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National Parks Trip Report

So this is not Europe, but I figure we’re all a little bored. So I thought I would report some on my 2 week, 2800 mile driving trip to a large number of national parks.

I began planning this trip mid-summer for mid-September, but had to change it to about the last two weeks of October. I began by centering around the fact that I wanted to stay IN the Grand Canyon park, but didn’t want to spend tons of money. So my schedule was built around when I could find 2 nights together there.

I am also a pretty “budget” hotel person, however with most of these places in touristed locations, nothing was really cheap. But there were plenty of far more expensive places than where I chose. I also have a weakness for quirky.

Covid considerations: the hotels seemed to have good plans for this, all requiring and using masks. Because most stays were 1 night, I did opt for hotels, instead of Air BnB, except once. We generally ate in a restaurant for dinner each night. Most restaurants had guests well spaced with limited seating. Two places did temperature checks before we entered.

And being recently retired, I have plenty of time so I wanted to drive from home and not fly. At first I planned to take this trip solo, but when I mentioned it to a friend, she asked to come. So although I did do most of the driving, we did split those hours some. I re-organized a number of times and it included many one night stops. Here is the order:

Santa Fe: 1 night, merely for a place to stay on the way.
Durango: 1 night, before visiting Mesa Verde.
Cortez: 1 night, as a convenient place to stay after Mesa Verde that was not back-tracking.
Moab: 1 night for Arches National Park.
Bryce Canyon City: 1 night, for Bryce Canyon National Park.
Springdale: 2 nights, for Zion National Park.
Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon: 2 nights
Flagstaff: 2 nights, for Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments.
Winslow: 1 night to stay at La Posada (and to stand on the corner).
Grants, NM: 1 night purely for a place to sleep.

Day 1: It is about an 8 hour drive to Santa Fe. With the quarantine in place, SF really was just the best option for a place to stay. I picked the Sage Hotel. It was cute and not too far from downtown. We did take a drive around the square, which had a peaceful protest over treatment of Indians taking place. We didn’t stop for any questions. Breakfast was a “get and go” affair, with breakfast burritos the highlight (and they were good). They only allowed a certain number of people in the lobby and breakfast room at a time.

Day 2: today’s destination was Durango. I had wanted to ride the train up to Silverton, but the train didn’t run on either Sunday or Monday - the only 2 possible days for us. Knowing that, we allowed ourselves a leisurely drive and when we saw the sign for Chimney Rock National Monument, we just hooked a left and went. It was a really nice few hours. After paying, you can drive most of the way up the mountain, with a nice parking lot and a short walk round of Indian ruins. Then from there you can also walk further up to the Chimney Rock area. I am not a hiker, especially in high altitude; so I went 3/4 of the way and my friend went on up as far as you can. While this wasn’t a “wow” place, it was beautiful and a great first stop for us.

From there we went on to Durango Lodge in Durango. It was perfectly fine and well-located for a short wander around town. Breakfast was also grab and go - and was one of only 2 places with fresh fruit.

~~Continued In Comments

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Day 3: Mesa Verde. I had last been here 30 years ago with a large family group (and small,children) and had told myself that I would someday come back and take a tour to get up close and personal with the cliff dwellings. Thanks to Covid, I can keep telling myself that. :) You can only enter 3 dwellings by guided tour and all tours are cancelled through 2020. But there was so much more to the park than I clearly understood and we drove and stopped and walked and saw. I do love the whole concept of those amazing Indian dwellings and the fact no one knows much about the people or where they went when they left the area - or why they left.

After we were worn out, we drove on about 15 minutes to Cortez to the Retro Inn. This was purely for convenience - I didn’t want to backtrack to Durango. But Cortez was a really cute little town and the Retro Inn was an old motel updated some, with each room having a different theme by year. We stayed in 1963 and had Flintstones pictures up in our room. It was easy and fun. Breakfast was a sack picked up in the lobby, which was only kind of adequate - mostly sweet bread, with a yogurt. However for dinner we had eaten at Shiloh Steak House, which was great. Plus I had leftovers for lunch the next day.

Day 4: a drive to Moab for Arches NP.

Ok, this stop was a compromise. I have wanted to go to Antelope Canyon for years and kept it on the possible list till it wasn’t possible. Then I realized how close Moab was. I knew I would have to choose Arches or Canyonlands and chose Arches as smaller (for the amount of time we had) and the fact neither of us are dedicated hikers. This turned out to be one of the best stops of the 2 weeks. Moab is a cute little town and I could spend several days there. And Arches was absolutely amazing - and accessible. I could go back. We spent about 5 hours in the park, which was about as much as our bodies could stand. Ha!

We stayed at the Moab Rustic Inn, which did not provide breakfast but which had a full kitchenette in our room. So we just ate out of our ice chest for both dinner the night before and for breakfast.

Day 5: on to Bryce Canyon. This was a different experience. Not bad, just different.

However, leaving Moab, we chose to take Highway 24 and Scenic Highway 12 to Bryce. This added time, but the drive’s scenery was nonstop. We drove through the Dixie National Forest and by Capitol Reef NP, and then across Hogsback Ridge. We spent about 5 hours (in just driving time) and needed 2 days. We did stop a few times to get closer to the the rocks right beside us. I had just read “take Scenic 12 if you have time” and had no idea what to expect! I had to look up Hogsback Ridge later to see what terrifying road I had just driven on. Lol. Sheer steep drop offs on both sides in a few places, with no shoulder..... but the vistas are mind-blowing and the surface was good and no one wanted me to drive fast. :)

We drove in to Bryce Canyon NP an hour or so before sunset and the hoodoos are so other-worldly. We hit a few view spots before calling it a day.

