"Corner Places" (The Four Corner States - April 13, 2017 to April 23, 2017)

The mysterious cliff dwellings of the Anasazi at the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National ParkThe mysterious cliff dwellings of the Anasazi at the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park


13-April 2017 to 23-April 2017: As I was speeding along the NP-101 on the way out, I was suddenly tailed by someone in a truck. I thought that it wanted to pass me or something, but I didn't see a place to pull over and let him pass so I doubled down and went a little faster even though I was already gunning it some 20mph past the 35mph limit.

But then after another minute or two, I noticed that this truck had blinking lights turned on in my rear-view mirror. It was at that moment that I quickly realized that I had just been caught speeding. I guess this truck was an unmarked vehicle because it had nothing on its paint job that indicated it was police. So I had to pull over when it was safely possible, and we eventually found a somewhat grassy shoulder along the narrow road...






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Day 1 (April 13, 2017 - Sedona, Arizona: "The Risks Of Knowing Too Much"

It was about 4:30am when I awoke. Having only slept a little over three hours, I was essentially kept up by the need to get out of Los Angeles as soon as possible to ensure that we could at least enjoy Sedona while there was still daylight. But that would require us to leave no later than 7am, especially since I had targeted a visit to Slide Rock State Park along the way.

We had to be all business on the first two days of this trip (i.e. a lot of driving) because there wasn't that many days to fit in all the things we wanted to see and do during Tahia's Spring Break. After all, there was the opportunity to visit Fossil Creek Falls (though that one took reservations) as well as check out the Tonto Natural Bridge. Even Seven Falls near Tucson seemed to be pretty neat to check out. In any case, those things would have to be punted to a separate long weekend trip only on years where Southern Arizona would get significant enough rainfall to warrant such a plan.

And so with a lot of things to get done in terms of packing up and getting ready to go, I got started with loading up the car with what I could while Julie and Tahia still were sleeping. Eventually at 5:15am, they both got up and things were moving along. Tahia woke up with the sniffles, which was not good. She picked a pretty bad time to come down with a cold - right on the first day of this Spring Break trip!

Eventually after having hastily prepared breakfast of kefir and oatmeal, while Tahia had some milk and eggs, we'd finally leave the house at 6:35am.

There was some pretty heavy traffic going east towards the I-15 and even on the I-15 freeway itself! But after getting past Rancho Cucamonga, then getting past the Cajon Pass, it was pretty smooth driving along the I-15 and then along the I-40.

The music choice during the drive became a battle of wills as Tahia and I were enjoying the happy music of the B-52's while Julie wasn't digging any of their music and wanted more of my Triple J playlist. Whenever Julie was trying to get caught up on sleep, that was when Tahia and I would sneak in the B-52's. But when she was awake and the B-52's were on, she'd angrily make me change the iPod.

As we were humming along the I-40, I had recalled from our last trip to the Sedona area and even to the Grand Canyon in years before that, that we could make it all the way to Kingman on one tank of gas. My memory suggested that gas was pretty cheap in Kingman, and so I had it in my mind that we ought to be able to make it all the way there, especially with the car's "Range" indicator telling me how many miles I was supposedly able to drive before the tanks goes to empty.

The progress along the I-40 going east towards Needles wasn't as desolate and isolated as I had anticipated. There was some pretty extensive road construction going on that caused the two-lane (in each direction) interstate became one-lane. There were even some CHP officers hiding out in some boonie spots away from developed centers. Plus there were lots of truck drivers. We went this slightly longer way instead of taking the 10 east to Phoenix because we figured that the 10 Freeway was a bit too busy for our liking (based on our numerous drives to the Palm Springs area in the past couple of months).

But we pretty much hummed along as we were heading towards the California-Arizona border near Lake Havasu. By the time we got to the state border, the car's range indicator claimed that we still had around 150 miles before going empty, which appeared to be well within range of reaching Kingman.

The further east we went on the I-40, the more the road surface deteriorated and even presented some potholes, which was definitely not good when you're going the Arizona speed limit of 75mph (as opposed to 70mph in California). Some of the roughness of the roads made me want to abandon the typical highway etiquette of keeping on the right lane except to pass slower vehicles.

But with the right lane seemingly beat up from greater use, we kept worrying about messing with the alignment of the car with each bump in the road that we'd hit. It also didn't help that it was quite windy in the deserts here so every once in a while, I'd feel the car swerve with the gust of wind especially after passing big rig trucks.

And yet, the worries didn't end there because apparently, the Range Indicator on the car lied as all of the sudden it jumped down by 50 miles in one shot and then I was worried that we wouldn't make it to Kingman on a single tank of gas. When it became apparent that gas services were few and far between in this part of Arizona, we started to get real desperate to find any gas station as we were running out of gas!

I guess that was the problem with knowing too much about this route. It gave me that false sense of security of thinking I could get all the way to Kingman on a single tank of gas and then pay cheaper gas rates at Kingman instead of Lake Havasu or somewhere else earlier. And in hindsight, I knew that even if the gas was 30 cents per gallon cheaper, it would only result in a $3 savings on a 10 gallon fillup. The risk of being stranded out in the desert in Arizona simply wasn't worth the risk. So with fingers crossed, I sure hoped that this was merely a big lesson learned and not something that could cause a logistical disaster on the first day of this trip!

Eventually at 11am, we went along the Route 66 briefly towards some truck stop gas station. It seemed like a dodgy mom and pop place, and I decided to just fill in $5 just to be safe because I wasn't sure how much further Kingman was. But after we did what we had to do, we then drove further east along Route 66 before we suddenly found ourselves within the town of Kingman, AZ.

As we passed through town, Julie noticed a Thai Restaurant, which she wanted us to stop by since she saw the rest of the selections of foods were mostly chain stuff or truckers food. Eventually, we'd fill up at a Chevron at around $2.59 per gallon (about 50 cents cheaper than what we'd normally pay at home), and then Julie placed a phone order so we could backtrack to the Thai Restaurant for a takeaway lunch so we could keep moving.

At about 11:20am, we arrived at the Bangkok Thai Restaurant where we got our food of Pad Thai and Beef Broccoli (gluten free). I hastily ate a few spoonfuls of the hot Pad Thai, and then once we were back on the road again at 11:40am, Julie and Tahia were eating the rest of their Thai food in the car while I was busy driving.

The I-40 continued to fluctuate between pretty poor road surface conditions (especially for an interstate) and busier-than-expected traffic, we did enjoy the views of the snow topping the San Francisco Peaks as we would eventually hit the I-17 junction near Flagstaff before taking the Hwy 89-Alt Route south directly towards Sedona. Along the way, we pulled into a queue waiting to get in and park the car at Slide Rock State Park.

We got in line at around 2:05pm, and then we were finally let in and parked the car at 2:15pm. I guess we managed to show up right around the end of the first or second waves of people towards the end of their opening times.



The car park was quite busy as people who were led in were marauding for parking space. After getting our stuff and walking along the paved walkway towards the Slide Rock area, that was when we then found before us a real happening scene of people just enjoying themselves around Oak Creek. Further adding to the scenic allure of this place were the attractive cliffs to our left as well as flanking other parts of the Slide Rock area.



The ambience of Slide Rock reminded me of the scene at Bassi Falls near Lake Tahoe last Summer. At that spot, there were also numerous people enjoying the many pools and slides after doing a fairly moderate hike to get there. But in the Slide Rock State Park case, all we had to do was walk about 0.3 miles from the well-established parking lot.



So its accessibility further added to this place's popularity. But now we can totally see why it was so popular.



While Julie and Tahia took some time to get ready (more like getting Tahia into her swimwear), I took some time to document the experience at Slide Rock. The sections of fun pretty much was divided into three parts. There was the lower slides and pools, which had quite a handful of people swimming and overall just playing. The second part was the middle pools and the signature Slide Rock waterfall itself. It was at this second section where I noticed several people do a cliff jump into a deep pool below, and I also saw a handful of people scoot their way down Slide Rock. It definitely looked like fun though I wasn't equipped to do that natural waterslide.



Beyond the main part of Slide Rock (which by the way was also the busiest part of this state park), I then scrambled a bit more further upstream where there was a real tiny cascade. I'm sure there could be a lot more in the way of waterfalls further upstream on Oak Creek, but I was pretty content to just experience the signature parts of this hike.



When Tahia and Julie finally showed up to this main section, I rejoined them while Tahia was busy wading in a somewhat shallow pool. When it was Julie's turn to scramble at least up to the view of the Slide Rock itself, that left Tahia and I to keep each other company. During this time, she got into this game where she'd pick up something light (like a twig or small rock), then chuck it right into a current where we could see those thrown objects pulled under the footbridge and then further downstream.



After Julie got her fill soaking in the atmosphere of the Slide Rock part, she rejoined us and then we started to head back to the car. As time flies when you're having fun, we wound up spending over 90 minutes here, and even then, Tahia was grudgingly leaving with us as this was a spot where she could have stayed all day, I reckoned.



So at 3:55pm, we were back in the car. There were still a few more cars pulling into the parking lot though the spaces were starting to free up as this site had opening and closing hours, and they were still an hour before the last admission.



And so we continued south on 89-Alt towards Sedona, but by 4:10pm, we found ourselves stuck in traffic as the two-lane road (one in each direction) was at a standstill moving towards Sedona. We didn't know what why there was so much traffic (we never recalled dealing with this on our first trip to Sedona back in 2009), but as the minutes continued to tick by, when we finally got to the Hyatt Pinon Pointe at 4:45pm, we realized that the big hangup was the roundabout right underneath the Hyatt!



So this was kind of a self-inflicted problem, I guess, where they didn't want to put traffic lights in this part of Sedona? Anyways, after getting our room, we marveled at the beautiful views of the surrounding buttes and mesas around the town of Sedona, and we also loved the room we were staying in. It was the kind of place we wished we could have spent more nights, but alas, time was of the essence.



Speaking of time, after putting our stuff in the room, we then immediately headed back out for dinner. Julie first wanted us to go to Elote, which didn't take reservations (i.e. it was first come, first served). But when we showed up there at 5:10pm, there was a big line in the front of the restaurant. After looking at the menu, Julie realized that she couldn't have much of the fusion stuff on offer here as she needed more clean food.



So after about 15 minutes of waiting, she called up The Hudson Restaurant, and they didn't have a wait. So we promptly went there, and just five minutes later, we were seated on a terrace with a gorgeous view over towards the surrounding buttes and mesas around Sedona. Even though the sun was shining on us, I thought this was worth the sun burn risk. Besides, the sun was setting anyways.



Our meal consisted of a juicy rib-eye steak, a sole (fish), and some pulled port tacos. Tahia had the tacos, which thankfully she liked because the kids meal was bad (i.e. burgers, mac and cheese, etc.). We didn't have dessert as we didn't want Tahia's cold to get worse.

And so at 6:50pm, we were done with dinner and back in the car. It was a good thing we had gotten there when we did because now there was a line to get into The Hudson. So we had beaten the rush!

Ten minutes later, we stopped by the Nature Grocers, which Julie wanted to check out even though there was a Whole Foods just down the street. It was in a part of town where they actually had traffic lights, and it seemed to be the main part of Sedona. I didn't recall spending much time in this part of town the last time.

Anyways, the Nature Grocers turned out to be quite a nice little grocery store with all the stuff she cared about concerning gut health, and they even had a classroom in the back of the store! They seemed to be really serious about holistic health here!

It was too bad we were constrained by cooler space. Otherwise, I'm sure she could have bought up more things at seemingly cheaper prices than Whole Foods. Anyways, by about 7:25pm, we got back in the car, by 7:55pm, we returned to the Hyatt, where we could finally enjoy the room we were staying in. Julie and Tahia immediately went to the jacuzzi spa inside and relaxed there. Other than that, we wound down the day and got some much needed rest, especially since tomorrow was going to be yet another long day of driving to Santa Fe, NM with some stops along the way...



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Day 2 (April 14, 2017 - Santa Fe, New Mexico: "Salvaging The Most Of A Charming Capital Experience"

It was about 5am when we awoke. We knew that we had to be efficient about getting ready and out of here by no later than 7am because we had just as much driving on this day as we had yesterday. Plus, we had to make a couple of stops along the way, and we wanted to check out the main parts of Santa Fe, which was New Mexico's state capital.

As Julie was preparing some breakfast, in parallel, I was trying to get Tahia ready as well as getting her to eat her breakfast. She was being picky again so her unwillingness to cooperate with eating kefir (especially since she had a cold) complicated things a bit. We knew that we couldn't get out of here before 7am because the Hyatt here was a timeshare and their reception for checking out wasn't open until 7am.



So given all that, we got packed, loaded up the car, and there was still time for Julie to finish up her breakfast. By 7:10am, we left Sedona (which was also pretty in the morning, but nothing magical from a photography standpoint like yesterday afternoon). There were already quite a few cars on the roads so the roundabout just below the property was busy (but not crazy like yesterday).

Then, we had to follow a handful of cars along the 89-Alt going north to Flagstaff. At first, we were going a pretty good rate even though we had a line of say 3 cars with some slow pokes courteously using the turnouts. But after we got past some accommodations north of the Slide Rock area, there were a lot more cars causing a backup so by the time we were finally at the road work area about 5 miles before the junction with the I-17, there had to have been well over a dozen cars in a line.

Once we were on the I-17, we then quickly made it to Flagstaff, where we pumped up for gas, made some last minute potty breaks, and then were promptly on the I-40 for the long haul drive all the way to Albuquerque and ultimately to Santa Fe. Albuquerque itself was at least 326 miles from Flagstaff, but I thought making a quick stop at the La Ventana Natural Arch some 270 miles away from Flagstaff (along the way) would be a good opportunity to stretch the legs while also getting a photo op.

So the drive was pretty uneventful and actually notably mostly flat and desolate. We passed by the familiar exits for Meteor Crater as well as Leupp Road (which I remembered we took the last time we were in Sedona to get to Grand Falls back in 2009).

As we got further east, we saw signs for the Petrified Forest National Park. We didn't have time to do this, so we figured this would have to wait for the next time we're in the area. The same went for visiting Canyon de Chelly or other scenic attractions in the Navajo Nation in the northeast corner of Arizona as well as the four corners landmark encompassing the states of Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.

I was surprised at the amount of time the GPS said it would take to get to La Ventana Arch because it said that we'd get there in almost 5 hours (by 1pm)! It was around 8am when we were in Flagstaff. But that was when I realized that crossing into New Mexico meant that we'd be on Mountain Time, which meant we had to lose an hour! I overlooked this little fact when I planned our itinerary, so that further put pressure on us to get to Santa Fe before we'd no longer get to experience the charm of the historic downtown area.

We made one brief stop at the state border for a potty break. It was surrounded by some interesting mesas and cliffs, and there was a welcome center with a bit of a Native American flavor to it. But aside from this brief stop, we kept heading east.

Anyways, almost as predicted by the GPS, we managed to get to the parking lot for La Ventana Natural Arch at 12:35pm, which was right off the 117 Highway. It was about 17 miles away from the I-40. We could already see the impressively tall natural arch from the car park, but we couldn't get that view where you could at least see blue skies through the arch because there was a cliff right behind it.



So Tahia and I got started first by going on the 1/4-mile trail leading right to the bottom of the arch (or so we thought). The trail was paved in the beginning, then went on a dirt trail leading to a viewing area not quite beneath the natural arch. But even from there, we couldn't look through the arch with sky behind it. So we could visually see the arch with our own eyes, but it didn't photograph well. Thus, Tahia and I concluded in hindsight that we probably didn't need to have done this hike.



We didn't particularly feel like scrambling to get closer for that sought after shot, especially as the signs said it was a revegetation area. I'm sure in my younger days, I might have tried it, but with Tahia with me, I wasn't going to chance it (especially with chance of poisonous rattlesnakes and stuff in the bush). But I guess if we needed to have better light (the sun was almost on top of the arch), we would have needed to come later in the afternoon or something.

When we were on our way back to the trailhead, we saw Julie near the restrooms and told her about how disappointing the view was. Still, she took a few minutes to get her views, and it wouldn't be until around 12:55pm when we were all back at the car and continued the long drive to Albuquerque.

Since we were running short on time and I knew Julie wanted to eat lunch at Alburqerque, I decided that we were going to divide and conquer. Julie and Tahia could chill out at a restaurant while I'd solo a visit to the Travertine Falls, which I knew was just minutes east of Albuquerque.

So eventually at 2:15pm, I dropped off Julie and Tahia near a couple of Asian restaurants (one of them was the Plum Cafe and the other was the Nanami Noodle House). Then, I promptly filled up gas and took off further east along the I-25 then I-40 to get to Travertine Falls. There was traffic due to an accident on the I-40 going east, which slowed me down a bit more than I would have liked.



It wasn't until about 3pm when I finally made it to the trailhead for Travertine Falls. I lost a few minutes because the GPS wanted to take me to the Route 14 then turn left onto Penny Lane. But I knew something was off when there was no signage and there were lots of private property signs as I got near a dead-end and so that wasn't as much of a waste of time as it could have been, but it was still frustrating to have wasted those precious minutes on this unnecessary detour regardless. Plus, it seemed like the residents here must've gotten other people misled here because the signage said for any stranger to turn back.

Anyways, there were a handful of cars parked here at the real trailhead, and when I finally started hiking, I saw a guy going the other way. Not sure about whether I was on the correct trail to Travertine Falls, I asked him if this was the right place. He confirmed though he did say the falls was a trickle. Still, I had to finish this hike and document it to at least show what was here on the website.



And so I continued up the uphill trail. It was pretty bone dry in these parts and I could see that the trail followed along what appeared to be a dry creek. After passing a couple of other hikers going back down, then surpassed a trail junction with a trail labeled "Crest Trail No. 130", I finally arrived at the Travertine Falls at 3:20pm, which had one trickling section while there was an interesting little cave adjacent to it.



I took some photos and videos of this spot, but as I was doing so, my stainless steel water bottle somehow fell from the side of my pack and fell into the mud from the trickling stream. That was annoying as I didn't have anything to wipe the stuff except my hands and my hiking clothes. And now I was worried about the parts of the bottle where I'd put my mouth to drink as I'm sure some microorganisms must be living in the mud that now got on this bottle.

Right in front of the trickling part of the travertine, I saw a scrambling trail joining up with the Trail 130 that branched off from the Travertine Falls spur. I decided to scramble up to that trail because I saw a couple of other hikers pass by up there. And when I got up there, I then went downhill, which turned out to be a little longer than I expected due to a couple of switchbacks before finally rejoining the trail junction.



