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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Explosion of captivating airports and National parks in the US “High West”- April 5th to 13th, 2021

I will start this post by copying a message that Alex sent to some of the people who have given us input for our trip. It perfectly conveys the amazing experiences and surroundings we have been exposed to in the past week.

After Santa Fe, we flew up to Sedona. Wow!!! What an arrival surrounded by unreal red rocks. And the landing on that Mesa!!! We hiked for a couple of days and then we flew over the Grand Canyon, heart stopping, unbelievable, couldn’t keep my mouth closed. Up and down Zuni point and Dragon and Fossil, all so well-choreographed. We needed a stop to take it all in and landed at Marble Canyon for breakfast, spiraling down around the bridge and the crooked runway was a gift in itself! Didn’t find the runway as rough as what I found in the comments, maybe not that bad for Argentine standards. We continued to Bryce Canyon and saw the interesting log hangar, a piece of history, very cool. But there were no cars available so the airport manager helped us and got us a car in a nearby town, Kanab from where we could drive up to visit Zion National and for the sunrise next day we went see Bryce Canyon, wow! If the Grand Canyon electrifies you with the sheer grandeur Bryce amps it up with surrealistic sculptures of dystopic cities and gigantic crowds. Worth waking up at 4:30am for! And yesterday we came to Monument Valley via the Glenn Canyon Dam and the gorgeous lake Powell it created by filling up the ancient canyons with water again. I want to come back to navigate these green glittering waters! And finally, we reached Monument Valley, the most familiar sight that served as backdrop for all western movies we saw. It’s incredible to be here. I am having coffee now in a Lodge perched on the mountain watching The Valley.

This RTW may not set a speed record or anything, but we are having the time of our lives!

Thank you guys for your support from the very beginning.

In parallel though, he pointed me to the short story called Guidebooks in “Flights” by Olga Tokarszuk (2018 Nobel prize for literature) where she writes:

“Description is akin to overuse – it destroys; the colors wear off, the corners lose their definition, and in the end what’s been described begins to fade, to disappear. This applies most of all to places, Enormous damage has been done by travel literature – a veritable scourge, an epidemic….Even I, in my youthful naiveté, once took a shot at the description of places. But when I would go back to those descriptions later, when I’d try to take a deep breath and allow their intense presence to choke me up all over again, when I’d try to listen in on their murmurings, I was always in for a shock. The truth is terrible: describing is destroying.”

That is exactly how I feel regarding all these Rocky Mountain stone formations which have been changing shapes during millions of years and will continue to do so. These stones which are there, in the middle of the US, all the time, and make us feel tiny and ephemeral. Therefore, I will rely on the commonplace idea of “a picture is worth a thousand words” and show rather than describe the sights. Alex has also posted AMAZING new videos with images from this part of the trip on his Youtube channel (which you can access via this website or by typing Alex Gronberger in Youtube).

All our flights were VFR (“visual”), which means that we could follow the shapes of the mountains, mesas and valleys, unless National Park restrictions imposed something different. All our flights also included warming the SD card with the terrain information in the sun and blowing warm air into the reader for about 30-40 minutes before takeoff…. Until we get the new MFD screen, this is now part of our regular pre-flight checklist- You get used to everything 😊 but maybe not to the fantastic landscapes we have had the privilege to witness.

I filmed our April 5th landing in Sedona (KSEZ) with my mouth open:

The proud pilot:

Our hikes took us to incredible views of the Cathedral Rock and endless other red rock formations and Arizona vegetation

Bell rock

For the flight over the Grand Canyon on April 7th, Alex had created a route that zigzagged through the canyons so we could see EVERYTHING. I was so amazed, almost paralyzed, that I could barely take pictures. Anyway, the majesty and dimensions of the canyon don’t fit on a smartphone screen. Despite the fact that Park rules imposed flying between 10,500 and 12,500 feet (only registered tourism airlines can fly lower) and that we were cruising at 150 knots (+/- 240 km/h), we had the feeling that we were flying slowly because the Canyon is sooooo massively large!

We didn’t stay at 12,500 feet very long, so we weren’t nervous about lacking oxygen but just to be safe, I did a few mental calculations every couple of minutes to check if my brain was still functioning at normal speed😊 The official rule is that you should not stay above 12,000 feet altitude for more than 30 minutes because there is a risk of hypoxia, so my periodic “brain checks” were mostly to evaluate the need of using our brand new oxygen sprays, or not. We did not use them. By the way, we also have an oximeter that you put on your finger, but our experience is that they are not very reliable. I will give more info on that device in a future post because we have had to stay for almost 2 hours above 12000 feet since our Grand Canyon tour.

To enjoy the experience of landing in Marble Canyon (L41), the only airport inside the Grand Canyon Park (elev. 3600 feet, compared to average Grand Canyon elevation of 7000 to 8000 feet), we had to circle within a 3-mile radius of the airport to descend to a narrow and somewhat curved airstrip that started just meters away from a deep crack in the ground.

Enjoying the mission accomplished!

After coffee at Marble Canyon Trading post, almost the only building in sight, we took off for Bryce Canyon airport (KBCE), 7500 feet above sea level which we thought we would use as a base to visit Zion and Bryce National Parks. To climb, we did the same thing as to descend, i.e. circle within the 3-mile radius around the twisted runway which gave us the opportunity of seeing Marble Canyon bridge, likely an engineer's dream.

