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Why I will visit Yellowstone again

Yellowstone is probably the most famous national park in the USA.  I visited it in the early summer in 2014.  Every time I think about Yellowstone, I tell myself that I will definitely go there again.  Why?

I want to stay inside of the park.  Two reasons: (1) I want to be waken up by the sound of forest, not by alarm;  (2) I do not want to spend at least two hours a day on the road going in and out of the park.  The lodging inside of Yellowstone is so popular that it has to be secured several months in advance.  I would love to stay in the Lake Lodge!  Last time when we passed the Lake, I really wanted to just sit there for some time…

yellowstone lake
Yellowstone Lake

I want to look for those secret spots for amazing photos.  Or,  just have more time to take photos…  Meanwhile, I also want to have more time for my eyes to enjoy.  Yellowstone’s beauty is everywhere; it varies in different parts of the park; it changes over time within a day.

yellowstone cistern spring in Norris Geyser Basin
Yellowstone Cistern Spring in Norris Geyser Basin
beartooth highway
Beartooth Highway
yellowstone grass land
Flatlands and River

I want to meet with more animals.  Yellowstone is home for many species.  I was lucky to see a white mountain goat in somebody’s binoculars (wish I could take a photo).  And … I was excited to come across with a bear family, while I was thinking I would never see a bear in Yellowstone…

yellowstone animals three bear
Three bears

Yes, Yellowstone is full of surprises.

 

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Aloha Hawaii – Pearl Harbor Memorial – Beautiful Plumeria

After we returned from the Big Island to Oahu, we picked up a rental car at the airport, and drove to our hostel.  The driving was easy, but finding a free parking spot was not.  After all, the hostel was located in the center of downtown.  I circled around for quite a while, and finally got an on-street parking.

On the early morning of the next day, we checked out the hostel, and drove to Pearl Harbor.  Before the visiter center opens (7 AM), there was already a long line waiting outside.  People, including us, were trying to get tickets for the free tours to the USS Arizona Memorial.  For us, we had to get morning tickets, because we had a flight to catch.  Since one person can get several tickets, I was anxious while waiting.  Unfortunately, when it’s our turn, the earliest tickets available were afternoon.  We had to give up!

pearl harbor USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial

So, we just walked around the Pearl Harbor Historic Site.  To be honest, I found myself more interested in Hawaii Plumeria 🙂

pearl harbor USS Bowfin Submarine
USS Bowfin Submarine
Hawaii Plumeria
Hawaii Plumeria

 

Then, we headed to the airport.  I really enjoyed our Hawaii Trip.  I actually wish I skipped more sessions in the conference 😉

Hopefully I will visit Hawaii again, and spend more days there.

 

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Aloha Hawaii – Mauna Kea Observatories – Big Island

To me, Mauna Kea Observatories was the main reason to visit the Big Island.  Simply because astronomy has been my thing since I was little.  Before this trip, I had never been to a real observatory, and suddenly I had the opportunity to visit one of the best ones!  So, driving to Mauna Kea Observatories was exciting.  On the way, we saw some sheep … wild?

Mauna Kea Observatories Sheep
Mauna Kea Observatories Sheep

And, there were … volcanoes!  A bunch of volcanoes!!  Volcano-looking volcanoes – I mean, they are different from what we saw in the Volcanoes National Park.  These volcanoes have a bowl-shaped dip at the top.

Mauna Kea Observatories Volcano closeup
Colorful volcanoes have a bowl-shaped dip

After driving for a while, suddenly we were in clouds – and soon above the clouds.  We could see more and more volcanoes.  It’s a strange feeling – to be close to so many volcanoes.  There were also dried lava visible in the far place.

Volcanoes (close) and dried lava (far)

The driving was not difficult, but we liked to drive in the center of the road.  It’s a little bit scary when passing cars (only met a few).  Finally we arrived at the top.  It’s sunny and chilly.  And the view was breathtaking!

Mauna Kea Observatories Volcano
Volcanoes
Mauna Kea Observatories Volcano road
Where does this road go to

There are many telescopes.  I only knew Keck.