We stayed at the Bryce View Lodge, which was the cheapest of the 3 options, not counting the actual lodge in the park. It included a breakfast voucher for Ruby’s Inn across the highway, which houses the only real restaurant (there’s a fast-food type place also). It was a set plate, which was fine but nothing special (but far better than a pop tart and cereal bar). We also ate dinner here - being the only real choice.

~~ Continued

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Day 5: on to Bryce Canyon. This was a different experience. Not bad, just different.

However, leaving Moab, we chose to take Highway 24 and Scenic Highway 12 to Bryce. This added time, but the drive’s scenery was nonstop. We drove through the Dixie National Forest and by Capitol Reef NP, and then across Hogsback Ridge. We spent about 5 hours (in just driving time) and needed 2 days. We did stop a few times to get closer to the the rocks right beside us. I had just read “take Scenic 12 if you have time” and had no idea what to expect! I had to look up Hogsback Ridge later to see what terrifying road I had just driven on. Lol. Sheer steep drop offs on both sides in a few places, with no shoulder..... but the vistas are mind-blowing and the surface was good and no one wanted me to drive fast. :)

We drove in to Bryce Canyon NP an hour or so before sunset and the hoodoos are so other-worldly. We hit a few view spots before calling it a day.

We stayed at the Bryce View Lodge, which was the cheapest of the 3 options, not counting the actual lodge in the park. It included a breakfast voucher for Ruby’s Inn across the highway, which houses the only real restaurant (there’s a fast-food type place also). It was a set plate, which was fine but nothing special (but far better than a pop tart and cereal bar). We also ate dinner here - being the only real choice.

Day 6: Bryce in the morning and on to Zion.

As I said, I am not a hiker, so I chose to take a 2 hour horseback ride down into the canyon. After checking out some good YouTube videos, I knew I would never be able to walk it down and back up. So I was out and ready for my 9:00 ride. Is this a good time to mention that I have a phobia about heights and drop offs? The first half of the ride down was pretty steep and drop-offy with switchbacks. The guide even told us the horses (and mules) are trained to walk on the outside (to give us a better view). I have no idea if he was joking or not, but Johnny was determined to walk by the edge and I kept having to remind him I would rather stay by the inside edge. I know this phobia is purely in my head because the way up, same trail, didn’t bother me at all.

Meanwhile my friend did a good 2 hours of hiking around (she couldn’t ride but can walk lots).

I wasn’t impressed with our stop here but I wonder if it was a combination of unimpressive “town” and too short a stay. By 1:00 we were headed for Zion. I had gotten shuttle tickets for 2:00-3:00 (none available after that), but by the time we actually got there and checked in, we just went for dinner and called it a night. The scenery via the East entrance, on Highway 9 through the park was again jaw-dropping and we felt we had absorbed all we could manage. Dinner was at Spotted Dog and really good (but not cheap).

~~ Continued

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Day 7: This was the first 2 night stay - at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale. I really liked this place and it was very convenient, with the town shuttle stop right beside it. Breakfast was a voucher for 1 beverage and 1 entree at Porter’s Smokehouse and Grill. The food was really great (and you just chose from their menu), but on our second morning (Day8) we ate a little later and there didn’t seem to be any reduced capacity.

I had shuttle tickets for 12-1:00. I was logged in and online promptly at opening time on the day tickets went on sale, but within 10 minutes all morning tickets were gone (I made the mistake of doing the previous day first). However we had a non-rushed morning and took the town shuttle to the park to catch the park shuttle. The process seemed complicated online but in reality it was well-managed and easy. The number of people on each shuttle was carefully limited.

Again, I had a horseback ride reserved for 1:30-4:30. At 1:00, my friend and I split up and she went to hike, after telling me where she would be. There is no cell reception at all in the park until you get back to the Visitor’s Center, so we planned accordingly. I am not a champion rider, although I like to do easy rides when I travel. Most rides like this are pretty routine, but this ride was not exactly a beginner’s ride. :) No drop offs, thank goodness, but somewhat steep ups and downs and lots of uneven footing for the horse. Plus the guide liked to trot occasionally - worse than a gallop..... added to some sharp curves and the inclines. I was quite pleased to have kept up and stayed on. Ha! One new rider in our group did fall off. Her horse went into a trot to stay up, right around a corner on a downhill section. It was enjoyable but I was TIRED when finished and decided to just head back to the hotel. Again, the park shuttle worked well, but the town shuttle was my first Covid uncomfortable feeling. First there was a long line and long wait - and then they filled every seat on the small bus. I don’t know whose job it is to manage that part since it’s not a park thing.

Dinner was in the room that night from our ice chest and room microwave.

Zion is gorgeous and as one shop owner in Mt. Carmel said “It’s being loved to death.”

Day 8: leaving Zion for the Grand Canyon

We gave ourselves a slow morning for this 6 hour drive. Due to sections of highway being closed (as well as the East Entrance to GC), we had a longer than normal drive. After breakfast, we took the still drop-dead-amazing Highway 9 out of Zion and headed off. The scenery was just never boring.

We made a fast stop in Page for gas and a snack and a look out over the Glen Canyon Dam while driving through. (And I sighed again over Antelope Canyon). Stopped in Flagstaff for dinner so we wouldn’t have to think about dinner at the GC.

We had a cabin at Bright Angel and I loved it. It was simple but cozy. We had to check in at El Tovar, so that was a reason to see the inside there, where I might not have otherwise gone. Then i craned my neck some at the night sky and it was time for bed. This was our second 2-night stay.

