10 days, 10 states: Hiking the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

“It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow” -Ebenezer Bryce, early settler

Amidst a gaggle of peace-sign obsessed Japanese tourists assembled for the sunrise on Bryce Point, an elderly man with a cane somehow managed to glacially sneak up on me.

“That,” he breathlessly stammered as we watched the rising sun dance upon the red rocks of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater, “is exactly what I came here for.”

Still alarmed by his stealthy presence, I smiled as he slid a shaky hand into his jacket pocket and eventually emerged with a yellow, disposable Kodak camera. A well placed eye in the viewfinder, a solitary click, a lingering moment of reflection, and the man turned back towards the parking lot with the air of having said goodbye.

Though the moment was fleeting, a profound point had been made: Bryce Canyon, Utah is the type of place you see before you die.

Staring out into the abyssal “how-on-Earth-did-it-get-like-that” geology of the amphitheater walls, it’s a surreal feeling to be standing in one of the last places in the contiguous 48 states to be explored by modern man.

Once the dwelling of the Fremont and Paiute tribes, it was Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who first forayed into the mysterious canyon in the 1870’s in search of suitable ranching and grazing lands. Settling in a primitive one room cabin at the base of a landscape completely foreign to westward expansionists, it was Bryce who is rumored to have made the astute statement regarding the lost cow.

At an air-sucking and frigid elevation that ranges from 8000-9000 feet, all cows aside, I feel that Bryce Canyon would be a hell of a place to try and live in a one room cabin in the middle of nowhere. Although set out in the middle of the desert, the weather forecast is calling for snow.

%Gallery-138990%While snow in the desert is always a counterintuitive concept, it’s this combination of cold temperatures and desert snow that gives birth to the unearthly rock formations that dominate the canyon. Melting snow or rainwater will slowly seep its way into fine cracks in the sedimentary rock, and as the temperature drops and the water freezes, the expanding ice will wedge the rock apart until it erodes to the valley floor below.

The result of this liquid assault is rock spires called hoodoos that can tower up to 200 feet over the red canyon floor. According to Paiute mythology, the hoodoos are the frozen remains of the Legend People who were turned to stone by that old southwestern trickster, the coyote.
Descending below the canyon rim on the short but steep Navajo Loop trail, it’s a theory that doesn’t require stretching your imagination.

Ambling down “Wall Street”, the narrow section of trail where the vertical walls of the canyon reduce the trail to a shoulder-width red sliver, I almost expect to see some “Occupy Bryce Canyon” protesters squatting in the canyon recesses. Instead, I round the bend and find two towering spruce trees well over a hundred feet tall leading a lonely existence in an environment otherwise devoid of green life. Though only 7:30am, it’s not the first time today I find myself scratching my head asking “how?”

Though intriguing, I didn’t walk this trail to ponder over spruce trees. I came for something bigger. Something manlier. Something that would make me feel like a conqueror.

I came here to stand beneath Thor’s Hammer.

Ridiculous, I know. It’s just a rock. But it’s the rock with the best name of any natural formation that I’ve seen yet since setting out to explore “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”. Simply standing beneath Thor’s Hammer makes me want to sail ships and eat meat. It makes me want to pillage.

There would be no pillaging in this canyon, however. At least not today. I came to Bryce Canyon to catch the sunrise, and to gaze at one of darkest skies in the country while nestled in a cold but star-kissed tent.

I came to Bryce Canyon to hike amongst the hoodoos and reflect on isolation.

I came to Bryce Canyon to see it before I die.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

10 days, 10 states: Durango, Colorado

“I’m going back to Colorado, rolling down the highway, just my life to carry, it’s written in the wind again” -Ozark Mountain Daredevils

From the corner barstool of Carver Brewing Co., my earthy colored oatmeal stout is a welcome compliment to the outdoor mountain air. Set in the heart of Durango, Colorado’s gridlined downtown, the eclectic crowd of trendy college students and weather-hardened ranchers is mirthfully keeping the craft-brewed taps flowing.

Aside from being the dark, perfectly roasted flavor of my Iron Horse stout, the flavor of oatmeal is an apt metaphor for what is southwestern Colorado’s largest town; home to a population of 16,000 residents, Durango is large enough to be eventful, but small enough to seem homey. Like the porridge, it’s just about right.

