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MNTravelogue

America the Beautiful: The American West




Wilfredo (Sonny) Valenzuela
Photos: Wilfredo Valenzuela and Eddie Flores
Mon 1st August 2011
 
 


The American West is beautiful.  During our recent tour of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, we enjoyed magnificent views of colorful canyons, swift-flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls, snow-patched mountains, and verdant prairies abundant with wildlife.  This past winter brought record rain and snowfall in parts of the region.

We visited many places of natural grandeur in10 days, including five national parks - Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah, Grand Teton in Wyoming, Yosemite in California, and Yellowstone.  Yellowstone is in Wyoming with small portions of it extending to Montana and Idaho.  National parks in the United States of America are protected areas established by an act of the US Congress.  



It was a typical sunny morning in July when we left Southern California for the road tour.  We rented a 12-passenger van to accommodate our family tour group of 10 - my sister Quiding, her husband Eddie, my brother Orestes (Boy), his wife Estella (Teng), their grandchildren Una and Arianna, my brother Mario (Jun), his wife Iou, Jun’s son Mark, and me.

L-R: Jun, Una, Orestes, Sonny, Estella, Mark, Ariana, Eddie, Quiding and Iou (Yellowstone-Artist Point)



The 10-hour journey to Bryce Canyon National Park, our destination on day one, took us through Nevada where we had lunch in Las Vegas, and Arizona before we reached Zion National Park in southwestern Utah in the afternoon.   Zion’s monolithic canyon walls range in hue from cream to a shade of red, forming a dramatic contrast against the clear blue sky that day.  Zion gave us our first feral animal sighting of the trip.  It appeared to be a female big horn sheep grazing on the canyon slope near the narrow winding road.  We reached Panguitch, Utah near Bryce Canyon in the evening and had just enough time for a quick dinner before retiring to bed.  A long day was ahead of us.

“ Our first feral animal sighting…It appeared to be a female big horn sheep grazing on the canyon slope”





 
Zion National Park
 



We spent the following morning in Bryce Canyon National Park.  The Bryce Canyon landscape is said to have been formed by wind, rain water, and cycles of freeze and thaw of ice wearing away the limestone.  It is hard to describe this unique landscape of exotic and stunning beauty.  We drove to an elevation of about 9,000 feet and stopped at several view points along the way, occasionally taking a short hike to enjoy the spectacular views of chromatic rock formations with fascinating shapes.  Some of them resemble fanciful castles with towers ascending towards the sky.

 
Breath-taking view of Bryce Canyon
 





 
Bryce Canyon National Park-closeup rock formations
 



 
Bryce Canyon National Park-view point
 



We left for Salt Lake City in the early afternoon, stopping for a late lunch along the way.  We were quite pleased with our eatery choices throughout the trip.  Mark and Una are now decidedly the top two calorie consumers, outdoing their elders who are by no means light eaters.   We arrived in Salt Lake City in the early evening, and took a leisurely walk in the vast Temple Square complex, world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 
Salt Lake City- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 



The following day, we drove through desolate country roads to get from Salt Lake City to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.  Melting glaciers formed lakes at the base of the Teton range of the Rockies.  We had a picnic near one of the picturesque lakes beside the glacier-patched mountain range.  We stopped to get a good view of Jackson Lake and the dam which provides water for irrigation in Idaho.

 
Grand Teton National Park - lake
 



 
Grand Teton National park-picnic by the lake
 



 
L-R: Iou, Quiding and Estella
 



Jackson Lake Dam which provides water for irrigation in Idaho



We arrived at the Wyoming south entrance to Yellowstone National Park late in the afternoon.  Our tour group was excited to take pictures near the big sign at the park entrance.  Yellowstone, America’s first national park, is expansive.  It was almost nightfall before we reached our log cabin accommodations near the west entrance to the park in Montana.  We got some fast food dinner and ate it in the van while watching fireworks from a parking lot.   It was the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day. 



The drive around Yellowstone consists of two loops forming a figure eight.  We spent the next day touring the lower loop, where the geyser Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s world famous attraction, is located.  Old Faithful’s eruptions are predictable.  We were told that the next one would occur in 45 minutes.  As predicted, Old Faithful put up a great show expelling a large volume of clear boiling water high up into the air. 



 
Crowd watching Old Faithful’s eruption
 



Other curious geothermal features in Yellowstone include fumaroles (steam holes), smelly seething mud pots, and colorful hot springs.  Thermophiles, microorganisms that thrive in high temperature, give the hot springs their bright colors.

 
Yellowstone Park-steam holes
 



Touring the lower loop offered us views of bison and elks grazing in the meadow, and trout swimming upstream in the raging Yellowstone River.  We saw a lone wolf as well.  We drove along the shore of the huge Yellowstone Lake with its backdrop of snow-covered mountains.  The day’s tour was punctuated with a dramatic view of Yellowstone’s Lower Falls plunging hundreds of feet into the deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  The view point known as Artist Point presents a panoramic view of the magnificent falls, white-water river, and polychromatic canyon walls.



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