Mauna Kea Observatories Keck
Keck (one of the two)
Mauna Kea Observatories Keck IRTF
Keck and IRTF

Here are some other telescopes I don’t even know their names.

Mauna Kea Observatories
Other telescopes
Mauna Kea Observatories Radio Telescope
Radio Telescopes

To me, this place is heaven.  

I regret that we didn’t spend one more day on the Big Island.  I really want to go inside of those observatories, and see what I can see.  I heard they have very good stargazing programs.  In fact, on the way there is a complex for amateur astronomers.  People there seemed to be waiting for the night.  I wish I could join them!

 

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Aloha Hawaii – Volcanoes National Park – Big Island

Volcanoes National Park was our first stop after arriving at the Big Island. Since we had an early flight, we were quite early at the national park (open 24h), weren’t we?  Anyhow, there weren’t many people in the park.  It’s like a lost world.  If we had more time (if I go to the Big Island again in the future), I would love to try wondering on that black land.

Hawaii volcanoes national park lost land
The lost land
Hawaii volcanoes national park dried lava pattern
Dried lava pattern

We drove towards the seaside, hoping to see lava flowing into the ocean.  Unfortunately, it was not possible that day.

Hawaii volcanoes national park dried lava
“River” of dried lava

However, we could see the the path of the flowing lava.  Imagine that the black dried lava was boiling red and marching towards the ocean some days in the past…

Hawaii volcanoes national park dried lava river
Lava flowing into the ocean

Then we went to the Jagger museum to see Halema ‘uma’u Crater, one of the most active volcanoes on earth.  It was easy to spot from far place, with high and big “smoke” (gas eruption).

Hawaii volcanoes national park
Halema ‘uma’u Crater from far place
Halema 'uma'u Crater
Halema ‘uma’u Crater Info

The overlook in Jagger museum offers a closer view (still one mile away).  I heard that the view would be much more spectacular in the evening.  But we had to go to see the Mauna Kea observatories, where we could see a lot of volcanoes (although not nearly as active).

Halema 'uma'u Crater
Halema ‘uma’u Crater

 

 

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Aloha Hawaii – Flying to my dream land – Big Island

I had one free day after the conference.  The problem was there were too many attractions in Hawaii!  Where should I go?  The Big Island!  Simply because the Keck Telescopes are there!

The round trip (HNL – ITO) airline ticket was ~$200 each.  Hawaiian Airlines.  We had an early flight, at 5:32 AM.  It’s a short flight – 49 min.   The returning flight was 8:59 – 9:48 PM.  From our hostel to the airport, we arranged a shuttle, which came to pick us up.  At Hilo Airport on the Big Island, we had a rental car.  Originally I booked an economy car from Advantage, for $37.  However, at the counter, the Advantage lady highly recommended us to get a SUV (after hearing us going to the Observatories).  I forgot how much I paid to upgrade the economy car to SUV.  I guess it’s a right decision.

It was an enjoyable early morning flight.  We saw beautiful sunrise:

Hawaii big island sunrise

Hawaii big island sunrise 2

After the sun was up, we were descending.

Hawaii big island sunrise 3

Hawaii big island sunrise 4

After picking up the car, we headed towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Then we went to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.  The garden is close to the ocean.

Hawaii tropical botanical garden
Hawaii tropical botanical garden

The garden is not very big.  We followed the trail, and saw a lot of strange plants.

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Aloha Hawaii – A different world – Waikiki and more

Several posts will be devoted to my Hawaii trip.  Here are some general information.

  • Time: July 2013

– I was attending a conference in Sheraton on Waikiki beach.  Why not have some fun?  I took my mom to Hawaii as well.

  • Flight: From Las Vegas to Honolulu (on Oahu island), 6 hours, time difference is 3 hours, ~$ 220 per person one-way.

– Before going to Hawaii, we stayed in Las Vegas for two nights.  Our flight to Honolulu was delayed.  At first, the plane was called back from the take-off lane to add more fuel (wasn’t it weird?).  Then, we had to wait for the storm to pass by.  The airline blamed weather for the delay, and only gave us drinks.  We were supposed to get to Honolulu by 9PM, but we ended up arriving after 1AM.  Not a good start!

