Friday, February 26, 2016

Lehman's Lonely Cave

   Stretching across the United States from Ocean City, Maryland all the to Sacramento, California is U.S. Route 50. At over 3,000 miles this highway cuts the country at pretty much it's mid point. Along the route you will find Civil War battle fields (Chantilly, Virginia), a president's home town (Harry S. Truman, Independence, Missouri), and several small, unique towns. But once you reach Nevada things change.
 The Nevada section of Highway 50 has been nicknamed "The Loneliest Road in America." Personally I think that could moniker should count for part of the Utah section as well but whatever. If you research the road much on the interwebs you will find that there were a lot of changes to the route, minor controversies, and a lot of people warning you not to travel this lonely road unless you have Bear Grylls type survival skills. But if you ignore the history and keep a little extra food and water in the car you can find a hidden gem along the route, Lehman Caves.
  Lehman Caves can be found inside the Great Basin National Park. Designated a National Park in October of 1986, GBNP sees around 90,000 visitors per year with 50,000 visiting Lehman Caves. This stat makes no sense to me since it really is the highlight of the park but I took that statistic right from the National Park System's web site. I went to see the cave and drive the 12 mile Wheeler Peak scenic drive. Of course nothing ever goes as planned and since we were here for Memorial Day weekend we endured a pretty good snow storm which closed all the roads in the park except the one leading to Lehman Caves Visitor Center. Since I had only one day to explore I had to be happy that I at least got to see the caves.
 There weren't a lot of people there that day which was good since it kept the tour group pretty small. All tours into the caves are ranger guided and your tickets should be reserved in advance so as to make sure you can get in. You don't want to drive all the way there and not be able to get in. Inside we learned about the caves discovery by Absalom Lehman in 1885 and how early visitors were allowed to break off pieces of stalactites as souvenirs.One part of the cave system is even littered with graffiti. We also learned about cave "bacon" which I didn't know was a thing until then but once you see it you understand the thought behind the term.
  The caves are lit and are around 45 degrees year round so bring a sweatshirt. There is a point during the tour that they turn off the lights to give you a sense of just how dark it gets inside the Earth. No surprise it's damn dark but way cool at the same time.
  I won't lie. I was disapointed that Mr. Plow couldn't clear the roads up to Wheeler Peak that day but I guess it gives me a reason to return to the park someday. Overall I did enjoy the caves and has inspired me to put Carlsbad Caverns on my list of places to see someday. Yes it's a long and lonely drive to get there but if you know you're going to be traveling highway 50 through Nevada make sure to use this place as a reason to stretch your legs. It's worth stopping by.





Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Friends Found Around Every Corner

  It doesn't take much for someone to find negativity these days. An hour news report or a glance at social media allows a person to see that the world is in a dark place. If I had just woken up from a twenty year coma and someone showed me their Facebook feed I think I would beg for somebody to put me back to sleep. But something happened the other day that reminded me of the fun and friendships that I have made because of a Jeep.
  In all of the activities and adventures that I tend to participate in nothing has brought more face time with friendly people than off-roading in my Jeep. During my years spent as a trail official during the Easter Jeep Safari has allowed me to meet people from just about every state and even a few different countries and each one of them has been very friendly and respectful of others and the land we all enjoy. But what really sets them apart is how many you will find willing to take each other out to the back country for a fun day on the trail. On more than one occasion we have been in Moab and someone on the opposite side of the parking lot has come over and asked if we were going out somewhere and if we would mind if they tagged along. Our answer has always been a resounding YES.
  This just happened to us over the weekend. We were at the trail head of a local trail called The Rattlesnake when we were approached by a man and his family that wanted to tag along with our group and just like that our group grew from three to six rigs. Although the trail isn't very long we were able to show them the route and for an hour we were all good friends enjoying time on the trail. I just don't see this happen in other activities and I guess I find it a little disappointing. When you attend the Jeep Safari you are surrounded by these like minded people that are willing to help one another and are welcoming to new comers.
  I hope to meet as many of these people as possible when I attend off-road events and even more so when someone finds me at the gas station and it's just a small group. If you have had similar experiences in your adventures I hope that you cherish them as much as I do. This world needs more friendly people watching over each other. See you Friday!

