New Year’s Eve at the Grand Canyon

Here’s an idea for your next New Year’s Eve. The Grand Canyon. I sorta accidentally stumbled into it this year but it was quite fabulous.

I hadn’t realized that this was a thing, but folks come here every year to celebrate the coming of the new year.

I was very fortunate to be able to score a last minute room at the famous El Tovar lodge right on the rim (I had been checking for a couple months and it had been all booked). It was still all decked out for Christmas so that was cool also.

I was also able to sweet talk the hostess into a last minute dinner reservation at the El Tovar Dining Room which is one of the finest places to eat anywhere in my opinion.

The Grand Canyon views were exceptional with clear skies and snow everywhere. The Rim Trail was very icy but that made it all the more fun.

To top it all off, the concessionaire companies threw New Year’s Eve parties. Xanterea had live music at the Bright Angel Lodge, but Delaware North and their DJ proved they could party harder at Yavapai Lodge.

All in all, an unexpectedly wonderful day and evening. Happy New Year! rk

Picture of the Day: Grand Canyon Sunset

The Grand Canyon is a magical place to be at sunset. As the sun sets over the horizon the light is sucked out of the canyon but not before it puts on one last show of reds and oranges lighting up the massive canyon. Every second the light changes and will put your focus on another one of the infinite rock formations before you. The Grand Canyon isn’t just a place to see but to experience and every day there is an unforgettable experience. If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon then get out and go right now.

Thanks! – Josh

Friday Favorites: The Grand Canyon

I love the Grand Canyon. It is God’s creation at its finest. Most visitors see the iconic views from the edge of the canyon, but never see the Colorado River that formed it. This video was taken from the South Kaibab Trail where you can see the foot bridges crossing the river. If you can see in the distance downstream, there is a second foot bridge that takes you back to the top via the Bright Angel Trail.

read about this hike here:

Picture of the Day: Bison in Waterton Lakes

A baby bison and it’s mom enjoying the views! 

     Yellowstone’s wolves are one of the most popular examples of a successful species reintroduction in North America! Another popular example would be the California Condor who was once considered extinct in the wild and now has a population approaching 500! I have been lucky enough to see both the wolves of Yellowstone and a California Condor (at the Grand Canyon!). On our recent trip to Waterton Lakes in Alberta we got lucky again and saw a small bison herd that was reintroduced into the Canadian plains in 2014! Still being quite the small herd and an ongoing process of reintroduction I am excited to see how the bison thrive in their old Canadian home! 
Thanks! – Josh

The Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States

Everyone has heard of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, right?   I thought it would be interesting to look at the Seven Natural Wonders of the United States.   Since I haven’t made it to Alaska or Hawaii yet, I will narrow this down to the Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States.  Each of these places is magnificent and has been protected by our National Park System

  • Crater Lake – Crater Lake, located in Oregon, is the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1949 feet.  When measured by average depth, Crater Lake is the deepest in this hemisphere and 3rd deepest in the world.  Crater Lake was formed when a volcanic caldera filled with water over hundreds of years.  This lake is also known for its extreme water clarity.

Crater Lake (photo credit to guest photographer and friend, Katie)

  • The Everglades –  The Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.  Covering 1.5 million acres in southern Florida, this area is also known as a river of grass.  The Everglades used to consist of over 3 million acres before much of the area was drained for farmland in the early 1900’s.   This area is home to alligators, manatees, and the Florida Panther.
  • The Giant Sequoias and Redwoods – These enormous trees in California are the tallest and largest trees in the world.  These two species are closely related.  The Redwoods can reach heights of 375 feet and diameters of 25 feet.  The Giant Sequoias can reach heights of 275 feet and diameters of 30 feet.  These trees truely must be seen to be believed.

