Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My Southern Utah Adventure: Part I - Zion National Park

For my next trip, I decided to stay a little closer to home. (If that's not interesting to you, my next entries will be about my trip to the opposite side of the globe.)

So I flew from my new home on the East Coast to my old home in the Rockies to visit some of the places I should have visited while I lived in Utah.

For those who don’t know, Utah is home to five national parks—Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion, also known as the Big Five. That's more than any other state besides California and Alaska. (Much to the chagrin of Utah’s legislature—but I digress.)

One could spend years exploring the wonderland that is Southern Utah, one of the most geologically interesting places on Earth. We, however, only had a week to complete the circuit.

The first stop on our journey through the Big Five: Zion.

Zion is the most popular of the parks—probably due to its relatively close proximity to Grand Canyon. And, of course, to its world-class scenery.

The first thing you might notice about Zion (other than, you know, the towering red cliffs and majestic vistas): It's crowded. Painfully so. We waited nearly an hour to get on the (mandatory) shuttle bus that takes you up into the heart of the park.

Fortunately, once you're out of the bus and hiking, the crowd situation becomes a lot more tolerable.

We start off with the Emerald Pools hike - it's simple and not too strenuous, and a good way to break in our hiking muscles.

At one point you walk under a waterfall.

Don't forget to turn around and admire the landscape.

The reward at the end of the trail: Some pools in the shade of the cliffs.

Next up, the famous Narrows, one of the most iconic hikes in America. What makes it so memorable? The hike takes you directly up the Virgin River as the walls of Zion Canyon grow narrower and narrower around you.

No, you're not walking next to the river - you're trudging through it.

So after double checking that there wasn't a flash flood watch, I laced up my waterproof shoes and prepared my trekking pole and entered the Virgin waters.

And I soon realize... Hiking in water is hard work.

For one, you can't see the bottom - and being a river, the ground isn't quite perfectly smooth. Meaning that one second you could be in water up to your ankles, and with the next step you're up to your knees. And there are rocks of varying sizes littering the bottom, making for uneven footing. You quickly learn to test out each step with your trekking pole.

Secondly, those waterproof shoes you rented aren't so waterproof after all. No matter how tightly you lace them, they begin filling up with each step - making things even more uncomfortable and cumbersome.

But you keep on going anyways, because the walls of the canyon are closing in around you, and around each turn you might see something new - like a waterfall running down the sides of the canyon.

It's hard work, and it's worth it. It's beautiful and unique and unforgettable.

Go and do it.

Just wear good shoes.


The next morning we leave Zion - and the drive out of the park is also stunningly beautiful. You climb higher and higher until the valley is far below and you get a whole new perspective of the landscape. And it stays beautiful, even after you've driven through the mountain tunnel and left the boundaries of the park. Because Southern Utah is just that cool.

Next stops: a national monument, and then our second national park.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My Trip in Numbers

Days: 72

Continents visited: 3 (Europe, Asia, and North America*)

Total countries visited: 22 (Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Denmark, Iceland)

New countries visited: 15

Top 10 World Smallest Countries visited: 3 (Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican City)

Currencies used: 10 (Turkish Lira, UK pound, Danish krone, Bulgarian lev, Macedonian denar, Albanian lek, Croatian kuna, Bosnia-Herzegovinan convertible mark, Icelandic krona, Euro)

UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 18 (Goreme National Park & Cappadocia, Historical Istanbul, Hierapolis/Pamukkale, Vatican City, San Marino Historic Center & Mount Titano, Three Castles of Bellinzona, Stonehenge, Giant's Causeway, Tower of London, Boyana Church, Rila Monastery, Ohrid Region, Kotor, Old City of Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Old Bridge Area of Mostar, Skocjan Caves, Þhingvellir National Park)

Flights taken: 16
Bus rides taken: Many
Train rides taken: <10
Boat rides taken: 5ish
Hostels slept in: 23
Hotels slept in: <10
AirBNB apartments visited: 5
Temperatures experienced: 20°F-90°F
Photographs taken: 6,700
Photographs of cats taken: Approx. 150
Souvenirs purchased: 0
Plays seen: 4 - Hedda Gabler (Dublin), Gypsy (London), Miss Saigon (London), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (London)
Books read: 4
Movies watched: 1 (in Sarajevo, plus 3 or 4 more on the transoceanic flights)
Gelato eaten: 18.5 gallons
Sick days: 0
Visits to McDonalds: Approx. 15

*I'm counting North America, because in Iceland we traveled back and forth across the continental plates multiple times

Monday, February 8, 2016

Stormy Days in Iceland

Well, here we are, dear Reader: The last post about the last portion of my 2015 Europe trip.


Due to its remoteness, Iceland was the last (future) country in Europe to be inhabited.

