Subject: Bryce and Grand Canyon camping trip
Hello Travelziners,

Camping season has begun and we recently visited Byrce and Grand Canyon National Parks. The trip, two weekends ago, was 6 days long and covered 1200 miles. First day was about a 10 hour drive from San Diego up to Zion National Park in Utah (approximately 3 hours out of Las Vegas). Because of our late arrival we had to camp in a private campground just outside the park. That night we just slept in the Suburban (large American sport utility vehicle) the intention being to get an early start for Bryce, an additional two hours away.

Despite not setting up the full camp we still enjoyed a nice dinner (roasted chicken purchased at a supermarket in nearby St. George and a green salad made from ingredients brought from home). And we built a comfortable campfire to ward off the chill as the temperatures dropped into the low 30 degree Fahrenheit range during the evening. And the stars were unbelievable. This area has the lowest amount of light pollution and the cleanest air in the continental U.S. with the result being three times as many stars visible as elsewhere in the country. Plus satellites and many shooting stars. Quite a show.

Then we headed on to Bryce National Park with its strange geological formations. The elevation at all these parks is pretty high, all being above 8,000 ft. Therefore the vegetation ranges from cedar/juniper forests at the lower elevations transitioning into tall ponderosa pine and finally at the higher elevations aspen, spruce and fir. Not the dry desert terrain usually associated with the Southwest. We camped twenty minutes outside the entrance to the park. Over the last decade or so the American National Park system has been heavily impacted by visitors. Americans are loving their parks to death. From what I've seen the Canadians are doing the same. The result is that peak season is incredibly overcrowded, campgrounds fill up quickly, and some parks are resorting to shuttle systems to lower the amount of vehicles on their roads. One must be very savvy to be able and enjoy the parks. Visiting off-season and less popular parks are just two methods of avoiding the masses. We've learned that National Forest campgrounds just outside the parks are less crowded and invariably offer larger sites with more distance between them. This was the strategy we used on this trip and it worked wonderfully. Alternatively we've actually had whole campgrounds to ourselves by camping in the dead of winter.

Traveling with two dogs can also be challenging under these circumstances. Within the parks the dogs are only allowed in certain restricted areas and must be leashed at all times. However, within the National Forests which surround the parks the restrictions, as well as the crowds, are eased. So, a typical day will start with Sara getting up and building the morning fire (I'm not getting out of the sleeping bag and the tent until the temperature rises above freezing). I follow shortly thereafter setting the French press up and brewing a pot of coffee. Then pancakes, bacon and eggs. Take the dogs for a nice long hike. Wearing out ten and twelve year-old dogs doesn't take long. Then off to the national park (a mere twenty minute drive away). Sara and I proceed to take in the sights. This involves some driving and stopping at overlooks, a couple of hikes down into the canyons, visits to the lodges, and a break for lunch. In the meantime the dogs are quite content to sleep in the overly spacious back of the Suburban, empty of cargo and filled with wall-to-wall soft dog beds. Don't worry doglovers, temperatures in the car never surpassed 70 degrees Fahrenheit, windows were lowered for nice cooling mountain breezes, and a full dish of water at every stop.

After two days at Bryce we headed south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for another two days. We used the same strategy camping just outside the park entrance in a very nice National Forest campground. I've been to the Grand Canyon seven times but this was my first visit to the North Rim. Everyone raves about it and I do too now. Higher elevation than the South Rim means much more lush vegetation. Boreal forests in the same manner as those found in Canada. At the Grand Canyon we partook of a couple of nature hikes with park rangers which are always interesting. And a bonus was dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge watching the sunset over the canyon.

Our drive home was a long twelve hours because I didn't want to backtrack through Las Vegas. Instead I wanted to check out the Marble Canyon and Lee's Ferry just up the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon. This is where most of the raft trips that go through the Grand Canyon originate. We then continued on through Flagstaff, Prescott, and back into California on blue highways. As entertainment during these long drives we check out audiobooks from our local library. For this trip we listened to "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick and "In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson. Both quite good.

How many other campers have we amongst our members?

John in San Diego