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Winter is a great time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park: you can drive the roads, normally closed to all traffic except shuttle buses, and have the scenery all to yourself. Camping might be a little chilly, but the campground is open for those brave enough for snow camping (or lucky enough to have an RV). Roads can be icy and will close during storms, but you can still meander around. Trails can also be icy, but the year-round visitor center sells studded grips for your shoes, recommended for safety. A lot of the restaurants and hotels in the very tiny gateway town of Tropic will be closed for the season, but the planned resort community of Bryce (just outside the park entrance) is cozy and convenient.

Despite the extra effort visiting Bryce Canyon in the winter might entail, it’s well worth it to have the whole park, the red rock and the dramatic vistas, all to yourself. Visit the park’s website for more information, and definitely pop into the visitor center; the rangers are often bored this time of year and will happily chat you up about current hiking conditions and snowshoeing opportunities!

Below are my stark, dramatic, contrasting vision of this brilliant gem in Utah’s Canyon County:

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

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After a crazy drive through Utah, this is pretty much how I felt getting out of the car, even if snow and ice covered the spires and canyons of Bryce:

Bryce Canyon in the Snow!

Jumping For Joy!

Sure it’s the off season, and many amenities are conspicuously absent (and bathrooms conspicuously closed).

Look, it's right there!

There's a Canyon Out There Somewhere

But I’ve always loved national parks in the winter, the frozen time of year, the empty season.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Looking Out

You can really get a feel for a place when there are no tourists around; you can reach out and touch its soul.

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Camouflage

The people still there are people who call the place “home” and not “summer job” or “seasonal position.”

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

The hardy folk who are here through the snow and winds and endless winters and call it paradise.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

And in a place like Bryce Canyon, nestled in the desert and scrub of southern Utah, there is a silence in the spires that descends upon anyone who ventures into the canyons.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s calm and empty, and without the busloads of chattering visitors, you can actually hear the wind and the water and the rustling of beasts in the brush.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Winter is a great time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park: you can drive the roads, normally closed to all traffic except shuttle buses, and have the scenery all to yourself. Camping might be a little chilly, but the campground is open for those brave enough for snow camping (or lucky enough to have an RV). Roads can be icy and will close during storms, but you can still meander around. Trails can also be icy, but the year-round visitor center sells studded grips for your shoes, recommended for safety. A lot of the restaurants and hotels in the very tiny gateway town of Tropic will be closed for the season, but the planned resort community of Bryce (just outside the park entrance) is cozy and convenient.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Despite the extra effort visiting Bryce Canyon in the winter might entail, it’s well worth it to have the whole park, the red rock and the dramatic vistas, all to yourself. Visit the park’s website for more information, and definitely pop into the visitor center; the rangers are often bored this time of year and will happily chat you up about current hiking conditions and snowshoeing opportunities!

Bryce Canyon in the Snow!

The Sun Peaks Through...

 

Camping inside a national park can be a wonderful way to get to know a place. Many of the facilities are lovingly created to give visitors up-close encounters with what makes a particular park great: in Arches, you get to sleep in the nooks and crannies of slick rock and in the shadows of the arches; in Yellowstone, you sleep surrounded by elk and bison while listening to the lullabies of wolves; on Assateague Island, you can camp right on the beach. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Day 113 / 04.23.11

Camping on the Beach in Hawaii

But I often hesitate to make a commitment to NPS campgrounds, not because of a fear of wildlife or poor facilities, but because of my fellow campers. When they leave home to embark on an adventure, even the most upstanding of people can sometimes forget that while on vacation, you still have to be respectful of those around you. Parents who would never let their children wreak havoc in a restaurant at home suddenly let their offspring run rampant and uncontrolled through a geyser basin. People who have the utmost respect for the wildlife in their backyard are suddenly throwing rocks and honking at bison to get their attention for a better photo. Homeowners with manicured, private, fenced-in yards back in New Jersey will wander right onto the back porch of a national park local just to see an elk or because “I can’t see the stars from my hotel room” (this actually happened to me when I worked in Yellowstone and lived in Gardiner, MT, and the guy was so upset that I didn’t seem to want him standing next to my back door).

And campgrounds are no exception. But here is a short list of No-Nos for those of us who want to stay inside a national park in the future, inspired by the incidents I have observed most often while traveling:

1) Don’t stay up all night drinking and loudly reminiscing about your Greek experience in college or that one hunting trip about which you remember nothing, which must mean it was epic, right? Nobody else in the campground wants to hear about your glory days. That’s what national forest campgrounds are for (I’m kidding. Sort of).