The flip side was that I got to get nice views looking towards a mountain with a radio tower as well as an unsightly quarry to the right of it.

By 3:45pm, I got back to the car. The drive back to Julie and Tahia at the Nanami Noodle House took me about 25 minutes as the driving was a bit smoother. But instead of taking off right away, Julie insisted that I eat the food there at the restaurant because there was fish sauce that she didn't want all over the car. So that put even more pressure on us to get to Santa Fe and see the must-see sights before it gets dark.

So it wasn't until about 4:30pm when we started leaving for Santa Fe. The drive north along the I-25 was pretty smooth going as they, too, had a 75mph speed limit for much of the way. And it wouldn't be until about 5:30pm when we were finally checked into our room in Santa Fe, which was the Hyatt Place off Cerillos Rd.

Unfortunately, it was quite a ways from the downtown Santa Fe area so again, that put even more pressure on us to get to the main part of town after dropping off our belongings. And indeed, several traffic lights later and some aimless driving on Canyon Rd (basically a bunch of art galleries) and a closed State Capitol building, we eventually decided to park on the street next to the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi at 6:10pm.



Now the first thing that came to mind when it came to this cathedral was its name as Julie and I had been to Assisi in Italy. But the thing about this cathedral was that there was a statue in front that was said to be the oldest Virgin Mary in the US. There was a nice late afternoon glow on the front facade of the cathedral so we took some photos there before continuing an aimless stroll in search of The Plaza as well as a place to eat.



We saw straight away that there was a huge line at The Shed, which seemed to be set back in a charming arcade within a blue-lined walkway. Then, at the Plaza, it was basically a park area with an obelisk-like thing in the middle. On one corner was an art museum, whose exterior reminded me of something we had seen in Spain from Gaudi or from Andalucian Spain where the corners were rounded and very earthy.



We then went to some place called Pasqual's, but the earliest reservation was for 9:15pm and it wasn't even 7pm yet! So as we walked around some more of the downtown area, we finally wound up eating at this place called La Plazuela, which was within another Gaudi-like building as it was within a hotel called La Fonda.



We got seated at 7:10pm, and the restaurant interior had a bit of a nice ambience within an atrium-like courtyard. We had to get seated at a really small table set out in a walking aisle just outside the restaurant since the main tables were all booked out. But that was fine by us since we were looking for a place to eat and relax even if there wasn't much real estate on the dinner table.



We ultimately had a duck tamal, tortilla soup, a duck main, prime rib, and tacos de San Francisco (which we got Tahia to eat instead of the always unhealthy and expensive kid's menu). The waitress reminded us about the kid's menu, but we knew what we were doing. And in the end, Tahia really liked her taco, especially because she all of the sudden loved the beans.



As we got out of the restaurant at 8:35pm, we noticed the cathedral was now lit up and there happened to be quite a few people taking photos in front of it (definitely more people than I would have expected this late at night). But aside from that, we were back at the car at 8:50pm, and we then drove off with a stop at Whole Foods for Julie to pick up some eggs and stuff.

So it wouldn't be until around 9:35pm when we got back to the Hyatt House, where Tahia and I rushed to get to the swimming pool so she could finally get to play in it. She was really looking forward to it all afternoon. Meanwhile, Julie took the car to Target nearby for more shopping.

Unfortunately, Tahia's swimming clothes were still in the car so we had to settle for letting her wet her dress in the pool. At 3.5ft deep, this pool was a bit deep for our little girl so I made sure she stayed by the steps. I risked getting wet just to be by her so she could practice (in a very limited way) her swimming.

Finally at 10pm, we were back in the room, where I gave her a warm bath (she was shivering when she got out of the pool), then brushed her teeth and let her sleep just when Julie returned to the room. It was definitely a hectic day, especially since it seemed like everything conspired to slow us down (from the disappointing stops at La Ventana which we probably could have skipped and the trickling Travertine Falls) to the springing forward another hour once we got into New Mexico to the late extended lunch by Julie insisting that I eat in the restaurant and not punt to dinner.

It definitely felt like we didn't do Santa Fe justice on this rushed evening visit. I guess we'll have to do it again some time in the future when we find ourselves in this part of the American Southwest again...



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Day 3 (April 15, 2017 - Durango, Colorado: "Compounding Missteps"

It was about 5am when I awoke. Considering that New Mexico was an hour ahead of Arizona, it definitely made it harder for me to wake up. Julie and Tahia didn't get up out of bed until almost 6am. I had a feeling that these late starts were costing us in the long run, and with today involving a lot of driving, I was afraid that we were going to have yet another long day of touring with little to no time to unwind towards the end of the day.

That said, I started loading up the car at about 6:50am, and after having brekkie, we wound up leaving the Hyatt Place in Santa Fe at 8:05am. As we were leaving, Julie wanted me to stop at the Trader Joes in town because she wanted to get some broccoli chips and apparently they were the only ones who carried them from what she could tell.

But when we showed up at 8:20am, she found out that they didn't have them! In my mind, we took an unnecessary detour to get to this Trader Joes, and we wasted another 10 minutes on top of our sluggish start (because I was hoping we'd be out of the Hyatt Place shortly after brekkie at 7am). And so in my mind, we were already behind the 8-ball when it came to trying to go at a decent pace on today's itinerary.

Well, at least as we pulled out of the Trader Joes, we were right onto the 285 going north, which we'd eventually have to get to anyways had we taken the more direct route. As we were continuing to head north along this highway, we noticed quite a bit of walkers walking on the shoulders of the high speed highway, which I thought was pretty unusual (and potentially dangerous for them).

We noticed some signs saying something to the effect of "Sanctuario Walkers", and we were reminded of the people walking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. But this was the first time we were ever aware of such a thing going on in the USA! And indeed, we saw numerous people (mostly Native Americans it seemed or at least locals from this part of New Mexico) decked out in cowboy-type attire.

We'd eventually get to an exit for the 503. At this exit, we noticed signs pointing the way to Nambe Falls and Lake, but we also saw another sign for Santuario de Chimayo. Were these folks going there? Were these folks walking there because of today being the day before Easter Sunday?

We wouldn't know the answer for sure as we were driving, but as we continued to drive east along the route 503, we saw more and more people walking alongside the narrower two-lane road. The 503 eventually reached a traffic-lighted junction with the NP-101 Road, which continued further to the southeast direction towards Nambe Falls.

Along this road, we saw signs saying something to the effect that we were going into the Pueblo of Nambe and that we were going into Indian Reservation land. We eventually got to a stop sign right across from a gate where there were people collecting fees to enter. We went ahead and paid $15 for our carload, and after being asked for our zip code and purpose of visit, we were then directed to turn right and follow the unpaved road to its end.



At 9:05am, we arrived at the very large open space for the Nambe Falls trailhead. There were about four or five shelters labeled "Ramada", and they were apparently picnic areas that were all reserved on this day. We were one of the first to have arrived in this area so we went ahead and parked in a shady spot and got started on our hike.



There was a red sign near a bridge over the Nambe Creek, which was flowing very well. That was a very good sign considering how sorry the Travertine Falls were yesterday. We went ahead and crossed the bridge then followed one of several trails just past the bridge in the upstream direction. Another sign beyond the bridge reminded us that we were headed to the Nambe Falls Overlook.



At first, it was confusing which of these trails we were supposed to take (as there were at least three or four of them right after the bridge), but we'd later find out that at least two or three of them converged alongside the creek. The hike was initially shady, but then it promptly started climbing fairly steeply as we went up some steps.



The trail became a little more exposed to dropoffs as it narrowed and hugged a ledge so we had to make sure Tahia was paying attention to where she was going. We had seen some mist wafting up and out sideways way off in the distance, and we were kind of worried that Nambe Falls was that high up on the cliffs. But at 9:50am, we finally made it to the fenced overlook of the Nambe Falls as it turned out the mist we had seen earlier came from water coming down a spillway from the dam even further upstream and higher up the cliffs than the Nambe Falls itself.



The waterfall was pretty impressive as it featured a two-tiered drop. There were trees kind of blocking the view of the lower drop, plus it was resting deep in the shadows of the canyon of the gorge it was in. Further up the canyon, we saw an imposing wall with a spillway, and this must've been the dam holding up Nambe Lake. Since we were looking against the sun, the view was something tricky to photograph. But from looking at the steep terrain, we were also studying how it was supposed to be possible to scramble up to the base of the falls even though there was an alternate trail on the other side of the creek. My suspicion was that it wasn't possible to safely make it up to the base of the main waterfalls, but perhaps it was possible to at least get to the pools below the mostly hidden lowermost of the tiers of Nambe Falls.



There wasn't a whole lot we could do at this overlook other than to spend a few minutes to check it out. However, as we looked in the downstream direction, there was a pretty scenic view towards the Pueblo of Nambe as well as some of the surrounding mountains in the distance. That part was bathed in pretty well-situated morning backlighting.



After having our fill of the falls, we went back down the trail towards the car park. We went ahead to went along the alternate trail to see how feasible it was to get to the base of Nambe Falls, but it didn't take long before the trail kind of stopped at a open-air shelter with some rocks blocking further obvious progress. Julie said she saw some kids continuing to climb beyond the rocks, so I went ahead and did that just to see how much further I could go.

But the non-trivial scramble just to get past this shelter and avoid getting wet had already planted seeds of doubt in me, and as I continued past some kind of gauge, the trail pretty much started to follow or go right into the pretty flooded creek. After continuing for a bit while taking advantage of the Gore-tex boots, I finally got to a part where I doubted that it was worth continuing as undoubtedly, I'd have to get even more wet to keep going.

So I turned back and at 10:05am, we were back at the car ready to go. Tahia was being bad as she somehow had the idea to use one of the rocks and scratch the car paint in an attempt to draw something on the car's body, which prompted a very angry reaction from Julie. Perhaps the commotion we caused was somewhat drowned out by some more visitors just showing up to picnic with blaring mariachi music (despite the signs saying something to the effect of no loud music).

So we took off and headed towards the Jemez Falls knowing that we'd have another 90 minutes or so of driving ahead of us. We were only here barely an hour, but it somehow felt that $15 was a bit steep for this particular waterfall that was pretty but seemed to have too much man-made interventions and felt somewhat unfulfilling. That said, we're totally for fees to pay for management and upkeep of the area, and besides, this was Native American lands, and they can charge what they feel was right for a visit.

As I was speeding along the NP-101 on the way out, I was suddenly tailed by someone in a truck. I thought that it wanted to pass me or something, but I didn't see a place to pull over and let him pass so I doubled down and went a little faster even though I was already gunning it some 20mph past the 35mph limit.

But then after another minute or two, I noticed that this truck had blinking lights turned on in my rear-view mirror. It was at that moment that I quickly realized that I had just been caught speeding. I guess this truck was an unmarked vehicle because it had nothing on its paint job that indicated it was police. So I had to pull over when it was safely possible, and we eventually found a somewhat grassy shoulder along the narrow road.

When the sheriff walked over to the driver side and asked why I was in such a hurry. I really couldn't say anything other than we were headed to Durango. Julie interjected and said that we're sorry for speeding, but the sheriff just said that zooming at the speed I was going (probably 50mph in a 35mph zone even though there wasn't a whole lot of development) was endangering the child (he noticed Tahia in the back seat) and could be considered child abuse had we gotten in a wreck. Plus, he also said that going at that speed was not going to get us to Durango any faster than within the speed limits.

So I was prepared to just get the strike on my traffic record and pay the fine (and deal with traffic school when I get back home), but the sheriff ultimately gave us a warning. Unless he ticketed us electronically, apparently we had dodged a bullet. But the lesson was learned, and I pretty much stayed with the speed limit instead of trying to make up time from our later-than-desired start and pace to the day.

It brought back memories of that time I was driving through Southern Utah with my Mom and had gotten two traffic tickets in a day on a Memorial Day weekend back in 2003.

Anyways, the drive further west along the Route 502 was pretty uneventful (except for passing through some scenic cliffs as passing through what appeared to be Bandelier National Monument or something like that). But then we started to follow the Hwy 4, we were going by some signs and some infrastructure saying something to the effect that we were passing by some research facility.

Signs mentioned that they were from the Department of Energy, which made Julie and I wonder what kind of energy was being researched in these lands. But then, the road kind of detoured us towards some gate and inspection area. When we pulled up to one of the gates, we weren't sure what the inspection was all about. Regardless, I showed my driver's license to the gatekeeper, and after being allowed to pass, that was when I then realized that he must have been security monitoring who was trying to pass through what appeared to be the town of Los Alamos.

And after seeing some road signs (one street name was "Bikini Atoll Road"), that was when it dawned on us that this was a nuclear research facility! No wonder why there were gatekeepers at the periphery of this town. It was completely buoyed by this nuclear research area. Not only that, but we saw some NASA sign (no doubt there must be some particle accelerators, which were probably underground hidden beneath these mountains, to study the subatomic guts of the atom, I'm sure), and the "energy" from the involvement of the Department of Energy must've been because of nuclear energy.

It was all coming together in an "aha" moment as we knew that the Manhattan Project that ultimately led to the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II was developed in New Mexico. And I also thought of Area-51 and the apparent UFOs in Roswell, New Mexico. I guess New Mexico was a hot bed of military activity and bases as I knew there was also supposed to be some base in White Sands, but I never realized that Los Alamos was another such facility.

Who knows? Maybe New Mexico must have some lax environmental regulations so it was easy to set up bases and research facilities as perhaps it was too sparsely populated or the Native Americans were forced to swallow the bitter pill of having their lands being abused in the name of government.

Whatever the case may be, that was an interesting pass through, and as we left Los Alamos, we then followed a mountain road that kept climbing. Now, the scenery changed from classic desert southwest scenery with buttes and mesas everywhere to more of a pine forest. Signs indicated that we were now over 7,000ft, and the road eventually went alongside Valle Grande, which seemed to be a large meadow or valley.

A sign here said this was an elk viewing area, and when we made a brief stop to stretch our legs and take a photo or two, Julie noticed a bunch of cars parked further down within the valley. There appeared to be brown dots near these cars, and so we wondered if they were spotting elk! The prospect of Tahia getting to see live elk was too hard to pass up so we continued along the route until we turned right onto an unpaved road that went into National Park lands.

The road was a little on the rough side, but eventually we got to some parking lot and visitor center at 11:20am. But when we looked around, apparently those dots we had seen earlier weren't elk, but they were some kind of bins! Psyche! No elk on this detour so I guess it was technically another wasted trip conspiring to delay us even more on the way to Durango.

Well, at least I took the opportunity to study a map inside the visitor center to see how we could get to Jemez Falls, and one of the rangers there had told me that the road to the Jemez Campground was still closed by the Forest Service so we'd have to walk the mile to get from the parking near the gate all the way to the trailhead. I figured that that would add some additional unforeseen delays to the day, but since we were here, we mind as well finish the job.

And so we got back in the car and promptly drove to the Jemez Campground turnoff. The GPS had wanted me to take some non-sanctioned road to get to the falls, but I knew that wherever we were going was right off the Route 4. We had passed one busy trailhead labeled East Fork Trailhead, but eventually at 11:55am, we'd arrive at another very busy roadside parking area for the Jemez Campground. At first, we couldn't find a spot and had to park a ways back from the gated turnoff, but just as we started walking, at least three or four cars were leaving, and that was when we scored a shady spot (which was very welcome since we had a cooler with stuff that could spoil).

So we promptly got started and walked the road to the Jemez Falls area. There were lots of people doing the same thing as this was apparently a very popular waterfall. The road seemed to be longer than a mile as it wasn't until 12:45pm that we finally arrived at the Jemez Falls parking lot. While at this area, it wasn't immediately obvious where the trail down to the falls was supposed to be.

But we did see some people walking down near the East Fork Trail junction, which suggested that it was possible to get to the falls from that other trailhead at the East Fork where we had seen a lot of cars. It was probably similar in distance to the road we had just walked, but it was along the East Fork of the Jemez River, which I'm sure must've been more pleasant to walk than the road itself.





Anyways, we followed the trail towards what we believed was the way to Jemez Falls. Along the way, I got a partial glimpse of an attractive shield-shaped mountain which I thought must have been Jemez Mountain. Anyways, after getting past a wooden trail maze near an attractive rock formation, we started to lose the trail alongside the East Fork Jemez River. We and quite a few other hikers were dumbfounded as I knew from my research that this was supposed to be an easy trail. It wasn't supposed to involve a log crossing though one of the folks we were following insisted that that was what was necessary to keep going.





So Julie and Tahia headed back up while I was doing some investigating. But even when I crossed a makeshift log to get across the river, there was no trail so I knew this couldn't be the right way. And when I crossed back over to the trail maze and went back up the trail, that was when I spotted an unsigned trail junction that was not at all obvious save for some footprints. The time was 1:15pm when I figured this out.



How on earth were we supposed know that this was the way to go? There was no sign and even the correct detour was in shade at the time! And as I followed this trail, I was eventually led to a few spur paths (one leading down to some people chilling out by the apparent 6ft waterfall that I knew was the Upper Jemez Falls, which was the partial view of the small falls that the guy thought we had to cross the log to reach earlier on) while further along the trail was a fenced overlook that I knew was the correct end of the trail.



Sure enough, I got the view of the Jemez Falls which appeared to be 40-50ft tall and was gushing. I sure wished Julie and Tahia could have been here to realize the fruits of their labor for having walked all the way this way only not to get to check out this view! That was too bad.

When I had my fill of this overlook, I then took another path down to the upper falls plunge pool, which seemed like a perfect spot to cool off since the main waterfall didn't seem as accessible from a swimming hole standpoint.



At 1:30pm, I had enough of the Jemez Falls overlook and started heading back, but as I was doing so, I noticed some people coming from a different direction. So I followed where that trail was coming from and it eventually went up a pretty steep path. I wasn't sure if this was a sanctioned trail or not, but when I crested the ascent, I was now on a very wide dirt path flanked by trees.

Eventually at 1:40pm, I found myself back at the fences of the Jemez Falls day use parking lot. I guess the presence of these fences made it seem like this wasn't a sanctioned trail, and maybe it still wasn't. But I still saw people going this way (they must've been in the know or been here before because to folks who hadn't been here, there was nothing to suggest this was the way to go).

Anyways, I saw that Julie and Tahia were picknicking in one of the picnic tables here, and I showed them what the falls looked like. Still, we knew we were running late, and Julie and Tahia both decided that they didn't want to do this. And so we left together to get back to the trailhead though I couldn't help but feel for them for leaving empty-handed.