  • Accommodation: Hostel International (HI) Honolulu Waikiki, $25 per person per night.

– I booked two beds in a six-bed female room.  Surprisingly, the staff there gave us an individual room!  The room has a bunk bed and a restroom.  The location of the hostel is super – just two blocks from the BEST part of Waikiki Beach.  They also have various beach stuffs – we always borrow a bodyboard.

Hawaii Waikiki Beach
Hawaii Waikiki Beach

– I hope one day we can take Fu to Waikiki.  Beach is surely the heaven for kids!

Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
Hawaii Waikiki beach
  • Places visited: Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, the Island of Hawaii (Big Island)

– I am so glad that we went to the Big Island.  That’s the best part of this trip 🙂

  • Restaurant: Marukame Udon (丸亀製麺)

– We went there three times.  Every time there was a long line.  Luckily the line moves fast, as the service there is fast.  Basically you pick the type of soup (pre-made) for the udon noodle.  They have tasty tempura too!

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Zion National Park – Hiking Hiking Hiking

Thanks to our failure in the lottery for the Wave, we had plenty of time in Zion National Park.  Being different from other national parks in our Grand Circle trip, Zion has more plants, and seems more family friendly.  Zion is only 40 minutes away from Kanab.  Private cars are asked to park in the big parking lot close to the visitor center.  Shutter buses are running every 10-20 minutes, depending on the season and time.

Zion National Park checkerboard mesa
Zion National Park checkerboard mesa

There are numerous hiking trails in Zion.  The two most famous and difficult ones are called The Narrows and Angel’s Landing.  We did both!

The Narrows
The trail is actually a section of the Virgin river running in the canyon.  It is thus very important to check the weather and the flood potential.  There are special preparations needed to be done as well.  Keep in mind that the water may be cold!  Even in early September when the sun is out and people are wearing shorts, the water is cold.  This is because the river runs in the narrow canyon, and does not get much sunshine.  Also, prepare “special”  shoes because they will get wet for sure.  The other thing may be useful is a stick, as walking in the river is difficult – you cannot see how deep the water is or what you are going to step on.  We didn’t have sticks, so we were quite slow.

Two ways to hike The Narrows.  One can either hike top-down or bottom-up.  Top-down is an overnight hike, and requires permits. Bottom-up is easier, and requires no permits.  Therefore most people, including us, choose the bottom-up hike.  We took the shutter to Temple of Sinawava.  After hiking the 1 mile riverside trail, we reached the starting point of The Narrows.  I could see that people were excited to hike this special and unique trail!  The first step into the water was really cold.  After a while, I kinda got used to it.  Walking in the river was more difficult than I thought, but it’s a lot of fun!  My mom and I sometimes had to hold hand to stabilize each other.  We reached the starting point of Wall Street, and then decided to return.  In total, we hiked about 5 hours.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park the narrows

Angel’s landing
This is also a unique trail.  The first half of the trail is paved road.  However, the rest is rocks.  There is a thick chain along the trail, so I don’t find it very dangerous.  In fact, I liked it a lot! :). It reminded me the Yellow Mountain in China!  The trail to one of the highest peaks, Tiandu Peak, is a bit similar.  But it’s a lot more steeper on Tiandu Peak!  (I recently revisited Yellow Mountain, and I will write about it. D had already finished his blog about Yellow Mountain.)  The end of Angel’s landing is the top of the mountain.  Many people were sitting there and enjoying the view.  We didn’t stay long, because we had to drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park angel landing chain
Zion National Park
Zion National Park angel landing top

I am sure everybody can find some trails that they enjoy in Zion.  I just feel lucky that we could do the two most unique ones!

One more thing about Zion.  There are a lot of restaurant in Springdale.  We tried one Thai restaurant (Thai Sapa), and the food we had there were surprisingly good!

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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – sunrise again?