Brandan

  

Friday, February 19, 2016

100 Years And Counting: The National Parks

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
  One of my favorite things about living in Utah is that we have five national parks. I like to think that it's proof that we have the most scenic state but maybe I'm biased. Only California (9) and Alaska (8) have more national parks than Utah, and that's not too shabby.
  This year the National Parks Service is celebrating 100 years of preserving America's prized and delicate locations. There are 58 parks spread throughout 27 states and also the territories of American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands. There you go, I just gave you 58 locations to choose from for your next vacation. You're welcome.
  Looking through the list I find it somewhat embarrassing how few parks I've actually visited. I can count eight that I've visited and seven of them I tend to frequent. Glacier National Park I've only visited once and the week before we arrived (in June) an avalanche closed the Going to the Sun Road, the main thoroughfare through the park. This made it very difficult to see the park and unfortunately we missed out on the best the park has to offer. I hope to return before all the glaciers melt. We'll see how that goes.
  This year will be a return visit to Yellowstone. It's at the top of my list of favorite parks despite my beautiful local parks. We haven't been there since 2009 and in my opinion I'm overdue for a trip. If you visit on the 4th of July you can catch an awesome fireworks display in West Yellowstone, Montana. The colorful explosions seem even more patriotic as they light up Yellowstone's surrounding forests.
  I've mentioned in previous posts that I will be stopping into Yosemite National Park for the first time. This is the trip I'm most excited for due to an exciting itinerary that I've been working on but from the photos and videos I've seen of this park I'm sure it will be a highlight. I may have to bring twice as many memory cards for the cameras than usual.
  I cant' say enough about these parks. They encompass everything I like about traveling. I'm either seeing something unique and beautiful or I'm standing in some kind of historic site where long gone people lived and left their remnants behind for us to ponder and learn about. Spring is coming and with it comes warmer weather which gets us thinking about Summer vacations. I hope when you plan your vacations you consider stopping in to one our 58 parks. Bring your cameras, kids, and curiosity because visiting these places bring inspiration, beauty and adventure that you won't want to miss. I hope to see you out there.

Brandan

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jeeps, lots of Jeeps

4x4's on the Hell's Revenge Trail, Moab, Utah
 I've mentioned in past posts that we spend a lot of time in Moab, Utah. I have also mentioned the Easter Jeep Safari. Well now that we are nearing thirty days from 2016's event I thought I would explain a little about what this event is.
  Fifty years ago members of the Moab area Chamber of Commerce packed a lunch and loaded up their Jeeps for a trip out in the red rocks. One dirt trail called Behind the Rocks was the days entertainment. Since then the event has grown from one trail to over thirty. But where did they come from?
  Visitors today may not know it but Moab's has an extensive background in mining. During the 1950's a Uranium boom occurred and later potash and manganese were mined. Today oil and natural gas are being mined all over the area. It is because of the mining of yesterday that we have access to such great scenery and off-road recreation today. These roads were originally cut as access and exploratory roads for the mining companies. For the most part these roads were abandoned and other than the local 4-wheeling club repairing and marking the trails there is little maintenance.
Tip Over Challenge on the Hell's Revenge Trail
  Every Spring Moab is host to thousands of off-roaders who bring their 4-wheel drive vehicle of choice to the desert to traverse trails of various difficulty. Although Jeep is in the name, the event is open to all types of 4-wheel drive vehicles (no ATV's, UTV's or motorcycles though.) Participants register for the trails of their choice and pay a fee to attend the event where they will be taken on guided runs for up to nine days. An experienced "Trail Leader" and his helpers (called "gunners") will take the participants out for the day and will share their knowledge of the area and make sure everyone follows the rules and gets home safely. These trail "officials" are made up of volunteers and come from all over the country. There was a time when you would have seen me out there but over the past few years I've come to enjoy taking out smaller groups of ten to fifteen as opposed to fifty to eighty.
  One common misconception that I've heard from people that have never attended an event like this is that they think the Safari is some kind of race. It's quite the opposite, however. You may hit fifteen miles an hour if you find a long, flat stretch of road but this is rare. This is what they call rock crawling. It's slow and leisurely with some opportunities to test a vehicles abilities thrown in here and there. It's a family event where people pack a lunch and come together to share a common interest. Folks here are respectful of each other and the environment and are generally good people.
Vendor booths fill the Spanish Trail Arena
  During the event there is a large vendor show held at the Spanish Trail Arena. Here hundreds of vendors from the off-road community show off the latest and greatest products on the market from tires, winches, bumpers, and much more. This is where the who's who of off road come together to separate you from your money. It's a good time, trust me.
  On the last Saturday of the event, referred to as "Big Saturday," all of the trails will line up along main street and it's side streets to await a shotgun start. At 9:00 AM the roads leading into town are closed and 1600 vehicles will leave town in a what can best be described as a massive Jeep parade. This is the only day of the week that every trail offered is ran on the same day and needless to say is the busiest day of the week.
  Well that is a very quick, very rough overview of the Easter Jeep Safari. I wanted to make sure that you had an idea of what this event is since I'll be referring to it a lot in the next month. If you are interested in learning more about the event or the club that hosts it go to http://www.rr4w.com/.  I'm looking forward to attending this event again and even more excited to cover it for you here on the site.

