Canyon Adventures and A Not-So Adventurous Salt Lake City

With our Breckenridge sit over, we had a few days to get situated, do laundry, and repack for our Boise, Idaho housesit.  Originally, Ian wanted to drive all the way up to Boise in one go, or maybe stop halfway for a night.  After looking at a few options though, we decided to break the drive up into three parts, stopping in Grand Junction, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah along the way.  Dividing the trip up into these shorter drives allowed Ian to work and gave me time to write, even on days we were actively driving from place to place.  So, after finishing up work one afternoon, we packed up the car and headed west, up into the Colorado Rockies.

In harsher winters, the four hour drive to Grand Junction can easily take upwards of eight hours, if the weather is bad.  Fortunately, it was unseasonable warm in Colorado (and continues to be as I write this a full month later), so the roads through the mountains were mercifully free of their usual ice and snow.  The drive was gorgeous as always, but starting out so late in the day meant that we were driving into the sun, and that we arrived in Grand Junction after it had set, leaving us to find our way to our Airbnb in the dark.

Once we found our destination, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just outside of Colorado National Monument, we were greeted at the door by our hostess Michele and her husband.  After giving us a tour of their beautiful home, Michele invited us to make ourselves at home, even asking us if we wanted to watch Lucifer and have some dinner with them.  Unfortunately we were behind on most of our shows, Lucifer included, and after unloading the car we tucked ourselves away in our room and caught up on our favorite YouTube channel Funhaus instead.

While we were getting ready for bed, Ian checked out a couple of trails in Colorado National Monument that he wanted to hike and photograph after work the next day, and we planned out a route through the park.  With only one full day in Grand Junction, we had to make the most of our short stay, and Ian needed to plan the hike around the best lighting possible to shoot in.  We planned out a four hour trek through Colorado National Monument, as well as a location we wanted to return to after dark for some possible night shots.  Content with our next day plotted out, we got some sleep before our long day ahead.

In the morning, as Ian worked away at the kitchen dining table, he got a glimpse of how close to the national park we actually were.  Even with the canyons and plateaus towering off in the distance a few miles away, wildlife was definitely active in the area.  As he typed away on his laptop, a slight movement outside the patio window caught his attention.  Feet from the patio doors, a bobcat was stalking its way through the backyards of the neighborhood.  Though he tried to get a picture, the bobcat had moved on before he could grab his camera.

As the afternoon rolled around, we pulled on our hiking boots and set out for Colorado National Monument, in hopes of seeing some more wildlife and some spectacular views.  Only a ten minute drive from the Airbnb, the national park is more than twenty thousand acres, and has a twisting, twenty mile road which enters on one end of the park and winds its way around the canyons, exiting on the opposite end of the park.  A fifteen dollar fee got us a weeklong pass to enter the national park, and we were free to explore.

After driving several miles around curving roads overlooking Grand Junction, and through tunnels cut into the rocky cliffs of the canyons, we came across the first major rock formations and hopped out for a look.  Fallen Rock, the Egyptian Mummy, Coke Ovens, and Independence Monument were just a few of the natural stone sculptures we visited along the way, and we managed to take some truly awe-inspiring panoramas of the immense canyons.

Two hours into our visit to the park, we finally came upon the Visitor Center (the visitor center is only 4 miles from the west entrance, but we came in through the east entrance).  With several trails leading out from the back of the visitor center, we were able to choose a shorter hike than the one we had planned out the night before.  Because we had taken a bit longer to get through the park, we had to hurry down to a spot at the edge of the cliffs to get the camera set up for sunset.

Walking out through the back doors of the visitor center, we were almost immediately met by a pair of female bighorn sheep.  They checked us out from a safe distance, crossed the path which led down to the hiking trails, and walked off towards the setting sun.  Since we didn’t see any wildlife while we were in Breckenridge, it was wonderful to see the bighorn sheep (Colorado’s state animal!) so close up.  Once they were several meters in the opposite direction of the trail, we were able to start our hike.

Picking our way across the rocky cliffs, we were treated to beautiful views of Monument Canyon.  In the dusty terrain, it was easy to lose the trail, but we eventually came to a stop at the edge of the rocky cliff surrounding the canyon.  Except for the occasional caw of a raven or tweet of a songbird, the canyons were eerily quiet.  With little wind and few visitors in the park, it was easy to forget we were only minutes from town, and we could even pretend we were on another world entirely.

As the sun dropped towards the horizon, the canyon walls made shadows which were mesmerizing on the valley below, and we got some great shots before the whole canyon was engulfed in darkness.  Not wanting to be stuck out on the trail in the dark, we packed up Ian’s camera gear, and made our way back to the visitor center before the sun could set completely.  Before hopping back in the car, I took a quick look in the gift shop, and found my mandatory magnet, commemorating our visit to Colorado National Monument and our stay in Grand Junction.