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4653 posts

Lots of fun to read this report about some of our favorite places. Glad you got to see some of Capitol Reef, one of the "hidden gems" of the park system IMHO. The Boulder Mountain highway (12 between Torrey and Bryce) is supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in North America. Not a road to speed on, for sure.

You're covering a lot of ground, too bad you don't have more time to spend in each park. And too bad the folks at Zion and Springdale aren't doing a better job of infection prevention. Have a wonderful time at the Grand Canyon!

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3522 posts

You visited my favorite area of the US. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit.

Long before cell phones, my husband and I were on the last tour of the day. It still ended pretty early. After it was over, we were told that we could explore a bit, but to be back before the gate closed in a couple of hours.

We walked around for about 10 minutes when it started to snow very lightly. We quickly got back to the ruins and no one was there. Uh, oh!

We walked the short distance on to the gate and it was locked tight, at least 1 1/2 hours before time for it to close. There was no buzzer to punch, no bell to ring, no way to communicate with anyone at all.

After about 5 minutes of yelling, we gave up and decided to climb over. It was only about 6 feet high, not counting the barbed wire strung across the top.

We made it without any injuries. Being long before closing time, there were still people looking around at the displays and shopping in the main building. Like us, everyone had skedaddled up the short trail at the first hint of snow. They just had a slightly shorter distance to walk than we did.

And yes, I did complain to the rangers about what happened to us, the locked gate, the lack of any way to contact them and the fact that the docent didn't notice or tell anyone that not all of her group had returned.

Assuming that there is cell reception at Mesa Verde, a similar situation wouldn't be such an adventure today. That's a good thing because I don’t think I could climb over that gate as well as I did almost 30 years ago.

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Thank you for the travel recount. Just what the doctor ordered this Saturday morning. The forum has gotten boring with few traveling since James E fishing trip in Central Europe. Your trip to the national parks is one of my favorites. I always recommend it to fellow travelers overseas. Much better than Los Angelos or Chicago.

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It was announced this week that US National Parks will permanently be free to veterans and gold star families: NPS announcement

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Travelmom, thanks for the fun read. I realized that it's been 18 years since we went to Bryce and Grand Canyon. I am also scared of heights and would never do the Grand Canyon mules, but we did the mule trip at Bryce too. It was the first time I had ridden on an animal's back and I said, "I can see this being my preferred form of transportation in the future". I wasn't too afraid of the drop-offs, because I had read that the mules almost never fall into the canyons from the trails, so I trusted my mule. I don't ride any more, but we enjoyed the nose-to-tail ride at Gettsyburg very much and also one in the taro fields in Hawaii-I think on the Big Island.

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Travelmom, thanks for sharing your adventures. I’ve been to the GC, but the rest is still on my mental list of areas I want to explore. If we can’t go to Europe next fall we may do an RV trip to the southwest next year.

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2020 posts

Thanks for the trip report, it was fun reading about someone traveling. We haven’t gotten out that way yet. My parents lived in Florida so every summer we drove down there via a different route. The furtherest west we ever got was Tennesse, the Smokey Mountains and Dollywood. My girls love her. It’s a trip we want to take when our grandsons are a little older. Thanks again.

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Travelmom, what a great trip!

When our European travel plans went away this year, we decided instead to take an extended camping trip in the US Southwest. We planned to amble through New Mexico, then head to Arizona. We hoped to stop off in Tucson to visit Lo (I owe her a lunch!) then progress to Phoenix to visit my sister, who has had a number of health challenges the last few years.

Well, owing to the CV-19 situation here, that trip also went away. Instead, we spent a long week camping at a few state parks here in northeast Oklahoma. It was a good trip, but I still miss our beloved Southwest. We haven't been to some of the places you mentioned in over 40 years, and that's too long!

Lo, we also have a Mesa Verde story, involving bicycles, malfunctioning headlights, and steep roads. I bunged up my knees so bad that we couldn't tour the cliff houses. And since we were young, not as smart as we thought we were, and broke, I didn't go to a doctor. I'm still paying for that 50 years later.

Travelmom, I like that you managed several meals out of your ice chest; we do that, too. Would you mind telling us how much the various hotels cost? We usually tent camp, but there are times when that isn't practical, especially in the winter when the daylight hours are so limited.

Thanks for sharing. You've brought back lots of memories.

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Glad you had a great time. Took our kids to some of those places 2 summers ago and explored Mesa for 4 days and plan on going back next time we do NP. We were much more impressed with Canyonlands than Arches but glad you liked your choice. Sounds like you and your friend had a great time.

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Thanks for the kind words. :)

Avi, I don’t even know how to describe the air and sky! Weather later. :)

Lo, What a memory! I am awfully glad we didn’t have to climb any fences in or out! I would have been in big trouble.... :)

Dick, we heard the same about Capitol Reef from a couple of people along the way. It will probably have to fit into a future trip. Just driving alongside was breathtaking. jlkelmann, same for Canyonlands - one of those “can’t do everything” choices. :)

Stan, I saw that on Instagram and though that was a really nice thing.

cala, I trusted my horses also but as I know, that fear of heights and drop offs is all in my head and not logical. But as I was sitting beside the GC corral drinking my coffee and listening to the guide give instructions to the group about to head down, I thought “they don’t have enough money to pay me to do that - much less me pay them!”

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Day 8: leaving Zion for the Grand Canyon

We gave ourselves a slow morning for this 6 hour drive. Due to sections of highway being closed (as well as the East Entrance to GC, we had a longer than normal drive. After breakfast, we took the still drop-dead-amazing Highway 9 out of Zion and headed off. The scenery was just never boring.

We made a fast stop in Page for gas and a snack and a look out over the Glen Canyon Dam while driving through. (And I sighed again over Antelope Canyon). Stopped in Flagstaff for dinner so we wouldn’t have to think about dinner at the GC.