Rob Dubin, the gyroplane pilot we had met in Salida, had told us to check out Bryce airport's unique log cabin hangar built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration (a New Deal Agency) as part of the projects to get the economy going again. Indeed unique!

Despite its economic-historic hangar, we did not stay in Bryce for long. There were no rental cars or adequate accommodations available so after also checking the situation in St George, Tye, the FBO manager, recommended we go to Kanab where there was more offer.

Saying goodbye to Tye:

At least we got a quick sneak peek at Bryce Park!

Less than an hour later, Alex landed for the 3rd time that day, this time in Kanab (KNBB), our new base for the Parks. So on my first day in Utah ever, I had already been in two places which I had never really heard of before:)

After those 3 landings, we had decided that we would take it easy the next day in Zion, meaning no flights and no long hikes. However, when we reached the Zion visitor center around 11 am, together with half of the USA population, the parking was full and there were no tickets left for the shuttle bus – the only vehicle allowed in some parts of the Park-. So we changed our plans and ended up walking part of the bus route which took us about 4.5 hours, bye-bye quiet day!

The one part we did do by car were two really cool tunnels through huge stone mountains: one seems roughly carved in the mountain, the other is more engineered with windows that let some light in, and very long.

The next morning it was Bryce Park's turn. It was no opportunity to relax either because our “Guide to the National Parks of the United States” advised to be at Bryce point at sunrise, i.e. at 7 am. Our hotel was almost 2 hours away, so we got up at 4.30 and drove thought the dark to obey the book (despite Olga’s remarks). Given the crowd in Zion we were a bit worried: Would there be room in the parking lot? How many other enthusiasts had gotten up this day with the same idea? When we got closer, we noticed there were not many cars so we relaxed a little but I started seeing snow on the ground. Was it that cold?? In Zion it had been quite warm and it was not so far from there, so we had dressed the same. In the parking lot there were only about 10 other cars, so plenty of space left, but apart from tripods and large cameras, most enthusiasts were also equipped with winter coats and hats: it was windy and FREEZING! Fortunately, the “Red Rock cabins” where we had stayed the two previous nights -basically a bunch of wooden cabins on a parking lot but you can’t always choose when you book upon arrival as we usually do - were sold out for that evening, so we had checked out and were carrying all our belongings in our rental car. I quickly dug out a thermal legging, a hat and gloves from my bags and wiggled into the legging and back into my hiking pants in the front seat. Quickly because we needed to be on the rim a few minutes before sunrise. No missing that after getting up at 4.30 am and driving two hours in the dark, and cold! Our efforts were rewarded and our trust in Guidebooks reestablished 😊 From the cold and windy rim of the Bryce canyon, we witnessed incredible rock formations with organic shapes and colors. Pure Art Deco, impossible to capture on camera.

Once we had seen them from above at various points, we dove into the canyon for a 2 hour walk down and back up, now surrounded by the formations and the Queens garden in the middle.

Can you spot the Queen?

After this beautiful visit, we spent our third night in Kanab at the “Best Friends roadhouse” which is connected to an animal shelter: the Best Friends are pets. Guests of this hotel are often people who adopt a pet and stay for the weekend to get to know their new companion. Rooms are equipped with bowls for food and water as well as a gate between the front door and the room in order to create a space for the animal to sleep. There are cat rooms and dog rooms, we had the latter, but no dog of course. The hotel is completely vegan – you get a vegan cookie upon arrival and at breakfast you are offered almond, soy or coconut milk, and there is a free pet spa. Needless to say, animals are allowed in all places including the restaurant.

The pet door

Pictures on the wall

The Best Friends Roadhouse store

Since we are not vegan yet, we secretly had dinner in a truly Western style restaurant and prepared for our departure the next day.

Our Wild West feeling peaked on April 10th, when we arrived in Monument Valley (UT25) which everyone will recognize as the décor of many Wild West movies.

The décor works for cartoons also:

In the days following Alex’ message to his friends, we went on to Moab (KCNY airport) on April 11th where the wonders of erosion continued to amaze us in Canyonlands -for which the only word that comes to mind is IMMENSE- and Arches National Parks. It is clear how that got its name 😊

We visited Canyonlands at sunset (for a change). At first you only see vegetation of different kinds

... then all of a sudden the earth disappears from under you

We learned that Arches also form in Canyons where water and erosion first turned rocks into "fins" and then created cavities in those fins, sometimes forming large openings. Even if I had listened in my geology classes in high school, I would not have understood as much as I have in these past National Park visits.

Fins seen from above:

and from the side:

Alex on top of a fin:

This arch is called Landscape arch

This one is "double O"

Most other names I don't remember

And beyond fins and arches, there are many more or less stable formations such as these, most of which have their own scientific -or not so scientific- names.

This one is creatively named "Balanced rock"

And here is Dark Angel... really???

Full of all these wonderful and overwhelming nature sights and vivid geology lessons, we left the Wild West and headed to Salt Lake City, for a short urban break.

PS: If you're curious about what cabins on a parking lot look like, here is a picture of the Red Rock cabins in Kanab for you:)

And this was our motel in Moab

I am planning to write a post about types of accommodation soon :)

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John H
John H
Apr 26, 2021

Fantastic pictures of the topography (and of you two of course!) - Keep safe.


Nils Gronberger
Nils Gronberger
Apr 20, 2021

Great to see and read from you, you are having the time of your life. I can clearly understand why.

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