Wednesday was a typical excursion day: wake up before the sunrise to go to some far off locale. On the one hand we got far less sleep than we were accustomed to during the last week. But on the other hand we got to see sunrise over the San Juan fortress.
We made port in San Juan, then got off the ship and took a bus about 75 km west to the Arecibo region. Along the way we saw some of the damage from Hurricane Maria. There were still downed cables in San Juan and blue plastic tarps over roofs both inside and outside the city.
Our tour today was a short walk through the rain forest and a short journey through two limestone caves to eventually see the window cave.
The damage from Hurricane Maria wasn’t as obvious in the forested area. We learned that the winds damaged the fruit bearing trees in this region and they haven’t sprouted new fruit yet. This has taken its toll on the fruit bats that used to live in the nearby caves. The fruit bat population has since dropped from a few thousand to about 20.
We walked though two caves. The first cave had wide entrances on both ends and never got truly dark. Inside we could see ancient petroglyphs.
The second cave was longer and has some very dark rooms. It was also required a more strenuous descent to get into the cave. It didn’t take long to make our way through cave to see the famous window.
Afterwards we returned to the ship to get lunch and relax. We left around 2:00 and we got more pictures of the fortress as we left the harbor.
Wednesday night was formal night. We got group pictures with Becky and Leigh, had lobster dinner and saw a stage show. Last night’s show was “Columbus” which was a fictional and comedic take on the story of Christopher’s lesser known cousin Marvin. It featured a smorgasbord of hits from Broadway and pop music. It had its moments, and destructed the fourth wall on many occasions. Overall, it was entertaining.
Location: Sulivan Bay between Santiago and Bartolome Islands, Galapagos
This morning the ship dropped anchor in Sulivan Bay, located between Santiago and Bartolome Islands. This was the day which we were most excited for when planning the trip. This location mixed recent lava flows, volcanic formations, with an active penguin colony. We were worried that we may not have had enough time to fit everything we wanted to do into such a short day.
We had an option for two tours in the morning. We could either go for a long 2 mile hike over the lava fields on Santiago Island, or do a shorter lava field hike. We choose the longer option. We’ve been to a lot of lava fields during our travels together: Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and even Iceland. But this lava field was probably the best we’d ever witnessed to see pahoehoe lava formations.
There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife in the lava fields. There were some annoying tiny yellow flies (who didn’t bite), and the painted locust who was attracted to Ryan’s shirt.
There wasn’t a marked trail on the lava fields and one had to be careful where they stepped. Cracks and crevices were plentiful, exposing lava layers that the geologists love to study.
We were both very surprised to discover hornitos, something that we hadn’t heard of before today. Hornitos are small holes where lava emerges out of lava tubes and bubbles to the surface. They can grow quite large, but the ones here weren’t particularly tall. They were pretty iridescent owing to the volcanic glass that formed around the edges.
We had a few hours in between the morning and afternoon tours. The ship didn’t even change location. So instead of us going to the wildlife, the wildlife came to us. All around us, we would see manta rays doing flips out of the water. The mantas engage in this behavior to dislodge fish, attract mates, or for fun.
A turtle came to the edge of the ship.
A sea lion took a nap on one of the pangas.
And an egret landed on the aft dining section of the ship.
Their were several options for tours in the afternoon in Bartolome. Everyone could do a deep water snorkel. Then separately people could climb to the top of bartolome, or go for a panga ride to see wildlife. We choose the snorkel and hike.
Bartolome is a volcanic island that formed about 700,000 years ago. Probably from a single eruption. The island may be best known as one of the filming locations from the movie “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”.
Our first excursion of the afternoon was to go for a deep water snorkel off the coast of Bartolome near pinnacle rock. This was the tour that Ryan was most excited for. When we approached the dive site, we could see a penguin about 30 feet north of the panga making noises. It was like it was beckoning us to come play with him. But our guide told us that we had to swim south. We figured that if we saw one penguin, we’d surely see more that wanted to play.
