Saturday, May 28, 2016

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah

In our last post, I mentioned that visiting The Wave was a great birthday gift... but it didn't end there.

Situated in between all of the National Parks/Monuments between Utah and Arizona is a place called The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Scott happened upon it while reading about Kanab, Utah - the little town nearby. It's the largest no-kill shelter in the country, located on gorgeous property just outside of Zion National Park. The property is BIG - you need to drive between animal houses. They have more than 700 cats, 500 dogs, pigs, 100 parrots, bunnies, horses, etc. They have gotten worldwide press because of their work after Hurricane Katrina, their care for Michael Vick's fighting dogs, and a National Geographic TV series called Dog Town. We did a tour the first day, and were inspired to stick around a second day to volunteer. Another awesome birthday gift for me!

Unfortunately we didn't get very many pictures.

Basking in the morning sun

The competition for affection was fierce

I could definitely see us coming back for a longer period to volunteer and explore more of this area. Their sign-up process for volunteering took 5 minutes online and the next day we were set up to spend the morning with the cats and the afternoon with the dogs - so efficient.

Big male tabby making friends with the other big male in the house

This old lady wouldn't let any other cat get our attention - we were warned that she gets very jealous

There were lots of "rafter kitties" - the ones too scared to get near the humans

Sweet pit-mix who couldn't get close enough to me

She was a little leary of Scott at first, but then wanted to be a lap dog

These two were definitely trying to de-rail my pooper scooping

Yes, we scooped poop, but we also connected with some precious, adoptable animals. If you are heading to Utah or Arizona, I definitely recommend at least taking a free tour of their property and facilities. Oh, and also make sure to stop in for lunch at their all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for $5, with a sweeping view of Angel Canyon.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Winning The Lottery in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

I wonder how many people have ever heard of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (VCNM) in Arizona. It's called Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on the Utah side. Situated just north and east of Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, respectively, it's a lot less crowded, and really, really cool.

This area is well known for it's slot canyons and an amazing sandstone formation called The Wave. On our first day visiting VCNM, we hiked through a stunning slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch. According to Wikipedia "it's the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and may be the longest in the world". A slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock and can be quite dangerous during a rain storm. There is a giant log jam in the slot 40 feet up - that's at least how deep the water gets during a flash flood. Crazy. Lot's of pictures below:

We had to climb down/up some rocks to continue our hike

I love imaging how this giant tumbleweed got into the canyon
Not for the claustrophobic

This was our only exit if it started to rain

This log was carried by water through the slot

Shoe-sucking mud that never sees the light of day

You didn't think we'd leave here without a jumping picture, did you?

During our route-planning, we specifically decided to visit VCNM to see "The Wave". Due to a lack of planning, we learned a week before we arrived that we needed a special permit, and only 10 (!!) people per day get one. We felt pretty defeated, but decided that we would go through the process of entering the lottery. We drove 70 miles round trip to enter the lottery the day before we wanted to hike. There were 147 people vying for 10 spots. The process was hectic and crazy. I couldn't believe it when our number was picked first!! We won the lottery! Pictures below:

The hike out to The Wave
Had to do it
When we approached The Wave, Scott said "I think this is it" and snapped a picture - it was just the entrance...

Not "the" wave - just some cool stuff near it

All alone at The Wave

A different view from higher up

One of the "winners" who arrived as we were leaving

The hike out

It's only a 3 mile hike out to The Wave, but navigation is intentionally difficult to discourage wave poachers. We crossed paths with some of the other winners, and a disturbing number of lottery losers trying to find the path, but we were never hanging out together at The Wave. Wow - all alone! This was also during the week of my birthday - what a perfect sandstone birthday gift.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Litte Bit Of Everything Near The Four Corners

After we left Santa Fe, our friend Gordon, graciously welcomed us to his house on the edge of a National Forest outside of Albuquerque. Here, Scott worked on the truck for a week, and we ran and biked in Gordon's backyard.

Not only did Gordon offer his house, property, and tools, but he also got down and dirty with Scott

Near Albuquerque, we also met up with our long lost friends from The Long Way South! They've moved on from adventuring in their pickup truck to a newly refurbished VW Westfalia. They were in the process of driving it from California back to Maine.

The last time we saw Sarah and Nate was in Michigan 2 years ago.
They were returning from their trip to the tip of South America

Next up, the "four-corners" region. We barely scratched the surface of this area.

Our travels had us approaching the four-corners from the south, so we missed out on a lot of the Colorado and Utah portion. A common refrain these days seems to be "we'll be back!".

Mountain biking was the focus as we visited Gallup, NM and then up to Cortez, CO. Gallup was once known as "Drunk Town, USA", and Mother Theresa even listed Gallup along side Calcutta, as one of the world's foresaken places. It has a couple good mountain bike areas. The town is still a little rough around the edges, but then, so are we. Everywhere we biked, fellow mountain bikers talked about an epic trail near Cortez called "Phil's World". Someone online described it as "a trail you must ride before you die". We're both in good health, but decided not to put it off. It was indeed epic. It was FAST, relatively smooth, with a portion resembling a natural BMX park - jumps, banked turns, giggles, and smiles.


A few miles down the road from Phil's World is Mesa Verde National Park. It protects the 900+ year old Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings as well as some gorgeous landscapes.

A short little hike in Mesa Verde NP

The ancestral Pueblos inhabited these cliff dwellings for only about 100 years between the 1100s and 1300s AD. It is theorized that they left (or died) because they had depleted their environment - sadly, the human's common story. 

One of the bigger dwellings that was not open to the public yet (tours start every June)

We signed up for a guided tour of one of the accessible dwellings for only $4/pp - it was totally worth it. We were a little surprised that we were able to walk and climb through these ancient relics.

This ladder was not part of the original dwelling - only necessary to enable a one-way tour

The dwelling we got to tour - you can see the ladder in the lower right of the picture

 Part of the tour included a tunnel that Scott was a little nervous about. The ancestral Pueblos were small people, averaging around 5'3".

This tunnel was a little claustrophobic even for me - I felt bad for Scott and the giant man behind me

The guy behind me was 1.5x the size of Scott, with a giant belly, broad shoulders, and quite a bit older. He barely made it. Surely people routinely get stuck in this throughout the tour season!?

The northwestern corner of Arizona  is entirely Indian reservation (Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe). We stopped for a night in a reservation town called Kayenta. We parked off the highway between Ace Hardware and a pizza place. The security guard pretty quickly sought us out, and suggested we park under a light in the middle of the parking lot. He was worried about us being parked in a dark place with a lot of foot traffic. We felt like we were back in Peru, where the locals' paranoia about crime against tourists was overwhelming. I feel bad that people have to live in an area with so much fear and crime.

While we were parked in the "dangerous" spot, a nice local asked Scott to fix his tire

It's cool to realize how many places in the USA we visit that we've never been to (or even heard of) before. Without a doubt, we'll be back to this area again.