Utah & Wyoming - June 2017
(+ Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Nevada)

Wednesday, 31 May, home --> Salt Lake City

Chris had a week of flight testing at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, west of Salt Lake City.  We decided to add on a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons before the flight testing began, and visit to southern Utah to see all the parks there, before heading to Las Vegas to end the mini-vacation.  We had originally planned to fly together to Las Vegas and pick up a rental car there, so we could do a local rental for this trip and avoid any one-way charges, so we could start and end this trip in Las Vegas.  However, Chris had a demo at work on the afternoon of Wednesday, 31 May, so he could not leave until later in the day.  That would have meant a VERY long drive on Thursday from Las Vegas to Yellowstone, so we split up for the beginning of the trip.  Chris drove Tami to the airport early on Wednesday and she flew to Las Vegas to pick up the car. She then drove north to meet Chris in the evening in Salt Lake City.  Chris went to work, completed what needed to get done, and then flew later in the day to Salt Lake City, where Tami met him at the airport.  We spent the night at a hotel in Salt Lake City, and then left from there the next morning to drive to Yellowstone National Park.  

Thursday, 1 June, Salt Lake City --> Yellowstone National Park

We drove from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, via Idaho and West Yellowstone, Montana, arriving at the west entrance to Yellowstone.  We bought some wine on the way into the park, and stopped at Madison Junction to see buffalo up close, drove the Firehole River side road, then Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, and a few other spots along the Grand Loop before arriving at the Old Faithful Inn.  We stayed for two nights at the Old Faithful Inn, and our room was just down the hall from the lobby, on the second floor. The lobby of the Old Faithful Inn is incredible, with its natural posts and beams and huge fireplace.  We found a great spot on the deck out front, ordered several huckleberry margaritas each, and watched Old Faithful erupt a few times until it got dark.  We had dinner at the restaurant at the Inn, and then retired to the second floor balcony inside to play cards while drinking wine, along with many other guests doing the same thing.  It was a great evening.  There are no TVs in the rooms, and the lady at the gift shop said they sell lots of card decks in the evenings as people look for a way to pass the time.


Friday, 2 June, Yellowstone National Park

We got up this morning, had breakfast at the Inn, and then hiked up to the upper viewpoint above the Upper Geyser Basin, looking down on the entire Old Faithful area.  It is a great spot for watching Old Faithful and to get away from the crowds a bit, and it is only about a 1.5 mile hike round-trip.  We then headed to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we had lunch with Chris' cousins Jim and Patti.  Chris had not seen them in 20 years, and Tami had never met them. They live in West Yellowstone, but had not been home the day before when we entered the park. It was good visit, and we took some pictures to share with family.  We then continued on around the Grand Loop drive going clockwise.  About half-way from Mammoth to Tower, we saw our first bear for this trip.  It was a black bear swimming in Phantom Lake, next to the road.  He got out of the lake and walked right by us (and the hundreds of other tourists pulled over to watch).  A few miles further on, we saw another black bear, again with lots of tourists watching.  Then a few miles later, we saw a mom bear and her two cubs.  These bears were off a side road, so there were less people joining in this bear-watching event.  That was five black bears in less than 10 miles and an hour.  This video shows the first black bear and the mom bear with her two cubs.  We continued on around to Tower Junction then Tower Fall, walked down to the Tower Fall overlook, and on around past Mt Washburn (which was still closed due to snow) and to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  We stopped at several spots on both sides of the canyon, then headed south through Hayden Valley.  At the south end of Hayden Valley we saw a grizzly bear just off the road, near Mud Volcano.  We stopped at Fishing Bridge, and then drove along the shore of Yellowstone Lake, past West Thumb, and back to Old Faithful.  We made it in time for dinner at the Old Faithful Inn again, then more wine and cards on the second level of the lobby.


Saturday, 3 June, Yellowstone National Park --> Grand Tetons National Park --> Jackson

We had breakfast at the Inn, checked out, and walked up to the Old Faithful boardwalk to watch it erupt up close.  We left, heading east then south to Jackson, Wyoming, going through the Grand Tetons.  We stopped at West Thumb Geyser Basin and walked around that boardwalk before continuing on, out the south entrance into Grand Tetons National Park.  On the way out the south entrance, we stopped at the Lewis Falls overlook, and Chris took his Lewis River photo, the same photo he has taken on every visit to Yellowstone.  Here they are by year:

<scan photo>
1985, June (Nikon FE2 scan) 1987, July (Nikon FE2 scan) 2009, August (Nikon D80) 2012, August (Nikon D80) 2017, June (Nikon D7100)

We drove all the scenic routes through the Tetons, including visiting Signal Mountain, Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake, and Moose.  We made it into Jackson, checked into our hotel, and then went to Local, the restaurant we had eaten at the last time we visited Jackson, in 2012.  All our sons had ordered the buffalo burger on that visit and said it was the best burger they had ever had.  We tried it on this trip and agreed that it was very good.  We bar-hopped that evening, trying drinks in several places, before turning in late.