We didn’t. As it turns out most of the penguins live on the other side of the island, but they occasionally come over to look for food. Not so much today, but at least we got to swim with penguins yesterday.
In fact, we didn’t see much beyond lots of fish on this snorkel. It was a little disappointing compared with our previous swims. But you can’t control wildlife, and we were probably very lucky that last couple days so it sort of all balances out. On the plus side, we saw a LOT of fish, and the water was probably 10 degrees warmer than yesterday.
Our last tour of day was the long walk to the top of Bartolome. We had to take 380 steps to the top of island (374 feet) with a trail of about 0.8 miles long. The entire trail was on a wooden boardwalk. The panoramic view from the top is said to be one of the best and most iconic in the islands.
The hike took about two hours. We made frequent stops so that the naturalists could explain the geology and vulcanology of the island. We got to see lots of craters and cones from diversion eruptions, lava tubes, and volcanic bombs.
Here’s our view from the top. It really did offer a great view of the nearby pinnacle rock, and most of the surrounding Galapagos islands. The only downside was that the tour was near the end of the day, so the lighting wasn’t very great to get a shot of pinnacle rock.
Tomorrow we go back to Santa Cruz island to visit Bachas Beach, where we might get to see flamingos for our last beach snorkel. In the afternoon we visit North Seymour Island for our last snorkel of the trip, and visit a frigate bird colony.
Total pennipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Types of lava formations: 3 (pahoehoe, aa, hornito)
Totel penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 3
Total equator crossings: 0
Total islands visted: 2
total watercraft: 5
Total Steps: IDK, fitbit died. But based on other passengers fitbits, over 10,000 plus a lot of swimming.
Location: Santa Cruz, Baltra, and Daphne Major, Galapagos
We woke up early this morning. Not because we had too, but because we got to bed early last night, we’re still on east coast time, and a loud rooster was not far from the hotel. We spent some time packing up, and playing on the internet then headed down to have breakfast in the courtyard. It was a yummy and generous sized breakfast for two people. It didn’t take long for the birds to realize that we were eating and soon Tippy Headrin (Ryan) was surrounded by a couple dozen finches and other birds eager to eat any loose crumbs that fell off his plate when he was looking the other way. Like all other animals here, the small birds have no natural fear of humans, and would only fly away if we made any sudden moves in their directions.
After breakfast we left the hotel and made our way from Puerto Ayora to Baltra airport. We did the same journey as yesterday but in reverse. It took about 70 minutes to get to the airport. Along the way, Ryan spotted two Galapagos tortoises, but we were travelling too fast to get any pictures.
We arrived at the airport and met with the Celebrity Cruises representative. We were the first people to arrive for the cruise. He showed us to the Celebrity VIP lounge were was had access to food and drinks. Over the course of the next hour and a half, other passengers would trickle in from incoming flights. We were notified that the ship was ready for us and that we could board the ship. So the 16 early arrivals (most other passengers took the pre-cruise Quito add-on) made our way to a shuttle that took us to the port on the north side of the island.
We boarded the first zodiac (panga) to leave the port and made our way to the Xpedition. The panga ride took about 5 minutes to get to the ship. We were the first ones to board the ship (and thinking of Leigh’s life goal the whole time).
We got a quick cruise briefing and our room keys. And just like any other first day on a ship: we dropped our stuff off in the room, got lunch, and decided to explore the ship.
Exploring the ship took less than 5 minutes. It’s just not that big. It has a lounge, hot tub, a few decks chairs. The lounge is used for nearly all briefings, and its the only place on the ship with wifi (although we still could get a wifi signal nearby).
Most of the rest of the day consisted of getting us educated for the rest of the week. Our first briefing was the mandatory safety briefing and muster drill. This coincidentally happened at the same time as the fourth quarter of the NYG-Eagles games. We’ve heard this briefing before (in the event of a water landing…) but it had a few twists from the normal cruise safety briefings. Ryan paid close attention… to the gamecast on his phone. And he in no way was loud, made a scene, or drew attention to himself when the eagles won with a 61 yd field goal. FLY EAGLES FLY!