Oh and a quick thank you to those of you that stop in here every week and to those of you who have just found us. If you like what you see please tell others about us. We want to reach as many people as possible because it's fun to share our experiences with you. Thanks!

Brandan

Friday, February 12, 2016

Say Cheese!

  You've done it. You've planned the perfect vacation, one that your spouse and children will always refer to when they recall their best trip ever. So how will you prove to all of your friends that your stories are true? Well with pictures of course. But what type of camera do you choose? Well the answer isn't cut and dry. Weather, your chosen activities and personal preference dictate the style of camera you choose. But don't worry, these days cameras are everywhere (heck your phone likely has two) and almost all of them take great pictures. So what do I use? Well I'm going to tell you.
  I tend to carry too many cameras with me in my travels but I'm trying to document my adventures from as many angles as possible. To do this I have a minimum of two GoPro cameras with me on every trip. These versatile action sports video cameras provide unique and interesting camera angles due to the impressive line up of mounting options available and water proof cases. I use them to catch footage from both inside and outside our UTV and Jeep. I would refer to the GoPro as my front line soldiers, the guys I put into harms way to capture the hard to get shots that are too dangerous for other cameras to get (like under water.) At $400 these are (gulp) the least expensive cameras in my line up.
  When I need to snap some quick shots for social media or just some decent pictures for myself I will whip out my iphone. The cameras on cell phones continue to get better with each model, heck, they shoot 4K video now, that's ridiculous to think about. I always have my phone with me like most of you so there is never an excuse to miss photographing those precious moments.
  The big moments are reserved for better cameras, however. I currently use a Nikon D7000 and a Canon 70D for the majority of my photography. They aren't the most expensive cameras on the market (which I partly why I use them) but they take awesome photos. I like both of these cameras because of their similar features and the fact that they have a huge line of lenses that can be used to capture that perfect moment. Now you're probable wondering why I have both a Nikon and a Canon and it's a fair question and it's actually a simple answer.
  Technology in digital cameras has come a long way over the past ten years and manufacturers have found a way to add video capturing capabilities into the same little box that captures your great pictures. You can now get a cinematic video look without having to shell out thousands of dollars in equipment and training. I thought I would be a Nikon guy forever until I decided to shoot video. This is when I met the 70D. It's awesome video quality and superior auto focus places it leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. So the Canon is used for documentary video shooting while I continue to use the Nikon for still photography. Using both gives multiple people the ability to be creative and gather our footage for the blog and the soon to launch YouTube channel.
  Well there's a glimpse of our camera gear and what we use them for. It may not help you find the right camera for you but it gives you a taste of what we go through. Maybe this will inspire you to get out this weekend and snap some shots. Remember you have your phone so no excuses. Have a safe weekend!

