When I was almost five months pregnant I did two things that I had never done before in my life: I joined a group tour and traveled to six of the most amazing canyons of America’s Wild West. This travel story was originally published in German for the travel online edition of a big business magazine. Shortly thereafter I gave birth to my baby boy and got sucked into a time-warp called mommyhood. So this English version is slightly delayed – but since the canyons and rocks described below have not moved in millions of years I believe you’ll find the story and pictures to be still up-to-date!
2 Weeks, 4 States, 6 Canyons, and 1 Baby
(c) Photos by Bettina Gordon
I have to admit that I have the soul of a true globetrotter. A really wonderful, enthusiastic, loving and at the same time incredibly stubborn globetrotter soul that continually and aggressively kicks me out of my own home. No kidding.
Whenever I spend three or four weeks without a break at home in Washington (or in an earlier life, New York) cabin fever takes hold of me. Then I have to get out for a few days or more, depending on whether my husband Joshua is willing to take care of our dog on his own. Other times Joshua joins me, which generally increases his acceptance of my travel fever by a tremendous amount. Even our dog enjoys traveling; Georgia goes to a friend’s home for a retreat when we are on the road.
Right now the world is calling out to me very loudly. Why? Because I’m about to become a mother, and I’m beginning to panic somewhat about having to limit my freedom-loving globetrotter soul for the next 18 years or so.
That’s why I came up with Plan B: travel as much as possible as long as I can, during my pregnancy and later, with child in tow. Our baby will have to realize that he has parents, as well as a dog, who love traveling. In fact, he should probably get a frequent flier card too! So there I was, newly pregnant and feeling the need to get on the road once more; it was almost like my soul depended on it.
To save my husband’s concern about me travelling ‘with child’ I did not go away on my own, but joined my first ever small group tour. Its promising title: Travel Dream West. Two weeks, four states and the most beautiful national parks in the American Southwest – heart and soul, what more could you ask for?
Travel Dream West was founded by Swiss entrepreneur Helen Scholom, and the boutique outfitter addresses an international audience as the tours are usually bilingual (English and German). I joined for the Canyon Lands Tour. Including the tour guide and the professional driver, we were a total of ten people hailing from eight different countries, namely: Australia/Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Austria/USA, England, Switzerland and America.
There were no spring chickens in our group (more 40 upwards – steep upwards, I’m guessing), but this suited me just fine because with a baby on board I would have to pass on wild water rafting, horse riding and really strenuous hiking tours anyway. But the “competition” was still pretty tough – the Australian husband and wife team, multiple grandparents, would probably have overtaken me regularly even if I wasn’t pregnant, they were in such good shape.
There were many aspects of this trip that I enjoyed, but nothing could beat the natural spectacle that we were able to witness every single day. The land opened my heart and soul and made me smile. And my travel companions seemed to experience similar feelings. We enjoyed rugged canyons with thousands of stone columns standing guard, ravines washed by flash floods and carved in wave-patterns with magical light, century old sites built into rocky slopes by the Native Indians and the endless, desolate, exciting vastness of the West.
I continue to be enamored with the American West, over which the wind blows and where the imposing stone formations have supplied humans with shelter, sanctuaries and guideposts for thousands of years.
I was extremely grateful and very pleased to be able to take an entire treasure chest of memories home. I also sincerely hope that the photos will bring a smile to your face today, and perhaps even create a desire to visit this beautiful part of our planet yourself!
These are some of the highlights of our Canyon Lands Grand Circle Tour in photos – Photos (c) Bettina Gordon:
BRYCE CANYON, UTAH
Bryce Canyon in the state of Utah manages to leave a special impression even on a rainy day. Thousands of stone columns, known as the hoodoos, guard the country like staunch tin soldiers. The canyon is named after the Mormon Ebenezer Bryce, who settled in the Canyon with his family in the 1850s. When Ebenezer was asked what it was like to live in such a unique area, the pioneer replied in his best ‘old settler’ manner: “It’s a horrible place to lose a cow.”
Nature, nature, nature as far as the eye can see. During our first week of traveling there was an unusual amount of rainfall, which created some additional natural sights for us.