I’ve come to Durango whilst researching, “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, and during a leisurely amble down the banks of the Animas River, its brisk waters aglow with fallen yellow leaves, it’s a safe bet to say that this town is really growing on me. Fast.

First populated by the Anasazi tribes, Native Americans whose cavernous stone cliff dwellings have made nearby Mesa Verde National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durango became a Western boomtown when gold was discovered in the nearby San Juan mountains.Though the gold was fleeting, the iron rails were not, and by 1881 trains were officially linking Durango to the rest of the wild west.

Over my morning cup of coffee, an extra large to-go style cup from one of the historic downtown’s many artsy cafes, I find myself standing with a railroad operator who’s manning the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A 45-mile system of track that weaves its way between the two historic mining towns, the train has been described by various outlets as being the best train ride in all of North America. Using original locomotives from the 1920’s still propelled by steam and coal, the line has swapped cars full of mineral ores and precious metals for camera-toting tourists who’ve come to salivate over the view of the snow-covered high mountain passes.

%Gallery-139132%Relishing the last few drops of my coffee, I watch in romantic awe as wide, white puffs of smoke explode from the front of the train and linger in the frozen morning air. As carloads of families thunder by me, all of them embarking on a legendary foray through the San Juans, I realize that I, too, want to be toting a camera aboard the train. I want to salivate over that view.

In fact, as I retrace my steps towards Rotary Park, the type of calming, riverside open space you’d expect to find in a college town (Fort Lewis College keeps Durango vibrant and young), I am loathe to leave this Rocky Mountain hamlet. Sure, I have the rest of the country to go and explore, but for the time being, I like it here. And I really want to stay.

Much of the chatter around the brewpub in town, I noticed, was centered around two central topics: how good the mountain biking had been that past summer, and how good the winter was shaping up to be at nearby Durango Mountain Resort, the local ski slope and recreation paradise just twenty minutes outside of town.

These, I noted, are both things I really enjoy doing. I like biking, I like boarding, and I really love a good brewery. I like small towns where you can wander down main street to peruse the galleries of award winning photographers, yet that are only twenty miles removed from open countryside where you might stumble upon something as classically western as a fast-paced livestock auction.

With winter bearing down on my new favorite mountain town, however, it’s time to once again slink behind the wheel and head south for warmer climes; there’s a freedom in these mountains, and it makes me want to drive.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

10 days, 10 states: Ruby Mountains, Nevada

-“Shine on, Ruby mountain, from the valley to the sea. Shine on, Ruby mountain, shine your sweet love down on me” -Kenny Rogers, Shine On, Ruby Mountain-

The first time I ever heard of Elko, Nevada was when I was eight years old. As a big-haired tot growing up on the island of Maui, a place where the weather page is nearly always stuck on “warm and tropical”, I was obsessed with the multicolored national weather page of lands far, far away.

During certain months of the year, I would notice on the national temperature map there was always this dark blue, maybe even violet circle hovering in the middle of Nevada–a place that looked eerily colder than the rest. Smack in the center of that cold, violet bubble was always a town I had not visited until today: Elko, Nevada.

As school got harder and life got faster, my fascination with the great blue blob of Elko, Nevada slowly faded away. That was until three months ago when I found myself at a California wedding in the company of a couple of ranchers from, where else, but Elko, Nevada.

“Elko, huh. Isn’t that the really cold place in Nevada?” I confidently slurred, the pour-your-own sangria bar having a noticeable effect on my social willingness to engage.

“Nah, last year it was only -18 at the coldest. I love Elko, though. I wouldn’t live anywhere else”, offered the rancher in his tightest pair of Wranglers.

“Wouldn’t ever leave Elko, eh? And why’s that?”

“Well we’ve got the Ruby Mountains“.

As a map obsessed child who could rattle off every world capital by the age of 3 sort of guy, I was taken aback at the prospect of there being an American mountain range with which I was unfamiliar.

The Ruby Mountains.

As the wedding ended and the weeks wore on, I did what any self-respecting travel blogger would do and I Google searched them. Even after some research, I simply couldn’t shake the allure of these mystery mountains in the middle of the cold dark blob.