Brandan
 
 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Taking a Home With You

  With the almost endless options of travel destinations available today it's kind of funny that the means to get to these places remains the same. You may get on a plane to leave for your trip but you will eventually get into some form of vehicular transportation to actually get out and enjoy your vacation. Even on a cruise many of the shore excursions will be accessed by vehicle. That's just the way it is. But have you actually taken a vacation where your vehicle is your transportation, hotel room, and your source of food? If you have then you've probably owned or rented a recreation vehicle.
  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes from small vans to behemoth buses. Of course we've all seen them bounding down the highway as we blast past them before the next steep grade climb to avoid being stuck behind them but did you ever stop to think whether an RV was an option for you? Yes they are big and can be intimidating but they really aren't that difficult to drive. All it takes is a little patience.
  To me the RV is a great option for my ATV trips to the mountains and deserts. I have a clean bed that I know who's been sleeping in it, a private bathroom complete with a shower, and the all important kitchen. Some people even have satellite television beaming to their rigs but to me that's going a little too far (the point is to get away from civilization and video games after all.) Okay so cooking on vacation may not sound like a vacation for the cook in the family but this is your opportunity to involve everyone in the family to participate and I promise you that camp food is always better than eating out. Trust me when my group goes out we eat foods that we don't regularly eat at home like deep fried turkey, rock salt prime rib, and dutch oven rolls and cobblers. It's delicious. Of course an easy burger and dog meal is always good too.
    There's something to be said about having a familiar bed after a long day of exploring. If there's one thing I don't like about hotels it's that I can't get a good nights sleep until about the third night (probably because by then I'm too exhausted not to sleep.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that my little motor home (not pictured anywhere here by the way) is my home away from home. Are there negatives to the RV? Of course but there are negatives to everything but I don't have time for them.
  Another fun fact about RV's, you will meet some of the nicest people in RV parks. You will find some strange ones too but over all they're good people. They share your interests and are more than willing to lend a hand to someone in need. In special cases if you return to a place multiple times you will get to know the owners/operators of the parks and other "regular" visitors and you can become a little mini family who gets to reunite every year and catch up on times past. It's truly interesting to see this work. If you're wondering why I know this it's because we've spent over ten years staying at the Riverside Oasis RV park in Moab, Utah during the Easter Jeep Safari and many others have done the same. It's a rare thing but again, it's special.
  I encourage you to not rule out taking an RV vacation. There are many options to rent so you can't use the "I don't own one" excuse. No these kind of trips aren't really for everyone but you won't know unless you try. Oh, and to be fair to yourself and to the things that you're trying, you should always try something at least three times before you decide if you like it or not. It's the only way to be sure. Let's hit the open road folks. Be safe this week and I'll be back on Friday!

Brandan

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Land Of The Red Rocks

  Are a traveler looking for adventure? Maybe you're looking for good weather and movie quality scenery. Would you be interested in a place with two national parks and a state park within less than an hour of your hotel room. If any of this sounds good to you then keep reading as I introduce you to what is hands down my favorite place on Earth.
  Moab, Utah is everything I've mentioned and more and since I mentioned earlier this week that many of March's post will deal a lot with Moab, I wanted to give you an idea as to what Moab offers before March hits.
  This town is truly a hub for adventure. There isn't a direction you can point where you won't find some type of recreation and if someone out there can tell me of another place that can boast such claims then please let me know because I want to visit.
  Mountain bikers will be challenged by the world renowned Slick Rock Bike trail where you will be tested by steep slick rock domes and bowls as you traverse the twelve mile route. I'm told that you may be exhausted by the end of this unique trail (I wouldn't know first hand because well, I'm lazy.)
  Okay, if mountain biking isn't your thing maybe you would like to take on rafting the mighty Colorado River. From Moab you can access all types of rapids from the mild waters of the Fischer Towers section all the up to the wild class IV rapids of Cataract Canyon. Don't want to go it alone? There are plenty of guides in town that would love to take you out for a great time.
Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah
  If a hike or scenic drive is more for you then you need to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Guest to these parks are left to marvel at the awesome power of mother nature as you learn of how wind and water erosion created some of the most unique and beautiful landmarks the world has to offer. The three mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch is one of my favorite despite some steep sections that can make some of us that are a little out of shape second guess our decisions.
  Canyonlands is broken into three sections and if you visit the Island in the Sky portion (the furthest north) you can view something special. Less than 170,000 years ago (says some science guys) a meteor came crashing into what is now referred to as Upheaval Dome. This spot interests me the most in Canyonlands because I can still remember when they were still debating on whether or not this was a meteor impact or an ancient salt deposit pushing up through the Earth. The signage explains it better so go check it out.
  Of course there are many other things to see and do in the Moab area but the one that has brought me and my family back year after year (this will be twenty seven) is the Easter Jeep Safari. Moab is described as the "mecca" of four wheeling because of it's endless amounts of trails to explore and of course the well organized Jeep Safari event that is hosted annually by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, Inc.
  Thousands of off road enthusiasts converge upon Moab for nine days each spring to take guided tours through the slick rock. They get to experience beautiful overlooks, towering sandstone cliffs, challenging roads, and they forge friendships with like minded people from all around the world. Yes I said world. People come from all over to experience what Moab has to offer and I encourage you to do the same.
  So, can I talk you into visiting my quiet little getaway? I've given you an idea of the adventures waiting for you. What are you waiting for? Heck bring your Jeep and I may even head down with you. I'm a sucker for a good time.
  Okay, okay I'd better stop now. I'm starting to sound like a commercial or something which I'm not because commercials are paid for (go ahead and send a check if you want though.) Next week we talk cameras folks. Get out there this weekend and have some fun!