At 2:25pm, we were back at the car, which was still in shade. We definitely scored big time on the parking spot. That said, we were running way behind on getting to Durango, Colorado at a reasonable hour (in terms of enjoying their downtown and having dinner). The GPS said we wouldn't get there until around 6:30pm, which was almost like the predicament we were in when we showed up to Santa Fe yesterday. But with Santa Fe, we really felt like we messed up by not having more time to enjoy that city. Were we doomed to the same fate with Durango, especially given all the delays and setbacks from earlier on this day?

As we were continuing to drive on the Hwy 4 we made a few stops along the way in search of a decent place for a takeaway lunch. We wound up stopping by a convenience store near a turnoff from the Hwy 4 not far from the Jemez Falls Campground but came away empty-handed there when Julie saw that they didn't have anything but processed foods (i.e. chips and other packaged goods). Then, we went into Jemez Springs trying to get something from a cafe there at 2:55pm. But that place said it would be a half-hour wait to get the lunch prepared, which we felt we couldn't stomach given how much time we had already lost in the first place.

We eventually went to another place called the Trail House some 7 miles south of Jemez Springs at 3:10pm. Julie promptly went in there, but when we a napping Tahia and I were sitting in the car patiently waiting for Julie for what seemed like forever (we ended up being the only ones left in the store as people came and went as we waited there), it ended up being 3:35pm when we were finally leaving!

It was pretty much the same 30 minutes that we would have had to have waited had we grabbed something from the cafe in Jemez Springs. So with this bit of a setback (for burgers and fries no less), we were finally on the road south to the Hwy 550, which was a bit more straightshot as that was the road heading north to Durango, Colorado via Bloomfield and Aztec.

That drive was pretty smooth going as it was mostly 70mph speed limit, but instead of gunning it at over 80mph, I decided to play it safer by staying closer to 70mph and following other cars on the right lane except to pass (something not enough people do, I reckon, especially in California). I didn't want to push my luck having already been pulled over earlier this morning.

It wouldn't be until about 6:25pm when we finally made it to Durango. The descent to the city was scenic as it was backed by beautiful Rocky Mountains capped with snow. With time of the essence, I dropped Julie off at the Nature's Oasis while I went to fill up gas in parallel.



We finally got to the room at the Homewood Suites at 7:10pm as we were running out of time to see the downtown Durango area. 15 minutes later, we finally arrived in the historic downtown of Durango, which was actually surprisingly close to our accommodation (unlike Santa Fe, which was almost a half-hour away from our accommodation over there). It turned out that we had a few minutes to check out the downtown area before our 8pm reservation at this place called Ken and Sues.





We eventually came to the conclusion that this was pretty much a typical downtown so perhaps it wound up being ok that we didn't have a whole lot of time to tour this place. And so eventually at 8pm, we were at Ken and Sue's for our late dinner.



We wound up having some filet mignon (to help Julie maintain a clean diet), grouper, lobster enchilada (for Tahia to avoid the junk kid's menu), and pork belly appetizers. The service was a bit on the slow side, but it turned out that getting the dessert caused another 30- to 45-minute delay as the server apparently forgot to put in the order for that. I was fine with letting it go, but I think she tried to save herself by saying it was already put in and would come out in a couple of minutes (it was already past 9:30pm at the time).

But it wouldn't be until 10pm when we finally left the restaurant, which was well past Tahia's bedtime and putting pressure on us to get by with less sleep as we were attempting to get to Mesa Verde tomorrow morning (earlier rather than later so we can have control of our itinerary). I guess to her credit, the waitress comped us for the dessert, but the damage was already done.



When we left the restaurant, Julie wanted to check out the Strater Hotel across the street given how it looked very historical even on the inside. We spent a few minutes checking out the saloon, the lobby area, and even the restaurant though they were closed for the night. It was definitely the kind of place that we could have stayed at, but I guess Julie needed to have the kitchen so we opted not to stay there. I wasn't sure if this was with or without regrets.



At 10:20pm, we were back in the car, and five minutes later, we were finally back in the Homewood Suites to finally wind down the day. With such a late ending to the day (further compounded by all the setbacks on this day), time will tell just how much pressure that's going to put on the next day going forward...



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Day 4 (April 16, 2017 - Telluride, Colorado: "Shoulder Season Salvages"

It was 5am when I awoke to my alarm pretty groggy. Having gone through many delays yesterday, I knew the little dessert fiasco at Ken and Sue's had its greatest impact on sleep. So I guess I was the first to feel its effects. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia were asleep still, and they'd still be that way until at least around 5:45am.

As we were all trying to get ready, Julie was bothered that I was still blogging while Tahia was still refusing to wake up. It escalated into a bit of an argument because she wasn't happy with the pace of this trip as she was complaining that it wasn't relaxing. I guess I knew that we were going to pay for the setbacks from yesterday, and I perhaps this was the manifestation of those things - an argument.

So with bad vibes from the morning, that might have gotten Tahia to get her act together and at least attempt to take care of herself brushing her own teeth and picking her own clothes while Julie was working on breakfast, and I was wrapping things up before packing up and getting ready to leave.

I had hoped that we'd be out of here by 7am so we could spend more time in Mesa Verde before going to Telluride in the early afternoon. But the reality was that it wouldn't be until 7:15am that we went down to the brekkie room at the Homewood Suites.

At least the breakfast was surprisingly very good as we got some breakfast burritos, and it was very quiet as well. The staff said it's normally not this quiet, and they further confirmed our suspicions that this had more to do today being Easter Sunday than anything else.

Anyways, it wouldn't be until about 7:55am when we were finally leaving the Homewood Suites in Durango. Next, we drove along the 160 west towards Mesa Verde, and we'd eventually get to the visitor center at 8:40am. We were hoping to buy tour tickets so Julie would get to be up close to the ruins of the Anasazi, which I knew she was really into re-creations of archaeological sites more so than pure ruins as she wanted to better imagine what life was like back then in a more tangible way.

So Julie was real eager about going to Mesa Verde for this reason, but when she returned to the car at 9am, she told me that the only tour that was available was for the Balcony House, and that it wasn't until 3pm as all the first-come first-serve tours for this particular attraction was all booked out in the morning. Plus, the Cliff Palace, which was one of the main places to get up close to ruins was not open until Memorial Day.

Then, with the Spruce Tree House being closed since 2015 due to geological instability, there really wasn't much left for this trip in the way of guided tours. We contemplated needing to come back here in the future to do a twilight tour of the Cliff Palace combined with maybe the Balcony House tour. The Balcony House Tour was where Tahia would get to crawl through tunnels and climb up ladders, and we knew she'd be more into it for this reason.

I guess we just so happened to be visiting during the shoulder season of Mesa Verde, and the disappointment of not doing a tour probably meant that we might not need to spend as much time in the park as anticipated. So we started looking for alternate activities to salvage our time here, and from the signage at the visitor center as well as the park map, there was the Petroglyph Trail, where Tahia had earlier expressed interest in seeing Native American artifacts as well as drawings. But we weren't sure if the trail would be open or not given some caveat in the signage saying the trail wouldn't be open unless the Spruce Tree House was open or something like that.

So we prioritized the sights by aiming for the Cliff Palace first and then going to the Spruce Tree House to see if we can hike to the petroglyphs, which was said to be 2.4 miles total. I knew that that particular excursion might push the Telluride part of the trip later into the day, and I was fretting about possibly hiking the Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride late in the afternoon and possibly into the darkness hours.

And so the plan was set and we continued driving deeper into Mesa Verde at 9am. It turned out that the Cliff Palace was still about 15 miles from the visitor center we had just stopped at, and the driving was slow due to the slow speed limits, the curvy roads, and being behind slower drivers unwilling to use the turnouts.



So it wouldn't be until about 9:40am when we finally got to the huge parking lot for the Cliff Palace. The parking lot was pretty empty as we were probably the third or fourth car to show up here. So we promptly went onto the paved path leading down to the overlook just as some families were leaving. Along the way down, I saw some cliff dwellings and ruins being attractively lit by the morning sun on the opposite side of the canyon.

At the lookout area, there was a tour trail that was fenced off. But on the far side of the lookout, that was when I looked right down at the Cliff Palace, which was in shadow and we were kind of looking against the sun. So it was pretty harsh lighting. When I turned around and looked across the canyon towards the Sun Palace (a different recommended spot on the Mesa Top Loop where we would be able to see the Cliff Palace more straight on), I could see right away that its view would be adversely impacted by the position of the sun.

So we could save time by not driving over there (to the Sun Palace) to see what it was about.



A few minutes later after some other tourists had arrived, Julie and Tahia then showed up along with a park ranger. We talked with him for a bit, and he mentioned that the Petroglyphs Trail should be open. He also confirmed some of our suspicions about when would be the best time to come as well as the Memorial Day tour openings of places like this. Upon being asked where we were from, we also learned from him that he was from Southern California in the Tustin area, which was one of those small world moments.

He had been working mostly in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, especially the Grant Grove and Cedar Grove area. He decided to come here for something different. When we discussed the low humidity in this area, he said, "It's like the Santa Anas every day here". That pretty much summed it up.

Speaking of the Santa Ana winds, the dryness also caused my nose to bleed. Fortunately, Julie had some tissue on hand so I could plug it up. After taking some people shots, as the overlook became busier with more tourists, we went back to the car at 10:20am, and my nose was still bleeding through the tissue plugging up my nose.



We still pressed on and drove along the Cliff Palace loop passing by the Home of Many Windows as well as some view of more cliff dwellings agsinst some harsh lighting with some snowy mountains in the backdrop. We then passed by the Balcony House, where we briefly stopped to take a look then kept moving on when we realized that the view of it was further up the road and required a hike.



After leaving the Balcony House at 10:45am, with my nose was still bleeding, Julie took over the driving duties so I could tilt my head back and try to stop the bleeding as it had now been nearly 30 minutes of non-stop bleeding.

At 11am, we finally made it to the Spruce Tree House and Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters where we scored a semi-shady parking spot and then took some time to get ready. During that time, we took some ice from the cooler to put onto my forehead while I still tilted my head back and pinched the bridge of my nose. By now, the nose had been bleeding about 40 minutes or so, and we knew that I had to take it easy to prevent any further complications from this much loss of blood.



Eventually, the bleeding stopped, and then we'd finally get started on the Petroglyphs Trail at about 11:30am. On the way down, we saw the impressive Spruce Tree House site, which like the Cliff Palace, was also restored. Signage at the lookout confirmed that while the Spruce Tree House was closed, the trails to both Spruce Canyon and the Petroglyphs remained open.



And so we promptly got down into the canyon before the trail then climbed up the opposite side of Spruce Canyon and branched off from the Spruce Canyon Trail as the Petroglyphs Trail now followed along cliff ledges and provided us a glimpse of how the Pueblo Indians might have gotten to their cliff dwellings that appeared seemingly impossible when glimpsed from just the overlooks.



This trail definitely featured a lot for the senses as we'd encounter numerous alcoves and overhangs as well as expansive views across Spruce Canyon. We made frequent stops and also followed along the Trail Guide as there were numeric posts along the trail to explain what we were seeing along the way.





A couple of the sections of trail involved squeezing through tight slots, while another big alcove featured some etchings in the rock, some ruins, and even some grooves and pits where perhaps grains were ground.





The hike was a little on the rough side as there were plenty of makeshift stairs and the trail was a little up and down while also weaving in between shade and exposure to the sun. When we had been hiking for over an hour, I was starting to get concerned that this 2.4-mile distance in the park literature might be each way instead of round trip, especially when we were only on say marker 15 or so when there were 35 total.





But it turned out that by 12:50pm, we finally made it to the petroglyphs where a handful of people were already here studying the enigmatic yet really cool artifact on this wall. We showed up just as the sun was about to really wreak havoc on the lighting though it was already doing so in such a way that more set back contextual and frontal views of the petroglyph panel was difficult to photograph as the etchings were still in shade.



The petroglyph panel was signpost 24 so I guess the remaining 10 or so signposts were for things further along this trail.





When we had our fill of the petroglyphs, I initially thought that we were going to go back the way we came, but other folks here overheard that and said we should keep going to complete the loop. They were told by the rangers that the trail was much flatter and easier than going back the way we came. And so Julie and Tahia pressed forward first by continuing the loop.



I followed soon after and noticed that the climb was initially steep with some rock steps that weren't obvious at first, but signs for "museum" provided the hints we needed to know how to keep going. Eventually, we'd get all the way to the top of the plateau and sure enough, the walk was much flatter and the pace was way faster.



As we continued further along the trail, we started to finally notice the Spruce Tree House infrastructure in the distance (not as far as some other buildings way in the horizon that I had initially thought was our starting point), and Julie and I wondered whether it would have been better to do this hike in reverse to get to the Petroglyphs faster before turning back.



But if we did that, then perhaps that steep part might be quite a bit trickier, and then we'd miss out on the atmosphere of seeing artifacts and ruins while also taking in the environment and the views along the way. So in the end, I figured we did it right, even though we did encounter a handful of other hikers who did manage to go in the opposite direction.

When we were finally back at the Museum area, we got one last look at the Spruce Tree House complex, where it was still in shade at around 1:55pm. Tahia wanted to spend a little time in the museum to check out the video about the Mesa Verde National Park to gain a better perspective on what we had just seen. Tahia also got a junior ranger literature and workbook while there.

We all watched the video together, which was about 20 minutes long. And we pretty much speculated that water had a big reason to do with why the cliff dwellings were abandoned in 1350 AD. Yet, some of the reservations that we had passed through along the way apparently were the descendants of the Puebloans who once lived here. And apparently, these cliff dwellings were nothing special back then, but now provided a window into the past today given how well-preserved they were.

So apparently, the Puebloans whose ancestors were here were most likely spread out throughout the desert southwest, and they're probably still alive but passed down various oral myths and traditions over the generations that it's up to the scholars to extract out the ancestral ties and piece together the puzzle to make sense of the mysteries behind Mesa Verde's ancient cliff dwellings.

It was about 2:40pm when we were finally leaving the Mesa Verde area. Along the way, Julie picked up a pretty expensive baloney sandwich on the go since we hadn't had lunch yet. And so by 2:50pm, we were finally on our way to Telluride as we were now nearly 2 hours behind schedule and I was really concerned about not finishing the Bridal Veil Falls hike.

The drive was for the most part uneventful as I was following some vehicle that was going at a pretty good pace. But when we got into the heart of the Rocky Mountains (there was now snow around us), there was one blue car that created a long line of cars, and that blue car refused to use the pullouts. So this persisted pretty much all the way to Telluride though the views and dramatic drive reminded me of the kind of scenery we had experienced in the Alps (except the roads were wider here and a bit less built up than in Europe).

Finally at 4:55pm, we checked in at the Victorian Inn in Telluride. The first thing that we noticed when we pulled into town was how dead it was. As we checked in, the friendly receptionist said that this was shoulder season just as the ski season had ended and right before hiking season. She said this was her favorite time of the year since she felt like Telluride was essentially like her own place at this time.

In seeing the amount of the snow in the mountains, when I asked the receptionist whether I could hike to Bridal Veil Falls, she said that there was too much snow on the trails. So perhaps I wouldn't be needing to do the full four miles to see it. But she did mention that Cornet Falls was just up Aspen Rd, and was "20 minutes long and might be better for the little one."

So I kept that in mind as doing that before it gets dark might be the thing to do. In any case, after getting to our room and loading it up with foodstuffs as well as our luggages, we then did the divide and conquer thing where Julie and Tahia walked around town to perhaps get something from the local market here, while I went to pursue Bridal Veil Falls. So I left at around 5:25pm.

The first thing I noticed when I drove east on Colorado Blvd was how scenic the downtown area was. With old school architecture flanking the street all with the big mountainous backdrop further down the boulevard, I was instantly reminded of the kind of scenery I might have seen in Banff or even the cirques of Gavarnie or Cotatuero (at least as far as the mountains were concerned).

With the speed limit being at 15mph, it took a while to get past the local park and up the road leading closer to Bridal Veil Falls. Along the way, I made a stop as I was then able to see what turned out to be a frozen waterfall with some water running over the ice. And indeed, hiking the full trail (more like a road it seemed) wasn't going to be feasible.

Still, by 5:40pm, I made it to a wide open car park a short distance on the potholed unpaved stretch of road that apparently belonged to the Idarado Mining Company. There were a few cars parked here already taking in the views. The unpaved road continued to the left, where a sign said 4wd and high clearance vehicles only.

When I saw a jeep go up that road, I decided that I should take a look just to see how bad the road could get.



Eventually, I got up to the second or third switchback, where indeed the road was pretty rough. I got to a part where I could see the jeep up ahead and it was apparent that they were blocked by snow. So I parked the car a little further down the road and continued on foot at 5:50pm.



Just as I was doing this, the folks in the jeep were pulling out. They said that the next switchback was all snow. When they left, and I continued on, I could immediately see what they were talking about. So from here, I documented the experience, got as much as I could get of the Bridal Veil Falls at this point, and soaked in the view back down to Telluride.



By 6:15pm, I returned to the car, and then I proceeded to drive back down to the 2wd parking area where I could get a few more looks at Bridal Veil Falls before taking off. By about 6:30pm, I had my fill of this spot and returned to town where I got some gorgeous views of the Telluride main drag looking back towards the snowy mountainous backdrop that totally reminded me of something I might be seeing in the Alps in Europe.

After this brief photo run in the ghost town (as it was pretty dead save for some pizza joint), I then went and picked up Julie and Tahia from the local market. We wound up going further west in town to Clarks for a little more options for groceries and maybe for a Whole Foods like experience of dining right at the supermarket.

We got there at 6:50pm, and when I realized that Julie had no intentions of wrapping up the grocery shopping before it got dark, I decided to do another divide and conquer where they'd continue their shopping and dinner, while I'd go solo the hike to Cornet Falls. With about an hour of daylight left, time was running out.

So I promptly left Clarks and went right up to the street parking near where we were told Cornet Falls should begin. There wasn't any signage in the immediate area as it was pretty much a residential area. But I promptly got out of the car and started walking at 7pm. Thinking that it would be a short hike, I didn't bring my pack and water.



The hike initially passed by some homes before I could see a forest service sign at the trailhead. It kept going uphill so my breathing was heavy straight away due to the high altitude. I then kept left at the bridge as followed the creek on the right side though the primitive nature of the trail made me wonder if I was going the right way as I kept thinking that this was supposed to be an easy trail according to the receptionist.

As I continued to ascend higher alongside the trail that seemed to be rougher and quite eroded, I did see some cascades along the way. But then I got to a really eroded part where there were some wooden boards that were supposedly attempting to hold back further erosion. That was a part where I scrambled along the creek then had to use my hands to scramble up to the wooden boards to continue.