We had a cabin at Bright Angel and I loved it. It was simple but cozy. We had to check in at El Tovar, so that was a reason to see the inside there, where I might not have otherwise gone. Then i craned my neck some at the night sky and it was time for bed.

Day 9: Grand Canyon circuit

Many of the food establishments are closed. And there was not a coffee maker in the cabin. So for breakfast, we grabbed a cup of coffee (that got cold quickly) and a breakfast burrito from the Canyon Coffee House take out - the only nearby option. Then we drove to Yavapai Point and Mather Point parking areas. The shuttles that direction were not running. Lunch was from the Canyon Village Market. Then we rode the red shuttle west, getting off at almost every stop. Shuttles were carefully spaced out with limited numbers and the drivers were carefully counting. I was especially impressed when a driver actually stopped to enforce the mask rule - it was just someone in the back not listening and with mask pulled down to talk to traveling companions (so no defiance, just inconsiderate).

We went back to Yavapai Point for sunset and sat out on the white rocks amidst about 30 other people. While there, we watched two different young men walk way out on a very narrow rock and stand. One was flying a drone and we watched the rangers come and call him back in (since that’s illegal). It took quite a while for him to negotiate the walk/climb back to the trail and I wondered if he was just cautioned or if anything else happens. I found two accounts of people falling over the edge and dying in 2020. (You can see my heights thing kicking in - ha!)

I’ll be honest. The GC is amazing and beautiful but, although I enjoyed all of it, I think my main impression is of sheer size. Some of the other parks were more beautiful to me. Not to say that it isn’t extremely impressive! And I loved being right beside the Canyon in our cabin.

Day 10: Grand Canyon to Flagstaff. This was a fantastic day because we had booked a 10:00 helicopter ride over the GC! It was a splurge, but really the only splurge of the trip. They leave from Tusayan, about 15 min. from the park. Once you arrive and check in, you can request and pay extra to sit in the front by the pilot. And my friend loves flying and did so! Which meant that they put me in the front with her (at no extra charge). There are seats for 6: 2 in front and 4 in back. After seeing the inside, I would totally pay for a front seat (except I probably won’t be there again.) She was placed by the pilot (which made her happy) and I had the best seat for photos and video beside the all glass door. You would think my heights phobia would have kicked in, but apparently my brain is more reasonable inside something. You fly east, with great views of the Colorado River, and then over the North Rim, so seeing areas you just can’t see from anywhere on the South Rim. This was truly magnificent.

From here, we had a cute Air BnB in Flagstaff for 2 nights in a historic house right by downtown. We had a late lunch, wandered the downtown a bit, and then relaxed. This was a fast, hard trip, so I have to admit we were getting tired. A night in was welcome.

I had originally thought we would spend one or two nights in Sedona. But as I planned and figured out what we were interested in, Flagstaff made more sense for a base.

~~ Continued

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Day 11: Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments. These two are on a loop road, with parking and either short hikes (or longer ones). Entrance was free with my park pass. We opted to start with Sunset Crater first. Yes, I had read about it and planned - but it had just not registered we would be out walking on lava. This was so cool and very different than anywhere else. We saw maybe 5 other people the whole time. After walking most of the short to medium trails, we ate our picnic lunch at one of the 3 tables and then drove on toward Wupatki. Here we walked to two of the sites, with shorter distances. As I said, these ruins fascinate me and I loved stopping at Newspaper Rock.

Day 12: On to Winslow. This day was not really pre-planned for certain. One option was to drive through Sedona sightseeing and the other was Meteor Crater with anything else we happened across. We opted for Meteor Crater and an early arrival in Winslow.

I had been concerned that Meteor Crater would be one of those gimmicky places (think big plastic dinosaurs), but that was totally wrong. There’s a decent Visitor’s Center and a fun little 3-D type movie experience for kids (but we enjoyed it), but the highlight was the free guided tour along the Crater rim. The guide was great and had just the right amount of both scientific and historical explanation. And you can only access the rim through the guided tour, which we just happened into (wish I could say I had planned it). Meteor Crater is still privately owned and was used for training Apollo 11 astronauts.

From here we headed on down to Winslow and La Posada. I absolutely loved our stay here. This was like an attraction or odd museum in itself and not just a hotel. We spent a couple of hours in the attached free museum and sitting in one of their garden areas (there are several). Then we ate dinner in the Turquoise Room and it was amazing. This was also one of the restaurants that took our temp before entering. Breakfast the next morning was not included, but after having to pay $7 for a McDonalds egg McMuffin in Tusayan, I was more than happy to pay $8 for a warm prickly pear and spice bread pudding. Ha! Best bread pudding I have ever had.

Day 13: Heading toward home. After breakfast and check out, we of course had to stop by the corner in Winslow, Arizona. We had about 30 minutes of fun with pictures and then headed to the Petrified Forest. We opted to start from the south, off 180. There are a number of well- done pull-outs and shorts walks (in addition to longer hikes we didn’t do). While I can’t say the area is beautiful, it is certainly unique and quite interesting. Again a loop road, we continued through The Painted Desert. We ended up at a table outside the closed Painted Desert Inn Museum, with a gorgeous backdrop, for our picnic late lunch.

From here on, it was a matter of the drive home. We were on I-40 headed toward Albuquerque and got caught in a big traffic stop due to an accident somewhere ahead. Our progress was not as slow as many others. I wonder how often this happens - we encountered two kind people (just randomly): one coming down the middle of the completely stopped interstate telling people to get off at the next exit. We did, and then a lady coming from the opposite direction stopped to tell us about (and give directions) for a side road. We were certainly not alone but she didn’t seem to be stopping for everyone.