%Gallery-138739%Striking out on the road for 10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights, I finally decided I would go and pay a visit to these Elko mountains of lore and drive from Lake Tahoe, California into the high desert hills of northeastern Nevada.

80 miles long by 12 miles wide, the Rubies I found out are known as “The Swiss Alps of Nevada”. As I stand in the glacial confines of Lamoille Canyon, a 12 mile scenic byway that cuts a deep wedge into the mountain range, it isn’t hard to see why.

The white, snowy peak of 11,327 ft. Ruby Dome stands in stark contrast to the yellows of the fall leaves dancing amongst the canyon. Numerous hiking trails depart from the canyon road and connect back in the mountains with larger treks such as the 43-mile Ruby Crest Trail. Though the mountains are reputed to be rife with wildlife ranging from mountain goat to bighorn ram, the only creatures I encounter on my foray up the canyon are a herd of deer bounding through the autumn chill.

As an early season snowfall has brought plenty of the powder to the upper peaks, I am relegated to wandering the empty streams of the lower elevations of the canyon. Though comparable in beauty to the forested trails of my last stop on the trip, Lake Tahoe, I find that I have this trail refreshingly all to myself.

With the onset of winter I imagine that these mountains are going to be fairly empty and sleepy while the cold blue temperature blob parks itself over Elko for the winter.

Empty, undoubtedly, but as I would come to find out, these mountains are anything but sleepy, even in the depths of winter. Although there are no chairlifts and exactly zero ski resorts, who would have guessed that the Ruby Mountains are one of the premier places in the western US for the extreme sport of heli-skiing.

That’s right. Heli-skiing. In the Great Basin of Nevada. With an entire range of peaks that top out over 11,000 feet, that makes the Rubies higher than any groomed run found in all of Lake Tahoe.

As is typical of finding myself in a new place, I am struck with the overwhelming urge to suddenly do everything these mountains have to offer; I am drunk on the adrenaline fueled urge to mountain bike, to rappel, and to hunt, which is strange because I don’t actually hunt.

As is the case with a 10-day road trip across the country, however, my mobility does not afford me the time to linger. For this reason if I bump into you on the street and you ask me where I’m headed next, I’d say that I’d love to go back to Elko, Nevada?


Because it has the Ruby Mountains.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

New Gadling travel series: 10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights

Here at Gadling we often discuss intriguing international destinations. In the last month or so alone, Sean has snorted chocolate in Belgium, Jessica has walked us down the coast in Ghana, Alex has driven into the capital of Armenia, and I have climbed the highest mountain on the island of Hong Kong.

Although I love scouring the far reaches of the planet as much as the next travel addict, there will forever be a romance about stepping behind the wheel of a car and setting off to explore the sights right here in our own backyard. As someone who grew up on a small island in Hawaii, an isolated paradise in which all roads lead to the sea, there is a certain freedom in the ability to drive from one end of the country to the other.

Much as Paul recently covered in his Traveling the American Road series, I am planning on embarking on a 10 day road trip from one side of the United States to the other, along the way highlighting 10 different locations in 10 different states that make this country beautiful, unique, and a great place to travel.

Some of these sights I’m sure you’ve heard of, others there’s a good chance you haven’t. That’s ok. Neither have I. There’s a certain irony in being an international vagabond who’s setting out to explore undiscovered wonders here in my own backyard. I’ve traversed the medina of Tangiers, Morocco and know my way around the grasslands of Bolivia, but I’ve never heard of the Ruby Mountains in Nevada; I’ve walked the Mullerthal Trail in Luxembourg, but have never set foot in Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge.

That is, until now. So feel free to ride shotgun with me as I take to the interstates and back roads to explore 10 of our 50 states, the third largest country in the world, this place we call the United States of America.

Follow Kyle on his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

10 days, 10 states: Lake Tahoe, California

“…As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole Earth affords…”
-Mark Twain, upon first viewing Lake Tahoe. Excerpted from his book, “Roughing It”

As anyone who has ever spent time in Lake Tahoe can attest to, Mark Twain had Tahoe pegged from the moment he first laid eyes upon it. Once Twain was done waxing philosophical about the clarity of its waters and pristine nature of its shores, however, he would go on to nearly burn the entire place down when his campfire raged out of control and gave rise to a massive forest fire.