At this point, I was thinking that I was very glad I didn't take Tahia and Julie on this trail. But at the same time, I was still questioning whether I was going the right way or not.

As I continued further up the steep trail, it got a little easier than that eroded part but then I traversed what appeared to be a rockfall or landslide, and then the trail climbed some more as now some parts of the trail had little dirty patches of snow. Eventually at 7:20am, I finally got to the base of Cornet Falls with its aforementioned snow cone right at its base.



I guess the 20 minutes was accurate in the sense that it was a one-way time commitment. But it was by no means suitable for Tahia. Anyways, with the daylight fading fast, I documented what I could of the falls, especially that interesting snow cone that would make Elsa jealous.



The falls itself was said to be 80ft tall, and it was indeed tall as it was surrounded by red cliffs. That in itself made this falls pretty different.



Anyways, it was starting to get chilly from the spray of the falls so I started to make my way down. While on the one hand, it was "easier" going down the established parts of the trail, it was the eroded parts that were scary. Thankfully, I got back to the car at 7:45pm just as the sun had pretty much set.

When I got back to Colorado Blvd (the main drag through Telluride), I took a few more twilight photos of the gorgeous boulevard that was now lit up with the mountainous backdrop in semi-post-alpenglow light. The town was still a ghost town so I was able to walk right to the middle of the street and take pictures without anything save for a few parked cars and the headlights of some other cars coming up my way.

By 7:50pm, I was back at Clarks where Julie and Tahia were almost done eating their dinner. I went ahead and ate what Julie got for me (a salmon) along with some veggies and we had our own little Whole Foods-like dining experience. As the sun went down, the temperatures quickly dropped, and by the end of dinner at 8:45pm, it was bitterly cold.

And even though we were putting on layers, we'd still see locals entering and leaving the grocery store in flip flops with hardly a jacket worn. I guess they must be conditioned to freezing temperatures here, and the weather we were seeing was probably more on the balmier side for them. Clearly we weren't used to it, and even I had to go back to the car and get my jacket, and I still felt pretty cold.

By 9pm, we were finally back in the room, where the heat was on, and it was warm and toasty to offset the plunging temperatures outside...



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Day 5 (April 17, 2017 - Grand Junction, Colorado: "The Long Detour"

It was about 4:45am when I awoke. Julie got up roughly 15 minutes later. With a long driving day ahead of us, we had to tend to a lot of errands in terms of getting packed up as well as Julie trying to make breakfast using the kitchenette in the room. Unfortunately, there was extremely limited space so it was a bit of a challenge for her to do those things. I was tasked with washing the pots and pans, her blender, as well as the plates and utensils.

So given all that, it wasn't until about 8:05am when we finally got to the car all loaded and up and ready to go. Since the reception and partial breakfast from the hotel wasn't available until 8am, I guess the timing worked out though I was still a bit worried about a late arrival to Grand Junction given we were facing about 8 hours of driving on this day, including a long out-and-back detour to the North Clear Creek Falls.

When I was planning this trip, I tried to think real hard about when would be the opportunity to visit this falls because even though it was only 31 miles as the crow flew from Ouray to the falls, driving-wise, it was going to be about 3 hours in each direction to pull it off! And yet, it was such a good waterfall and I thought it was going to be real easy to see, so why not do this?

Anyways, we first had to drive out to Ouray from Telluride. The drive for the most part was uneventful, but as we were heading east along the Hwy 62, Julie noticed some real idyllic scenery of grass-fed cows grazing in pastures fronting very scenic snow-capped mountains. Since I was in the midst of a caravan of cars following some slow drivers, I didn't have the presence of mind to pull over the long shoulder and take a photo of it. I wondered at the time if I'd regret that decision not to stop.

The 62 eventually junctioned with the Hwy 550 at Ridgway, which seemed to be a fair-sized town. We then headed south along the 550 towards Ouray. Again, there were some more idyllic scenes of cows grazing before snowy mountains, but it wasn't as scenic as along the 62. Regardless, we entered the quiet yet scenic town of Ouray. Apparently, this town was known for Hot Springs, but it looked like with this being shoulder season, there was a lot of construction work going on to get this place ready for the next season (Summer? or Winter?). It had a very scenic backdrop of snowy mountains similar to the kind of scenery experienced in Telluride.

And when we got to 8th Ave, I saw a sign pointing to the left for Cascade Falls, which was the first waterfalling target for the day.

As we turned onto the street, the road became unpaved. It was also climbing fairly steeply so I had to put the car in a lower gear to ensure it wasn't overly taxed while also providing enough momentum on the washboarded unpaved road to get up to the car park less than a mile later.



We knew we were in the right place because there was a long portrait-oriented sign talking about the Cascade Falls as well as another vehicle already parked here. We parked at 9:20am, and right off the bat, we noticed that Cascade Falls could be seen from the parking area. Julie was already pretty impressed with its height so we eagerly laced on our boots and got moving on this short hike.



On the way up, we noticed a concrete flume that seemed to channel the runoff of Cascade Creek. A small sign here said that the flume was created to manage erosion from inevitable floods that would race through this area from time to time. Anyways, it didn't take long on the uphill path before we arrived at a viewing area just by a trail junction and footbridge. I knew we weren't going to do any of the other trails here to extend the hike as we were content to just visit this main waterfall.

From this vantage point, we got pretty nice clean looks at the Lower Cascade Falls (apparently there were six more waterfalls on Cascade Creek according to the signage) with some minor cascades fronting the main drop. But like Cornet Falls yesterday, it was the red cliffs that really made this waterfall stand out against most of the other waterfalls we had seen in our travels.



After having our fill of this idyllic spot, we then crossed the bridge and hiked a little further uphill to the end of the Lower Cascade Falls Trail. That was where we got unobstructed views of the impressive falls while also noticing the little mine or tunnel or whatever it was that was near its base. The morning sun was just starting to pierce through the clouds casting a glancing shine on the top of the falls.





When we had our fill of this spot, we descended back downhill but before noticing some of those nice snowy mountains partially obstructed by trees. And so we'd be back at the car by 10am, and then we made a quick stop in the main drag of Ouray to try to take photos. And as we were doing this, we saw a sandwich shop, which Julie immediately seized the opportunity to pick something up on the go knowing that today was going to be all driving.





So we promptly did that, and it wasn't until about 10:25am when we were finally back out on the road. I took some more photos from town during the time we were waiting for the food, and from what Julie learned by talking to the proprietor there, Ouray was more of a Summer destination as this shoulder season was when most of the locals would go on their vacations for a couple of weeks.

Anyways, the drive north on the 550 would eventually enter the city of Montrose, which was definitely pretty big compared to all the other towns we had seen in the heart of the Rockies so far. We then turned right onto the Route 50 which got us into some pretty undeveloped lands in the vicinity of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This was only notable to me because I had a coworker who worked in the National Park Service in that particular park before joining our company.

I guess it's not often that you'd come across a resume saying you've worked for the NPS when you're applying for an engineering job.

Anyways, after getting by the Blue Mesa Reservoir, we then junctioned with the Hwy 149, and followed that road southwards towards North Clear Creek Falls. It was a fairly smooth drive for us as we didn't encounter another car going in the same direction as us (i.e. we were never passed and we didn't have to pass anyone) until we got to the town of Lake City, which seemed to be some kind of Summer resort town or something. There was a one-lane road construction area that was going on there that caused a short delay. Anyways, throughout most of the drive along the 149, there was so little traffic that cars going in the opposite direction would have drivers waving to me whenever we'd pass by.

Right after Lake City, the Hwy 149 became more dramatic as the road climbed up to Slumguillion Peak at over 11,500ft! It also went past Spring Creek Pass at around 10,900ft! Whoever said the Tioga Pass was the highest mountain pass in the lower 48 states at just under 10,000ft was obviously incorrect because here we had just driven one in the heart of the Rockies that easily surpassed it!



At 1:40pm, we finally made it to the turnoff for the forest service road leading to the North Clear Creek Falls. It was clearly signposted, but the problem was that the road was gated as it was pretty obvious that there was still snow on that road. Another sign said it was only a half-mile to get to the falls so I pulled over by the gate, and proceeded to walk to the falls. Julie and Tahia decided to stay behind in the interest of time though I wondered if they'd regret that decision.



The walk was pretty uneventful though we were at about 10,000ft so the breathing was a little bit heavy though there was no threat of altitude sickness since we had been acclimated to the high elevation throughout this trip. The road was very bright thanks to the incident light from the patches of snow as well as the pavement itself.



At 2pm, I arrived at the parking lot for the North Clear Creek Falls. Then, I briefly checked out the signage here before checking out the overlook area, where I finally got to lay my eyes on the impressive waterfall thundering below. There was still some snow patches along the viewing areas essentially flooding some of the overlooks, but with the Gore-tex boots, I was able to step into them without wetting my socks.



As I walked closer to a more angled view of the falls, I saw that the timing was right for a slight rainbow near its base. And as I looked back towards the Hwy 149 from here, I could still see our parked car. This was clearly an easy excursion that Julie and Tahia should have done, but I guess they'll have to experience it vicariously through my efforts right now. Nonetheless, I figured this waterfall had to have been at least a 3 in my mind.



At 2:35pm, I got back to the car. Indeed, I wound up spending just under an hour here when I expected to spend less since this was supposed to be a drive-to waterfall. Oh well, with this being shoulder season, I guess you have to roll with the punches on the conditions like we did with Jemez Falls two days ago.

Next, we did the very long drive from here back to Montrose and then onto Grand Junction, where we could finally spend consecutive nights in one place and not have to vagabond it like we had been doing for this entire first half of the trip. It had taken a bit of a toll on us, but now as we were moving into the second part of the trip, it seemed like the pace promised to be a bit more reasonable in Julie's eyes.



Along the way, we made a quick stop at the Windy Point Overlook, which was still in the higher elevations just before we were going to make the descent to Lake City while driving the 149. The view from the overlook was over some kind of valley surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains. There was also some deep snow covering almost up to the signs there. Tahia had some fun playing in the snow, and even though we had to get moving, she was dragging her feet to leave.



On the approach to Grand Junction, Julie made an Open Table reservation with this place called 626 on Rood. We were openly questioning whether we made the right decision in staying in Grand Junction this evening as opposed to Glenwood Springs due to logistics (Glenwood Springs was closer to Hanging Lake, where we were going to tomorrow), but we knew the big pluses for Grand Junction was the city's size so there'd be greater chances of getting food at a Natural Grocers or Whole Foods or Sprouts. But it also meant greater selection of dining as well, and Julie's ability to make the Open Table Reservation might have been a tougher thing to pull off had we stayed further east at Glenwood Springs.

We got there at 6:10pm, and promptly had what turned out to be a very delightful dinner consisting of local stuff, including Julie's Wagyu beef roast, Tahia's 626 burger (of wagyu beef patty), my two-bone rack of Colorado lamb, $1 oysters, and foie gras. The dessert was some kind of flourless chocolate cake, which we also added ice cream with from some ice cream alchemist based in Boulder, where apparently it would take two days to churn every scoop of honey ice cream there.



While the bill was high (we paid nearly $150 with tax and tip for everything), Julie insisted that we experience the high quality and fresh stuff found in Colorado, which we knew we weren't going to have when we'd leave the state. Her friend Dana used to live in Boulder and she told me that she was really sad to have to leave that place given all the organic and fresh foods that they had over there. And in our Colorado Springs trip about a month ago, we had similar experiences with the food.

Anyways, we were back in the car at 8:05pm, and then after Julie made a pretty lengthy grocery stop at a Sprouts from 8:20-9pm, we finally arrived at the Residence Inn, where we could unwind from the day at last and look forward to Hanging Lake and Rifle Falls State Park tomorrow without worrying about packing and unpacking as part of the day's activities...



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Day 6 (April 18, 2017 - Grand Junction, Colorado: "Cost Isn't Everything"

It was 5:15am when I awoke. The expectation of today was that it was going to be a bit less hectic than all the rest of the mornings on this trip because we didn't have to vagabond it for the first time all trip long. But even with the fewer things to do before heading out, it still wouldn't be until 8:15am when we were finally in the car after having the brekkie at the Residence Inn. I guess our brekkie experience here had once again shown that we tended to like the Residence Inn brekkies than say the Hyatt or the Holiday Inn Express ones.

It turned out that we still had to drive some 86 miles east along the I-70 to get to Hanging Lake. Again, I couldn't shake the thought I had debated with myself about staying in Glenwood Springs instead of Grand Junction, but I wound up picking Grand Junction so Julie would have more food choices and so far it was panning out that way. That said, logistically speaking, Glenwood Springs would be a lot closer to Hanging Lake so we could have started the hike there a lot earlier than we were about to now given that we had to drive some 90 minutes or so east of Grand Junction just to get to Hanging Lake instead of something more like less than 20 miles or so from Glenwood Springs.

Nevertheless, the drive out east was for the most part uneventful. We were zooming along at the 75mph speed limit while we were passing by the familiar buttes and mesas of the desert southwest. We had noticed that the vegetation in these parts were noticeably more brown and the grass more sparse, and I figured that the difference between this part of Colorado and the lusher, greener pastures of say the mountainous lands further to the south like Telluride and Ouray were a result of the difference in elevation.

The greener pastures were closer to say 7,000-8,000ft elevation while we were more like around 5,000ft elevation. I guess that difference was what made the change in vegetation so apparent. Still, as we kept seeing more and more of these familiar mesas and cliff formations, it became even more apparent how this area showed its rock layers before the softer sand or dirt skirted down the remainder of the cliffs. I had read that these things were a result of the area being the sea floor at one point or longer in the earth's history, and that layers upon layers of different rocks were the result of past geological epochs depositing their sediments that would ultimately harden and become the rock layers we would wind up seeing as we zoomed through the interstate.

After a short potty break as Tahia had to go real bad at around 9:10am, we would eventually arrive at the Hanging Lake Trailhead at 9:50am just as we had exited the I-70 before a tunnel. I had remembered watching a Science Channel special about this stretch of the I-70 east of Glenwood Springs, and I could clearly see the dramatic scenery where we were near the bottom of near vertical cliffs as the highway pretty much followed the course of the Colorado River.



As we got ready for the hike, the first thing that we noticed was the lack of freeway noise, which was also a tribute to the engineering and planning required to maintain the peace and tranquility of Hanging Lake. Clearly, it was a very beloved spot. Of course, this all came at a cost, but Julie mentioned that "cost isn't everything", and it was certainly apparent in this case. Had the old plan gone forward, I'm sure the highway would have more or less followed the railroad tracks across the manmade lake at the car park.



Indeed, the signage at the trailhead here said that this was the most celebrated stretch of interstate in the United States, and we were starting to see why.

We finally started our hike at around 10:10am. The hike began past a pretty big restroom facility next to the parking lot (there seemed to be limited marked spaces and we wondered if it was more crowded on the weekends and Summer where parking space would be even harder to score. I mean, where would they park if it got too crowded? This off-ramp was basically by itself. So it's either this or the I-70, I reckoned.



Anyways, along the whole first 0.3-mile of paved sidewalk alongside the manmade part of Hanging Lake, we got good views of the towering cliffs juxtaposed with the man-made lake, which was showing some reflections at this time of the morning.

It turned out that the tranquility wasn't totally complete in this stretch because we did get to a part where we could see the I-70 and hear the traffic zooming along over there. Thankfully, we didn't have to continue on the sidewalk, which looked like it was heading closer to the noise, and that walkway might have gone to a different car park area (perhaps that might be the saving grace for overflow parking for the Hanging Lake Trail).



Anyways, we wouldn't be in position to find out where that trail went because we were about to go up the real part of the Hanging Lake Trail, which started right before a bridge with some restrooms nearby. However, we could clearly see that the trail promptly climbed from this point forward as we'd leave the concrete behind. And we were warned by the receptionist at the Residence Inn last night that this was going to be a steep and relentlessly uphill hike. The signage said to only be 1.2 miles up but it soon became apparent what they meant by this trail being "strenuous".



Indeed, we immediately went up what appeared to be a trail flanked by rockfalls from the verticality of the cliffs right next us. That made the footing a bit uneven even for an established trail like this. The progress was immediately slow because of the altitude in addition to the steepness. Personally, I was fine with the altitude since I had done a lot of the hiking at the high altitudes while Julie and Tahia had been doing other stuff when we were in our divide-and-conquer mode. But that was also the reason why they were struggling a little bit with the altitude though they weren't getting to the point of altitude sickness since we had already been somewhat acclimated in the higher elevations having been on this trip for at least five days now.



As we went higher up the trail, the slow progress degenerated into something way less than a mile an hour, which was already a typically slow pace. That was because Tahia was getting dehydrated and insisted on water stops almost every dozen steps or so. At this rate, we weren't making hardly any progress and we were getting passed by one hiking group after another, including one all-girl group where some of them appeared to be not much older than Tahia.



During our slow progress, we did see bridges with numbers on them (they were incrementally increasing by one) as well as a trio of quarter-mile posts, which seemed to be spaced further apart than I mentally envisioned how their frequency should have been given our slow progress.



The trail just kept going up and up and up, and it was getting to the point where Julie and Tahia were starting to complain. Perhaps contrasting the physical rigor was the presence of Dead Horse Creek pretty much always flowing alongside the trail, especially with some minor cascades along the way. With each stop we made, Tahia would always have the energy to drop some light twigs in the creek to watch the current take them away.



The trail would eventually climb up to a point where we were encountering snow still on the trail. There were still enough rocky sections of the trail that skirted around most of the snow, but where we didn't have a choice, we were glad to have worn our hiking boots which gripped the snow fairly well for the most part.



Once we got past the snow, the trail then made one last climb hugging a cliff ledge with some railings to assure us that we wouldn't fall off. Towards the uppermost part of this ascent, there were steep rock steps and dramatic views back down the Hanging Canyon. And when we finally got atop this dramatic and steep climb, we then followed a boardwalk that led to the Bridal Veil Falls.





The most striking thing about this place was how it totally reminded us of Jiuzhaigou, or Plitvice. Indeed, we were looking at a travertine "hanging lake" and waterfall. The clear water its greenish color really made this place colorful and dramatic, and it definitely got Julie to proclaim that, "it was worth it!"



We managed to get up here at 12pm, and we probably lingered here for a pretty good 35 minutes or so as we looked for ways to capture this magical moment through videos and photographs from as many different angles and positions as possible. This was quite the popular spot (and deservedly so) as more and more people took the trouble to get all the way up here and just bask in the beauty that was the real Hanging Lake. Now, we could finally see why this place was so beloved.