Sunday, 4 June, Jackson --> Salt Lake City

We checked out and drove over to Snow King Mountain, just a few blocks from downtown Jackson.  In 2009, Tami, Chris, and Nathan had ridden the alpine slide, and we wanted to try that again.  Snow King Mountain has added some other attractions for summer use, so we also road the cowboy coaster. This video shows our ride on the alpine slide and cowboy coaster.  We drove south out of town, retracing our 2009 trip in reverse, going though Afton with its giant elk antler arch across the middle of the road, then past Bear Lake, and finally west and south into Salt Lake City.  That is a very enjoyable drive with great scenery the whole way.  We arrived into Salt Lake City, checked into our hotel near Temple Square, and went to Red Iguana for dinner.  If you have only one meal to eat in Salt Lake City, it should be at Red Iguana.  We have tried lots of restaurants in Salt Lake City, and some may be better (maybe?), but the history and atmosphere of Red Iguana needs to be experienced at least once.  This was Tami's second visit to Red Iguana. Chris has lost count; he has eaten there many times, on many visits to Dugway Proving Grounds.


Monday, 5 June – Friday, 16 June, Salt Lake City

Flight testing was scheduled to last a week, but mechanical problems and weather extended that to two weeks.  Tami explored Salt Lake City while Chris was at flight test all day, then we would try different restaurants each evening.  On a few days when weather at Dugway halted testing early, we managed to explore a few hiking trails in the mountains just east of Salt Lake City in the afternoons before it got dark.  We also visited Park City one evening, but did not stay long.  We hiked in Big Cottonwood Canyon on a couple afternoons, including Donut Falls and Silver Lake, and did a four mile hike from Aspen Grove to Stewart Falls on Sunday, 11 June.


 Saturday, 17 June, Salt Lake City --> Moab

Flight testing was done, and we began the second half of our mini-vacation.  We started with four days in southern Utah in several national and state parks, and finished with four days in Las Vegas at the Bellagio.  This was a good way to trade off between outdoor adventure and resort luxury.  We began with a drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah. Chris has been to Moab many times, but this was Tami's first visit.  We checked into our hotel in Moab, then headed back north out of town a few miles to Arches National Park.  We drove to Devil's Garden and hiked out to Landscape Arch in the afternoon, and stopped by the Windows section.  We returned to Moab and had dinner, then Chris drove back to Arches for a night hike up to Delicate Arch, for several hours of photography.  There were several other hikers next to Delicate Arch taking night time long exposure photos, which is what Chris has done in the past and did again on this night.  The Milky Way was the brightest that Chris had ever seen on this night, and the photos turned out well.



Sunday, 18 June, Moab

We had breakfast at the hotel and then drove to the Corona Arch trailhead on the Potash Road, west of Moab.  Chris had hiked out to Corona Arch on his last visit to Moab, and thought this would be a good hike for both of us.  There is a short section where you have to climb up some very steep slick-rock using steel cable and foot-holes in the rock for one section, then a short ladder for a another 6 foot climb, but the rest of this trail is over open terrain and is easy.  This is also not nearly as busy as Delicate Arch, so we did not have to fight any weekend crowds.  We saw less than 10 people on the whole hike, and had the arch all to ourselves when we were at the arch.  We returned to the car and drove to Jug Handle Arch to begin the drive up Long Canyon Road to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park.  We made it almost all the way to the top of the rim, but our rental car was just not up to the very last section in Pucker Pass.  The road is maintained pretty well, but there are sections that can get washed out, and we could not get up that last section at the top.  This video shows our drive up Long Canyon Road, the turn-around at almost the top, and the return all the way to the bottom.  We did make it past the huge rock overhanging the road just before Pucker Pass, but could not make it past a washed out section with a two foot climb over rocks.  On the way down, at about 7:30 into the video, a big-horn sheep crossed the road directly in front of us.  We returned to the Potash Road and had lunch at picnic table next to the Colorado River, directly across from the Corona Arch trailhead.  We then drove the long way around to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park, and spent several hours in those two parks, including hiking out to Mesa Arch, and driving all the way to Grandview Point.  We were trying to decide if we wanted to hike out to the Grandview Point tip, but found out that the gnats were terrible in Canyonlands; you could not get out of the car without inhaling a mouthful.  The short Mesa Arch trail had a few, but they were swarming at Grandview Point.  We drove back to Moab and had dinner at a restaurant down the street from our hotel.

