Capitol Reef: was a pretty cool park, I had no idea what to expect when we went there. Arriving from the east the park looked desolate. As we continued through to the other side, the winding road took us through a lush river valley complete with pick your own orchards the early Mormon settlers planted. The campground was full when we arrived so we camped at a dispersed camping area that the ranger told us about. Not bad and free which was even better no sites, tables, rings or anything really but all we wanted was a place to sleep anyway. We hung out for a couple of hours at a burger joint that had free wi-fi and caught up after a few days of no contact.
The next day we went to the Gifford farmhouse, the Fruita Historic district and to see some Petroglyphs. We attended a couple ranger talks that discussed the Petroglyphs and the waterpocket fold that makes up Capitol Reef. We hiked to Hickman Bridge and saw Capitol dome. We learned that it's called Capitol Reef because the dome like formation of Capitol dome reminded early settlers of the Capitol building in DC and Reef because the waterpocket fold was so difficult to get through, explorers likened it to a reef. The park is full of scenic canyons and lush riverside areas as well as a rich history. We drove to the Grand Wash and on to Capitol Gorge but had to return to the visitors center area soon after because a storm was rolling in. We met a great couple from Arizona and they invited us to share their campsite that night, so we did. Once we arrived in Phoenix we were able to spend the day at the zoo with them as well. We've been so fortunate to meet some terrific people along the way.
Bryce Canyon: on the way to Bryce we drove Hwy 12, a scenic byway that had loads of beautiful vistas. We went to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome state park where Conner earned a two additional badges. After a long day of driving, we arrived at Bryce early enough to get a campsite, renew our National Parks Annual Pass and explore the visitors center. We camped in North Campground and as we were setting up camp, we heard someone say Conner?? It was the couple that we met at the Tetons in the Jenny Lake campground. They happened to be right next to us. We set up the backpacking tent because we knew it was going to be cold, and then it started raining. I covered the tent with a tarp just to make sure it wouldn't leak. Then we headed out to explore, in the rain. We ate in the car and went to the ranger program. The rain didn't let up so we returned to the tent to get a good nights sleep. The tent is TINY, so it was a cramped night but thankfully dry and warm throughout the extremely stormy night. It withstood the wind and rain with no leaks. In the morning it the rain had stopped and we rushed to catch the sunrise at.... hmmmm sunrise point. It was crowded and cold, but BEAUTIFUL! As the sun came up the hoodoos began to glow in orange and white. The rain continued on and off throughout the day, so, we did laundry and took showers... then we decided to head into the hoodoos for a hike. It wasn't recommended for us to do the one that we had intended because of the chance of more torrential rain so we did a shorter one combining the Queens Garden with the Navajo trail. It was beautiful and I felt a bit like I had traveled to Whoville... the formations were very Suesslike. We waited until after viewing sunset at Bryce point to leave. They were expecting snow, so we decided to leave early and head to Zion so that we wouldn't chance getting stuck there, kinda wish we'd had stayed for the snow, but our tents really weren't built for snow camping.
Zion: We arrived at Zion around 9PM and everything was closed. We came in from the east through the mile long tunnel, which was a bit eerie that late at night, not knowing when it would end. We camped at Watchman in a site we happened to find. In the morning we had to move but at least we had a place to set up. Temps were significantly warmer and I had a really nice rest and good yoga session in the morning while Conner snoozed. The forecast was correct and we received 3 days of rain, waiting and hoping for at least one nice day. We were planning on doing the observation point trail, but the rain made it impossible so we did some shorter trails. Angels Landing will have to wait til my little man is a bit older, I don't think my heart could take him being up there. We were fortunate to see Condors and meet some more spectacular folks at the campground and on the shuttle buses. We attended ranger talks at the lodge. One talk showed me just how much Conner had learned in the past few weeks. Every question the ranger asked the audience, he knew the answer. Once he learned that he didn't have to raise his hand to answer her questions, because no body else was, he answered before everyone. The audience roared with laughter at Conners answer to the question "does anyone know why did they do this?" when the ranger showed a picture of two Elk bucking. Conner promptly answered "to impress the girls". He couldn't understand why the crowd saw his answer as funny... he said, well they do! After the program people came up to ask him how he knew so much about the animals. I was really proud. At the same time, one of the park employees brought in a caged Ringtail that had been breaking into the lodge. It was the one animal I really wanted to see and figured I wouldn't so I was pretty happy. The thing was adorable, his enormous saucer black eyes were beautiful.
We had one nice day of hiking when the rain stopped. We road the bus to big bend, near Angels Landing, to see if we could spot Condors at sunrise. We didn't have luck at that time so we climbed back on the bus and hiked from Canyon Junction back to the campground for breakfast. We packed up camp, spent some time with our new friends at the campground before heading out for some hiking. We got in 3 hikes and a ranger talk before returning to share a campfire with the same group of friends that we had met in the campground. We were fortunate to see a couple Condors later in the day as well. It was so nice to walk up to the campground and have everyone start singing happy birthday to me. It's still amazing to me, how we have been so fortunate to meet such terrific people along the way.