Now just prior to getting to this divine spot, there was a spur trail labeled Spouting Rock, that kept going up. One of the folks who were sharing the views with us of the Bridal Veil Falls said that it was well worth the short uphill hike to get up to the Spouting Rock. In fact, I noticed that there was another tier of waterfall further upstream through the foliage, and the folks said that that waterfall was indeed the Spouting Rock.



And so we made our way further up to the Spouting Rock, which was a dramatic plunging waterfall emerging from a hole in the cliff. In other words, it was a gushing spring, where we could also get right behind it and look out. With this waterfall, Julie and I now would give this place a 4, and it was easily the best hike and waterfall we had seen on this trip. It was also making us re-evaluate how we were rating or even orienting the Plitvice Waterfalls on our Top 10 list, which we'll get to when we re-launch the website after the migration would finally be complete.



Tahia was also loving this spot because she managed to find a little nook in a rock that was right before the Spouting Rock, and it was facing a pond just downstream of it. She found herself laying down having some snacks and it appeared as if she didn't want to leave.





Anyways, it wouldn't be until about 1:10pm when we finally left. We had made one more stop back at the Bridal Veil Falls so we could make use of Julie's selfie stick for the family photo. But now it was getting late in the day and we still had Rifle Falls to do before getting back to Grand Junction.





Fortunately for us, the rest of the hike was all downhill, and it seemed like it gave Tahia a second wind as she was leading the way down, which impressed many of the hikers we had randomly encountered along the way. One of the ladies who was going at a similar pace as us said that she was a "natural born hiker".



As we returned to the paved part of the walk at 2:05pm, we could clearly see that now the sun was more or less in front of us as we faced a more westerly direction. We'd eventually return to the car park at 2:20pm, where we then had ourselves a little bit of a picnic lunch at one of the tables next to our parked car. Our meal consisted of some bagels with cheese and ham along with some blackberries.

We had to fend off one chipmunk or squirrel which seemed really keen on having what we were eating. There were also an army of ants near one side of the picnic table. Clearly, the wildlife here had gotten used to human scraps.

At 2:50pm, we finally got back in the car and started driving out of the now-very-packed parking lot. Apparently, some folks got creative and did some parallel parking in addition to the parking in the marked spaces. But I wondered what people would do if even all of these spaces were all taken up and where would they next find parking?

The drive back east along the I-70 was once again pretty uneventful. We'd follow some brown signs pointing the way to Rifle Falls State Park (among other things) just as we were approaching the town of Rifle. Julie and Tahia were already taking their afternoon siesta, and as we were following the 13 north and then the 325, which skirted by a manmade lake at the Rifle Gap, we then finally arrived at the more subdued Rifle Falls State Park.

After doing the right thing and self-paying the $7 (there was apparently no kiosk attendant on duty), we promptly found a shady spot to park the car at 3:55pm. Both Julie and Tahia wanted to sleep in a bit, and Tahia protested the most about having her nap interrupted. So we got started on the short stroll to Rifle Falls though Tahia was probably as uncooperative as she had been when it came to finally using my tripod to take family photos. Julie was also very upset with her for throwing food away.



Rifle Falls was a three-segmented waterfall that was quite impressive. The sun's late afternoon position wasn't ideal and I could see that this was more of a late morning waterfall. Nonetheless, there were people angling in the plunge pool before the falls, and there were families doing one of the trails surrounding the falls as well as just playing around the water. Once again, Tahia was busy tossing twigs and light rocks in the stream to watch them get carried away by the current.



While Julie and Tahia were lingering by the bridge downstream of the falls, I was busy exploring the trails. I first went up the left side of the trail where I could get a profile view of the falls, and then I went over to an alcove where I was more-or-less behind the far left drop of Rifle Falls. Even on the ascent here, I could see some minor caves attesting to the travertine nature of the underlying bedrock of this waterfall.





After taking family shots with the tripod, Julie and Tahia headed back to the car. Meanwhile, I then followed the Coyote Trail, which led me to the right side of the falls then past some more interesting caves (some of which appeared to go pretty deep; or at least to where you needed a flashlight to see what was ahead). The trail then descended before ascending again towards the junction with the Bobcat Trail.





I kept left and followed the trail along the perimeter of the travertine cliffs looking into some of the cave openings from the top as well as getting interesting views of the Rifle Gap vicinity. At the top of the falls, there were railings as well as protruding overlooks offering up different profile views of the three-segmented Rifle Falls. One of the segments appeared to have come out of a hose, which I thought was quite unusual.





I guess that was to ensure there was a third segment though I wondered how much of that third segment would be there had there not been diversion or that hose. Anyways, after having my fill of this spot, I then completed the Coyote Trail, which deposited me back near the car park. I wound up rejoining Julie and Tahia at 4:55pm, where we next had to drive back to Grand Junction, which the GPS said would take about another 90 minutes.

So in a little bit of deja vu, Julie booked a table at this place called the Bin 707 Foodbar, which was said to be the top eatery in Grand Junction. It was probably going to be our last splurge as Julie really enjoyed the organic and fresh stuff from Colorado, and after our travels, we could see where this food was being sourced from (i.e. farm-to-table, so to speak). We knew as we'd be leaving Colorado tomorrow and eventually heading for home, that this stuff wouldn't be available, especially in Southern California where water was even more scarce.



Again, the drive was pretty uneventful, and it wouldn't be until about 6:20pm when we got to the Bin 707 Foodbar, which was pretty close to the 626 on the Rood place we were at yesterday. And fortunately for us, there was plenty of places to sit. We wound up sitting at a community table in which we were the only ones there for the whole time we dined.

We ended up getting appetizers of elk carpaccio and 7x wagyu beef tartare. Then, for the mains, we got Tahia a Bin Burger while I got duck over cassoulet, and Julie got salmon over the snapper base (of veggies). It was once again a pretty good meal, and we ended it off with the Momofuku Crack Pie, which also had the ice cream alchemy vanilla bean ice cream. While the dessert was ok, it didn't take away from the fact that we left the restaurant pretty satisfied, and even Tahia (the harshest critic) enjoyed her meal.

By 8:05pm, we got back in the car and then ten minutes later, we followed the familiar Hwy 50 and 6 byway towards the hidden Natural Grocers. Julie once again spent a good deal of time there and it wasn't until about 9pm that Julie was done with her groceries. By 9:20pm, we were back at the Residence Inn, and 15 minutes later, Tahia and I went to the pool that we had promised she could play in if she behaved.

We did this until closing time at 10pm, and then when we got back in the room, we were all pretty much conked out from yet another busy day of touring. I, probably more than anyone else, needed the Zzzs as I was even dozing off while Tahia was playing at the shallow end of the pool (not a good thing).

But with tomorrow being less of a planned day at Arches National Park (something Julie and I had done 16 years ago), I figured that we could sleep in a bit for this night as much as I wanted to get the most of even tomorrow...



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Day 7 (April 19, 2017 - Moab, Utah: "Spotty Recollections"

It was 6am when I awoke. Compared to the rest of the trip up to this point, this was sleeping in. I had actually contemplated getting up to my alarm at 5am, but at Julie's urging, I went back to sleep.

We took our time to get ready for the day since I didn't really have a set agenda for today, and so it wasn't until about 8am when we returned to the room after going down to have breakfast at a little after 7:30am. And it wouldn't be until 8:45am when we finished packing and were in the car ready to check out and leave.

But before we'd leave Colorado for good, Julie wanted to make one more stop at the Sprouts in Grand Junction. And we did that at 9am. Fifteen minutes later, Julie was back with loads of strawberries (as it was a good deal), and then we were finally headed to Arches National Park in Utah.

The drive to the west along the I-70 was pretty smooth going as the traffic seemed to be delightfully light. What was even more notable was that the speed limit had increased from 75mph in Colorado to 80mph when we crossed the border to go into Utah!

So it didn't take long before we arrived at the turnoff for Arches National Park, which was off the US191 a few miles north of Moab. This was the first time that Julie and I were back here since June 2001. I had originally wanted to drive all the way to Salt Lake City to do something we hadn't done before, but given the distances and limited time on this trip, I decided that Tahia should at least get to experience Arches and Canyonlands, which was closer to Las Vegas than having to drive further to the north then going back southwest towards Vegas to end the trip.

Anyways, since it was still only 10:45am, it was too early to check in so we thought we could make our visit straight into Arches National Park before checking into to our accommodation for Moab for the next two nights and figuring out where to have dinner.

However, we were greeted with a pretty big line of cars waiting to get into Arches. I had never remembered having to deal with such a long line before. And I had also never remembered seeing that they were booting everyone out of the park from Sundays through Thursdays at 7pm due to major road construction work throughout the park throughout this year. So that meant there'd be no way we could check out Delicate Arch at sunset like we did the last time we were here.

Well, at least the line was fairly fast moving and after showing our annual pass at the kiosk to save on $25 for admission, we were in the park. We ascended the familiar road beneath the Three Penguins formation, and we wound up at the car park for the Park Avenue viewpoint and trailhead at 11:05am after getting lucky with someone pulling out just as we were trying to find a parking spot and doing one circle. Again, I had never recalled having difficulty finding parking in any of the places within Arches, but this time, it seemed like dealing with crowds was going to be the order of our time in the Moab vicinity.

I had originally planned for us to do some walking within Park Avenue, but with Julie trying to figure out what to do with the accommodations in Vegas (as her cousin offered to let us stay at his place instead of using our points to stay at New York New York on the Strip), it was just Tahia and I enjoying the views as there were impressive formations converging onto this narrow canyon. With the current lighting of the late morning, only the left side was lit up by the sun while the right side was somewhat in shadow. I wasn't sure if the lighting would be more distributed earlier in the day or later into the afternoon. Regardless, we both had our fill ten minutes later.



When Julie was done doing her business, she then briefly checked out the viewpoint before she was back in the car and we were out of there to continue to tour Arches National Park. The next part we targeted was the Windows Section, where we knew that there'd be the Double Arch as well as the Spectacles and the Turret Arch. In a way, this would be like the last time we first showed up to this park some 16 years ago, but unlike that last time, Tahia would get to see her first really big arches from up close.



We pretty much followed a long caravan of cars, and given how busy it was, we opted not to stop at the interesting Balanced Rock. Instead, we turned off at the junction with the Windows Section, and we'd eventually make it to the car park there as we parked in the lower lot closer to the Double Arch since there were no spots closer to the Windows Section. We finally stopped the car at 12pm.

Since Tahia and Julie were hungry, we decided that we were going to picnic within the car since there were no picnic tables here. That kind of delayed things as it took time for Julie to make the same bagel sandwiches like we had did at the Hanging Lake car park yesterday. It had been pretty warm though there was also a somewhat chilly wind that had been blowing.

It wouldn't be until about 12:50pm that we'd finally wrap up our informal picnic lunch and finally get going with the sightseeing of this part of Arches National Park. So first up, we briefly walked down to the Double Arch since we had been looking at it the whole time we were picnicking. The sandy approach was every bit as interesting as it was the last time we were here, but the lighting was better.



But once again, there were a lot more people on this path (and underneath the arch) that last time when it seemed like we were only one of a handful of people that were here 16 years ago. Either everyone seemed to be on Spring Break or something or we happened to show up at Arches' peak season as opposed to late June when we were last here. So the park felt a bit more crowded that before like with the experience at Park Avenue.



We'd eventually get to a spot where there was a little bit of a cul-de-sac off to our right to get pretty good photos looking through the Double Arch with blue skies through them. After getting our photos from here, Julie and Tahia headed back in the other direction towards the Windows Section in the interest of time given the early park closure at 7pm. Meanwhile, I briefly solo'ed the continuation of the short hike to get right underneath Double Arch and climb up to a part where I'd be able to look back at the scenic Windows Section as well as the snowy LaSal Mountains through one of the spans of Double Arch.



I'd eventually catch up to both Julie and Tahia when we got up to the steps before the upper parking area. Then, we'd walk up to the North Window together, where we saw the familiar big and accessible arch that was very much crowded at the bottom of its span. I was scoping out where it would be possible to photograph Turret Arch through this arch, and I could see that I'd have to do some scrambling to get up to a spot (somewhat precariously) that would allow this view to be possible.



I knew that this was best photographed early in the morning when the rocks would glow more red so I'd keep it in mind to do this hike first thing in the morning when I'd solo this part while Julie and Tahia could sleep in or get ready. I'd either make this attempt first thing tomorrow or first thing Friday when we'd make the six-hour drive all the way to Las Vegas.



Anyways, we took some selfie shots of the whole family while we were here. Tahia was having fun climbing the slickrock beneath the North Window. We had to keep a real close eye on this girl because she really seemed to have no fear of falling, especially with the dropoffs on the other side of this arch.



Next, we then hiked back down to the junction with the Turret Arch approach (though in hindsight, we probably could have just completed the loop). Either way, when we got towards the Turret Arch, we saw where we could look back at the impressive North Window and South Window together in a scene that was informally known as the "Spectacles".



And unlike the last time when we had point-and-shoot digital cameras or Julie's analog Nikon camera, this time, I could just use my DSLR and take the scene together in one shot without the need for stitching. We then spent some time scrambling to the other side of the Turret Arch, where we made an awkward attempt at looking back at the Spectacles through the span of Turret Arch though the left eye was blocked by some rock formations fronting it. So we'd have to settle for a different view through the South Window and the snowy LaSal Mountains to the right of it.

Meanwhile, Tahia was busy climbing up to that vantage point, which was a bit on the steep side, but she insisted on doing this without any help. She was quite the independent little cookie.

After having our fill of the Turret Arch, we then went back onto the loop trail where we'd get another look at the Spectacles from the trail (knowing now that that was the best spot to take it in). We'd do some more awkward family shots using Julie's selfie stick (I didn't bother bringing a tripod though in hindsight, I probably should have), and so by 2:20pm, we were finally back in the car.

Next up was the Delicate Arch, which we wanted to fit in before continuing onto Moab for checking in and for dinner. We knew that it was probably going to be now or never to do this arch, which we figured was the most dramatic one in the park. Mentally, I had planned to do the longer 5.5-mile out-and-back hike through a bunch of arches in the Devil's Garden tomorrow so I knew that trying to do Delicate Arch ater that was probably not going to be feasible.

Even still, Tahia and Julie wanted to nap in the 15-minute drive it took to get to the Delicate Arch Trailhead. So Tahia was in a pretty hissy mood. Even Julie was protesting about our "go-go-go" mentality of road tripping, but I was insistent that it was going to be now or never for a chance for Tahia to see the dramatic Delicate Arch, especially with the backdrop of the snowy LaSal Mountains.

And so eventually they grudgingly summoned up the energy to get going on this hike. Julie brought Larabars to help boost up the energy though Tahia wasn't that interested in eating them. We did eat apples though.



The hike started off by passing by the Wolfe Ranch, which was a couple of restored log buildings as well as some wooden fence relics. We figured we could come back to this thing on the way back to the trailhead. We also skipped some spur trail leading to petroglyphs, but after having seen the impressive panel at Mesa Verde, both Julie and Tahia weren't particularly interested in seeing the work of the Utes on this hike.



Right after the second of two spurs to the petroglyphs (both signposted), we then started the fairly long climb along the 3-mile round trip trail. With hardly any shade, it was becoming a hot hike. But since we were all properly equipped with hiking boots, we didn't have much trouble going up the paved incline and then up the slickrock though we were being passed by plenty of other faster hikers. We also saw a lot of people running down the slickrock on the return so that kind of helped us to navigate our way through the slickrock section since I knew (and remembered) how tricky slickrock hiking could be.



The hike felt pretty long, but I was pretty sure that this trail hadn't changed over the 16 years since we were last here. Unlike that last time when we showed up towards the end of the day (under high 80s or low 90s heat), this time, the temperatures were probably in the high 70s or low 80s, and it was far more comfortable.

But like before, it was a pretty busy trail.



As we got up towards the height of the slickrock climb, the trail then undulated between slickrock and red sand. Eventually, we'd get to a slickrock ledge, where the hike continued towards the familiar tiny window that required a bit of a scramble to get up. This time, we all made the steep climb to see what the view like up there, and it turned out to be quite a good move as we were treated to a gorgeous view of the LaSal Mountains in the distance as well as an angled view of the Delicate Arch!

The steep climb made me a bit concerned about Tahia's safety, but once again, she insisted that she could do the climb without any assistance, and well, she certainly did it on the way up as well as on the way down where I was most concerned.



Other hikers who happened to be here were congratulating her on doing well. One person even offered her some assistance, but Tahia refused as she insisted on doing it herself.

After having our fill of the Delicate Arch through this window (which was a bit crowded with people so it wasn't easy to get our shots without people ruining them), we then rounded the final bend along the slickrock ledge, and then we were back at the familiar view of the Delicate Arch.



We were pretty content to just sit down and relax while looking at the signature and iconic natural arch of Arches National Park. And this time around, we were taking photos with the intention of featuring the snowy LaSal Mountains in the backdrop contrasting the reddish color of the natural arch itself.



The bright 4pm sun wasn't quite as soft as I would have liked, but since we couldn't be here later than 7pm (sunset was at 8pm), there would be nothing we could do about it on this visit. Also, the sun was not high enough on the horizon where the whole arch would be lit up as it appeared that a good deal of the side facing us was partially shadowed. So perhaps we had timed it right on our first visit back in late June 2001 though I also remembered how much desert heat we had to deal with back on that trip.



And so we'd spent the next half-hour or so trying to take our shots, our selfies, and do all this while not dropping anything down into the big bowl between us and the Delicate Arch. We also decided that we weren't going to take any of those shots of us standing beneath the Delicate Arch knowing how tiny we'd be compared to the arch. But that didn't stop plenty of other people from doing that so there'd almost always be people at the arch in our photos.



It wouldn't be until about 4:35pm when we'd finally had our fill of Delicate Arch and so we started to head on out. Along the way out, I made one last scramble up to the window before the Delicate Arch seeing that there were fewer people up there save for a couple that was somewhat hidden in a corner to the lower right to not intrude too much on photos (that was courteous of them to do that whether they knew it or not).



The hike back down was a lot faster than on the way up (and definitely far less steeper than the Hanging Lake hike), and so we'd be back at the car by 5:35pm. Interestingly enough, we saw a few hikers going in the other direction, which I thought was really pushing the time limit of getting out of here by 7pm. There was even a ranger or two here that were discouraging people from doing this hike in the interest of time (to allow for road construction at night between 7pm and 7am).



