Thursday, November 17, 2011

24 Hours in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

         “Quick, snag that campsite!”  We zip into one of the last two available sites in Squaw Flat campground on a Friday afternoon.  Years ago when we traveled to southern Utah in late fall we had the parks and campgrounds mostly to ourselves.  Not anymore—southern Utah has been discovered.

Riding into the sunset on our bicycle-built-for-two.

          We erect the tent, change into our biking clothes and head out for a ride.  Even though the campground is full, the roads are nearly deserted as we leave the campground and pedal into the sunset.  We snap a few pictures of our lengthening shadows, ride to the visitor center and then return to the site; it’s a beauty—red rocks rise from the sand and giant junipers shade the picnic table and tent pad. 
           This evening’s clear and calm weather is perfect for tent camping.  Sure, temperatures are expected to dip below freezing, but we’re prepared with down sleeping bags and blankets.  After our mac & cheese with tomato soup dinner—a camp-out staple—I pull out my little portable GE radio and find ESPN on the AM dial.  It’s game seven of the World Series and the Cardinals are ahead of the Rangers 5-2.  Who needs a smart phone when you’ve got a transistor radio?

The miracle of radio—listening to the World Series in the wild.

         Tim and I relax by the fire with cups of hot tea and gaze at the night sky. Our campfire casts a luminous glow on the underside of the giant juniper’s branches, its needles shimmering a silvery green.  Brilliant, sparkling stars twinkle through the juniper’s crown, as if they’re dangling from the heavens.  It’s gorgeous—this radiant holiday wreath above our heads. 

Our picture-perfect campsite in Canyonlands.

          Preparing to crawl into the tent, we first stow our food and cookware in the truck—we don’t want to tempt any critters into visiting our site tonight.  As we walk to the truck we marvel at the milky way, stretching across the sky from horizon to horizon.


The morning dawns cold and clear.  We reluctantly emerge from our sleeping bags, light a campfire and start water boiling for coffee.  Soon bacon and eggs are sizzling on the camp stove—there’s nothing quite like the smell of bacon frying in the great outdoors.  

Ready for breakfast.
         After breakfast we ride the length of the scenic drive and stop at the end, admiring the view north and west into the vast wilderness of Canyonlands National Park.  We return to the campground and meet another tandem-riding couple.  Karen and Joel have ridden their tandem bicycle all over the US and have even taken their bicycle to Ireland for a group ride.  Sounds like fun.

Viewpoint at the end of the scenic drive.

          Although more crowded with tourists than it used to be, red rock country still works its magic, charming visitors with clear skies and stunning vistas.  We’ll be back.
If you have only 24 hours to spend in a national park you can’t go wrong in the Needles District of Canyonlands NP.  For more information on Canyonlands National Park visit this website:

Spectacular scenery abounds in Canyonlands Needles District.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vancouver to Jasper on VIA Rail, Canada

             “Trains do not depart: they set out, and move at a pace to enhance the landscape, and aggrandize the land they traverse.
— William Gaddis, The Recognitions (1957)

The mood is festive in the VIA Rail Station in Vancouver, Canada.  Eager travelers mill about the station as live music plays; hot cider and mixed nuts are served, compliments of the railway.  My twin sister, parents and I are here with World Wide Country tours and we're preparing to board the Canadian for an overnight trip to Jasper, Alberta. 

VIA Rail's Western Canada Routes.

            "All Aboard!"  The call comes and the four of us search the long line of silver cars, looking for #232.  We climb on board, enter our rooms and stow our bags.  In each 2-person compartment we find armchairs facing a large picture window.  We settle in and relax for a few minutes before receiving dinner call.
            The dining car is 4 cars away and this is my first time walking through a moving train and passing between the cars.  I have visions of old movies—outlaws and law enforcement officers jumping from car to car as the ground rushes by; to my relief (and to that of my parents) the cars are connected by fully enclosed, sturdy walkways.

VIA Rail's Canadian.
             Service in the dining car is quick and attentive and the meal is delicious.  I dine on sesame crusted chicken accompanied by soup and salad.  
             After dinner we return to our rooms and discover that our porter has transformed the sitting areas into sleeping quarters.  The bunk beds are spacious and cozy; each bed is equipped with a reading light as well as pouches for watches, books and glasses.  A small sink stands opposite the beds, and baskets beside the sink offer soap, shampoo, mouthwash and towels.  The toilet has its own small closeted room.  Really, everything you need is here in a 7’ by 6’ space.
We arrange our things and then walk to the domed observation car.  Although the skies are dark we can discern snow-covered hills and trees as the train casts its light across the landscape.  A few hours later we retire to our bedrooms and turn in for the night, the swaying of our car on the rails gently rocking us to sleep.

View from the observation car.

               The following morning we view frozen waterfalls and snow-capped mountains during breakfast.  After eating we enjoy views of Alberta’s winter wonderland from the observation car.
The train pulls into Jasper station and we disembark, looking forward to our stay in Jasper Park Lodge and to attending their annual 'Christmas in November' 
celebration—several days of holiday cooking, eating and decorating seminars.   For more information on Christmas in November, click here:

Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

          I'm excited about the overnight return trip to Vancouver.  Train travel has proved a wonderful experience—more fun and adventurous than I thought it would be.  These words from The Great Railway Bazaar sum it up:  “A train journey is travel; everything else—planes especially—is transfer, your journey beginning when the plane lands.”
VIA Rail information may be found on this website:
I don’t typically travel with a tour company but I can recommend World Wide Country Tour's Christmas in November trip.  Read about it here:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's Easy Being Green... in the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park

         Ask ten people to name their favorite color.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Did anybody say green?  I didn’t think so.  

After a trip last month to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park I’d like to lobby for the color green, the most under-rated and taken-for-granted color on the wheel.  Shades of green vary from an almost-yellow chartreuse to a not-quite-midnight dark pine.  Can any other color do that?  

The mallard presents to the world a wholly unique shade of green.
I call it "rich teal-dark spruce" green.

         The word “green” describes the undesirable human conditions of jealousy, inexperience and ill-health. Green in the 21st century means earth friendly and, while a noble cause, I fear the phrase “going green” is suffering from overuse to the point of being meaningless.

Mosses overhang a stream full of greens.

           Let’s return to the real meaning of green—the color of fields, forests and meadows.  Take a walk through the Hoh, a place that receives from 12 to 14 feet of rain every year. Two easy trails, Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trail, allow visitors to experience the rain forest.  Here you'll observe green in all its shades of glory—an enchanting sight.

The Hall of Mosses Trail.

          For the record my favorite color  But I’m giving green some serious consideration.  How about you?
Information on the Hoh Rain Forest may be found here:

These downed giants line part of the path
on the Spruce Nature Trail.

Sword ferns, highlighted by the sun.

Growth along a "nurse log".  These downed tree trunks support
the next generation of spruces, hemlocks and firs.