Next the ship raised anchor and made its way to Daphne Major and nearby volcanic island. This small island juts out of the sea with no obvious way to make landings. So the ship sailed around it. The island is most famous for the recent(ish) work of two researchers who have been returning to this island twice a year to survey the various finch species. Through their research they were able to show adaptation and evolution in action through the natural generation of a new finch species. This scenic cruising lasted less than an hour. We got some good pictures of the island with its geological layers.
Meanwhile various frigate bids began flying in our wake, providing great photo opportunities.
Along the way, we passed by some rocks sticking out of the water. It was populated by lots of seabirds and sea lions.
Later in the evening we had a briefing on how to snorkel and what excursion options were available to us tomorrow.
Tomorrow we will visit Rabida Island. In the morning we will go for a long hike and snorkel near Port Egas. In the afternoon we’ll go for a panga ride in Elizabeth Bay followed by more snorkeling.
Total watercraft: 3
Total steps: 6,175
The internet is faster and more reliable than we were expecting. It looks like we’ll be able to update the blog every night, but we may be a little limited in the amounts of wildlife photos we can upload.
Also… Rachel was watching the Redskins gamecast while we were writing this… HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!
Location: Canyonlands National Park -> Salt Lake City
This morning we went to the Islands in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park. This park is known for is vast sweeping spectacular views, off-roading opportunities, and river cruises through the canyon. Since we didn’t have the time to schedule a river journey, and our rented mule isn’t fit to do real off-roading, we settled for driving to the lookout points along the canyon rims and some light hiking.
We started out by visiting The Candlestick Tower Outlook, followed by the Grand View Point Overlook.
We also stopped to see the Green River Overlook and the Shafer Canyon Overlook:
Next we went to the north end of the paved roads to see the Upheaval Dome. No one is entirely sure how this geological feature was created. The two leading theories are that is an anticlinal salt dome, or its an eroded impact crater. It was a steep climb to get to the top of this geologic oddity.
Our last major stop of the day was to go back to the Mesa Arch that we visited last night for our astral photography session. It obviously looked very different in the daylight. And it was much more crowded than it was around midnight. We waited for the crowds to die down a little before snapping these photos:
From there we had a three hour drive north west towards Salt Lake City. It was long, hot, and boring. We stopped at Timpanogos Cave National Monument south of Salt Lake. But tours of the cave were sold out by the time we arrived. We had a short drive to the airport hotel.
Tomorrow we wake up way to early in the “morning” to catch a flight back home.
Today was another long day full of walking and sightseeing. Our destination today was to explore Arches National Park. When we planned this trip a year ago we envisioned spending the entire day in the park viewing its many iconic arches and hiking a few simpler trails. But the park is undergoing road work so entire sections of the park (Windows) are inaccessible.
Per the recommendations on the park website, we got to the park before 8:00 and made our way to the Devil’s Garden to beat the crowds. We easily found parking near the trail head and began hiking to see a the more accessible arches: Tunnel, Pine Tree, and Landscape.
Ryan continued up the primitive trail to get a closer view of the Partition arch.
Next we drove to see the Skyline Arch.
Then took another short drive and went on a hike to see the Sand Dune and Broken arches.
Our last hike of the day was to see the iconic Delicate Arch. We didn’t have the time to traverse the longer and more challenging trail to get an up close view of the arch, so instead we viewed it and the end of the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail.
By this point it was afternoon and we had already hiked many miles. We had also explored all of the arches that our rented mule sedan would let us see, so we decided to exit the park to get lunch and relax through the hotter hours of the day. On the way out we got some pictures of some beautiful scenery:
In the evening we made our way to the nearby Canyonlands National Park for star gazing and stellar photography. Canyonlands is one of the darkest places in the country and a great site to see the night sky. We decided to go to the Mesa Arch to take some night time photos.