The first settlers were probably Vikings in the 9th century, though there might have been some others there a few centuries earlier. Either way, like New Zealand, it was one of the last significant bodies of land in the world to be inhabited by humans. No human being had set foot on it until about 2000 years ago. The island itself is also relatively new, being entirely formed by volcanoes within the last 20 million years or so.

Then... Norwegians came in, they founded one of history's earliest parliaments. Christianity appeared in the 10th century. The people wrote some interesting sagas. Over the centuries, they've been variously owned by Norway, then Denmark - and then it became its own independent republic during World War II.

Its people have been drastically affected by volcanoes more than once in its history.

And... Really, I'm just stealing all this from Wikipedia, so perhaps you should just go read about it there!


I took three tours during my stay. I've already written about the volcano tour, and you can't really beat that - the other two were just gravy.

Both tours were lovely and hosted by great guides - the only problem was that it was rainy and stormy both days, which made things a bit rough.

First up: The Golden Circle tour.

Probably the most popular Icelandic day tour, this takes you to some of the most iconic sites on the island that also happen to lie relatively close to Reykjavik.

Our first stop was Þingvellir - a desolate valley that's both historically and geologically important.

Historically, it was the site of one of the world's very first parliaments - dating all the way back to 930 AD, shortly after the island was inhabited.

Geologically, it marks the dividing line between the European and North American continental plates. As such, it offers a pretty unique landscape. It's marked by giant stone rifts and fissures in the earth filled with crystal clear water. It's also the site of Silfra, a famous spot where you scuba dive directly between the continental plates. (I didn't do that, but it's on my bucket list.)

I love landscapes like this - they remind you that the Earth is always evolving and changing. I like thinking about all the immense geological forces that created this landscape. There's something alluring about that special desolateness.

From Þingvellir, we were dropped off at Fontana Wellness - where we spent several hours soaking in the hot pools naturally heated to varying temperatures, sitting in the saunas (also at varying temperatures - from lukewarm to completely unbearable), and eating at the excellent buffet.  The pools are right on the edge of a big lake - and I couldn't keep myself from running out of the hot tub and dunking myself in the icy cold lake water. (All in spite of the sign warning that scalding hot water may enter the lake at any point...)

After we were thoroughly relaxed, we traveled on to Geysir, a miniature Yellowstone - but about 1/10 as interesting. The coolest thing about Geysir, in fact, is that its name is the origin of the English word "geyser." (Yes, our language even has an Icelandic influence.)

Our last stop was Gullfoss Falls. And I'll just let the pictures speak for this place.

At this point in the tour, it was raining quite heavily (hence the somewhat misted nature of these pictures.) But that didn't stop me from walking along the path to this scenic point right above the waterfalls - where I got even more wet from the mist of the waterfall.

Journal Entry

Today I went to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. A region of beautiful landscapes—colorful and imposing. You've got glaciers, black sand beaches, mountains, lakes, volcanoes, and so on.

During my 13 hour tour, I saw... Very little of it.

It started out all right. We stopped at this cool place with some Giant's Causeway-esque geological/geometrical formations:

But soon enough, yesterday's rain became today's tempest. Every time I stepped out of the tour van, I got drenched. My glasses and my camera lens fogged over.

At times I feared we were going to get swept off the road - particularly when we were driving in an area with the ocean on both sides of the road.

The wind was so strong that at one point I was lifted off the ground and carried three miles out to sea, where a narwhal rescued me.

The tour guide was game, and friendly. At one point, during the worst of it, we stopped and waited at a small-town combination convenience store and library - which was my first time ever stepping foot in an Icelandic library. We also got lunch here, which was quite tasty. (And it also marked the first time I've ever eaten a lunch in an Icelandic library while waiting out a storm.)

Waiting out the storm...

But, ok, I got a few decent pictures.

Wait! There was one stop that was dry and sheltered from the wind:

A lava cave!

I love going underground, and this was pretty awesome. [The usual caveat for dark, blurry photos that don't really convey the "feel" of the place applies]

There was also an interesting beach. Maybe.

Some cool mountains over there, I think. Behind the mist and the rain.

And... 13 hours later, I was back at my hostel and preparing for my journey home the next morning.

I want to go back. I'll just hope for a little bit more sun next time.

The End.
(but only for 2015)
(because obviously I'm going to be going back to Europe a lot through my life)
(and to other places in the world too)
(and I'll probably even blog about it)
(if I can muster up the energy)
(as the Bard said: 'tis easier to travel than to blog about said travels)
(he was right)
(but I'll still try anyways)
(hope you enjoyed it)
(have a good day)
(don't stop reading though)
(there'll be more to come)
(here's to more travels and more adventures)








(Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër? See the løveli lakes The wøndërful telephøne system And mäni interesting furry animals)
(including the majestik møøse)
 (A Møøse once bit my sister... No realli!)

(good night)