2) Don’t wash your dirty bowls in bathroom sinks, especially if there’s a GIANT SIGN on the door that says, “Please do not wash dirty dishes in the bathroom sinks.” As someone who has worked for both the National Park Service and a concessionaire, I can honestly say that this rule isn’t there to inconvenience you or somehow weed out the experienced traveler from the novice, who actually follows the rules. Simply, the plumbing in park bathrooms are inevitably old and/or cheap (for valid budgetary reasons), and getting in there to clear out even the smallest food bits is difficult and costly (parks are already severely underfunded), especially in the high season. They most often provide a whole dishwashing tub right around the corner just for you, but if you think it’s too cold or too inconvenient, eat at a restaurant next time.

Our Campsite in Arches

The Campground in Arches National Park

3) Don’t run your generator at 4 am. The rest of us are just as cold/hot/hungry/sleepless/bored as you are, so grow some stones and deal with it until quiet hours are over.

4) Don’t let your children sing songs in their tent all morning long. You might think it’s adorable and a way to distract them while you’re doing other things, but your neighbors resent you. Tents may provide some privacy, but they definitely are NOT soundproof.

5) Don’t leave your cars keys somewhere in your tent where you can roll over on them and accidentally set off your car alarm. Period.

6) Don’t answer your cell phone and proceed to stand next to another campsite because you don’t want to disturb the people at your own site. No one wants to hear your vapid conversation when you should be enjoying the natural beauty of our national parks.

7) Don’t leave food out. This is a big one that people never seen to grasp. It’s a serious danger in grizzly country (as in, people and bears both die). But it’s also dangerous to less aggressive wildlife in other parks, as well as being a general nuisance. You won’t think those magpies ravaging through your goods are quite as funny when a park ranger slaps you with a hefty ticket (and not paying it will result in a federal warrant issued for your arrest, so keep that time mind).

Glen Rosa Burning Tent

And please, don't burn down your tent in the morning; it's rude.

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Sometimes the most colorful story can only be captured in black and white.

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Lost Spring Canyon

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Lost Spring Canyon

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The Abandoned Ranch at Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Covert Arch in Lost Spring Canyon

On our way to Lost Spring Canyon

Abandoned Mine on the Way to Lost Spring Canyon

For more information on Lost Spring Canyon, one of the newest additions to Arches National Park in Utah, click here.

 

It is the Old West, as it should be. Dusty and worn and filled to the brim with an overwhelming feeling of old and tired. A ranch that sits abandoned. A child’s swing, rust encrusted and lonely, swaying in a melancholy breeze. Corrals that want for cattle and horses and have been left in need for decades. Roads that disappear into the sagebrush and an endless feeling of endless desert.

View of Lost Spring Canyon from The Windows

Looking out to our Destination: Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon is a new addition to Arches National Park, added only in 1998. The Grand Canyon Trust wanted to see this unique wilderness area preserved and bought the tract of land for protection. For years, it was a popular cattle grazing area, and you can still see remnants of lost ranching throughout the canyons. More often than not, you will be the only person there to explore the washes, slickrock and meandering canyons in the Lost Spring.

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Late Afternoon in Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring

The Old Settlement on the Edge of Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Heading Down into Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

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Covert Arch Inside Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

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Inside Lost Spring Canyon

Lost Spring Canyon is easy to find on a map, not so easy to get to. You can either leave from the Arches NP campground/Broken Arch trailhead or drive through imposing backcountry. To walk, hike .2 miles on the trail, then follow the natural gas pipeline (it crosses the trail and is fairly obvious) to the right for nearly 3 miles until you hit Salt Wash. Follow Salt Wash another 2 miles down into Lost Spring. It’s the big canyon in front of you, so it’s hard to miss.

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Inside Lost Spring Canyon

If you want to drive, make sure you gas up. Take I-70 to exit 193 (one of those No Services exits!) and use a combination of the NPS map and the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Moab North to navigate the dirt/sand roads. The directions on the NPS brochure are good, but the map is wrong. Be aware that in wet weather, the roads may be impassable. There are established BLM campsites near the entrance of the canyon (before you hit NPS property and on high clearance roads) that offer excellent views, so you may want to consider snagging one of them to maximize your time.

Lost Spring Canyon

Inside Lost Spring Canyon

It is out of the way, but well worth the effort. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time and bring plenty of water, whether you hike or drive.

 

The broad, lush valley that sits tucked into the smoky hills of southeastern Tennessee has played host to history for hundreds of years. As the single most visited place in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove allows travelers to explore old Cherokee hunting trails, visit a working grist mill, poke around old cabins, and catch glimpse of the abundant wildlife that calls these meadows and forests home.