Monument Valley kinda represents The West, as one can see in some movies about Westerns.  It’s the second major stop, following Arches National Park, in our Grand Circle trip.  Driving from Moab to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park takes almost 3 hours.  We were hoping to catch the sunset!  So we kept driving, except for a brief break at Mexican Hat.  The weather was actually not promising.  When we got closer to Monument Valley, we were caught in a storm.  My plan of taking a photo of the straight road going towards those iconic sandstone buttes vanished!

When we arrived at the park, the storm has just passed.  After paying the entrance fee ($20), we went ahead to the hotel – The View Hotel – the only hotel inside of the park.  It’s the most expensive hotel we booked in our entire Grand Circle trip, almost $300 (on top of that, we also paid for the breakfast).  Obviously we had high expectations for it.  The style and color of the building match the surrounding very well.  The hotel is almost like part of the park itself.  The terrace is big, providing good views of the valley.  The room is a typical American standard room.  Not a bad size!  The best part – also the most expensive part – is the private balcony!  We could see the whole valley without going out of the room.  Plus, the balcony faces east, which means sunrise can be seen directly from the room as well!  To be honest, I have never been to a balcony that gives such extraordinary view…  The whole valley was there for me to enjoy, in peace.

Sunset was not possible that day.  But the air felt fresh after the storm.  The temperature was very pleasant!  And the valley looked more peaceful.  I couldn’t help to admire those sandstone buttes, which have been standing there for who knows how many centuries.  We didn’t go to the restaurant for dinner.  Somehow we had a crave for instant noodles 🙂

The sky got darker and darker.  We saw a few cars (lights) were driving in the valley.  Were they local Navajo residents?

The second day, I got up early, and went out to the terrace with my camera (+ tripod).  Yes, sunrise again!  Why not?  No need to drive, no need to hike – it’s probably the easiest sunrise (although people often miss the easiest things).  I took many photos, with different settings.  D and my mom didn’t come out.  They saw sunrise on the balcony – a slightly different angle but equally good.  I had to come out because I wanted a bigger view.  It was a bit cloudy!  But not too bad.  The sun rose behind the center butte.

As mentioned earlier, we bought tickets for the breakfast buffet.  The restaurant has big windows so people can enjoy the view of the valley while enjoying their meals.  However the buffet was normal… not many choices.  I kinda missed the breakfast in Best Western.

After the breakfast, we checked out.  But we didn’t leave!  Instead, we went for hiking.  The only hiking trail in the park is called Wildcat, starting from the hotel.  We spent some time looking for the start point of the trail.  It was not as straightforward as we thought.  Anyways, we found it!  We hiked around one of the sandstone buttes.  The closeup view was a totally different experience!  We had to look up the sandstone butte –  it’s so tall.  Also, we got to get close to the local plants and animals.  The temperature raised quickly as the day proceeded towards noon.  We took many water breaks, and enjoyed the company of a dog (may belong to somebody).

Then we went for the 17 miles scenic drive.  The road condition was much better than we thought.  A 4WD was not necessary.  Since hiking is not allowed without a guide, we basically stayed on the main road, and finished the loop quickly.  I am surprised that I don’t have much to say about the drive… but it’s definitely worthing going!

With all the good memories of Monument Valley, we hit the road towards Page, Arizona.  

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Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

It’s the second day of our Grand Circle trip, and we planned to see sunrise at Mesa Arch.  Since my mom got a little injury in Arches National Park the previous day, she didn’t join us for the sunrise.  We also thought it’s better for her to rest more so that she would have energy later.  However, it’s really a pity that she missed the best sunrise in the whole trip!

The driving from Moab to Mesa Arch, which is in Canyonlands National Park, was about 45min.  In order to get a good spot for photography, we got up and hit the road very early (4:30am, 2h before the sunrise).  I kinda remember that I was in the driver’s seat, so that D (my husband) could rest.  After all, I am the one who is crazy about sunrise and sunset!  It was still dark when we arrived at the trailhead parking area.  But don’t worry – we had headlights!  So prepared!  The trail was said to be a 0.7 mile loop, so it should be only ~600m to the Mesa Arch.  However, it took us a while to figure out which way to go, because the trail was not that obvious (remember? It’s dark).