Luckily for Mr. Twain, Tahoe managed to survive the blaze, and it continues to be the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts all across the West. If you’ve never paid a visit to this lake the Washoe Indians dubbed “Da-ow-a-ga”, (Big Water) it’s hard to properly describe the sheer magnitude of how big the largest alpine lake in North America really is.

Unlike the Great Lakes, you can, in fact, still see across to the other side. This is aided however by the lake being rung by the 9,000 ft. peaks of the Sierra Nevada that remain at least partially snowcapped for the entire year.

21 miles long by 12 miles wide (193 sq. miles), Lake Tahoe is officially larger than three of the eight main Hawaiian Islands (Kahoolawe, Ni’ihau, and Lana’i). Aside from its area, at 1,645 ft. deep, Lake Tahoe is also the second deepest lake in North America behind Oregon’s Crater Lake.

That’s great. It’s big, and it’s deep. But what exactly does that mean? Give me some perspective. Well to start with, if you were to somehow pull the plug on Lake Tahoe and allow its waters to drain across the valley floor, the volume would be enough to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 15 inches. Think about that. Every Californian, all 37 million of them from San Diego to Humboldt would have their basement sloshing under a foot of water.

%Gallery-138378%So what actually goes on in water that deep? Are there any fish down there? Is there anything down there? Although the lake does house some good sized mackinaw (lake trout) that hang out around 200-250 ft. down, it’s rumored that there is potentially something else that’s floating around at the deepest depths of the lake:

Dead Native American Indians and Chinese railroad workers.

That’s right. It could all be urban legend, but it’s reputed that throughout history there were times when warriors or workers who met an untimely end were simply cast into the frigid lake waters. As the water temperature at the deepest parts of the lake remains a constant 39 degrees Fahrenheit, the waters are sufficiently cold enough to keep human bodies from quickly decomposing.

Creepy depths of the lake aside, Lake Tahoe remains one of the premier spots in the Western US for outdoor recreation on land as well as on the water. During the winter months, Tahoe boasts no fewer than 12 ski resorts that are lauded as some of the best in all of North America, with Squaw Valley playing host to the Winter Olympics in 1960.

During the summer months, Tahoe is rife with outdoor summer adventures that range from standup paddling to mountain biking. The Flume Trail on the east shore of the lake is regarded as being one of the most scenic rides in the entire country, and as the fall foliage currently engulfs the lake basin I find it to be the perfect time of year for getting out and riding the Flume.

From the rampant development that lines the shoreline, however, it’s easy to deduce that the beauty of Tahoe is no longer really a secret. Although the lakeshore may be rung by mega-mansions (Incline Village), lakefront restaurants (the entire West Shore), and glitzy casinos (South Lake Tahoe), there is still one stretch of the lake that is uninterrupted in its rugged and natural beauty.

When George Whittell’s real estate magnate parents passed away and left him with a sizeable inheritance in the late 1920’s, the San Francisco eccentric took a lump sum of cash and purchased the entire east shore of Lake Tahoe. Upon the granite strewn shoreline he constructed his infamous retreat, the Thunderbird Lodge, an architectural wonderland of ornate stonework, hidden tunnels, and cascading man-made waterfalls.

As real estate interests along the lake grew, however, so did interest in acquiring the lands held by Mr. Whittell. In one of the state of Nevada’s landmark cases of eminent domain, the state seized the land from Mr. Whittell that now comprises Sand Harbor State Park. Finally reducing his estate to the 6 acres surrounding the Thunderbird Lodge, the east shore of the lake ended up in the hands of the state of Nevada and has been exquisitely preserved as a state park system that offers some of the best beaches along the entire lake.

It’s just off of these beaches I find myself gliding along on a dull red kayak, completely encircled by granite boulders, turquoise waters, and the yellows and oranges of the fall colors that dance their way down from the treetops. If I didn’t have the rest of the country to go and see, I would be more than content to simply find a patch of sand, read a little Twain, and stare out over one of the great natural wonders of the West.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.