Summer 2023 travels | National Parks

by sam on 09/24/2023

After sitting on my wishlist for several years, I finally booked a trip to visit a whole bunch of US National Parks in…2020. Needless to say, certain events overtook my planning, and the trip got postponed for a few more years, but this summer, I finally got to go. The trip itself had a few wrinkles thanks to the bizarre weather out west this summer (a Hurricane? seriously?), but we mostly got to go everywhere. WAY too many photos to do individual descriptions, but I’ve broken them up by location. As usual, click through to see the big photos (and I’ve increased the default size so these are probably not phone-screen friendly). There are A LOT of rocks. and trees, and some wildlife (no bears!). Overall super glad I went even if my almost 50-year old joints are still a bit mad at me.

Zion National Park

First stop after flying into Las Vegas was Zion National Park. It was still pretty rainy while we were there, so many of the most popular hikes like the Narrows were shut down due to flash flooding. The main hike we did was to the Emerald Pools, which were actual pools thanks to all of the rain.

Bryce Canyon

The weather at our next stop was much more cooperative, and the scenery at Bryce Canyon was simply spectacular. Some of our group hiked down to the bottom, but my knees weren’t going to tolerate that, so I stuck to the rim (and ended up hiking half the rim accidentally when we thought “oh, let’s just walk to the next bus stop, it’ll be easy!”). Later on we drove back for sunset with some contraband bottles of champagne, and got to see our one prairie dog of the trip along the way (bad photo from the van included here).

Horseshoe Bend and Navajo National Park

After Bryce Canyon, we were supposed to go on a jeep tour of Antelope Canyon, but they shut down the entire park that day as a result of flash flooding. So instead we took a detour to Navajo National Park, after stopping at Horseshoe Bend (the “beginning” of the Grand Canyon) for photos and a picnic.

Monument Valley

We did get to go on our other Jeep tour, the one requiring us to wake up at 4am in order to be at Monument Valley for sunrise. I was a little cranky this day, due to the 4am wakeup, lack of coffee, and that being the moment that my camera deciding to break, but at least it broke in a way that it still worked – it just…wouldn’t turn off. So a lot of time spent removing and replacing batteries, but still some amazing pictures, including centuries old petroglyphs. This is genuinely one of the most beautiful and unique places I’ve ever seen – and the number of movies filmed here backs me up.

Grand Canyon

And finally, at the end of week one, the big kahuna. This was my first time at the Grand Canyon and it was really everything it was cracked up to be. No picture can truly capture how immense this place is, but I certainly tried. We drove in in time for a first view and sunset (and watched a rainstorm on the other side of the Canyon), and then spent the next day hiking the rim (again, some group members hiked the 4,000 feet to the bottom and then…back up, but I was not one of those people). Then we went on a helicopter tour in the afternoon and saw even more of the place, including the north rim, which is pretty inaccessible from the ground.


After the Grand Canyon, we returned to Vegas via Route 66 to drop of some folks who were only traveling for week 1, and pick up another passenger and new guide for week 2. Then we got waylaid by the weather again and had to cancel our visit to Death Valley because the park was closed for “the foreseeable future” thanks to the flooding damage from all of the rain. Instead, we went to an incredibly tacky little ghost silver mining town/theme park before finally hitting the vast golden fields of southern California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Then we spent the next two days at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and visited the trees. SO MANY trees. Giant trees. including General Sherman, not just a big tree, but the largest living organism on earth. Hiked the Congress trail, were we also saw the President and the Senate (and where I finally got the joke). On day two we did some hiking and picnicking in Kings Canyon, where I very humorously tore my pants climbing over a fallen tree, so that’s a memory I will have forever.


And penultimately, Yosemite. site of all of those majestic Ansel Adams photographs (and a little gallery of his art, where you can buy an original print for the bargain basement price of $18,000). Half Dome and El Capitan are here, together with some lovely waterfalls and rivers, as well as a whole bunch of trash-scavenging birds.

San Francisco

And finally, San Francisco. Not technically a national park itself, but containing several (the Presidio, Golden Gate Park). Like every good tourist, we had lunch in Haight-Ashbury, hiked the trail to the Golden Gate Bridge (including going under the weird troll tunnel to get there), saw all of the sea lions at the pier, and took a sunset cruise around the bridge and Alcatraz. I spent an extra day there mostly visiting the SFMoMA, contemplated riding a streetcar (too crowded) and walking down the embarcadero for dinner. All in all a fantastic (and exhausting) trip.

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