Corona Arch

Jug Handle Arch - Long Canyon Road - Dead Horse Point - Mesa Arch - Grandview Point

Dead Horse Point

Monday, 19 June, Moab --> Torrey

We checked out of our hotel in Moab, and drove to the trailhead for Delicate Arch.  Even on a Monday, early in the morning, it was packed.  The parking lot was almost full when we arrived and the trail was overflowing with people.  We made it to the main viewing area, and then Chris headed out on his own to the alternate viewing spots he uses for photos; across from Delicate Arch on high ground on a cliff, in the bowl below the Arch, and everywhere in between.  After taking lots of photos and relaxing a while, we headed back to the car and drove north to I-70, then west through Green River, until we reached the San Rafael Swell.  We turned south off of I-70 and visited Goblin Valley State Park.  Chris has visited here in 2012, and it is a neat little park with lots of hoodoos.  It is where part of Galaxy Quest was filmed.  We then continuing on south and west, through Capitol Reef National Park, to our hotel in Torrey.  We were planning on checking in, then heading back to Capitol Reef to hike up to Hickman Bridge.  When we arrived at our hotel, we found that that there had been a water line break in Torrey just a few days before.  There was no water in the whole town and all the restaurants were closed.  The hotel was allowing cancellations with no fee, so we drove on with no real plan.  We found a hotel further in town that had a grill and a pool.  We bought some steaks and potato salad from the grocery store next to the hotel, grilled the steaks with some other folks who were grilling their dinner, shared our wine with them, and then relaxed in the pool.  As we were checking into the hotel, a man also checking in saw Chris' USAFA t-shirt and said "Hey, I went there."  It turned out he was a 1977 USAFA graduate, so he and Chris had a short conversation before we went to grill food.  While we were floating in the pool, we talked to some tourists from Venice, Italy, who ate every Friday night at our favorite Venice restaurant.  We had a couple bottles of wine with dinner and while in the pool, but we never did make it back to Capitol Reef for that short hike to Hickman Bridge.

Delicate Arch

Goblin Valley

Tuesday, 20 June, Torrey --> Bryce Canyon National Park

We drove south out of Torrey, passing Lion Mountain, and then into Boulder.  We decided to try Hell’s Backbone Road from Boulder to Escalante. Chris had driven route as between Boulder and Escalante many times, so he wanted to try something different.  Unless you really want to see Hell's Backbone Bridge, route 12 is the much better drive. The views are nicer, it is paved the whole way, and there are lots of things to see in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. We arrived into Escalante and had a great lunch, then visited the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument visitor center to get directions to Willis Creek slot canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park.  We drove to Willis Creek, and spent a couple hours hiking that neat slot canyon.   As we were just finishing the hike, Tami squealed as she almost stepped on a snake and jumped back.  We made it out, then drove the last few miles to Bryce Canyon National Park, where we checked into the Lodge, watched sunset from Sunset Point, and had dinner at Bryce Canyon Lodge.

Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument - Lion Mountain Panorama - Bryce Canyon Sunset Point

Hell's Backbone Bridge

Willis Creek Slot Canyon - snake in the water

Wednesday, 21 June, Bryce Canyon National Park --> Las Vegas

We drove over to Inspiration Point for some morning photos, then left the park and headed west and south to Zion National Park.  We entered the park at the east entrance on Mt Carmel Highway, and drove through the park to the main entrance in Springdale.  Here is a video of that drive through Zion National Park on Mt Carmel Highway. We stopped at Canyon View, where Chris hiked out to the observation point, but did not enter the main valley of the park.  We continued on south and east, passing through St George, arriving at our hotel in Las Vegas, the Bellagio.  We checked in, relaxed, then had dinner at Lago, a restaurant in the hotel with great views of the fountains.

Bryce Canyon Inspiration Point (Android Cardboard Camera Panorama / D7100 photos joined with Autostitch)

Sunset Point - Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Canyon View, Zion National Park

Thursday and Friday, 22 - 23 June, Las Vegas

We spent most of the first two days in Las Vegas sitting by and in the pool, relaxing with boat drinks and wine.  We had dinner on Thursday at Mon Ami Gabi, a French bistro at the Paris hotel across the street from our hotel.  We sat on the patio with a great view of the Fountains of Bellagio, and people watched too.  Their escargot is very good, and the Paris Romance cocktail is great; it is not on the menu anymore but our waitress knew exactly what we wanted when we described it from our last visit.  We had dinner on Friday night at Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant in The Cosmopolitan, next door to our hotel.  This is a timelapse video of the Las Vegas Strip and the Fountains of Bellagio from our room on two nights.

Saturday and Sunday, 24 - 25 June, Las Vegas

We left the Strip on Saturday, driving around Las Vegas.  We headed out to our neighborhood we had lived in from 1993 to 1997. As we were stopped in front of our old house, our next door neighbor and friend, Dan, pulled up into his driveway.  He invited us in and we spent quite a while visiting.  We returned to the hotel, and began a tapas crawl around several bars and restaurants that evening.  We slept in on Sunday, went to the pool for a little bit in the early afternoon, then headed for the airport for our flight home.