DEAD HORSE NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
Also in Utah, close to the village of Moab, we visited the Dead Horse National Park with great views on the Colorado River. The last scene of the 1991 box office hit Thelma & Louise was shot here. It’s the famous scene in which the two ladies decide to rather drive over the cliff instead of giving themselves up.
GOBLIN STATE PARK, UTAH
Is it the Goblin State Park, or did we end up on Mars? The tiny stone figures indeed look like goblins that were turned into stone by the sun, and who may well be up to no good during the night. Mischievous little fellas.
SEGO CANYON, UTAH
America’s indigenous people have been living on the continent for thousands of years and have certainly left their tracks. These are wall paintings in Sego Canyon where the petroglyphs display very interesting figures. If you believe in aliens, then you could easily recognize some in those pictures. At least a number of visitors seem to think so.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
In my opinion, Utah’s Arches National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. Visitors can find 2,000 of those natural sandstone arches. The park is a popular attraction, which translates to: many buses, many people. Thus you should travel to the park early in the morning, or perhaps enjoy a sunset at the world famous Delicate Arch. That was our plan originally, but thanks to heavy rainfall the road was closed… oh well, another reason to return!
MESA VERDE, COLORADO
Another famous natural attraction in the area is the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians, who lived in Mesa Verde (in the state of Colorado) from the year 600 to the year 1300. Then, almost overnight, they suddenly left their homes and disappeared from all history. They are apparently the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians. There are over 4,000 excavations and more than 600 of these cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, a UNESCO world heritage site. What you can see in this photo is the Cliff Palace. Our group descended into the Balcony House, with the tours being led by the local park rangers.
ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA
I have always been deeply fascinated by the magical light of Antelope Canyon in Arizona. The canyon’s walls were finely chiseled by flash floods and formed into wave patterns, which gave rise to the unique character of the canyon. The rays of the sun entering the canyon from above turn it into an almost mystical location – which can also be fatal. In 1997, a group of eleven tourists died because they did not take their guide’s warnings about flash floods seriously. Since then, the safety rules have been firmly reinforced. You can only visit the canyon with an official guide.
Our group arrived late one afternoon, around 4:30 pm. I do not recommend to come so late because you will rapidly lose valuable daylight needed for the photos, BUT, if you get lucky, your group may be the only one in the canyon. And then you have a chance to ask somebody to take a photo with just you and the canyon in the picture!
GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
Most of the annual five million visitors see the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, a view which many would recognize from photos. The North Rim is almost 2,000 feet higher, and instead of wandering through the desolate high desert of the south, we trekked through forests and green vegetation along the northern end. Then we were able to enjoy the view from the terrace at the North Rim Lodge.
The highest stone formation in the Grand Canyon is about 250 million years old, and the ground formation at the bottom is approximately 1.8 billion years old. As I basked in the sun and looked into the canyon, I thought this place imbues an elating feeling of eternity.
MONUMENT VALLEY, ARIZONA
I had one of the most beautiful experiences of the tour in Monument Valley. We spent one night in a Navajo Reservation and slept in a traditional clay hut called hogan. It was a clear full moon night with Native American music and traditions – you can read about it here.
FOUR CORNERS, UTAH, COLORADO, ARIZONA AND NEW MEXICO
It’s undeniable now: Baby on board! We stand in the middle of the famous Four Corners, the point where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all come together. The Four Corners Region mainly belongs to the semi-autonomous Native Indian nations of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Zuni.
ZION NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
The last stop on our 2-week tour was Zion National Park, which is Utah’s oldest national park (it was founded in 1919). As I had noticed throughout the whole trip, I also heard a lot of people speak German when we hiked through Zion. It’s undeniable, the American West has a huge draw for many of us Austrians, Germans and Suisse. I believe that’s because, in general, we are nature enthusiasts who love to hike and explore such unfamiliar territory. We have high Alps, but no red rocks. There is actually another blog post in the making: The Top 10 Reasons We German Speakers Love the American West So Much. 😉
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Category: Explore the World With Me