Tomorrow we explore Canyonlands National Park – Islands in the Sky area, then head back to Salt Lake City.
Total steps: 22,812
Total arches: 9
Total miles driven: 125
Total national park passport stamps: 3
Wildlife spotted: a bunch of lizards in Arches, and a lynx that we avoided running over on the drive back from Mesa Arch. The latter of which happened too fast to get a picture.
Today was mostly about dinosaurs. Our first stop was Dinosaur National Monument, about 30 minutes from Vernal, Utah. The highlight of this monument is a structure built into the side of a hill which houses a wall of dinosaur fossils from the Jurassic era. 150 million years ago, this area was fairy wet and had a river. Occasionally a heavy drought would occur, dinosaurs would die near the dry riverbed, rains would pick up again and wash the bones downstream. The heavier bones ended up buried here.
Dinosaur fossils were first discovered here in 1909 by Earl Douglass, working for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Most of the hill was removed to gain access to thousands of fossils. Most were removed. But Douglass wanted a some of the fossils to remain in a wall and put on display as a national monument. President Wilson established it as a national monument. Today’s it’s a bit of a tourist draw, and even a nearby town in Colorado was renamed “Dinosaur”.
The fossil wall contains many species of dinosaurs and other creatures. Some of the notable species include Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus.
We spent about an hour and a half here. Next we had a 2.5 hour drive to get to Colorado National Monument in Fruita, Colorado. The journey itself varied between long flats stretches and tight switchbacks along scenic mountains.
Colorado National Monument is a modest sized national park that overlooks Fruita and Grand Junction. It offers scenic views of red sandstone canyons. Ryan white knuckled the drive through the park and Rachel got some great pictures.
We should point out that while Colorado National Monument doesn’t have any direct dinosaur fossils, many fossils were found in the towns nearby and there are some dinosaur museums. We didn’t stop in those.
Our destination for the day was Moab, Utah. But before we made it into town we stopped at three dinosaur tracks north of town as recommended by discovermoab.com. The first stop was to Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracksite. This was a relatively easy off road drive and 500 ft uphill hike to arrive at footprints of (presumed) Allosaurus and Apatosaurus.
The next stop took us to the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Bone Trail. We meant to go to the tracksite, but must’ve followed the wrong directions. It all worked out okay though, since we got to see more dinosaur fossils still in rock walls. The drive out to this site was a little difficult as our rental car sedan had to deal with some dry sandy riverbeds. The fossil walk was about a quarter mile hike with lots of informational signs every 20-100 feet.
The last track stop was to see the Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracksite. This was a loooonnnnggg offroad drive, which contrary to the website, shouldn’t be driven with a sedan. We somehow got our rented mule to the end of the trail and back again without damaging the car. On the plus side, the dinosaur tracks were located immediately next to the “parking lot” of the trail.
We made to the hotel and checked in without incident. As we were unpacking, a hard rainstorm passed through town leaving wet side walks and a double rainbow in its wake.
Tomorrow we are going to explore Arches National Park.
Total steps: 13,134
Total miles driven: 296
Total national park passport stamps: 4 (somehow missed a bunch of national historic trail stamps)
Today was a travel day meant to transition from the mountain climate portion of the trip to the desert climate. And some of this journey took place on the Oregon National Historic Trail.
We didn’t beat our alarms for the first day of this trip, and actually hit the snooze bar a few times. So we got a later start than expected. We weren’t on a tight schedule so it didn’t really matter.
We left our comfortable hotel and made our way to Fossil Butte National Monument. It rained during most of this trip, so we didn’t get many good pictures of the landscape along the way.
Along the way we shortly dipped in Idaho one last time, and then joined up with the modern Oregon historic trail.
We made it to Fossil Butte without any issues. The website for this park hasn’t been updated in a while so we came in with pretty low expectations. But the site museum and surrounding area has been updated recently so we were pleasantly surprised with what we found. On the road leading up to the visitor center were sign posts showing the evolution of life and geology on earth since its creation. The signage was proportionally spaced along with the respective passage of time. Rachel had flashbacks from her college classes and gave Ryan plenty of geology lessons for the day.
