California and the National Parks in the West

Once again we went to the USA for the summer, visiting Shadae’s mother and family in California. The days were filled with trips to different playgrounds, city, county and state parks, and Southern California beaches. The big house in Encinitas also provided plenty of opportunities to have games, to go in the pool and jacuzzi and to have outdoor BBQs and grill evenings with smores. The views on the lagoons of Encinitas and the setting sun on the Pacific were amazing.

This time, we also decided to rent a big Class camper, as Shadae’s uncle from Connecticut decided to come visit. It is interesting that in the US, unlike Europe, you can drive a camper up to 40 ft (13 m) just with your normal driver’s license.

We originally rented a 37 ft camper, but when we arrived at the rental place there were some problems with it that could not be fixed on a Sunday. So they gave us a 40 ft bigger camper with three instead of two slide outs. We drove back to the house and packed all evening and the following morning. As we were heading out the next day however, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on, and after heading back to the rental agency, it turned out the Turbo was broken and unfixable. So, they were able to fix the original Winnebago camper we wanted and late in the afternoon we headed out to Las Vegas.

After a night on the strip – only campground on the strip is the Circus Circus – we drove to a small State Park just before Zion National Park, Quail Creek. Running late because it was the first time camping for 4 family members, we were lucky the ranger opened the gate again to let us in. As a result, it was pitch dark by the time we were set up and it took a long time to BBQ the chicken. The next morning however, we saw the nice lake with warm water we were camped at, and after enjoying it a little bit, we headed out to Zion National Park. The kids liked the water pouring out of the rocks at aptly called Weeping Rocks, and the adults preferred the towering canyon walls at the entry of the Narrows section at the end of the canyon.

The next day we drove to Bryce Canyon, on one of the most scenic drives in Utah. We had to get a special permit as two way traffic in the one mile tunnel had to be closed so we could right in the middle and fit with our huge bus. The drive through the wonder world of rock formations was amazing. After having a late lunch and stopping for groceries, we headed to our campground near Bryce Canyon. While the kids enjoyed the outdoor swimming pool, a nice dinner was prepared. Afterwards, we drove to the Rim of the Canyon to enjoy sunset. By the time we arrived, the sun had already set but the colors in the sky and the wondrous rock formations were a nice end to the evening.

The night was cold at this 8500 ft altitude, but everything heated up fast in the morning as we went with the shuttle bus to several viewpoints and then did the 2 mile Queens Garden Trail amidst the hoodoos and fantastic yellow, ochre and orange colored rocks, spread out like a city in the canyon amphitheater. Solidly impressed by this awesome park, we then drove on Highway 12 Scenic Byway where we went from Mars like landscapes to high altitude plains (over 9300 ft) towards Torrey, the gateway to little known Capitol Creek National Park. In the nice campsite with views on awkward rock formations, we had an evening around the campfire with smores and marshmallows.

Capitol Reef National Park is not as well-known as the other parks, but the strange rock formations and castle-like towering rocks provide fantastic sceneries. Most of the park is inaccessible for normal cars, let alone a long camper bus. After reaching our furthest point away from San Diego, we turned back south and went to one of the most fantastic viewpoints in the whole of Utah: Dead Horse Point State Park. The views on the surrounding parks, the Colorado and the mountains in the distance, are just awesome. The idea was to also visit the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park, but a huge thunderstorm and the late time made that impossible. So we went straight to our campsite with a spot that had a viewpoint on Arches National Park. Despite the drizzle it was quite warm, and we had a great BBQ and nice evening in this great spot.

The next day we spent the entire day discovering one of the best parks (besides Bryce Canyon) in the entire West: Arches National Park, with the highest amount of natural arches in the world. Time after time we were amazed by the scale, size and differences between all the different sections of this park. Especially the walks near the North and South Window, Double Arch and the late afternoon hike to Landscape Arch were memorable. This surely is a park to come back to and to spend a lot more time when the kids are older.

Driving all the way south to the border with Colorado allowed us to spend a night with views on Monument Valley, an iconic place. The next day we headed out through the desert and majestic landscapes to Grand Canyon, one of the deepest canyons on the planet. Following the South Rim and stopping at different viewpoints while slowly the afternoon sun colored everything in warm hues, was a great way to spend the day – despite the automatic step of the camper breaking down. Our campsite was a basic one in the beautiful National Forests surrounding the Grand Canyon, although we had problems stabilizing the camper. A nice campfire in the chilly evening and views on the galaxy and Milky Way, made the experience complete.

The next day, we made sure to leave on time to a nice little State Park on the shores of Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove State Park. The sand of the little beach was white as any Caribbean beach, and the waters were so warm. We spent the entire afternoon and evening in the waters, as the outside temperatures were stifling hot.

After a visit to Joshua Tree National Park, a unique place in the middle of the desert, and Palm Springs, we headed back to San Diego, where we unloaded the camper and returned it the next day.

The final week of our stay in California was filled with local walks, shopping to all stores to get clothes, shoes and all kind of things you can only find in the US. We had a big birthday party at Shadae’s uncle’s place with great foods, company and presents. To top it all off, we had another fantastic day at the Disneyland Resort, this time the California Adventure part. Thanks to Susie, Shadae’s sister, we were able to once again get free entrance tickets for our family and the two sisters. Great!

Fitting everything in 4 huge suitcases and 4 big carry-ons provided a big mission, but fully loaded we flew back to Belgium.

Look at some cool pictures of our trip and the Western National Parks here.



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August 2015
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