This meant we stopped for the night in Grants instead of getting all the way to Albuquerque.

Day 14: Another major wreck and stop on I-40 between Grants and Albuquerque....... this probably delayed us for 2 hours total. But it was good to be home that evening!

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General Observations:

Weather: we had marvelous sunny warm weather the whole time. We were prepared for some mornings at 25 degrees there was never any wind and it just didn’t feel that cold. Plus it warmed up quickly. I packed for autumn and should have switched the number of short and long-sleeved shirts. I just washed as I went, though, and it was fine. This year the weather was our friend.

Crowds: were only in Zion. Nowhere else was crowded and some places felt pretty empty.

Length: 2 weeks is a long time for most people to be gone, but it was a really short time to do all we did. I could have wished for a few more days or not included so many parks; but by the time you drive that far and are so close, I just couldn’t resist. I wish I had been up to more star-gazing, but we were tired at night and no time to account for losing sleep. We would have taken the ranger led star tour at Bryce, but it was full by the time we got there.

Closures: Yes, they were a factor. But I decided that anywhere you go anytime, you can’t see or do everything. So that was the same on this trip - just for different reasons. We were happy with what we WERE able to do and see.

Cell reception: This was spotty most of the time. In most parks, you would get some reception here or there, but not consistently. Same driving place to place. Zion was where we had the least coverage. I had all destinations marked and Google maps offline downloaded, so that was never an issue.

Hotels: till my friend asked to join me, I had planned to spend about half the nights camping with my car (some people are horrified by this, I know). With her sharing the cost, it was slightly more expensive to use hotels every night. Since Jane asked, we had 13 hotel nights and each spent $880. We could easily have spent more. Meals: I don’t have a good number on this but by myself, I would have probably eaten a little less in restaurants and more in my room. Most rooms had a microwave (but not all) and it would have been doable. All but Grand Canyon had a coffee maker of some kind in the room and most had the small Keurig with coffee included.

Driving: I hate interstates and I-40 was the only one we were really on (for the time we weren’t off it avoiding complete backlogs). Otherwise traffic was really hardly there - driving was easy and interesting.

Pass: I got my senior lifetime national parks pass, which gave both of us entrance to all parks except Chimney Rock NM (she paid full price and I paid half).

Packing: I traveled with my same 20” suitcase and a backpack. In the car, we had an ice chest, lawn chair each, a small box of non-perishable food items each, and I had my telescope just in case. My friend has not traveled much and was afraid of needing something, so had quite a bit more not very organized. But in a car, it was fine - I was just in and out of hotels faster with less work. :)

Overall: I needed a trip and knew I wanted to go to these places but just had no actual realization how amazing the landscapes are. And I am so glad we got to do this. As I said, this was the last half of October and I am seeing some of the places we went are currently closed.

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253 posts

Read this great trip report so happily. We have been to these parks but it’s been years and to hear how it’s being done in this year of Covid is interesting. We took a 2 week road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone in late September, throwing in Cody and the Buffalo Bill Museum, Beartooth Pass highway and Redfish Lake Lodge. There are still great ways to have a vacation in 2020. Thanks so much for sharing.

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8203 posts

What a fun time you had! I had the same reaction to driving that Hogback Ridge road. Yikes! I've made myself go back and drive it a few more times since that first heart stopping experience.

Thanks for posting!

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2269 posts

Thank you for posting such a great trip report.

We used to drive past the signs for the Meteor Crater on our family vacation trips to California. My parents clearly believed that it was not worth a stop. 50+ years later, I'm glad to find out that it wasn't really gimmicky (good word) after all.

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760 posts

Thanks for a great report. Since we can't go to Europe right now, I think a lot of us are thinking about driving trips in the US. I am in the planning stages for one in March/April. I'm glad to hear that you felt the hotels and restaurants were safe - Covid wise. Obviously you had to make some stops at places like grocery stores to restock your ice chest - did you feel people in the places you went were acting in a covid safe manner - masks, etc. ? I'm from the Northeast where we have been really good with masks, social distancing, etc. (and even here our numbers are going up, but nothing like the rest of the country). I certainly hope the whole country's numbers are way down by next spring but I'm interested in people's perspective on how safe traveling through the country is. Sounds like National Parks themselves are 'behaving' and enforcing sensible regulations, but what about all the in between places you need to go through to get from one park to the next.

I notice you are from Texas. We'll be traveling through Texas and one place I really want to see is the missions in San Antonio. Any advice (covid wise or just in general) on visiting San Antonio?

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8203 posts

"Sounds like National Parks themselves are 'behaving' and enforcing sensible regulations,"

Isabel, I'm not sure the National Parks can actually enforce masking regulations. My view is of Yellowstone, only, as I made 2 visits this summer, one in June just after Montana lifted it's quarantine rule so the park could open it's Montana-located gates and again in mid-September each for about 10 days at a time. In talking with some of the Rangers, usually the ones out on a rove thru the geyser basin, they just did not have the manpower to enforce mask wearing. Ranger numbers were cut way down this year as they had to house each Ranger in solo quarters instead of having them share living arrangements. There were signs everywhere encouraging mask wearing and distancing but not everyone was compliant. The concessioners varied on enforcement. Xanterra, the Yellowstone lodging provider was being strict about metering people in/out of the restaurant/gift shop locations and were making masks mandatory. Delaware North, the General Store concessioner, was not metering people into their stores nor were they enforcing a mask requirement although signs on the doors asked people to wear masks and distance. I went into the General Stores infrequently and quickly. I noted more people compliant with mask wearing outdoors on my September visit over my June visit.