Redwood trees in Muir Woods 15 minutes north of San Francisco

  • The Geothermal Features of Yellowstone – Located in northwest Wyoming, Yellowstone is an unearthly place.  The first explorers of the area brought back tales of exploding geysers, colorful pools of hot and poisonous water, and boiling mud that were not believed.  We now know that this area sits upon a super volcano that will one day destroy much of North America when it erupts again.  In the meantime, it is a beautiful and mesmerizing place to visit.

Hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

  • Death Valley – The commonly held image of Death Valley is of a swelteringly hot wasteland.  While it is true summer temps here can top out at 130*F, there is a lot to be amazed at here.  Badwater Basin in the center of the park is a giant salt flat and at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America.  Telescope Peak rises directly behind Badwater Basin to a height of 11043 feet.  The only population of the rarest fish in the world exists in Death Valley.  There are less than 200 Devil’s Hole Pupfish left.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley

  • The Arches of Utah – The highest concentration of rock arches in the world is in Utah.  Arches National Park has over 2000 arches alone with thousands more spread out across southern Utah.  Landscape Arch spans 290 feet.  Rainbow Bridge boasts a height of 290 feet.  Delicate Arch is arguably the most famous in the world.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

  • The Grand Canyon – The Grand Canyon is the only member of this list that is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  It is located in northern Arizona and was carved over a millennia by the Colorado River.  The Grand Canyon has a length of 277 miles, width up to 18 miles and a depth of  6093 feet.  To appreciate the Grand Canyon in all of it’s glory you will want to hike or mule down to the Colorado River.

Sunrise at Mather Point in the Grand Canyon


The Ten Best National Park Gateway Towns:

The National Park gateway towns are more than just a place to grab a quick meal or a shower.  Many of them have become full fledged tourist destinations of their own.  Of course, as they become more hip and popular with tourists, they can lose some of the vibe that made them popular in the first place.

Any list like this is subjective of course.  I have visits to several of these gateway towns scheduled in the next 60 days to possibly change my opinion and move up or down the list.  Without further ado:

Honorable Mention) Key West FL:  Key West is the jump off point to Dry Tortugas National Park. This town can get overwhelmed by partying tourists from the cruise ships that stop here.

10) Springdale UT:  Located at the west entrance to Zion National Park, this small town is as beautiful as it is congested.

9) Gatlinburg TN: Gatlinburg is known for having the most pancake houses per capita almost as much as for being the gateway to ultra popular Smoky Mountains National Park.

8) Gardiner MT: Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP, near Mammoth Hot Springs.  This small town feels more authentic and less tourist trap. I had some great pizza here once at Yellowstone Pizza Company.

The Roosevelt Arch as you leave Gardiner and enter Yellowstone NP

7) Williams AZ: This iconic Route 66 town is almost an hour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s a little farther than most on this list, but the Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from here to the Grand Canyon Village.


Williams AZ on a snowy day.

6) Port Angeles WA: This small seaside town is a great base to explore the massive Olympic National Park. Port Angeles also features a ferry to beautiful Victoria BC.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles

5) Durango CO: This wild west town is the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. The historic Main Street is a great place to explore.

4) Whitefish MT: Whitefish is the gateway to gorgeous Glacier National Park. Wander Main Street and visit the many coffee shops and enjoy the lively art scene.

3) Moab UT: Moab is not the gateway to one National Park, but two: Arches and Canyonlands. This small desert town on the Colorado River is popular with bikers and off-road jeep enthusiasts.

My son Grant near “Tow-Mater” in Moab

2) Jackson WY: Jackson is ideally located at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The town square with elk antler arches is a great photo op before dining in one of the many fine dining establishments.

An arch made of elk antlers in Jackson WY

1) Bar Harbor ME: This quintessential New England coastal town is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Combine fresh Maine lobster and the unique low tide trek to neighboring Bar Island for a great time. I love the vibe here.

Beautiful Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island


10 Things You Must See and Do at The Grand Canyon

1)  Walk the Rim Trail.   This is where you see all the postcard worthy views as this trail runs along the edge of the south rim.   There are shuttle bus stops all along the trail.   I would recommend parking at the Visitors Center.   Walking the length of the trail to Hermits Rest.   Take the shuttle to the opposite end of the trail (South Kaibab Trailhead) and then walk back to the Visitors Center.   One way the Rim Trail is 12.6 miles.


