Dan and Hannah Hike in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, Nevada


RR Map of NevadaI’ve been roughed up of late.  This Maine winter has beaten me down pretty good.

Four weeks ago, Hannah and I took a two week bite out of our January by hiking on the coast of California. Today we begin ten days on parole thanks to the Snow Warden in New England to visit the red rocks of Nevada, the mountain perches of Utah, and the deepest desert in California.

RR route one traffic

Traffic heading to Logan Airport in Boston

Leaving home in York, Maine at 540A for our 855A flight to Vegas from Boston this late February morning, we cruise down I-95 quite blissfully.  Then boom.  We get snarled in the Monday morning commuter traffic of big bad Route One in Danvers and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Crawling along at 15 mph, we finally arrive at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere where we leave our Hyundai Elantra and get ready to take the shuttle van to Logan Airport.  Unfortunately, delays due to this past weekend’s snow storm mean the shuttle doesn’t arrive for us til after 8A.

RR jet blueWith minutes to spare, we arrive for our Jet Blue flight. Never again will we cut it so closely, as the stress of “will we make it or not” messes with the start of our hiking vacation in the West.  Jet Blue knows how to soothe the beast within the air traveler: an individual TV makes my six hours of non-stop flying, well, fly by.

Once in Vegas, we take two shuttle buses to get to the Fox Rent-a-Car lot; we always rent the cheapest car we can. Today we end up with a Toyota Yaris. It is basic wind-up toy – hand crank windows, no cruise control, side view mirrors that you adjust by hand.  At $226 for ten days, it’s all good.

And by the way, we always tip, be it shuttle drivers or housekeepers at our motels. We are the fortunate ones to share our wealth. Tipping is like praying. Praying changes the one who prays. Tipping changes us for the better.  As Maya Angelou says Giving liberates the soul of the giver.

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

Can you believe it? It snowed last night in Vegas; on our arrival Monday the temperature never gets above 50 degrees.  Have we brought the curse of the New England winter west?  Let’s pump the brakes.  We are lucky to even be here on a day when 1500 flights are cancelled. It will be -7 degrees tomorrow morning on the coast of Maine.  Fifty degrees is an excellent alternative.

Looking to be as far away from the Vegas Strip as we can, we settle in at the La Quinta Motel in the Summerlin section of the western Las Vegas suburbs. A mere eight miles from our first day hike in Red Rock Canyon, La Quinta has the requisite free breakfast and a Jacuzzi by the pool as a bonus.

RR blackjack tableThough Hannah and I want no part of traditional Las Vegas, I once was a blackjack card counter when we lived in Arizona. I’d take an airline shuttle at 8P from Phoenix, play a minimum of $5 bets through the night, and then be flown home the next morning.  All for $25! Weeks ago, thinking I might recapture some of my blackjack glory, I planned to study the basic strategy for blackjack (this system is online and legit for it gives the player a break-even chance of winning). And yet I couldn’t make myself study and put in the time for the chance to make a little spending cash. The memorizing of the proper blackjack plays was just too much work.

RR 4 map at end of trail CalicoTraveling east to west, we have ourselves a 27 hour day this Monday. By 7P Pacific Time, I can’t stay awake and zonk out.   The bad thing about that is that I awake at 230A the next morning (530A ET). I listen to Hannah breathe as she sleeps and think, Damn I’m lucky to be here just lying in bed, not subfreezing in York.

RR 1A D at RR sign

After yesterday’s high of 49 degrees, 60s with full sun are promised for our hike in Red Rock Canyon.  Heading out Charlestown Avenue, we have our senses blasted by the red rock mountains to the west. Pulling into the lane to pay at the Red Rock Canyon, we learn that the 13 mile one-way Scenic Drive is currently closed due to snow removal.  Really?  The visitor center is open; the Moenkopi Loop and the Calico Hills Trails are ready and waiting for us.

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

Hannah hiking on the Moenkopi Trail

The terrain is déjà vu for us one-time Arizona residents. There isn’t a tree within the area. Scrub brush and cacti are our only friends. A lizard checks us out, but on the surface, the landscape has all the earmarks of a barren wasteland.

From yesterday's snow storm

Remnants from yesterday’s snow storm on the Moenkopi Trail

At 3400 feet, the Moenkopi Trail is a 2.5 mile loop that the guidebook says will take 2 hours. Nonsense. It’s, maybe, an hour or so over this mostly level terrain. With the wind whipping, I opt for shorts and Hannah capris.  Sweatshirts are a must as the full sun does balance out the wind and we are rocking along on, as you might imagine one would do on a rocky trail. Much of the time we can walk side by side. Always in sight of the visitor center, we never feel like we could get lost.