I guess those people that did get the late start must have done so just before the ranger showed up to turn people back. And as we had considered doing when on the way up, we stopped by for a closer inspection of the Wolfe Ranch though we didn't take the few moments to examine the petroglyphs.

Finally, we were headed down into Moab, where we followed the long caravan of cars doing what we were doing and heading back out of the park before the nightly road construction could begin in earnest. We'd eventually get down to the Kokopelli Lodge for check-in at 6:15pm, which struck me as sort of a sleepeazy since we were pulling up to what appeared to be a motel.

But when Julie got the keys and we were told to drive a couple of blocks to the north, we then got into the Kokopelli Inn Towner, which turned out to be quite the cute and spacious single-story apartment or residence pretty much right next door to the Homewood Suites. That was Julie's original choice, but at over $300 per night, the Kokopelli Inn Towner was far more reasonably-priced, and it turned out to be a far better value. So what if this place didn't have the chain name.

Anyways, we wouldn't be eating in any of the real popular spots in town given how busy it was and how reservations weren't until 9pm. So we ended up settling for this place called the Atomic Grill a little north of Moab's downtown. Julie really wasn't in the mood for cookie given our late arrival so that was where we'd eventually show up at 7:10pm after we had finally gotten settled in our apartment.

We were a little skeptical of this diner at first since it seemed like we were one of a handful of people here. But beggars couldn't be choosers I guess. Still, we ordered some elk stew, full rack of baby back ribs (since they said they brined it here), and some romaine duck salad. With the exception of the fairly ordinary ribs, the rest of the dishes were actually quite good, especially the duck salad.

Then, we had a flourless cake with ice cream for dessert. The server seemed to be overwhelmed when suddenly the restaurant had gotten busy during dinner, but he noted to us that we were a pleasure to serve to since we seemed to be the only ones enjoying our meal while everyone else had something to complain about apparently. So he seemed to give us pretty good service.

Anyways, at 8:50pm, we were done with dinner. It was probably the first time I didn't have to spend over $100 on dinner on this trip though it was still around $80+, and it was also the first time we didn't have to end our dinner past 9pm (which was saying something considering that we had gotten started after 7).

At 9:30pm, we were finally back at the apartment as we had spent some time driving around the rest of Moab just to see how much the town had changed. I still remembered how much this place reminded me of a smaller town, and I even remembered having Chinese food here, which felt like it was more on the edge of town. But now, it seemed like the town had expanded quite a bit over the 16 years since our last visit as there was now a somewhat walkable couple of blocks of shops and restaurants with a few more sprawling shops, groceries, gas stations, and accommodations.

That Szechuan Chinese place was still here after all these years though it now seemed like it was in the downtown area intead of on the outskirts of town. The old sleepeazy (I think it was the Canyon Inn or something like that) that we had stayed at was no longer there though. I remembered how it had a real spacious car park on the northern edge of town. Indeed, Moab felt a lot less quaint than it did before, and it felt a lot more commercialized. And from hearing a lot of foreign languages both in the park and even at dinner (we heard French, German, Italian, Portugese, and Spanish [both the European brand as well as the North American variety]), it appeared that Moab was quite the international destination now.

Julie made a quick stop at the City Market just to stock up on more water. But she was really interested in checking out the Moon Flower Grocery, which was apparently more Trader Joe's-like but it was closed at 8pm so we couldn't do a grocery run there on this night. Julie said that the City Market was pretty much like a Ralphs. And there was definitely no Natural Grocers, which we had seen a lot of in Colorado, which Julie was already missing.

Anyways, we spent the rest of the evening getting cleaned up. We had spent a pretty significant chunk of the rest of the evening trying to figure out what to do the next day. The original plan was to do Landscape Arch and Double-O Arch at the Devil's Garden in Arches, but after further research, Julie thought it would be better to go in a different direction and out to Mesa Arch, Dead Horse Point, and this dinosaur exhibition that Tahia might not find so boring. And given how crowded Arches was today, perhaps that was the better alternative way to spend the better part of tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, after seeing all the snow on the LaSal Mountains, I knew there had to be some waterfall in the Moab vicinity so I was busy looking for such waterfalls to visit tomorrow afternoon. I wrote down some notes to check out Mill Creek ("Left Hand" according to locals) and Faux Falls. I thought those would be the perfect excuses to talk about the magical wonders of this place if I'd be successful finding those waterfalls and swimming holes.

And so it wouldn't be until well after midnight that Julie and I finally went to sleep. I'm sure as much as we were packing in tomorrow, we'd have a pretty hard time waking up...



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Day 8 (April 20, 2017 - Moab, Utah: "Going Off The Cuff"

It was about 5am when I awoke. Given the late night of researching that both Julie and I did (to figure out what to do on this free day that we had in Moab), I was pretty groggy. Still, from that research that I did, I took advantage of this early morning waking to take care of some trip journal business, and then when Julie finally awoke at 6:30am and Tahia awoke at around 7:15am, I scaled back expectations of what we were to do today so that we made the morning all about what Julie and Tahia wanted to do. And these things happened to be Dead Horse Point and then the Moab Giants.

Thus, I was going to punt the sunrise at Mesa Arch as well as shooting Turret Arch through the North Window with early morning light for tomorrow assuming the weather would cooperate. I figured that both Julie and Tahia could sleep in and take care of the logistical stuff like packing, and I'd still be able to do my photo run, and still be back in time to leave Moab between 9-10am.

Anyways, as for today, I was also going to act on the last-minute plans to visit two waterfalls in the Moab area, which I was never really aware of until this trip. This was pretty much all inspired by the snow I had seen in the La Sal Mountains, which made me pretty sure that there had to be waterfalls here. And sure enough, I was eagerly anticipating seeing these things this afternoon after getting through with Julie and Tahia's stuff and dropping them off at our accommodation in downtown Moab.

And so it wouldn't be until about 8:45am when we were finally heading out from our accommodation. The first order of business was to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, which Julie was insistent upon. The drive was pretty uneventful as I was on the lookout for where I would find the trailhead for Middle Earth Falls, which was yet another waterfall near Moab. However, I wasn't considering doing that one because I knew that it was pretty ephemeral.

The 313 highway ultimately veered to the left at the Canyonlands turnoff, and we headed right for Dead Horse Point. All along the way, I was looking for any kind of structure that would indicate to us the Moab Giants excursion that we were going to do for Tahia. However, all throughout the drive, it was pretty empty except for cows grazing by the road. I thought the Yelp Review for Moab Giants had pegged the place for this stretch of the road, but I think it was wrong. It wouldn't be the first time it was wrong.



Eventually, at 9:30am, we arrived at Dead Horse Point State Park. We had to pay $15 to get in, but Julie thought it was worth it. And so once we got out of the car, we promptly walked over to the west-facing part of the overlook, which was facing a gooseneck of the Colorado River. And like before, it was attractive in morning light, like it was at this moment.



As we were busy taking photos, there was one guy who happened to slip and fall and land on his back. Fortunately, it seemed like he was ok, but there was spots of blood on the ground. Julie came prepared with emergency bandages and gave the guy one to help stop the bleeding. I guess experience told us that you never really know when you need first aid even if it wouldn't be for ourselves directly, as in this case.



With that bit of drama over with, we pretty much spent the next 45 minutes or less taking plenty of photos, selfies, and exploring the other viewpoints, especially towards the east-facing part, which looked towards some kind of potash mining operation, exhibited by the blue evaporative ponds or something like that according to signage here. I could have sworn that there was some kind of uranium mining around this area the last time we were here sixteen years or so ago.

We had our fill of Dead Horse Point and returned to the car at 10:15am. Now, it was time to look for the Moab Giants. However, on the drive back, we didn't see any infrastructure suggesting there was the Moab Giants along the 313. Then, we drove south towards the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands National Park, but after picking up a map and some literature about the park in the busy entrance kiosk, we made a U-turn and turned back towards the junction of the 191 and 313, as apparently, the Moab Giants was all the way back on the main highway.

And so we drove all the way back and finally found the place at 11:15am. Sure enough, there was a car park and some Jurassic Park-like fonts for the entrance and the cafe among other things. This pretty much confirmed that the Yelp pin for this place was way off.

Anyways, we went inside, paid a pretty steep price of over $63 I think for all three of us, and promptly went to the theater for a 3-D movie for the 11:30am showing. The movie pretty much traced the evolution of life on earth from the Big Bang all the way to the dinosaurs. That was when the movie ended after about 10 minutes.

For me, most of this stuff was familiar material. However, Julie found it to be very informative since she wasn't as exposed to Science Channel shows that I used to watch several years back. Next, we headed right for the 5-D Paleoaquarium where the next tour would take place at 11:45am.



Like with the movie, we needed the 3-D glasses, but this time, it was more of a walking tour that went from one window (more like an animated screen acting as an aquarium window) to the next. The last window was kind of an "intense" one that apparently kids who were easily frightened could be let out to exit.

For each of these aquarium exhibits, we were treated to the top predators of the sea for each of the main periods it seemed. But the last room was for the Megalodon, which was a prehistoric pre-cursor to the Great White Shark. And apparently, this guy was aggressive. When it hit the "window", the room would shake. And finally, the window cracked to the point that the room was spray water on us!



It was quite the interactive experience, and now I could see why, this was a "5-D" experience.

When that was done, we then went to the museum, checked out some of the exhibits, then went up the View Tower for some more photo ops. When we left the museum, we then walked the Dinosaur Trail backwards to just the T-rexes. We just didn't have the time to do the rest of the Dinosaur Trail.



When we had our fill of that, then we went to the sand pit, where Tahia and some other kid were actively trying to uncover bones buried by the red sand. It would take several hours to reveal the extent of the bones beneath the sand, but I figured that they were all connected.

At 12:45pm, we were back at the car. And 15 minutes later, we returned to the accommodation, where I dropped Julie and Tahia back so they could explore downtown Moab on their own while also cooking or doing other stuff that didn't involve me. In the mean time, I helped to bring in the cooler and some other stuff in the car that they might need.

At 1:10pm, I was back in the car, and now I could finally pursue the Moab Waterfalls that I had been waiting patiently to take on for the rest of this afternoon.

The first waterfall that I pursued was the Mill Creek Falls, which was apparently only a two or three miles from downtown Moab. After following the spot on directions from the GPS (derived from spot on GPS waypoints from the internet that I picked up last night), I managed to get to the parking lot for Mill Creek at 1:25pm. The last half-mile of the drive on Power House Rd was unpaved, but not too bad.



The parking lot was pretty full, but I managed to score one of a couple of open spots so I immediately got out of the car, put the shades on, put on my backpack, camera, and changed shoes to the Keens as I knew that this one involved getting wet with several stream crossings of Mill Creek to get to the main waterfall.



It only took a couple of minutes to arrive at the first waterfall, which was an artificial one caused by a dam. There were some girls who scrambled down the steep embankment or cliff to get to the creek beneath the dam. I was content to document this spot and then move on as the trail continued to the right side of the dam.



Shortly after the dam, the trail then was about to wade into the Mill Creek, but there was a semi-technical ledge of slickrock that I was able to balance on to stay dry. Then, as I continued along the main trail, there was one detour taking me closer to Mill Creek before it rejoined the main trail. By this time, I was passed by a very large group of hikers seemingly led by a teacher or something.



I pretty much followed them the rest of the way as the trail went through several stream crossings (one was knee deep) and they were sort of my subjects for informative trail photos. All the while I was following them, I was also drawn to the high cliffs flanking the trail and creek. In addition, I was looking around to see where I might find the petroglyphs that were said to be in the canyon.





But by 2pm, the hiking group were gathered before the plunge pool fronting the Mill Creek Falls, which looked to be on the order of 15ft or so. It was modestly sized, but the dramatic canyon scenery certainly made up for its lack of size. Plus, with the dozens or so people all gathered at both the base as well as the top of the falls, it was quite the festive atmosphere here.

It didn't take long for me to have my fill of this falls, but I was asking around some of the older folks here about where the petroglyphs were. But each person I spoke to said that this was their first time here. And as I was hiking back out, I kept my eye out for any spur trails that might lead me to these petroglyphs.



I happened to see some spur trails to my right some 50 yards downstream from the falls. They led me to some sloping slickrock walls with some vegetation around them. One guy who was already on the slickrock asked me if this was the way to the top of the falls, but I didn't know the answer so he was going up anyways. Another pair of dudes also were going up this wall in pursuit of the top of the falls.



Meanwhile, I thought I had seen petroglyphs high up on one of the reddish walls above the area where this slickrock wall and climb was. So I kept this in mind as I made the ascent up to where the guys were, and I saw a slickrock "trail" along a ledge leading to a more top down view of the Mill Creek Falls. There were quite a few people on the other side of the creek above the falls, and there was another guy who was summoning up the courage to do a cliff jump from a higher position than this girl who was doing it from the other side.



This was about as far as I went as I didn't go to the other side of the creek where the rest of the people were chilling out (in the shade next to a pretty badly graffiti'ed wall. On my way out, I decided to climb higher on the slickrock slope while avoiding cacti in the process. I ended up being in front of some faint etchings that I thought could be petroglyphs, but they could be just graffiti for all I knew.



I went back down as I didn't see any more apparent spots for real petroglyphs. And eventually by 2:35pm, I made it back down to the main trail, and by 3:10pm, I had returned to the car. Along the way back, I saw some people chilling out in some kind of cave or something across Mill Creek. I was trying to figure out how they got there, but I wasn't going to pursue going out to them. Now, were there petroglyphs, where this cave was at? Who knew?



Back at the parking lot, I could see that there were many more cars now than there were when I first showed up. In fact, quite a few of the vehicles were parallel parking further down the road from the main parking lot. Good thing I came when I did...

Next, I routed to the next waterfall that I had targeted, which was the Faux Falls. After taking the Mill Creek Road all the way to the US191, I then continued driving south towards the Old Airport Rd, where I promptly turned left and then turned right at the T, which was for the Mill Creek Rd.

The Mill Creek Rd, then continued for the next 1.4 miles (keeping left at a fork at 0.6 miles), before turning left onto the Ken's Lake Rd. I then followed this road towards the Ken's Lake Recreational Area, where there were several turnoffs leading to campsites. At first, I had skipped past all of the campsite turnoffs and kept going straight up an unpaved road that appeared to climb up to the level of the top of Faux Falls.

As a matter of fact, I was able to see Faux Falls during this drive, and I was keenly looking for the right place to park the car and get a closer look. But when I got up to a real steep turnout where there was a gate leading towards what appeared to be some pipe right above the uppermost tier of the Faux Falls, I knew that I was in the wrong place. That didn't stop some lady from going down one of the scrambling paths, and I wondered if this was the correct, shorter trail as opposed to the more sanctioned one that I could clearly see from this vantage point further downstream.



In any case, I opted to do the more sanctioned way, and so by 3:45pm, I finally arrived at the signposted car park for Faux Falls. This car park was just a short distance off the turnoff for campsites 13-19 or something like that. Actually, it appeared that the least half-mile of road kept going from this car park, but one look at the really rocky, sandy, and rough road convinced me not to press our luck with our car.



So I promptly walked from the car and along the 4wd road. I'd eventually arrive at the trailhead for the Faux Falls though strangely, I didn't see any private 4wd vehicles the whole time I was on this hike heading to the falls.



I'd eventually get to the end of the road at 4:05pm, where I got my first real satisfactory view of the Faux Falls with the impressive sandstone pinnacles and mountains in the backdrop. So I kept walking on the trail leading down to a not-so-obvious junction. I then went left closer to Mill Creek until I finally got a frontal view of the impressive falls.



The falls from this position looked a little smaller than the strand of rushing water that I had seen earlier this morning. That said, there was a family on the other side of the creek chilling out at the plunge pool there. There was even a faint rainbow in the mist of the base of the main waterfall.



After having my fill of this spot, I then backtracked to the main trail, where I then had to do a little more climbing on the slickrock to arrive at the very top of this waterfall. Now I didn't make it all the way to the top since I didn't feel the necessity to go through that kind of trouble.



Instead, I documented what I could of the falls and then started to head back to the trailhead. As I was on my way, there were some dark clouds ready to take over this part of Utah. And in seeing just how dark some of the clouds were, I knew that it was only going to be a matter of time to have to deal with rain.



Eventually at 4:30pm, I started heading back from near the top of the falls. And on the final half-mile stretch along the road, I found myself walking amongst a trio of 4wd vehicles. But by 4:50pm, I finally made it back to the parked car just in time for the sun to pretty much hide behind the dark clouds looming over Moab.

The drive back to Moab was uneventful. In town, I filled up the gas tank within the downtown Moab area, and I felt like I was now prepared for the early morning driving as well as making it all the way to Las Vegas tomorrow. During the return hike and drive, there were definitely storm clouds overhead, and it looked like it would rain.

Ultimately, I'd make it back to the apartment at 5:15pm, where Julie and Tahia were in the midst of making dessert (home made organic sorbet of strawberries, banana, and lemon) and dinner (squash pasta with tomato-based soup and organic ground beef). So the rest of the day was spent in the apartment while eating Julie's home cooked or home mixed stuff. This took the better part of the evening.

It wouldn't be until after 8:20pm that Julie decided to get out of our apartment and walk to get one last good whole food experiences to rekindle what she discovered at lunch when she and Tahia were alone. So we walked along the residential road as dark clouds still were overhead, but the rain had stopped. It made the outside temps a little bit on the chilly side.

The restaurant was pretty busy when we first showed up just before 8:30pm. The restaurant called 98 Center, and it was a good place to try to order pho (Julie really raved about this one) and other inspired Vietnamese food on the go. It turned out that getting seated took a while, and we started to get seated at about 8:45pm..

When the food finally arrived, Julie and I both had beef pho without the rice noodles. We also had a more heavy duty backpack carrying backup water as well as other trail essentials. Anyways, the pho didn't quite live up to Julie's hype in my mind, but it was still a refreshingly clean meal even though we had already had the home-cooked dinner.

In addition to the pho, we also had delicious scallop appetizer with chimichurri sauce and some other herbs. It was so simple yet so good. The whole time, Tahia didn't eat anything since she too had already eaten her dinner (albeit with much protest on her part). It wouldn't be until about 9:25pm that we finally were able to leave the restaurant as the to go salad order was finally complete.

And in the end, I spent about 120 minutes away from the car. Hopefully, this delay wouldn't cause me to start a backlog of complications for tomorrow, as I'd still wake up 90 minutes before sunrise and even get to Canyonlands viewpoint before sunrise.