Inside the visitor center we were treated with well-preserved fossils of fish, plants, and other animals that had been preserved in a massive lake that once occupied the area about 50 million years ago. It was all presented very elegantly in a tight museum.
From there we got back on the road, again following the Oregon historic trail. Our next destination was Fort Bridger Historic State Park.
Along the way, we joined another wagon train to avoid some rough trails.
We did not die of dysentery along the way. Somewhere along the trail, “Ryan has exhaustion”, and we lost two oxen while trying to cross the river.
The historic location has gone through a lot of changes since it was just an out of the way trading post along the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. Today it’s a museum. We spent about an hour here.
We got back on the road and made our way south towards Vernal, Utah. Along the way we passed through the scenic Ashley National Forest and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We pulled along the side of the road to get some great scenic shots of the landscape.
Along the road, the forest service set up short informational signs that explained the geologic history and formation of the varied terrain along the road and through the road cuts.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the hotel. Ryan took a nap and Rachel worked on editing some eclipse photos.
Tomorrow we will start the day by visiting Dinosaur National Monument, a midday stop at Colorado National Monument, and looking at dinosaur footprints north of Moab, Utah.
Location: Island Park, ID -> Yellowstone/Tetons -> Jackson, Wyoming
Good news: we slept in later than we had the previous mornings. Bad news: we still beat our alarms. But waking up early allowed us to get a head start on the day, and just like our first full day in Yellowstone we needed as much time as we could get. Overall the park felt a little busier than Sunday.
As soon as we made it into Yellowstone we made a beeline for the geyser basins and started with the Firehole Lake Drive. We coincidentally arrived about a minute before the eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. It was perhaps one of the more interesting eruptions we had seen (in Yellowstone, New Zealand, or Iceland), owing to how the water sprayed and spread out around the crater and flowed down natural terraces that previous eruptions had created over time.
Next we went on a two mile hike along the Fairy Falls trail. Luckily we got there just before the crowds arrived. This hidden-in-plain-sight side trail goes up a hill that overlooks the Midway Geyser basin. In the cool morning, the trail gave us a great view of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring reflecting off the steam. The trail itself ended atop a hill which gave an overhead view of the iconic landmark.
We made a quick rest stop at Old Faithful, and was coincidentally there to see it erupt again. But no pics this time. We then drove across the park and had lunch at Lake Village, before driving north again to see Sulphur Canyon. They weren’t kidding around when they named that location. The sulfur was so overpowering that it stung our eyes. But it didn’t seem to bother the bison relaxing in between bubbling sulfur pools.
Our last scenic stop at the park was at the Mud Volcano, where we saw the Dragon’s Mouth.
We also passed the Great Continental Divide while driving in this part of the park. A Continental Divide is a drainage divide on a continent. The Great Continental Divide is series of mountain ridges stretching from Alaska to Mexico, marking the separation of drainage basins that empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.
At this point, we had spent most of the day in Yellowstone and had one more park to visit. So we drove south and exited the park. We had a short and uneventful drive on the John Rockfeller Memorial Parkway before entering Grand Teton National Park.
The Tetons are renowned for the iconic views of its distinctive mountains and excellent mountain hiking trails. The park was much more crowded than Yellowstone, and Ryan suspects that a lot of the other visitors were there in part because of the eclipse yesterday. But we aren’t exactly known for our mountain climbing skills so this wasn’t a good fit for us. Sadly, it was the middle-late afternoon and hazy so we couldn’t get many good photos of the mountains.
But we did managed to get a few photos of the mountains and take a short hike near Jenny Lake and the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve.
We also saw the shrinking Teton glacier from the distance.
We left Grand Teton in the early evening and made our way into Jackson. It was supposed to be a short drive, but we got caught in the afternoon rush hour. After checking into the hotel (yay internet, air conditioning, comfortable bed!) we walked around the artsy and expensive downtown Jackson and had dinner.
