Up until a few years ago, I had never been to Utah and had never really wanted to Utah. I had no idea the state had so many great national parks within it and after visiting once, it is high on my list of places I want to go back to. We only had time to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion, both of which were amazing, but are hoping to get back sometime in the not to distant future to see more of Zion and Canyonlands, Arches, and everything else the state has to offer. This photo was taken in the main canyon of Zion, from a well placed bridge that crosses the Virgin River.

Main canyon of Zion National Park in Utah

Morning at Bear Lake

This photo was taken at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park has gotten extremely popular in recent years, with a 42% increase in visitors in the last 6 years. While it is great that so many people are out enjoying the park, it means that the park gets busy. Very busy. Parking lots in the park being completely full busy. We avoided this issue by started our hikes early every morning, before the crowds of people arrived. On this morning, we arrived at Bear Lake on the first shuttle, then did the 10 mile hike to Fern Lake, before taking the shuttle back. The park is popular for good reason, the views along this hike, and basically every other hike we did, were amazing.

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking through the sand

Does this look like the Grand Canyon? If I didn’t know better, I would say no. When most people think of the Grand Canyon, walking along a sandy trail is probably not their first thought. But the first section of the hike from the Colorado River back up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon is along a wide, relatively flat, sand covered trail. It’s a nice way to start what is a relatively challenging, but rewarding, hike.

Hiking along a sand covered trail in the Grand Canyon

Expanse of Denali National Park

One of the amazing things about Denali National Park is its expansiveness, which becomes even more apparent when you hike up any of the mountains within the park. If you reach a peak, all you see in every direction are mountains, mountains, and more mountains, with valleys and rivers down below. And unless you’re near the entrance, the visitor’s center within the park, or near the park road, it’s likely that there isn’t another person in sight. It is an inspiring yet peaceful experience to be surrounded by so much untouched nature with such incredible views, yet to have the quiet solitude that visits to most popular national parks don’t offer.

Expansive views of Denali National Park

Waterfall along the hike to Devil’s Punchbowl

Skagway is a small, touristy town in southeastern Alaska. It is a popular port for cruises to Alaska and can get a little overrun with tourists during the summer. While the most popular excursion visitors to Skagway take is a trip on the White Pass Scenic Railway, Skagway is also home to Klondike Gold Rush National Park and has hiking trails that start from the edge of town. One of those hikes is up to Devil’s Punchbowl, an 8.5 mile hike that involves an elevation gain of 3,700 feet. The middle third of the hike in particular is incredibly steep, perhaps the steepest extended stretch of trail I have hiked on. But the view from the top is well worth the effort. The trail follows a creek during the steep portion of the hike and the terrain is so steep that the creek is essentially one waterfall after another. This photo is of one of those waterfalls.

to Devil's Punchbowl just outside Skagway, Alaska.

Alluvial Fan

Alluvial Fan, in Rocky Mountain National Park, was created in 1982 when the water of Lawn Lake burst through the earthen Lawn Lake Dam. Millions upon millions of gallons of water rushed down towards the valley below, bringing trees and large boulders along for the ride. The large boulders within this waterfall are just a small sampling of the massive amount of boulders strewn about Alluvial Fan. The water which brought these boulders here on that July day in 1982 was so massive in volume and fast flowing that it left the nearby town of Estes Park flooded under six feet of water. Today the site is a popular attraction for visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park, easily accessible and a reminder of the powerful capabilities of nature.

Waterfall of Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Colorful Mount Healy

Denali National Park has relatively few developed trails. That isn’t to say that there is a lack of hiking opportunities in the park, but that most of the hiking involves forging your own path through undeveloped wilderness. This photo was taken from near the top of the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, a relatively steep trail with rewards those who put in the effort to reach the top with panoramic views in every direction, if the weather cooperates. The trail begins near the Visitor’s Center, making it a perfect hike for a part day in the park. In late August color was starting to appear at higher elevations, giving this photo a wonderful mix of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens.

View from near the top of Mount Healy in Denali National Park

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon

This photo was taken in Bryce Canyon National Park, from the aptly named Sunrise Point. We arrived at Sunrise Point 20-25 minutes before sunrise and the actual sunrise point was completely filled with people, so we decided to hike down the trail just far enough that we could enjoy sunrise in relative peace. Being late May, the temperatures were quite cool, which may come as a bit of a surprise given the warmth of this photo. As the sun approached the horizon off to the left of the photo, the clouds began to light up with brilliant color and the canyon got enough light to see the details without the harsh shadows that would appear in the canyon minutes later. This photo is a nice example of how the best sunrise/sunset photos aren’t always taken with the camera pointed towards the sun.

Beautiful sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park.

The 30%

As I mentioned in a previous post, only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park get to see the mountain for which the park is named. We were lucky to see the mountain all 3 days we were there. Knowing how unpredictable the weather can be in Alaska and how uncommon it is for Denali to be visible, I took every opportunity to capture moments when Denali was in sight, not knowing if the clouds would roll in at any moment. This started in the morning from the deck of the B&B in Talkeetna where we had stayed the night before to break up the drive from Seward to Denali National Park. And continued when we arrived at the scenic overlook along the highway where this photo was taken from. And continued some more when we arrived at the park. My wife thought I was crazy, not believing Denali that being visible was that uncommon. It wasn’t until we were in one of the souvenir shops and she saw one of the “I was among the 30%” t-shirts that she actually believed me.

View of Denali off in the sunset from a scenic overlook along the highway.