the visitors center at the dam has interesting exhibits.  Do visit the viewing area for the dam off US 89 2 miles south, which is a better place for pictures.  Whether you approve of the dam or not, it is an impressive engineering story, not only in it's construction, but in the recovery from it's near failure in 1983 when an exceptional spring runoff nearly eroded away the canyon walls next to the spillway chutes.

About 30 miles from this area you can visit Navajo Bridge, the first highway bridge built in this stretch of the Colorado, now closed to traffic (which follows a near identical looking but more modern adjacent bridge, leaving the original to foot traffic).  It's a great place to see the river.  Near there you can visit Lees Ferry, where pioneers crossed the river, and you can reach the river without descending into a Canyon.  This is a nice area to see and photograph. 

Rainbow Bridge/Lake Powel

Rainbow Bridge is about 40 miles up the lake from Page.  The easiest way to reach it is on boat tours from the Wahweep resort.  We did this trip once before in the 1990s, but in 2005 the lake was so low that it was difficult and took all day.  (When the lake is low the boats can't get as far up the canyon that the bridge sits in, making the hike longer, and the low water level forces the tour boats to follow the Colorado River channel making the voyage much longer.)  This year we were in luck -- only about 1/2 mile of hike and enough water to make the whole trip only 5-1/2 hours.  This tour goes pretty much straight to the canyon with the bridge.  Others explore other side canyons.  It's worth doing more than one trip here if you have time.  (You can also rent your own boat from either WahWeep or the Antelope Point marina in this area as well as the other marinas further up the lake, if you feel like setting your own agenda).  Rainbow Bridge is a very impressive site.  Your first view will see only a sliver of arch, not very symmetric, but as you hike the trail to the bridge the rest of it appears as a long and almost symetric free standing span over the creek.   Do respect the requests of the Navajo and other native peoples who ask that you not walk under the bridge.   You don't need to do that to appreciate the beauty and power of nature.

Lake Powell National Golf

Page has a nice resort style golf course.  It's uncrowded (no problem getting on at the last minute).  It's scenic, fun, and very playable.  We had an odd experience here though -- they were going under new management 3 or 4 days after we were there, and the old management had sold off most of the equipment in the pro shop including most of the rental clubs, so Carla and I shared a single set of Women's rental clubs.  No real problem though.  In appologising for the situation the old manager in the pro shop recommended a restaurant for dinner -- the largest floating restaurant in the country, at the Antelope Point marina.  The food was good, the beer was cold, and the view unsurpassed.  A winner.  We also ate at the Dam Bar and Grill in town, adjacent to Antelope Canyon Tours.  Again, decent food and beer, but not much atmosphere.

Day 13, Mesa Verde

After 2 days in Page we moved on across Navajo country to Mesa Verde.  On this route you pass through parts of Monument Valley, though to see most of it you have to go into the Navajo tribal park (extra fee, not covered by a park pass, and unless you want to drive your car on the rough dirt road you will need to take a jeep tour to see much).  Given the mileage we had to go we contented ourselves with pictures from the road this time.  Also on the route you can hit "Goosenecks of the San Juan", a Utah state park where you can view 3 giant loops of the San Juan river over a thousand feet below the viewpoint.  A nice scenic detour, though probably of most intest to Geologists.

Mesa Verde is a large park with ruins of the cliff dwelling Native Americans.  We went first to the campground, where I had a reservation (probably unnecessary, it is huge), to pick a site.  This is the most expensive campground in the parks we have visited, and okay, but the sites are generally small.  (Be sure you fill up with gas before going in to the park, as there is no gas available anywhere there and the park roads are long and winding.)  After setting up there, we drove another 10 miles of switchbacks to reach the visitor center, where you go to arrange tours of the most popular ruins (3 of the commonly visited ruins must be done on tours, while most of the rest can be visited on your own.  There are other special and limited tours of some of the more remote ruins that  are available only some days for a much higher cost and generally require more physical effort.

On our first day, we visited the ruins of the closer Chapin Mesa.  We had a couple of hours before our scheduled tour of Cliff Palace,so we did the self tour of Spruce Tree House and viewed several ruins from the mesa top loop.  You can spend a lot more time here if you have it.  Our Cliff Palace tour was probably the most interesting we had.  Our guide was an anthropology student who was himself half Navajo and half Pueblo indian, who highlighted a lot of the ways in which our knowledge of Mesa Verde has evolved as the Archeologists learned from the Pueblo tribes who are the descendants of those who inhabited it.  A very different perspective from other tours we have had. 

On our second day, we took the first available tour of Long House on Wetherel Mesa.  This is a more remote area of the park and only open daylight hours.  Going there was interesting, since the area had been burned since our last visit, including the visitor facilities, which had been rebuilt in a more minimal style.  In this area you take a tram to access the ruins, both the tour and the other ruins.  Our Long house tour was from an experienced ranger and more conventional than that of Cliff Palace, after which we toured the other ruins open to the public in this area. 

Day 14, Pagosa Springs

Most of Day 13 was actually spent on the Wetherel Mesa at Mesa Verde.  On our first trip here we had a big hailstorm catch us out there and drove only as far as Pagosa Springs before getting off the road.  Since then we have planned the trip this way, the town being a good stopping place with decent motels and restaurants (including what was a very nice place which opened on the day of our first trip).  We couldn't find our favorite restaurant there this time, but found a new brew pub (Pagosa Springs Brewing), which served Pizza, steaks, salads, and other menu items on picnic tables in an open yard.  Other than the faint smell of smoke from a lingering forest fire in the area it was a great stop.

Day 15, Great Sand Dunes

This park is on the west side of the Sangre de Christo range in southern Colorado and features  a 100 square mile field of 700 foot sand dunes.  As before, we headed first to the campground, another I was unable to get a reserved site in, but had no problem getting a good site in the half the sites that were first come/first served.  We took some short hikes in hills near the visitor's center, but the main thing to do here is to cross the shallow creek in front of the dunes and hike into the dune field.  The low water was an advantage here, letting me cross the creek without removing my shoes. 

Climbing big dunes isn't easy, the surface is unpredictable and often you wind up slipping back at least half as far as you step forward, but the view just gets better the higher you climb.  Some people take plastic sleds to slide down the dunes or just do that on their own, but most just climb and return.  If you go beyond the first range off dunes be careful, it can be very disorienting.  That wasn't a problem on our visit.  Strong winds made conditions tough.  We turned around after cresting the first point where we could see into the dune field, and didn't regret it when we got hit by big blasts of sand on the way down.  That drove most of the rest of the visitors off the dunes too.  A few people were more ambitious.  We observed a group on the top at Sunset, and a smaller group on top at Sunrise, both getting hit by big blasts of sand.

Days 16 and 17, Homeward bound.

From Great Sand Dune it's about 1,150 miles back home, and we got up early to cover the first 750 -- as far as Omaha.  That wouldn't have been difficult except for road construction in the last 50 miles.  We still arrived by 7PM local time, even with the loss of an hour returning to Central time, and had no problems getting a good meal at Granite City Brewing -- a low key chain brewpub.  We made short work of the last 400 miles the next morning, leaving me 2 hours to unload the car before heading off to golf league.  4816 miles in total, 7 nights of camping, and hundreds of souvenir pictures.