Tomorrow we visit Fossil Butte National Monument, Fort Bridger State Park (for the Oregon Trail nostalgia), and finish in Vernal, Utah with Dinosaur National Monument.
We’re still on east coast time so we woke up before sunrise this morning. Rather than trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep, we elected to get the day started earlier than planned. We spent the day exploring the nothern end of Yellowstone National Park, and we needed every bit of the extra time.
Many people were thinking that the park was going to be extra busy today due to all of the eclipse tourists, with predictions of 3x-4x above normal. With a couple exceptions we didn’t have to wait long to find parking at the various sites, nor did we ever feel crowded when hiking around.
Our day began with a stop at Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring, and Monument Geyser Basin. But our first real experience hiking and seeing the geothermal sites was at the Artists Paintpots. There we saw steam vents and bubbling mud pits.
But we spent most the morning at the Norris Geyser Basin. We couldn’t spend all day here so we had to choose between a hike of the Porcelain Basin to see its many hot springs, lakes and pools. Or take a longer ~2 mi hike of the back basin to see its many geysers. We decided on the back basin. Some of the geyser we saw included Steamboat, Puff ‘n stuff, Minute, and Echunis.
Our next stop took us to Roaring Mountain
and the Mammoth Hot Springs.
From there we proceeded east into the park making our way past Tower Junction and into the Lamar Valley. Prior to entering the valley Ryan lamented about the lack of bison (and other wildlife) we have seen today. But that quickly changed as soon as we started driving through along the road through the valley. We saw dozens of bison, many of which we grazing very close to the road.
and even an osprey.
For Rachel, the highlight of the day came when we got to see the Yellowstone Canyon and Waterfall. Parking and signage here was tight near the entrance so we took the first spot we could find and walked along the northern rim trail to various vantage points along the canyon. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We still had daylight to spare, so we went back west across the park and a bit south to visit more geysers at the lower and midway geysers basins. The most spectacular of which included the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.
Finally, with little daylight to spare we exited the park, saw a few more mule deer by the river, and had dinner in West Yellowstone.
Tomorrow we are going to watch the total eclipse in Rigby, Idaho. Yay totality!
Total steps: 24,132
Total geological formations visited: a lot!
Total times Ryan checked the weather for tomorrow: 4+ occasions of checking various weather predictions (we had no connectivity in the park).
Last night began our Eclipse and National Park trip. On Monday we plan on seeing a total eclipse in Idaho and through the week we will be visiting various national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, etc).
Last night we flew into Salt Lake City, UT. This morning we picked up our rental car and drove north towards Idaho.
We made a short detour on our drive north to visit Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is site where the intercontinental railroad was completed connecting the east and west coast. Ryan as a child loved trains and always wanted to visit this site. He even brought along his train engineer hat. Rachel had no objection to the detour and it made Ryan happy. Yay trains!
Then we got back on the road towards Idaho. After 3+ hours, we arrived at our home for the next 2 nights in Island Park, ID. While driving, we noticed other eclipse heading north towards the path of totality. One RV even has a sign ‘Totality or Bust.’
We didn’t spend much time at the hotel and quickly headed towards Yellowstone National Park for our first of many visits.
Our plan was to visit Old Faithful today to avoid the big crowds expected tomorrow. We arrived just in time and didn’t have to wait long for Old Faithful to do its thing.
Coincidentally, Rachel had a camp friend also in the area whom we met at Old Faithful and had drinks and dinner to catch up. We also watched another eruption of Old Faithful from the Inn.
After a nice dinner, we made our way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow is an early as we plan to do the northern loop of Yellowstone. Rachel is very excited for all of the geology! Yay hot springs, geysers, and rocks!!
Total steps: 8,441
Total Miles Driven: 487 miles
Total States: 4 (Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
Total National Park Stamps: 4
Total times Ryan obsessed over the weather forecast for Monday: 10-15 (significantly less than usual since he has been driving all day)