When we finally left the restaurant at around 9pm or so, Tahia and I walked the brighter route along Main Street until we'd finally get back to the apartment, where we had to knock a few times before Julie finally woke up from her post-dinner nap. Good thing we didn't get locked out.

For the rest of the evening, we tended to our daily routine of oral hygiene, showering, etc., and before we knew it, our little logistical tasks were complete. We'd pretty much crash from this very long day.



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Day 9 (April 21, 2017 - Las Vegas, Nevada: "Atmospheric Conditions"

It was about 4:50am when I awoke. While both Tahia and Julie were asleep, I had spent some time to get ready for the sunrise at Mesa Arch without waking them. During that time, I looked at the weather forecast given that yesterday evening featured a little storm, but fortunately, the forecast had said that it was all clear today.

So it wasn't until about 5:30am when I was finally leaving. I probably dilly dallied in the room a bit too much when I saw that the GPS predicted that I was going to be at the Mesa Arch Trailhead at 6:35am, which was right about the predicted sunrise time. So I had to speed a little bit in the dark to make sure I could get to the arch in time at sunrise. But at the same time, I had to be really wary for wildlife running across the road.

That said, the drive went by without any issues. I only had to pass one person and I had thought I would be one of the few people (if any) crazy enough to arrive at the Mesa Arch at sunrise just like the last time I did this in late June 2001. But when I rocked up to the trailhead at 6:10am, I was shocked to see that the trailhead parking lot was almost full! Something must be a little off I thought. Surely not this many people would be waking up before the crack of dawn to go see the sunrise at Mesa Arch, right?



Well, after doing the brief hike, I wound up seeing a whole bunch of people pretty much gathered and filling in most of the arch's span's opening. Yep, like many other things I had done in the past, the word was out and now this had become quite the special event, much like the Yosemite Firefall. Gee, is there anything left like this that doesn't involve crowds anymore? I guess this just shows that there are either too many people in this world, or that social media and the web pretty much makes it too easy to find the worthwhile spots, or it could be a combination of both. But whatever it is, this Spring Break Trip was definitely reminding us that travel during Spring Break was certainly almost like Summer in Spring for all those that either have kids or for students, and so perhaps that also exacerbated the forced lemmings effect in terms of travel timing.



Anyways, I would also join the crowd, but it seemed like the photo line was such that it was difficult to squeeze in and take a photo of the entire arch with the Washer Woman Arch and Monster Butte through it as well as the La Sal Mountains in the background all the while getting the sunrise through the arch - and to be able to do this without someone's head or tripod or camera getting in the photo. The photo line was simply too close to the arch for that to happen. So I had to get a little creative about how to take photos.



So I spent some time checking out such alternate vantage points like from an elevated rock behind the photo line as well as a different elevated rock looking down at both the arch and the line of photographers. I guess the latter was more of an amusing shot (of taking people photographing the arch). But at the same time, I knew that that position would also yield the bonus of good color contrast beneath the arch was well as the cliffs in the background. I was mentally thinking that if we ever come back to Moab area, I might consider coming back here in the afternoon just to see what the lighting might look like, especially when I overheard someone in the photo line saying how magical the view was here after the clearig storm yesterday evening.



When the sun finally breached the clouds and the La Sal Mountains in the distance, that was when you could hear the camera clicks as well as the beeps from those cameras with the timer turned on. It almost sounded like what photo shoots might look like when a model was posing for a photographer, and someone in the crowd joking said, "Work it, work it!" Another person noticed someone had flash turned on in his or her camera phone, and said aloud, "You might want to turn off your flash" as probably it might ruin the lighting of someone else's photo let alone ruin their own photo (though if they knew what they were doing, I suppose the fill flash of the shadows might work).



This would persist for the next half-hour or so as the sun continued to rise. I actually relegated myself to taking the photo with my arms almost fully extended above my head in an attempt to avoid the tripods and heads in front of me. It actually worked out to some extent so I'm sure camera shake might be an issue. I was also experimenting with different color settings (i.e. "shade" vs. "daytime" vs. "default" modes) as I had noticed that the redness of the sun-lit cliffs were different depending on how the camera was set up.

I finally had my fill of this spot as the light was getting harsh by 7:10am. I quickly made my way back to the trailhead, where I decided that perhaps I should head over to the Grand View Point before heading over to the Windows Section of Arches National Park, and do all this before returning to the apartment between 9am and 10am as promised.

I eventually got to the Grand View Point parking lot at 7:25am, where I was the only person at the lot. But when I rocked up to the Grand View Point itself, I saw that looking in the direction over the cliffs towards the La Sal Mountains was against the sun and didn't work out. Perhaps this was more of an afternoon view. Still, when I looked more southwards, I got the nice reddish brown colors of the canyon rims towards the Abajo Mountains. And so at least I'd get some more updated shots compared to Julie's old analog Nikon camera that it was taken on some 16 years ago.

So it didn't take long before I was back in the car (just as someone else had pulled in), and I started driving all the way out to the Windows Section of Arches National Park. It would take me a little over an hour to get there, but at least the National Park Entrance was still not open and so there was no line of cars waiting to get in. That said, there was still a bit of traffic on the park roads given that there were many other people going at their own pace and leaving long caravans of cars.

I'd eventually make it to the parking lot for the Windows Section at 8:35am, but I was quite surprised to see just how many people were already parked here as the upper lot was almost full already! Crazy! Anyways, I did manage to score one of a handful of open spots left, and then I promptly walked up the familiar trail right to the opening of the North Window.

Obviously the lighting of this arch was terrible when facing east, but I knew that the mission here was to finally get that signature photo of North Window through to the Turret Arch. It was a signature shot, but I also knew from scouting this spot yesterday that it would involve a bit of a tricky scramble on slickrock to get at the right position for such a shot.



Sure enough, as I got back there, I proceeded to scramble to that spot, and I really had to watch out for the dropoff exposure. It was strange that with all the people who'd rock up to the opening of the North Window, I was the only person pursuing the view of the Turret Arch through the North Window. During the scramble, I managed to scratch my left hand (causing it to bleed a little bit due to the dryness), but at least I got my shot from a pretty precarious elevated bump in the slickrock.



I took photos both with and without other people in it (if it had people in it, they provided interesting scale as to the magnitude of the opening of the North Window). And like with Mesa Arch, I played with the camera settings to get this shot with different shades of red and orange from the morning sun shining on the rocks supporting both arches.



By 9am, I finally made it back to the car knowing that the mission was finally accomplished after all these years that I was waiting to get that signature shot that we had missed out on the first time around. Though now that I knew what it took to even get that shot, it wasn't surprising why such a shot was difficult in the first place.



And on the way out of Arches National Park, I made a few stops along the way to photograph some of the interesting rock formations that we kind of rushed our way through when Julie and Tahia came along when we first showed up to Arches National Park two days ago. So this included getting some photos of the Whataman formation as well as the Courthouse Towers, where I got dedicated shots of Sheep Rock (which looked like a dead ringer for a sheep, but I didn't know that it was also formed from a collapsed dual-span arch).

So it wouldn't be until about 9:45am when I finaly made it back to the apartment. Thinking that Julie and Tahia would be ready to go, and we'd be in Vegas probably by about 4pm, it turned out that they were nowhere near ready. In fact, Julie had spent some time to get brekkie ready as well as preparing a lot of banana bread (of the gluten-free kind) as well as strawberry sorbets, which I gladly took on as my brekkie.

Then, while Julie was frantically packing things together, I spent time in parallel doing the dishes. Tahia was buried in the iPhones getting more screen time than we were comfortable with letting her have.

And it wouldn't be until about 11:10am when we had finally loaded up the car. But before we left, Julie made one last grocery run at the Moon Flower next door, and so we wouldn't finally be leaving Moab until 11:25am.

Anyways, the drive out from Moab to Las Vegas was a long one, but it persisted mostly along the I-70 as well as the I-15, where a large chunk of the drive topped out with speed limits of 80mph with a few spots of 65-75mph. Perhaps the most notable thing about the drive was how scenic it was, especially along a 106-mile stretch without any services (we had a little over a half-tank at the time) where the road climbed through some interesting cliff formations that were part of the greater Capitol Reef formations though this part of the road I didn't think was part of the Capitol Reef National Park per se (that was further south).

When we got onto the I-15 going south, there were definitely way more cars on the road than there were on the I-70, but at least the going was still relatively smooth as most people kept right except to pass. However, backups would occur whenever slower trailered vehicles as well as big rigs would pass other slower vehicles.

In one instance, one truck had cut me off and as he was busy trying to pass another truck with us nearly tailing him, we heard a loud boom with smoke coming out of his truck, and then moments later, we saw shreds of tire flying by our car. In other words, he blew his tire right in front of us and we had to do a little swerving to avoid the biggest chunks of tire while we had to let the smaller shreds shower the car.

Aside from that moment of drama, we then learned as we crossed the state line of Nevada near Mesquite that we had gained back an hour since most of this trip was spent on Mountain Time. So with that hour, that meant that our six-hour drive was really seven hours long! Man, this was quite the drive, but Julie and I were now considering doing a dedicated long weekend trip on Memorial Day Weekend to Salt Lake City just to avoid some of the more chic destinations where we knew places like the National Parks might be a bit too crazy.

There was some heavy traffic on the I-15 as some kind of closure or accident had taken place on the I-15 in Las Vegas. So as Julie was having us stop at Trader Joe's before checking in and then going to Wolfgang Puck's at the MGM Grand. We wound up taking the 215 and then the 95 to get to the northwest side of the city. We'd finally get there at 4:55pm.

That shopping run went by pretty quick (we also had to use their facilities), and then we'd finally self-park at the New York New York Hotel and Casino, where we'd be staying for the last two nights of this trip. We got there at about 5:35pm. And we pretty much had to carry lots of things in one trip (so we had to be strategic about our luggage and stuff) since we knew that it'd be quite a walk to get from here all the way to the reception or lobby.



Eventually, we'd finally get to our room at 6:25pm. Julie had paid to upgrade the room (which we had been using Hyatt points to score for free initially), but apparently, only the upgrade price had to be charged. She said it was supposed to be $15 per night, which was not bad, when we saw that we had gotten a corner room looking out both to the east (in the direction of MGM Grand) as well as to the south (in the direction of Luxor and Excalibur).

After finally using our street clothes for the first time all trip long, we then went back downstairs at 6:50pm, and used one of the pedestrian bridges to get over to the MGM Grand Hotel. It was a good thing there were staff along the way to ask for directions, because we probably wouldn't have found the Wolfgang Pucks restaurant (or at least not in a timely manner) otherwise.

By about 7:30pm, we were finally seated for our Open Table reservation at this time though we were here 15 minutes earlier than that and had to kill time by checking out this dragon by the Ka Theater that really freaked out Tahia whenever it would open its mouth and roar.

The dinner turned out to be pretty good because we had really good margherita pizza (we relented on pizza since we knew this place would do pizza well) as well as pan-seared sea bass. The pork chops was a little on the burnt side and we probably regretted not getting the more expensive rib-eye steak. Anyways, the main reason why Julie picked this place for dinner (she also considered doing one of the Jose Andreas restaurants in town) was to have the chocolate souffle, and we wound up having two helpings of it!



The dinner wound up being pricey as expected (about $160 with tax and tip), but this was now pretty much par for the course as far as this trip was concerned. Even though it wasn't an international trip, our daily expenditures were certainly rivaling some of our other such trips abroad. Maybe, this was to be expected these days, especially since our third person (Tahia) was getting older and required a third main or additional appetizers as we refused to give her Kids menus, which were usually non-nutritious junk at inflated prices.



Anyways, we left the restaurant at around 9pm, and then we'd proceed to do a bit of a walking tour down the Las Vegas Strip from the MGM Grand all the way to the Bellagio and the Paris Hotel. During the walk, it seemed like we had stumbled upon the prime hour for touring the place, which had a very New York Times Square feel to it given the bright lights and lots of stimulation of the senses.



On top of all that, there were lots of women dressed up in clubbing attire ready for a fun night on the town. There were also people on the street from strippers (clothed albeit suggestively) trying to provide photo ops for a fee to people handing out cards for strip clubs, it made us wonder how Tahia was taking all this stimulation in. Was she processing all this, or was it just a bunch of noise in the background.



When we finally rocked up to the Bellagio at 10pm, it was just in time for the fountain show, which apparently went off every half-hour or so. And so the light and fountain show was going on to the tune of Uptown Funk. Tahia had to ride on my shoulders to get a view given that all the choice spots along the railings were taken. And she was definitely amused by the show.



Next, we crossed the street (Las Vegas Blvd) to get into the Paris Hotel, where Julie was scoping out potential restaurants to eat at when she'd hang out with her cousin for lunch. Again, there was the usual stimulation of people dressed for a good time, but it was also around the time that Tahia was getting tired as it was well past her bedtime.



So after about 10:30pm, we had to make our way all the way back to the New York New York. And as we were heading back, it sure seemed that as the night continued, there were more and more people on the streets. This was certainly becoming quite the international destination that reminded us of our CBD evening experiences in big cities around the world, and perhaps Vegas was starting to become a bit of a step up from the old sleazy reputation that we had come to associate with this place when we were last here many years ago.

That said, Vegas as still one of my least favorite places in the world, but at least experiencing the bright lights ever big city was quite atmospheric in a fun way. It certainly was better than the atmosphere in Nature that felt a bit more crushing than I had remembered in the past back in the Moab area. I guess you gotta take the good with the bad, especially these days when nothing is really a secret or as peaceful anymore given that you're having more and more overcrowding in the world these days.

At 11:05pm, we were finally back in the room, where Tahia managed to get her teeth brushed and Google-searching some of the terms she'd picked up on this trip (you know, like the words "organs", "Van Allen Belt" from one of the B-52 songs played in the car, among other things) before crashing. It wouldn't be until about 1:15am when I finally slept, which I knew wasn't good news if I was going to wake up early to get ready for my solo nature excursion tomorrow morning...



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Day 10 (April 22, 2017 - Las Vegas, Nevada: "Earth Day Persistence"

It was 4:45am when I awoke. It was still dark outside and I had spent the better part of the pre-dawn hours blogging and getting ready for today's hike. The plan for today was another divide and conquer type thing where I'd be driving up to Mt Charleston to at least visit Mary Jane Falls and possibly Big Falls and/or Little Falls. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia would chill out at the Las Vegas Strip, and New York New York (where we were staying) was pretty centrally located so they didn't need me to drive them around.



So it wouldn't be until 6:15am when I left the room, but that wasn't before I managed to witness a beautiful sunrise from our corner room. It was the perfect start to what turned out to be Earth Day.

As I got into the car and left the New York New York Hotel and Casino at 6:20am, I could tell that the casino was delightfully quiet. The concentration of cigarette smoke wasn't nearly as bad as I knew later in the day would be, and even traffic was delightfully light as well.

And so the drive up to Mt Charleston was uneventful as I zoomed along the I-15 then the US95 before getting off at Kyle Canyon Road (labeled Hwy 157). I actually followed a pair of cars going right at the speed limit, and eventually they'd pull over (probably because they were here to work or do something else). During the drive, both cars were making room for runners running along the shoulder to the right. There were rumble strips in the middle line between the two opposing lanes, and a van in front of me managed to lose his hubcap on those rumble strips just as a group of runners was coming down. I saw them having to stop to avoid the hubcap, which was I'm sure was quite the scare.

Anyways, on the way up, I was regretting not stopping to pull over to take early morning views of the snowy mountains flanking Mt Charleston. As the road's speed limit slowed down to 35mph, I saw a well-defined signpost for Mary Jane Falls just as Echo Drive left the Kyle Canyon Rd, and then after another signposted turnoff, the car park was another 1/4-mile past a large spillover car park (or parking for what turned out to be the Trail Canyon Trailhead).



I was probably one of a half-dozen or so cars that made it up to the Mary Jane Falls Trailhead at this time of day at 7:15am. The car park looked pretty big so I figured this must be a pretty popular spot. It was still quite chilly outside so I had to wear my jacket as I was gearing up and getting ready to go. And from the car park, I could see there was a pretty tall dry fall. I wasn't sure if that was supposed to be the Big Falls or not, but it was quite an interesting thing to check out before starting the hike.

The uphill hike followed along a wide dirt and stony path past a pit toilet building. It was already climbing albeit gently as I was meandering amongst tall trees. There were a couple of snow patches that I had to traverse, but they were no big deal. The rest of the trail turned out to be pretty snow free despite the high elevation as I had gotten started at around 8,000ft and the trail was still climbing higher.



When I got to the switchbacks, I saw that there was a wash and some wide "trail" to the left of it. I knew from reading previous trip reports that the Big Falls was supposed to leave from this point, but thus far, I wasn't able to tell which of the ravines contained the other waterfall.

Having been acclimated to high elevation since this entire southwest trip was pretty much at elevation (even Sedona was around 5,000ft while Mesa Verde, Telluride, Hanging Lake, and Moab were either at or higher than this elevation), I was able to quickly get up these switchbacks without feeling the effects of altitude sickness. There were a lot of false shortcuts cutting directly through the switchbacks, and they looked awfully steep. But I could imagine on a place this close to Las Vegas (just driving here took about an hour or less) there must be lots of people who simply don't respect or appreciate the erosion the shortcutting causes.



Anyways, being as experienced in hiking as I had been, I always knew to follow the trail and keep along the switchbacks. There were probably at least a half-dozen or so of these switchbacks. The higher I went, the more of the mountains on the opposite side of Kyle Canyon that I could see. I was keenly looking for any clue or obvious signs of Big Falls across the canyon, but with all the snow covering the mountains there, it was hard to tell.



I did spot a somewhat hidden ravine with a couple of little wet streaks on the wall in the shadow between some snowy sections, but to be honest, I was never totally sure if I had spotted Big Falls or not. Whatever the case, it didn't look like it was a good idea to even pursue the Big Falls on this hike, and so I figured that would shave off or save a couple of hours or so. I definitely expected to be back at the Las Vegas Strip sooner rather than later.



Eventually after hiking along some pretty vertical cliff walls after the uppermost of the switchbacks, I spotted some alcoves (some were tagged with graffiti, which wasn't surprising), and then I'd ultimately arrive at the Mary Jane Falls at 8:25am. With lowered expectations of waterfalls around the Las Vegas area, this place definitely exceeded mine.



There were actually three different segments of waterfalls, and the main Mary Jane Falls appeared to be the one in the middle. The first one I saw was actually falling down next to a series of alcoves. The uppermost ones appeared inaccessible though I swore I saw some of those alcoves containing shrines (from someone who might have passed away here) or some kind of evidence of people making it up there (not sure how).