Brandan

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Where To Next?

  Where do you want to go next? It's an easy question with a not so easy answer. There are countless places to visit on this planet and choosing your next adventure can be a bit tricky. Some of the family likes to snorkel, others don't. Some of us like airplanes while others like to drive. The wife and kids want to go to the beach while Dad wants to go into creepy buildings and hunt for ghosts (okay this one is admittedly aimed at me but whatever, I don't care.) The point is that there are many things to consider before heading off on that next vacation. So how do you decide? Here are a few ideas:

  Travel Agent

     These guys and gals can be helpful. They know where to find the deals, what hotels you want to stay in, and of course they will do all the leg work for you if you so desire. There insider knowledge and the knowledge they gain in their own travel will help you decide where you want to go and what you'll need to get there.

 Travel Shows

      Travel show are a good source of information for all sorts of locations around the globe. Here you can walk from booth to booth and learn about locations from just about everywhere you could want to go all in one place. They will usually have plenty of literature for you to take with you so that you can answer your own questions about a location even after you've left the show. Take my advice though, don't hold on to that literature too long because it takes up a lot of room on the book shelf after a while. We just attended a travel show over the weekend and I have a months worth of information to sift through.

  Discuss Your Interests

       Okay this one is key to any travel. In order to use a travel agent or book any vacation you should have already discussed with all parties involved where on Earth you want to visit. There will always be differences in opinions and that's okay as long as you play nice and be flexible.  Yup, flexible. Know one person should always get their way. If you discuss the locations and activities everyone wants to participate in you will eventually narrow it down to somewhere you can agree on. Another idea is to take turns choosing where to go. If you alternate who chooses where to go you will not only get to see the places you want to see (eventually) but you will probably find that you enjoy their pick more than you imagined. At the same time though, if it's your turn to pick make sure you take into account your parties interests in activities. If you can find something that they can look forward to they will enjoy your choice in location a lot more. Flexible. The word of the day.


  Okay so that's a few ideas for you use for choosing your next vacation. I know it seems like pretty simple concepts but sometimes a little common sense is all you need.
  I did want to mention this week that we are just eight weeks away from the 50th annual Jeep Safari being held in Moab, Utah. The Jeep Safari has been a big part of my life over the last twenty seven years and I don't see that changing anytime soon. In the coming weeks I plan to introduce you to what the Jeep Safari is and what the Moab area has to offer. Some of our readers will already know most of this information but I'm sure they will be just as excited for me to hopefully get some of you interested in coming out here and experiencing this adventure first hand.
  Of course some of you won't be interested in this topic and I understand that. I'll mix it up a bit so that you don't think I'm alienating you but it's adventure time folks. Springs a comin'! I say that as I'm looking at snow falling out my window but I'll stay optimistic. Have a great week and I'll see you Friday!

Brandan