We were among the earliest at Mesa Arch!  I tested a few spots with my camera, and finally settled down.  More and more people came.  My spot was probably good, because several tripods were set up besides me.  We were all quietly waiting for the moment.  On the other hand, D was walking around – climbing up and down.

Canyonlands National Park
Waiting to see sunrise

The east started to show some red.  After a while, the first sunshine came out and lighted up the quiet canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park
Sunrise at Mesa Arch

We were still waiting.  The moment has not come yet!  People’s eyes were all on Mesa Arch.  Slowly, the bottom part of the arch started to turn to a burning orange-red color!  This magic didn’t last long, as the sun was rising.

Canyonlands National Park
Burning Mesa Arch

After the color faded on Mesa Arch, it’s officially post-sunrise.  The sky was already bright.  We realized that Mesa Arch was right on the cliff edge.  Overlooking the vast canyonlands was also an unforgettable experience to us. Unfortunately, not a good time for photos (against the sun).

Canyonlands National Park
Overlooking the canyonlands

On the way back to hotel, we were quite excited.  Plus, the breakfast in the hotel (Best Western Plus Canyonlands) was great!

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First target in Grand Circle – Arches National Park

We arrived a t Moab in the early afternoon.  After checking into the hotel (Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn), we did grocery shopping (City Market) to prepare for our Grand Circle trip: water and snacks.  Our original plan was to leave for Arches around five o’clock.  But we arrived one hour early, and didn’t want to wait in the hotel (which turned out to be a bad decision).

Arches National Park is only 8 minutes from Moab.  We got a national park annual pass at the gate, for $80.  After quickly going through the visitor center (we failed to get the ranger-guided tour to the Fiery Furnace), we headed towards the trailhead of Delicate Arch.  The goal was to see the sunset and the moonrise (full moon) there.

After about half an hour, we found the trailhead (Wolfe Ranch parking area).  The trail is 1.5 mile one-way, and climbs up ~150m. The thing was it’s really really hot!  The temperature in the forecast was 39 or 40 degree C, and it should be much higher on the rock.  After hiking about 20 minutes, my mom suddenly fell towards the front when she was drinking, and I couldn’t catch her!  She hit the ground (rock), but was still trying to hold the water bottle.  Fortunately it’s a relatively flat area, otherwise I cannot imagine!  Her nose was scratched by the sunglasses.  Her knees were bleeding a little.  My husband (boyfriend at the time) and I helped her to move to the shade, and washed her wound.  We asked her to drink water and just rest.  She probably passed out for a second because of the heat!  Plus, we didn’t take any break during the 20min hike… Not to say that we had an early and long flight, and some driving!  We really should have rested more in the hotel.

Arches National Park
Delicate Arch and people waiting to see sunset

We gave up Delicate Arch, but could see it from the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.  Then, we went to the Windows Section, because arches there require little hiking.  When we were leaving Arches, we saw the moonrise.

Arches National Park
Arches National Park Spectacles Arch

The second day, we came back to Arches again, after seeing the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park (I have to write a separate post for Mesa Arch because it’s too good) 🙂

My mom seemed recovered from the first day, so we decided to try a little bit hiking again!  This time Devils Garden.  It was also a sunny day.  The driving from the visitor center to Devils Garden was half an hour.  The trailhead is a big parking lot, and has restrooms.  The trail is quite easy.  And more importantly, we were more prepared, both physically and mentally!  The total distance covering all the trails is 7.2 miles, but we didn’t set a goal.  We hiked at a slow pace, and took many water breaks (even when we didn’t feel the need to take a break).

Arches National Park
Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

So it was a leisurely hike.  We saw Landscape Arch!  This arch is very different from the others.  So long, and so thin.  Interestingly, there were many small rocks below it – looked like debris of collapses.  It’s said that Landscape Arch may break/disappear one day?

We didn’t have energy to hike to the Double O Arch, so just took the same way back.  We were very pleased with the 2h hiking 🙂

After a quick bite in a cafe in Moab, we started driving towards Monument Valley

 

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