To the left of the main Mary Jane Falls was another thin cascade. Photos definitely didn't do this falls justice given how wispy they were, but the mere fact that they were flowing made me pretty happy about this experience. And to top it off, I was able to get a nice view across the Kyle Canyon towards snowy mountains as well.

I managed to experience this falls from several positions, which were still in shade. It seemed like it would only a take several minutes to an hour or so before the sun would breach the cliffs above me and start to wreak havoc on the lighting here.



There was a group of Indian guys who scrambled back down here to the base of the falls after having been to an alcove to the left of the leftmost of the falls. They must have been the folks that had been hooting and hollering perhaps to listen to their echos or something. But throughout the upper part of the switchbacks, I had noticed this cave and I figured I'd get up there myself to see what the view would be like.



Indeed, after having my fill of the base of the falls, I then went into the sunlight and scrambled up to the alcove. It was an easy trail until I had to do a little bit of scrambling to get up there, but it wasn't too bad. Once inside the alcove, I once again spotted unsightly graffiti, which was a real shame to see, but I guess it was inevitable given its relative proximity to Las Vegas.



The view from up here was also pleasing, and I was joined by another guy who I guess had recently moved to Las Vegas. We also talked a bit about the graffiti and came to the same reaction about how much it was a shame this was happening, especially if this was some kind of excuse to show everyone else that they were here and left their ugly mark on an otherwise beautiful spot. On top of that, we both came to the conclusion that it probably wasn't worth the effort to extend this excursion to include the Big Falls as well.



Eventually at 9:15am, I started to head back down. I was pretty much flying down the trail since it was all pretty much downhill. I did see many people making their way to the falls just as I was going up so it became very apparent that this was a popular trail. There was some confusion by some of these folks as the shortcuts were misconstrued as the actual trail. I'm sure over time, the forest service will have to address this issue. Some of the inexperienced hikers seemed to have been put in precarious situations where they had trouble maintaining traction as they'd easily slide down while trying to ascend.

At 10am, I finally made it back to the car park, which was now very full! I guess I had beaten the rush, but this was consistent with the dozens of hiking groups that I had seen while making my way down. Indeed, this was a very popular place, but now after having seen Mary Jane Falls, I could totally see why.

And typical to some of the Southern California hikes, these groups ranged from large families to folks bringing loud music with them to day hikers in running wear to more prepared hikers in hiking gear. Boy I was sure glad I had gotten my early start because the peaceful experience there was the perfect contrast to the chaos and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip, which wasn't really my thing.

Now, I had the option of going straight back to the Las Vegas Strip to rejoin Julie and Tahia, but I figured that since I was here already, I mind as well look for the Little Falls, which was also mentioned in the forest service literature. I figured this would be an easier experience than the Mary Jane Falls since it was a shorter trail and there was enough literature to get me going.



So at 10:15am, I arrived at the Echo Trailhead, where I was one of only four cars here. There was an obvious sign that said "Trail" that pointed to the right. And when I pursued the trail, it didn't take long before I suddenly lost the trail in a wash. I was looking around to see where I was supposed to go next, but there were way too many false trails and evidence of people tree cutting so it was really hard to tell where to go next.



But as I was scrambling in the wash, I noticed a tall plunging waterfall to my left. Could this be the Little Falls?

And so that made me more determined to continue this scramble even though I found myself scrambling amongst overgrowth and rocks. I'd eventually get to a point were I saw some people further up the ravine where there was a trio apparently near some kind of snow field. It seemed obvious at this point that in order to get up to the waterfall, we'd all have to do the snow hiking.



Meanwhile, as I was working to catch up to them, I finally found some faint trails (again, I wasn't sure if it was official or not), as I passed by another human artifact in that there was some kind of trailer or pull cart lying off to the side of the path. I figured that on the return hike, I'd follow this path back to wherever it'd take me.



But as I was continuing up, I'd evntually make it up to a point where I'd have no choice but to hike onto the snow field. There were lots of pine branches and twigs littering that snow field, and I wondered if these were the result of an avalanche or something. Now, they helped to facilitate the footing since if it was pure snow, the combination of steepness and the slipperiness of the ice and snow made things even dicier.



It had also crossed my mind that there was the possibility that this snow was bridging the creek beneath. Hopefully no part would give way into an underlying dropoff.

Eventually I would pass the trio of hikers struggling up the snow, and I'd continue up to a part where I'd get somewhat of a satisfactory view looking up at a two-tiered waterfall. Again, I had no idea what this waterfall was as I was having doubts about whether it was the Little Falls. I was also having doubts that it was the Big Falls as well because I didn't think I went up the canyon far enough to be where the Big Falls was at. So which waterfall was this? And why wasn't there any literature about the presence of this falls?



Was it real? It certainly seemed to have better flow than Big Falls (assuming that I had noticed it and correctly identified it from the Mary Jane Falls Trail). Anyways, I had a really bad #2 urge while I was up here so I wasn't going to push my luck and try to scramble even further up to get to the base of this falls. There was simply too much time I was spending on this trail, and I had this bad feeling that I had somehow missed the Little Falls.



So I quickly made my way down the snowy slopes essentially skiing without skis, and I left the trio to continue up the path while I was making my way all the way back to the apparent trail of use near the start of the snow. As I went past the old cart or trailer, I then continued following the faint trail, which eventually branched off at some point. I saw that there was a gentler trail going into the overgrowth and shade to the left (further away from the Echo Trailhead) while there was another path to the right that seemed to descend directly down to the road.



I kept right here and eventually got down to what appeared to be the overflow parking for Mary Jane Falls Trailhead at 11:25am. That said, I saw another signpost down here that no one seemed to be around or noticing, and the sign said something to the effect of "Old Ski Tow". Was this waterfall part of the Old Ski Tow, or whatever this historical marker was supposed to be?

Anyways, instead of hiking back along the road to the Echo Trailhead, I followed the wash where there was a brief moment of water in the wash before the water disappeared again. At 11:40am, I was back at the Echo Trailhead where there were a few more cars parked here now. But with my #2 urge getting desperately strong, I had to drive back up to the overflow parking area (which turned out to be the Trail Canyon Trailhead), and I found myself relieving myself in one of the pit toilets.

When I was done doing this deed at 11:55am, I took a look at the trailhead signage. And that was when I realized from looking at the map here that my suspicions were confirmed in that I didn't see the Little Falls at all! So I figured that instead of leaving and wondering what Little Falls was like, I mind as well persist and check out the Little Falls for real.



So I returned to the Echo Trailhead at 12:10pm, texted Julie and Tahia that I'd be running late to get back to the Strip, and then I'd look for the real trail to the Little Falls. And sure enough, when I got back there, I saw that I had missed a second "Trail" marker right across from a little wash almost immediately after I had gotten started.

I saw there was another family further up ahead down the wash that had made the same mistake that I had made earlier. But in any case, I was now on an established path that was going somewhat gently uphill. There were more trail markers keeping me on the right path and avoiding some false paths though there was some confusion where one of the signs had arrows pointing in two directions that said "Echo Trail".

The path to the right of this sign at this fork looked legit, but it climbed higher quickly. And I knew that this couldn't be the Little Falls Trail even though there was another couple I saw back down at the junction saying that the rest of the Echo Trail went back down to the Cathedral Peak Trailhead or something like that. Still, I saw that they didn't go very far before they drew that conclusion and my instincts told me that this false path steeply going uphill was not right either.

So I continued to the left of the Echo Trail sign and eventually reached an unsigned junction with some snow patches on the path to the right as I was facing it. I knew the continuation of the path to the left went back to an alternate trailhead and there was some fenced off infrastructure down there as well (private property?). Anyways, the forest service literature said that the Echo Trailhead was the correct starting point even though the Cathedral Peak Trailhead seemed to be 0.3 miles closer.



Regardless, I kept hiking on the trail as I pretty much undulated between snowy patches and dry obvious trail. After passing by two or three other hiking groups, I had suspected that I had finally found the correct trail leading up to Little Falls. One elder Mexican couple pretty much confirmed it to me, when I asked them in Spanish if it this path was "a la cascada"?

There was a large group (probably a family) chilling out at the start of what appeared to be a relentless snowy area, and I asked if this was the Little Falls (just for additional confirmation). They confirmed, but they also said that if I could hike in the snow pretty fast, it was another 10 minutes from this point.



In following the footprints on the snow, I found myself amongst a narrowing of the canyon walls, which was pretty scenic in its own right as the incident light from the early afternoon sun kind of create a more-or-less slot-canyon-like experience. There was one part where I could hear the creek underneath me, and they kind of reminded me that I was on some pretty dangerous grounds and that I shouldn't linger in the snow for too long. I then eventually got up to some graffiti before rounding a bend that finally revealed the Little Falls.



Unfortunately, there was a large snow patch and logjam that seemed to block the lower part of its drop so I was only able to see the upper parts of it. This was kind of a disappointing result for such trouble to find this falls in the first place, but at least I could finally leave Mt Charleston without regrets.



I did what I could to document the experience, but there wasn't much to keep me here for much longer, so I went back down and spoke with that familiy that was still chilling out at the beginning of the large snow part. They said that they were here in January earlier this year and the falls was completely frozen! They said that most of the trail was still snow free except the last part, which was kind of amazing to me considering that we were already in high altitude and that much of Mt Charleston was snow free!

At 1:05pm, I finally returned to the Echo Trailhead, which was now pretty much full with nearly a dozen cars or so. There was a Mexican Family here having a picnic with some music. Meanwhile, I got back in the car, and started to drive back down towards the Las Vegas Strip. I'd eventually make it back to New York New York's parking structure at 2pm after getting through some moderate traffic on the interchanges in Las Vegas.

After getting changed into more appropriate street clothing, I then started what turned out to be a pretty long hike to get from New York New York to the Venetian where Julie and Tahia would be waiting for me. I started to head out at 2:20pm, and it wouldn't be until 3pm when I finally met up with them.

It was pretty hot down here in Vegas so I was sweating a bit. But I finally saw that Julie's cousin Larry was there, but he would be the only relative of hers that we'd be seeing as the rest of his family was in Georgia on a trip to see the grandparents.

Meanwhile, Julie also learned that her other cousin and family had a change of plans so we wouldn't be able to see them tomorrow morning either. I guess when it came to seeing relatives that Julie hadn't seen in many years, this turned out to be a bit of a strikeout though seeing Larry for just the few moments here at the Venetian was pleasant in its own right.

When Larry left, we were on our own to explore the Venetian's re-created canals (in perpetual twilight; a la Disneyland) as well as the fountain area of the Palazzo. I was getting very parched and tired given the long hike it took to get here, and I also didn't have any brekkie or lunch save for a croissant and some desserts (macarons) that Julie and Tahia had bought while doing their little tour of the Strip to get here.





In addition to checking out the canals and shops of the Venetian in its perpetual twilight, we also went back outside to the front of the Venetian where we took pictures of the re-creation of the Piazza San Marco and the Riato Bridge. But it was pretty draining out there as the late afternoon sun was beating down on us and draining our energy as this was easily one of the warmest days we've experienced on this trip.



When Julie finally figured out where she wanted to eat and made changes to the reservations, we then headed back inside the air-conditioned (but smoky) confines of the casino part of Venetian, we then briefly checked out some atrium area of the Palazzo, with its "LOVE" sign fronting some fountains in a mall-like setting. It looked like they wouldn't let anyone get up to the third floor of this complex so we were content to get our shots from the second floor, then head downstairs and pursue the Bouchon Bistro Restaurant.



At 5:30pm, we eventually had ourselves and early dinner at the Bouchon Bistro in the Venetian. I always thought it was strange that this restaurant was in an Italian-themed hotel instead of the French-themed one at the Paris Hotel. Anyways, we had cancelled a 5:45pm dinner at the Jose Andreas Bazaar Meats or something like that when we found out how much trouble it would take to even get there on an expensive dinner (as we'd have to either walk another hour or Uber our way there and back).



And so we had ourselves a pretty satisfying Thomas Keller meal that had some familiar French fare like the Burgundy-style escargots and foie gras with raspberry jam and toast. We also had duck confit as an appetizer before eating on mains like Steak Bouchon (basically a filet mignon and not quite the ribeye I would have expected) as well as some poulet roti dish that Julie loved very much (the waitress said this was the signature dish of this restaurant).



I was finally able to quench my thirst as the busboy made frequent visits to our table just so I could down some water as I was quite dehydrated prior to this dinner. Though I knew that this would probably impact my body's ability to digest food thanks to the water diluting the stomach acid.



Anyways, after the dinner, we spent some time taking twilight photos of the front part of the Venetian, which turned out to be the perfect time to do such an activity. After all, the sun was down so it wasn't nearly as hot as it was before dinner, and the lighting was such that we were in real twilight (not the indoor perpetual twilight), which was the right time of day to take early evening shots of things under lights.



When we finally had our fill of the Venetian, we then walked around the Las Vegas Strip once again as we slowly made our way back in the direction of the New York New York. Along the way, we made one quick gelato stop at Amorino near the re-created London Eye that we hadn't seen before in Las Vegas. We also stopped at an elevator corner with a nice view towards both Ballys and the Paris Hotel, where it was a rare moment that we all got a little bit of relative peace from the chaos of the sidewalks on the Strip as apparently we stumbled upon a spot that was overlooked by most of the pedestrians.



When we were done indulging our sweet tooth (especially since we had forsaken more expensive dessert at Bouchon Bistro), we then crossed Las Vegas Blvd and happened to witness another one of Bellagio's dancing fountain shows. This time, the fountain show was done to the tune of God Bless the USA instead of Uptown Funk.



After that show, we then made a beeline back through the Cosmopolitan and then back through the outdoor sidewalks leading right up to the New York New York. And eventually, we finally get back to our room at 9:15pm.

Tahia wanted to play in the pool, but it had been closed since 6pm. So the rest of the evening, we crashed as we were finally able to unwind from this very busy day of touring. Tomorrow, it was time to go home, and without seeing Julie's cousin Tuan given the change of plans, we expected to be back at home sooner rather than later (hopefully to avoid the bulk of the I-15 traffic)...



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Day 11 (April 23, 2017 - Los Angeles, California: "Leaving Las Vegas"

It was about 6:05am when I awoke. Unlike the rest of this trip, I didn't use an alarm for the wake-up. I decided that for the first time all trip long that I was going to sleep in. But now that I was up, and I saw right away from our pretty awesome corner room that I had awoken just in time for sunrise. So like yesterday morning, I busted out the camera and took a few morning shots to try to capture the beauty that was before us. Of course, a lot of this was deja vu, except there were a bit more clouds on this morning, and I always contended that it was the clouds that essentially make a sunrise or sunset more extraordinary provided it wasn't so overcast that the sun would be all muted out.

The rest of the next couple of hours or so were spent eating some leftover food in our cooler (kinda tough to do this when you don't have a microwave so it all consumed cold), and then we got packed and ready to go. So by 8:50am, we were finally leaving Las Vegas as we checked out, loaded up the car, and were out the door.

The original plan was to leave Sin City later in the day (and deal with more traffic on the I-15), but given the change of plans or work schedules with Julie's cousins, this trip wasn't going to be the little family reunion that we were hoping it'd be. Oh well, at least we knew that Las Vegas was just another long weekend trip away, and I'm sure there'd be more opportunities to come back. Besides, the next time I'm here, I might redo Little Falls and Big Falls up at Mt Charleston when there's a bit less snow. I might also check out the Valley of Fire for the first time since I was too little to remember. I had read that there were some waterfalls there as well, and so it might be worth a visit to better round out our collection of Nevada Waterfalls. Who knows?

The drive back to Los Angeles was for the most part uneventful. But even then, there was quite a bit of traffic on the I-15, which wasn't at all surprising. And even though I had expected the traffic volume, I guess I had been conditioned throughout the American Southwest of the road rules where you're supposed to keep right except to pass. In Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and even Nevada for the most part, people seemed to obey this road rule. And in most of Europe, they don't even need signage or laws for this as you just get tailed big time if you try to be stubborn and clog the fast lanes there as everyone knows to move over. For some reason, this stretch on the I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, people don't have this sense of road rules and it shows.

So clearly, you have drivers who are either idiots, self-entitled, or ignorant of the road rules, and they wind up clogging the passing lane thereby causing a ripple effect in that you get congestion even out in the boonies on the I-15 (from as far away as State Line and even Baker). Usually you get backups like this when big trucks have to pass other big trucks. But in this case, you have passenger vehicles unnecessarily clogging the passing lane because they don't want to undo their cruise control and/or change lanes. The thing is that you don't have to undo your cruise control and still keep right except to pass. But, I guess it is what it is, and it was one of the main reasons why I never really look forward to making this drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, especially since Vegas isn't exactly my most favorite place in the world to spend a whole weekend.

In one instance, some idiot who was clogging the left lane was being passed by us on the right lane. Then, he decided to speed up to try to prevent us from cutting back in to pass a truck on the right lane. But when we got in anyways, he decided to drive on the shoulder to our left and endanger everyone around us, including ourselves, before finally relenting and getting back in the legal lanes. The irony was that after I went back in the right lane upon passing the slower traffic, he zoomed by and then decided to go back to his old ways and clog the left lane and piss off other people wondering why he's not in the right lane. Indeed, the road rage factor is definitely high on the I-15, and California (and perhaps Arizona and Nevada) should do what Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado are already doing and that's instituting and/or enforcing the keep right laws.

By 12:45pm, we finally arrived in Rowland Heights to have a late dim sum lunch so we could see my parents as well as my brother's family. These are always nice as we get to catch up on what has been going on, even if it's a brief time to let the kids be kids and let the adults talk amongst themselves. Ever since Julie had her gut issues, I can't remember the last time we even had dim sum.

Eventually, after the lunch, we then chilled out at my parents' place for a couple of hours. I managed to nap and get caught up a little bit on sleep (and subconsciously learn that OKC lost to Houston), before we all went our separate ways and life could finally get back to normal again. When we finally got home after 4pm, I came to realize that barring any last minute plans, next weekend would be the first weekend that we'd be spending at home for the first time in four weeks. Indeed, it had been a hectic month where we did a spontaneous Santa Barbara trip back in the end of March, then followed that up with a Death Valley Trip with the parents, and then followed that up in a short week to do this Four Courners Trip, which occupied the next two weekends.

I guess we could use a little normalcy though I'm sensing deep down that I wouldn't mind some more hecticness as long as we're in position to create more unforgettable memories even if it's at the expense of slowing down...




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