Thursday, June 3, 2010

My National Park Top Ten

My plan had been to cycle around the Southwest USA doing the "Grand Circle" through the National Parks there and do some hiking in them. This plan has only partially been successful. Why?

First of all, there is not really that much hiking to do in these parks. Most of the hikes are day hikes and if there are longer hikes, they require expensive shuttle services to or from the trail head. I do not mind paying for shuttles, but after hiking for so long it does not make sense to me to pay between 50$ and 100$ for a shuttle for a 2 day hike.

My bike in Capitol Reef NP
Second, there is the problem with what to do with the bike and the panniers while I am hiking. I have written about my experiences in my last post and bottomline is: The US NPS does not cater or care much for cyclists. You are pretty much on you own. Although it would probably be ok to leave the locked bike with the panniers on at the trail head, I personally did not feel very comfortable with it. These are my only worldly belongings right now and if something gets stolen it would be a desaster.

Cycling the Grand Circle has been quite nice, though. There was not much traffic on the roads, the route between the parks is very scenic and camping was very easy due to lots of public land. But the cycling has also been very demanding. 1,000 meter elevation gain every day and strong head winds let my daily mileage go down to 50 - 60 km only...

But here are my favourites (and non-favourites):

Grand Canyon was definitely the highlight of my Arizona Trail experience. You really have to hike down into the canyon and up again to get the real experience. There are a lot of other hikers and the whole permit procedure is a pain in the butt, but it is all worth it. In all the hiking I have done this was one of the most spectacular experiences. And because I was on the AZT, I did not have to pay for a shuttle - I just hiked on...

Capitol Reef NP
Number two is shared between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. Both are extremely unique and you do not find something like it anywhere else. Bryce wins the prize for the friendliest rangers and actually had one overnight hike (Under-the-rim-Trail) that is accessible via free shuttle service. And it is very beautiful as well. You can even connect it with some other hikes and make it a 2-3 day experience. But that is it then - not much long-distance hiking in Bryce. There is even less hiking in Capitol Reef, but the park itself is incredible impressive. Just like you have seen in all these Western movies on TV. Cycling back and forth on the Scenic Drive was nice and gave me a great overview. Don't miss Capitol Reef, despite what your guide book might say elsewise.

Less recommended is Zion. This is not only due to my bad experiences with the rangers there (that is just personal bad luck), but mostly because it is most similar to what I know from  Europe. It is very beautiful, but not as unique as the above mentioned parks. Also it is almost as overrun as Grand Canyon, the permit situation is horrible and everything is outrageously expensive.

Kodachrome
You can absolutely forget about Petrified Forest and Anasazi State Park - not worth even only 3$ entrance fee. Nothing to see at Petriefieed Forest and the exhibition at Anasazi is just boring. But there is one more hidden gem: Kodachrome State Park (which is actually really named after a Kodak camera film...). It is not as spectacular as the other parks, but very nice and pleasant - and so relaxing after being overrun by thousands of fellow tourists. Even cycling it was worth the 20 mile detour!!!!

I am now canyoned out and on the Mormon Trail. I have one month left on my visa and will cycle towards the West Coast with my next stop in Salt Lake City. Let the wind be in my back!!!!

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