I'll also add that the Rangers had their hands full with entitled, inappropriate behavior including dogs being taken illegally on boardwalks/trails, people off the boardwalks in thermal areas, people doing other dumb stuff including Rangers coming on people at in a closed back country area who were cooking freaking chickens in a hot pool.

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615 posts

I am already thinking about a US road trip for 2021. Great trip report. I too enjoyed the front seat near the window on the GC helicopter ride. and yes it was the best seat for taking photos. This was on a trip for my 50th birthday. Loved every minute of it and worth the splurge. I also have issues with heights but for some reason, It doesn't cause me any issues on planes or helicopters.

Margaret

Posted by
324 posts

Thanks for your report. I've been to most of those parks (Mesa Verde twice) and they are spectacular. The one I'd most like to visit again is Zion--we just didn't have enough time there.

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1027 posts

Luv2travel, I have those 2 parks on my radar for a future trip - and am going to check out the other places I hadn’t heard of. :)

Pam, I might be persuaded to drive that again. I admit to seeing limited scenery along the ridge .... ha! On the other hand, I was actually glad I was the one driving - I felt more secure being in control. :) That is interesting about the parks being understaffed but it makes sense. I have to admit I was impressed with the job the parks did - if I had concerns, they did NOT stem from there for sure.

Margaret, my heights reaction is exactly like yours. Who knows. :)

Barbara N, Zion was spectacular and I definitely did not see even a minuscule part of what I would want to see there with more time. Maybe they will keep timed entrances for the future, because I keep reading about how crowded it always is. It’s like reading about Venice!

Isabel, those are tough questions. The Covid-safe situations varied a lot. In towns and in public settings, masks seemed to be the rule, with people being aware of distance. I really never felt protocols were not being followed in hotels, which was nice. Restaurants are a mixed bag, because you obviously have to remove masks to eat after entering, but servers always had one on - every single place. Truthfully I only went in one store very quickly, but everyone had on a mask ( the market at GC, which was very nice, made 2 stores - few people, and all with masks). We, more often, used the ice chest to bring leftovers from a previous dinner and had freezer bags we were able to re-freeze twice, so never even needed ice. Gas stations were mostly where we would go to the restroom while traveling, when we stopped for gas. The newer the place looked, the more likely it seemed everyone was following the posted signs. But that is not 100% accurate. We also often chose a gas station with a small shopping area and would buy snack food there while stopped.

Out in the parks outside, it was really mixed. Most people seemed to have a mask but might only put it on when about to be nearer to someone else than 6 feet. We did some of the normal “take our picture - shall we take yours” interactions and just wiped phones down immediately but not much of anyone else seemed concerned about that. Most of the parks simply did not have the normal large crowds. Zion was the exception to that, as I seem to get the impression it always is. It was not that people seemed to be trying to be a problem - it was more that at some level, it was actually hard to remember Covid in those surroundings, so people might forget to put their mask on when getting back near others. And on the horseback rides? No one wore a mask (or bandana). I think if I were counting uncomfortable times, I would say: 1) town shuttle from Zion back to town; 2) breakfast the second morning in Springdale; 3) one rural gas station (and I don’t even remember where).

As for Texas? Whew. Our numbers are bad. Not everywhere has consistent rules or mask mandates. And many of the ICU’s are completely full - my area is, as is most of west Texas. Some hospitals have beds but no staff. I don’t have any particular advice on San Antonio. I have been to one of the missions (and the Alamo and Riverwalk) but it’s one of those situations where you often don’t see what’s closer to home. Ha! Spring could be another whole scenario - those of us still alive may not be contagious. (Said tongue in cheek but only half-kidding.) Truthfully, I would expect precautions are being taken for tourist type settings. I really think our spread is coming from people back to doing “normal life” things in big groups without masks or distancing. And that wouldn’t be you as someone traveling through. I hope that helps!

Posted by
6697 posts

We'll be traveling through Texas and one place I really want to see is
the missions in San Antonio. Any advice (covid wise or just in
general) on visiting San Antonio?

I've been to San Antonio in late February a few years ago. Stayed in a River Walk hotel with no car (only rented a car one day to drive out to the Hill Country, which is a must, especially if you're a photographer). Parking fees in River Walk hotels were exorbitant (comparable to Boston, if I'm remembering correctly), and you really don't need a car at all in San Antonio itself unless you want to get to a couple of places that are not within walking distance (e.g. McNay Art Museum). There are a few interesting museums walking distance or right off the River Walk (San Antonio Museum of Art, Briscoe Western Art Museum, etc) and everything is well connected for pedestrians. They have a very good visitor website, and I downloaded and got hard copies of everything I needed to plan the trip (it was my 2nd or 3rd time there).

San Antonio has done a great job with extending the River Walk paths to provide walkers and bikers a very nice transportation network. My friend and I took a cab out to the furthest out Mission and walked back (and stepped at each since they were all off the River Walk). In total, it was a 10 mile walk, and I wouldn't have done it in any other season (it was actually really cold that day, so that made it easy to walk). Doing it by bike would have been even better. The Missions were blissfully empty of people and nowhere as touristed (and much more modest) than most of the California Missions I've been to. The core of San Antonio shouldn't take more than 3 full days to see, but the Hill Country is well worth additional days. I would not skip the Hill Country, it's just beautiful and very photogenic.
Obviously I wouldn't go until Texas gets its (million +) cases under control and COVID is in the rear view mirror. They are leading the country in cases and second in deaths only to NY.

Posted by
1213 posts

"Obviously I wouldn't go until Texas gets its (million +) cases under control and COVID is in the rear view mirror. They are leading the country in cases and second in deaths only to NY."