We were starving by the time we made it out of the park, since we had to skip lunch in order to spend as much time in the park as we could, so we made our next destination downtown Grand Junction.  After comparing several places, we settled on Pablo’s Pizza.  None of us can say we’re really new to pizza, but Pablo’s takes its pizza menu into realms of which can be considered insanity.  With sauces and toppings including Thai peanut sauce, honey Dijon mustard, and pine nuts, the masterpieces available at Pablo’s Pizza take things to a mythical level (which is fitting, since their mascot is a unicorn).  Dazzled by our options, I ordered the Let It Brie (garlic olive oil sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, basil, green olives, and creamy brie) and Ian ordered The Italian Stallion (red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, Italian seasoning, parmesan, and ricotta).  This.  Pizza.  Was.  AMAZING!  Pablo’s Pizza may very well be my absolute favorite pizza place in the world, and we may have to take a return trip up to Grand Junction just for a pie in the future.  Satisfactorily fed and tired out from our long day in the canyons, we returned to our Airbnb for a few hours of rest, and to wait for the skies to darken before heading back out to try some night photography.

When we were adequately recovered from our day, we drove back up into the national park and set up the tripod in an empty parking area overlooking the canyon.  Grand Junction lit up the night to the northeast, but the Milky Way was spread across the western sky.  Ideally, the best time to photograph the Milky Way is when the galactic Center is visible.  However, the Galactic Center is not visible in North America during the winter months, so we were only able to get shots of the less dense, outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy.  Nonetheless, the views we got to see of the stars and the canyons more than made up for our inopportune timing.

Because the wind was picking up and the temperature had dropped significantly, we only spent about a half an hour taking photos, before we returned back to the comfort of our car and retraced our path back to our Airbnb.  Had the weather been milder, we likely still would have called it a night, as the photo-ops were less than enthralling.  Once we were back in the warmth of our room, we packed up and prepared for another four hour drive out to Salt Lake City the next afternoon.

This is where the best laid plans go to waste.

Okay, so that was a bit dramatic.

After Ian finished work the next morning, we loaded up the car, thanked Michele for her hospitality, and hit the road.  While the drive was pleasant (until getting into the rush-hour traffic south of Salt Lake City that is) we were racing the setting sun again.  With several accidents backing up traffic for a few miles just south of our exit, we made it into the city well after dark.  On top of that, when we punched the address of our next Airbnb into our GPS, we failed to notice that we had put in Salt Lake City, rather than North Salt Lake (yes, apparently there is a difference).  So, instead of getting off at the proper exit, we got off two miles too soon, and headed directly into downtown Salt Lake City.  Woops.

Once we managed to find our way to the correct address, we were met by our hosts, Scott and Sarah.  Scott gave us a quick tour, and showed us to the Airbnb “Guest wing” of the house.  As far as Airbnb accommodations go, Scott’s house was fantastic.  A staircase off of the kitchen led to the “guest wing”, which consisted of two bedrooms and a shared bathroom.  As the only guests at the time, we had the run of the whole floor.  At the top of the stairs, there was a door which, once closed, blocked off most of the noise from everywhere else in the house, creating a secluded, resort-like feeling, and we didn’t have to worry about the television being too loud and bothering the owners.

After settling in, we ran back out for a late dinner at my (Ian is not as impressed as I am) new favorite restaurant, Kneaders Bakery.  Though I had never heard of it before, Kneaders is a chain restaurant, not dissimilar to Panera, but with a much more home-made feel.  We were only in Salt Lake for two nights, but we stopped by Kneaders for lunch or dinner three times (once for every day we were there).  Soups, sandwiches, pie, cookies, breads, and brownies.  Everything we ordered from Kneaders was amazing, and I don’t think I could ever get sick of eating there.

Unfortunately, Kneaders was probably the most “exciting” thing about all of the time we spent in Salt Lake.  The next day was foggy and rainy, and all of the places on our list we wanted to visit were outdoor venues.  The Olympic stadium, Antelope Island State Park, Red Butte Garden, and Gilgal Sculpture Garden.  All of them would be impossible to see in the fog, and chilly rain.  So, instead of going out, we stayed in.  After Ian and I were done working for the day, we just stayed in bed and caught up on more Funhaus videos and some of our shows we had been falling behind on.

The next morning we were met with a dark layer of cloud cover, instead of fog; and the moment we began packing the car for the final leg of our trip up to Boise, the clouds began pelting us with sleet.  Then, with one icy blast of wind, the sleet turned into full on snow.  Throwing the last of our bags into the car, we thanked Scott and Sarah for being gracious hosts, and hopped into the car to keep warm.  After one last meal at Kneaders, we hit the highway again, for our final four hour drive up to Boise, and our next house sit.

Had the weather been nicer, we probably would have spent all day (the one whole day we were there) visiting the Olympic stadium, searching for bison in Antelope Island State Park, or even just wandering around downtown.  As it was, we didn’t even pick up a magnet!  That’s how little we were able to do in Utah!  If we get the chance to come back in the future (maybe in the summer or fall next time) we will definitely stop through again, to make up for our lost opportunities and see the city to its full extent.

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