2)  Eat at the El Tovar Dining Room.   El Tovar is an architectural masterpiece located directly on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.   Arguably it is the finest hotel in the National Park system.    The El Tovar Dining Room has incredible views to go along with delicious food and an extensive wine list.   I cannot recommend this restaurant enough.

3)  Get a drink at the bar at the North Rim.   Many visitors to the Grand Canyon only visit the South Rim.   Don’t make that mistake.   The drive from the North Rim to the South Rim takes about 4 hours, but you will be awed by the scenery around you the entire time.   The pace at the North Rim seems to be a little slower and the people a little friendlier.   After spending time hiking, taking time to chill at the Roughrider Saloon with a cold beverage is hard to beat.

4)  Hike down to the Colorado River.   Or if you have to, ride the mules down.   As amazing as the vistas are from the rim, looking up from the Colorado River is even more memorable.   I would recommend going down the South Kaibab trail and returning via Bright Angel Trail.   This can be done in a day during the shoulder seasons if you are in shape, but don’t try it in the heat of the summer.   The NPS recommends you get an overnight permit to camp at the bottom.   Round trip this is close to 16 miles (with 8 of it seemingly straight up) so it is difficult to do in a day.


5)  See the sunrise at Mather Point.    Mather Point is the iconic place to see the Grand Canyon.   It is on the Rim Trail and basically right behind the Visitors Center.   Crowds here can be very heavy with everyone trying to get that perfect selfie.   Beat the crowds and get here early for sunrise.   At sunrise you can have the place all to yourself.


6)  See the movie at the South Rim Visitor Center.   Normally I skip the Visitor Center movies, but I was glad I watched this one.   The history of the canyon is interesting and if you can’t make it to the bottom, you can at least see what it looks like in the movie.

7)  Watch for wildlife.    I have been fortunate at the South Rim to see California condors, mountain goats, elk, deer and coyotes.   At the North Rim they have an entire bison herd.   It’s really exciting to see wildlife up close.


8)  See the stars on a clear night with a new moon.   In the majority of the USA, you cannot see the Milky Way or even pick out more than 40-50 stars in the sky because of all the light pollution.   That is not a problem in most of the National Parks out west.   If you are fortunate enough to visit during a new moon, set your alarm and come out at night to be amazed by the millions of stars you can see.

9)  Tour the Hopi House.   The Hopi House is right across the street from El Tovar.  It is in a historic building and seems something like a cross between a museum and a gift shop.   It is a pretty cool place.

10)  Stay onsite.   Whether you stay at El Tovar or one of the other lodges onsite or camp at Phantom Ranch at the bottom, stay onsite to beat the crowds and to get the full Grand Canyon experience.


Picture of the Day – Grand Canyon North Rim

The Grand Canyon is one of the United States’ most popular destinations and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is also one of my favorite places I have ever been. The vastness of the canyon is breathtaking and makes you realize how small you really are. This picture is from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which is far less visited than the south rim. Almost directly straight across is the Bright Angel trail leading up to the South Rim from the canyon floor. 

Thanks! – Josh

Panoramic Pictures across the USA

I am always surprised by the quality of iPhone pictures.  I had some panoramic pictures that I had taken with my iPhone that I wanted to share.   I hope you enjoy.


This panorama was taken in February in Silverthorne CO.   I learned that I cannot ski at all on this trip.


This panorama was taken on the sand bar in between Bar Island and Mt. Desert Island in Maine.   At low tide you can cross to Bar Island, but you only have a couple hour window to get back or you are stranded until the next low tide.


This panoramic picture was taken from Dante’s View looking down at Badwater Basin with Telescope Peak in the distance.  What a gorgeous view.


Last but not least, a panoramic picture of sunrise at Mather Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.   I look pretty content there.