Not really. Texas may be high in the total number of cases because they have a larger population than many other states. The category that really counts, NEW cases per 100,000 people Texas is 32nd in the country for the highest rate at 28.2 new cases per 100,000. This is in contrast to South Dakota (at number 1) with 154.5 new cases per 100,000 and the US at 39.8 new cases per 100,000. So Texas currently is better than more than 1/2 the states and is better than the overall condition in the US.

All statistics are the current ones from the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Posted by
3522 posts

Isabel, you will have a great time in San Antonio and the Hill Country. I grew up in the Hot Wells neighborhood on the map on this Brave Old World link. You can see the locations of the missions and that I was quite close to San José. But my favorite is Espada, the farthest south.

The official San Antonio website and the National Parks one are both very informative, but I find them cluttered and hard to navigate.

Assuming you are from New England as well as live there, you may be surprised at the significant cultural differences in San Antonio. For a taste, go to A Dynamic Confluence. For a more in-depth look, I hope the Institute of Texan Cultures will be open when you are there.

Speaking of taste, there are so many good places to eat, it's hard to choose, especially if you have limited time. Mi Tierra in the market area is a good choice, 24 hours a day. I remember going when it was a hole in the wall.

A surprise to many, Schilo's Delicatessen in the same place since 1917, is worth a try. It's near the river downtown.

Also worth a try is Bill Miller's BBQ, especially if you can't get to the Hill Country for BBQ. It's a huge enterprise with many cafeteria-like locations. Their first place was on the south side of town where they had fried chicken and hamburgers that got me through my high school days. The picture at the top of the linked page above is the place I and many others went.

I'm always disappointed when people go to San Antonio and never set foot in downtown. To this native, that's the part that's most interesting. La Villita, the River Walk, San Fernando Cathedral, El Mercado, and of course the most famous mission, the Alamo.

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345 posts

Pam--We close enough to Mt Rainier to get to visit often, only about 2 hours away. This summer we mostly stayed away as too many yahoo's were there and not being smart. We finally went in September and omg, what a sh*tshow one day. The weather was awful, super foggy, very cold, sideways rain, and very cold. Our faces were getting pelted etc. That was ok as we were prepared and know the trail etc. We were the very first people there that morning, so thankfully we were headed out when more people arrived. On our way down we encountered a group that I hope I never see he likes of again. First it was about 6 guys, Army guys, in jeans, cotton t-shirts, no packs, no jackets, tennis shoes and off trail trampling the meadows. I was fit to be tied. We continued on and a little bit further down was the rest of the group. Over 60!!!! Again, no packs, jeans, t-shirts, a few of them had jackets on, but not water repellent etc. I asked one of them where they were from, Georgia. I was so taken aback I couldn't say anything else, but we found a ranger about 15 minutes later and I told them guy concern about the group. I was sure that SAR would've to come rescue them, and then to be off trail etc, ugh. The ranger actually first tried to tell me that in GA they don't wear masks so don't know any better. Wrong answer! I let this ranger know that we too had been stationed in GA and that as no excuse, but even the rest of the stuff, trampling meadows, not being prepared etc really got through to this guy. Sure enough, after we did another trail we saw SAR up there. Thankfully the next day the weather was beautiful and the trail we were on only had well prepared hikers. It was such a relief after the day before.

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1591 posts

For future travelers :

At Sunset Crater, there is a short, but steep hike ( Lenox Trail ) that goes to a nice viewpoint.

At Wupatki ( the main ruin ) one should go all the way down to the ball court and blowhole

Posted by
8203 posts

"Pam, I might be persuaded to drive that again. I admit to seeing limited scenery along the ridge .... ha! On the other hand, I was actually glad I was the one driving - I felt more secure being in control. :)"

Oh yes, height chicken here and repetition is the best way for me to reduce my fears. AND you are totally right...I have to be driving not only to put myself in control but to get myself in the center of the road, lolol!! I've successfully used this method to be able to drive the one steep/twisty road in Yellowstone and to do the high mountain plateau road out the NE entrance. IF you are back in the area do try it again! And if you have time, drive back and forth a couple of times. I think the Rangers at Yellowstone did an excellent job this summer and most probably did not realize they were short staffed. Only because I know a couple of them and several others peripherally PLUS knowing the concessioners were short staffed due to how they had to house folks did I know how many fewer were "onboarded" this summer (park service terminology - can't they just say hired?).

@MikLiz, that just makes me sick! Both the destruction and the stupidness of not being prepared. They ALL have internet access so no excuse for not knowing about masks and surely someone local was a liaison and could have given them info on appropriate hiking gear for the mountains. Ugh.... At one point in Sept I was sitting waiting on a geyser and chatting with the guy next to me when a family with a dog not even on a leash walked by. I said to the Dad, dogs aren't allowed on the boardwalks, it's dangerous for them. He shot back - Didn't see the sign until too late. I just didn't want to engage further as he was pretty hostile. About 10 minutes later the guy next to me said....Well, well, well. Look who the Ranger found. Slinking back by, holding the dog was the family, followed by the Ranger. She stopped to look at the geyser we were waiting on and when the family got out of earshot I said...thank you very much for taking care of the dog issue. She rolled her eyes and said...they said they didn't see the sign but that's no excuse. She also said she could not believe how many encounters they'd had with dogs on the boardwalks this summer - WAY more than usual.