Though the Cherokee traveled through and hunted in this wilderness long before white settlement in the 18th century (the cove itself is named after Chief Kade, a little-known historical character in the Smoky Mountain performance), there is no evidence of permanent settlements. The first people (historically) to call the valley home were John Oliver and his wife Lucretia Frazier, who settled in 1818, just in time to suffer through the hard Tennessee mountain winter. By the 1850s, the population of Cades Cove grew to nearly 700 farmers and their families, and roads connected the area to towns throughout the Smokies to ease the trade of dry goods and the passage of mail.

The battle to turn the Cove into a national park was fierce, resulting in the alienation of many residents who were forced out (not an uncommon story in the sometimes sordid history of the National Park Service), and today, the park works to maintain both the natural state of the forests and the cultural landscapes of the meadows, fields, and farms. Many of the old homesteads and churches (Cades Cove was known for it’s eclectic mix of Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, and others, often resulting in vehement family feuds), still stand, and visitors to GSMNP can drive along the 11-mile, one-way loop road (open only to bicyclists and pedestrians until 10 am on Saturdays and Wednesday in the summer) to stop and explore the historic sites.

Rainy Cades Cove

A Rainy Morning in Cades Cove

Cades Cove

The John Oliver Cabin, constructed c. 1822-1823

Cades Cove

The Becky Cable House, constructed in 1879 (behind the visitors center)

Cades Cove

The John Cable Grist Mill, constructed in 1868 (maintained as a working mill)

Cades Cove

The John Cable Grist Mill, constructed in 1868 (maintained as a working mill)

Cades Cove

The John Cable Grist Mill, constructed in 1868 (maintained as a working mill)

Cades Cove

The Cades Cove Methodist Church, constructed in 1902

Cades Cove

Historical cemeteries dot the Cades Cove cultural landscape

Cades Cove

Historical cemeteries dot the Cades Cove cultural landscape

Cades Cove

Inside Out

Cades Cove

The Dan Lawson Place, built by Peter Cable in the 1840s

Allow at least two hours to drive the relatively short loop road, as traffic can be extremely heavy (bumper to bumper!) during the high season. Give yourself plenty of extra time if you plan to walk any trails or explore any of the homesteads. There is a campground in the Cove with 159 sites that can accommodate tents and campers up to 35 feet; it can get loud and busy, but it’s in a beautiful location, and chances are you’ll see plenty of black bears if you stay (but practice safe food storage!). The visitor center, located in front of the Cable Grist Mill area, is open daily year-round. Visit the GSMNP website for more information.

 

The many faces of Vulcan Arenal:

Our little rental car also hunts active volcanoes through the rainforest...

Our little rental car also hunts active volcanoes through the rainforest...

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Some cows, enjoying the view of the volcano

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Enjoying the volcano, vintage National Geographic style

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Enjoying the volcano from the comfort of our room

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Enjoying the volcano from one sign that says "Danger: Do Not Enter!"

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Enjoying the volcano while getting lost in the jungles of Arenal Volcano National Park

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Enjoying the volcano from the farm

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Barbed wire just adds to the enjoyment of the volcano...

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Enjoying the volcano from the lodge's porch

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Enjoying the volcano while getting ready to hike up to the rim of another volcano

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Vulcan Arenal, plotting its next move...

 

Lehman Caves - Great Basin National Park

The temperature in the cave is about 40 degrees warmer than the air above, and as the Ranger explains that we should bring jackets down with us, he looks out the frosted window into the blowing snow. “Ah, nevermind,” he says, shrugging.

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And so we go, through a door that looks more like a WWII bunker than the entrance to a cave, and we begin to descend…

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slip sliding down slick rock, wet with drops of water and the smoothness of overuse

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a quarter of a mile down, slipping through subterranean slot canyons and in between the tight squeezes of the center of the Earth

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hundreds of thousands of years of architecture spreads out before us and crumbles below into the abyss, colored by limestone-clouded waters and the idle hands of exploration

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and the drip drip drip of rivers of rock echo through the narrow alleys and the sinewy tendons of stone climb the walls of this urban underground of stalactite skyscrapers.

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Great Basin National Park, located in eastern Nevada near Route 50, is open all year round, with limited facilities in winter. Some tours of the Lehman Caves, actually one large limestone cavern first recorded by Absalom Lehman in 1885 and used as a playground ever since, are offered all year. Inquire at the visitor center for more information.

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