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Red rocks of the Calico Hills Trail

Once at the far end of the Moenkopi Loop we cross over the Scenic Drive to the Calico Hills trail. We meander between the road and the Red Rock cliffs. As a popular hike, we are not alone on what is the beginning of Spring Breaks across the country. The Red Rock cliffs are favorites of rock scramblers and sport climbers.

The Calico Hills Trail

The Calico Hills Trail

The rock scramblers are the ones who are just plain nuts going up vertical cliffs while sport climbers go up and over the boulders set in their way on, say, a dry creek bottom or mountainside. For us the Red Rock Canyon is a great transition from the cold of New England to the warmth of the West.

RR 3D along Calico trailOnce the park’s Scenic Drive opens, there are tourists up the ying yang at both Calico I and Calico II lookout points.  Far below, at times we lose the trail of loose rocks and scramble us some boulders back to the trail. The many loose rocks make for an uneven hike but not a difficult one.

The sport climbers gulch

The sport climbers gulch

First days of our hiking vacation in the West have good energy and all the possibilities lie ahead. The snow?  Forgiven and forgotten.  The Valley of Fire State Park on the Colorado River awaits for Wednesday and Observation Point at Zion National Park on Thursday. We are at home in the Mountain West.


Dan and Hannah Hike Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Kanab, Utah is a Western town you will come to love for its slow pace and easy access to national parks.  It is a mere 80 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park and just 40 to Zion National Park.  Our morning walk before breakfast is through quiet streets of single story homes in neighborhoods where it seems like everyone would know your name.

At the Kanab High School track, a promising young athlete works with her coach before the heat of the day.  Kanab is known as “Little Hollywood” with such television shows filmed here as Gunsmoke and the Lone Ranger.  We breakfast by the pool at the Red Rock Country Inn with biscuits, coffee, and Special K.  And believe it or not, you can get the USA Today at 7A in Kanab!

Driving through the spectacular Red Rock Canyon just prior to Bryce Canyon, Hannah and I smile to ourselves as we revisit a national park that we once took our three children to.  One memorable trip to Bryce was when our family hiked hike with our dear Arizona friends, the Turleys.  Nostalgia rocks (Danny is quite the punster!).  Even though it is called a canyon, Bryce is really a giant amphitheater of brilliantly colored stone formations created by erosion.   At the first stage of erosion, these “fins” weave through the park floor like exposed dorsal shark fins.

At Sunset Point, with salty snacks, water, a sun protecting hat, and sunscreen, we descend on the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop on the way to the Peekaboo Trail.  Once there, the canyon walls bracket us as the trail is sandy smooth and often wide enough for Hannah and me to walk side by side.

Descending on the Navajo Loop Trail

Steep cliffs of the narrow Navajo Trail

With many foreign and homegrown visitors, Bryce gives us many opportunities to engage others in conversation.  We actively seek out others and learn of preferred hikes at Zion National Park and adventures of sleeping in cars because campgrounds are full.  Germans Michael and Anja willingly respond to our opening and tell us, Americans are most welcoming.  This would not be the case if hiking in Germany.  We exchange email addresses and invite them to stay with us in Maine when they visit Acadia National Park.

Peekaboo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Rated strenuous, the Peekaboo Trail rises and falls easily as brilliant vistas showcase “windows” that are created in the fins (second stage of erosion).  They appear around many turns in the trail as if to say “Peekaboo.”

The Bryce guide cautions that mild exertion can cause light-headedness and even nausea.  The Sixth Commandment of the Trail – Know thyself and thy limits. Thy is not as young as thy once was.

A narrow spur trail where we step carefully, but not fearfully, ascends to the canyon rim at 8300-foot Bryce Point.  Our breathing is harder but not taxing.  Whereas all our other days of hiking were sun filled, postcard blue skies, today we have the clouds, and what a blessed relief they are.  As we retrace our steps from Bryce Point back down into the amphitheater to Sunset Point, we stand in awe of the towering soft orange/pink hoodoos, pinnacles of stone formed by wind, water, and ice, the final stage of limestone erosion.

Hoodoo of Bryce Canyon National Park

Let me now underscore the importance of a picnic table at the end of the hike for an afternoon snack.  Without a can opener for our Rolling Rocks (the appropriate brewski for this national park), we seek out the nearest RV and hit “can opener pay dirt.”  We celebrate in this rocking part of the world (the final pun).

Our Peekaboo Trail rating is excellent.   As always when hiking in Bryce Canyon, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.