The chicken incident: https://www.eastidahonews.com/2020/10/idaho-falls-man-two-others-cited-after-2-chickens-are-found-in-yellowstone-hot-spring/

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4571 posts

A few years ago we were camping at Sugarite State Park in NE New Mexico. We were at the upper campground - fairly primitive. I met a woman at the toilet area who reached down and unleashed her dog. I backed off. "What," she said, "You don't like dogs?" "I like dogs, but I don't know yours and I don't trust dogs I don't know" was my reply. She went off in a huff. There had been warnings from the rangers about mountain lions in the area; in fact, we showed a ranger a huge cat print we had seen in the campground, and he said "Oh, we wondered where she was. She has young." Yikes! Keep your dogs leashed, please, for everyone's safety. Including the dog's.

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345 posts

Pam--Wow, they took a dog there??? So glad they got busted on that!!! The dog is lucky it didn't fall in.

Posted by
8203 posts

Oh yes, and dogs all over the boardwalks this summer. There was not a time either in June or Sept that I was in the basin that I did not see dogs being taken where they should not be. And I usually spend 4-5 nights just for the thermal areas so I am on the boardwalks all day long. There are not just bison and elk in the thermal area around Old Faithful but grizzlies regularly move thru there. Very few dogs are used to that level of wildlife and have no sense of the thermal danger.

Jane! My word...the big cats (and bears/wolves) can take a dog before you can blink an eye. Cool but creepy you saw the cat print in the campground.

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4571 posts

Pam yes, cool and creepy. The only animals I'm afraid of are mountain lions and grizzly bears. It may have been on that same trip that we were camping in Great Basin Nat'l Park in Nevada, and there were mountain lion warnings all over the campground. Parents were warned not to let their kids wander away.

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8203 posts

Oh Jane...I'm way more afraid of mountain lions than grizzly bears!

Posted by
1027 posts

I guess people just can’t imagine that bad things could actually happen to THEM -(thinking of the 2 people who have died this year falling off the edge of the Grand Canyon). And that doesn’t even take into account the people who don’t think rules apply to them.

Posted by
12400 posts

Travelmom, I LOVED your report! The Southwest is our favorite part of the country, and we've hiked many of the parks in the region multiple times. It's a shame that you couldn't experience more of Santa Fe but with New Mexico being under one of the strictest lockdowns, I know that just wasn't possible. Do give it another shot someday? There are also quite a number of good day trips from there to attractions both natural (Bandelier National Monument, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Petroglyph National Monument) and cultural (Santuario de Chimayo, Taos Pueblo, San Francisco de Asis church at Ranchos de Taos, Acoma Pueblo nearer Albuquerque, etc.) You do NOT have to be a dedicated hiker to enjoy most of these.

Moab: very glad you made the choice to spend even a little bit of time there. Two of our stays have been for a week apiece in length; there's a ton of great hiking for visitors of all abilities as well as biking, rafting and other outdoor activities. Next time, give Canyonlands' Island In the Sky unit a shot - some pretty easy walks to dramatic vistas there - as well as Dead Horse Point State Park, which is along the way. That one is easily done too, and the view is killer.

Highway 24 and Scenic Highway 12 to Bryce: good for you!!! Hwy 12 ranks as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the U.S, and we've stayed in Hanksville (tiny town on 24) for 3 great hikes in that area. Goblin Valley State Park is weirdly wonderful and generally not difficult to explore as long as it hasn't rained recently. Capitol Reef N.P.? Highly underrated amongst Utah's "Mighty Five" IMHO.

Bryce: Bryce Canyon City is largely just the sprawling Ruby's Inn complex and not really a town so maybe that's why you were a little let down? At least you got to see the park in the morning as light on the hoodoos is more dynamic than in the middle of the day.

“It’s being loved to death” Zion: reports of the tourist crush there this season, even with shuttle restrictions, have been many. That one has a real overvisitation problem that's been going on for years. So does Arches in Moab. Incidentally, the Bumbleberry Inn restaurant and Porter's Smokehouse and Grill both burned down right after your trip! :O(

Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon: we love that one too. The cabins are very comfortable, close to the rim, and rates are moderate compared to most other options in the park. It's also architecturally important. Yep, it takes a good 24 hours for the vastness of canyon to sink in! Like Bryce, the best light is earlier or later in the day, right?

I could have wished for a few more days....

I hear you. Shoot, even 3-weekers weren't enough - and we didn't include as much as you did - but a good reason to go back, eh? Many thanks again for the terrific read; I'm delighted that you had a wonderful time!

Posted by
345 posts

Pam--Ugh, that is really too bad. I have only been to Yellowstone in the winter and spring, so very few visitors and not the yahoo's that summer brings.

Jane--Me, too, mountain lions are way more scary than a grizzly. We have spent quite a bit of time up in the Alaskan bush (native Athabaskan family) and even there I am not scared of them. Granted, we are heavily armed while out of the cabin, but they are not sneaky like the mountain lions.

Posted by
1027 posts

Thanks, Kathy! You are absolutely right about time. It would be easy to spend days in each of most of the parks there. There will definitely need to be “a next time” for parks we didn’t have time for - and several we didn’t have enough time for. I had no idea there is just so much!!

And I hadn’t heard about Porter’s Smokehouse - that is so sad! I just now read about it and looked at pictures. Wow. Even though it was the place I felt a little less than Covid safe in, the food was really really good and it was a nice set-up with the Inn. That is just so sad.

Posted by
12400 posts

Yay for another trip, Travelmom! Hopefully that means some delicious threads about things to see/do that you didn't have time for on this last adventure, and some suggestions for fun things non-hikers such as yourself can enjoy. It sounds like you don't have any problem on unpaved paths as long as you don't have to go long distances or scramble over rocks? And ooh, Santa Fe.... A great little city for history, architecture, food, art and COLOR! I'm homesick for the place + my favorite parks just chatting with you about them!

I'll probably pick up some new ideas from those threads as well; we're blessed with some folks who really know their stuff when it comes to that part of the country. :O)