Yellow Van Travels: A Family Travel Blog

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Provo City Center Temple Open House

Over the President's Day holiday weekend we were able to go through the open house for the new Provo City Center Temple. This was an amazing and very special experience for us.

A Little Background
All Latter-day Saint (Mormon) temples are sacred spaces for the worship of God. I won't go into detail in this post but more can be learned here. Only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are ready to make sacred promises with God can normally enter temples. But when a new temple is built anyone may come inside during the open house and tour the building before its dedication.

This temple is particularly special to many people because of its history. The building was originally the Provo Tabernacle and had served as a religious and community building in Provo for more than a hundred years. It held many dear memories in that capacity for many many people. It caught fire in 2010 and was almost completely destroyed except for the outside walls. For months it was unknown what would be done with the building until it was announced that it would be restored as a temple. (To learn more about this history go here).

For us it also has some significance although we didn't grow up in Provo and most of our time here has been since the fire. Ben's oldest sister performed her senior organ recital in the tabernacle, our first date was to the conference where the new temple was announced, Ben was one of the designers on the history exhibit linked to above, and it will now be our home temple once it opens.

Getting There
The temple is located at the intersection of University Avenue and Center Street in Provo. If you are coming on I-15 it is best to take the University Avenue exit and head North until you see the temple. You can also take the Center Street exit and head East until you see the temple, but that tends to take longer as traffic on Center Street is usually quite slow.

What You Will See
If you come during the last couple weeks of the open house (ending March 5th, 2016) you will be able to walk through the temple and see all the ordinance rooms and other areas of the temple. If you don't have tickets, which are no longer available, you will need to wait in the standby line. As would be expected on weekends the lines are quite long, but during the day on weekdays they are often short. When we went on the Friday of a holiday weekend we had tickets and had to wait in the ticket line for about an hour. Meagan's brother went in the middle of the week without tickets and didn't have to wait at all. Regardless if you have to wait or not it is worth it.

You will first be taken into one of several small temporary theaters in the parking garage. There you will see a film explaining a little bit about temples and their importance to the LDS church. From there you will go inside the temple and tour through the rooms. There are no tour guides, but there are cards set up to explain what each room's purpose is. Each room is gorgeous and designed to carry the pioneer feel of the tabernacle. The tour takes between 15-20 minutes once you get inside.

After the tour you will go through a short exhibit about the history of the tabernacle and temple. Friends of mine built this exhibit so I would say it is worth looking at. You will also have the chance to get your picture taken in front of a backdrop of the temple. We did get our picture here, but I would also suggest getting some outside with the actual temple in them.

If you come after the open house has ended you will not be able to enter the temple itself unless you are a member of the LDS faith holding a current temple recommend. But, you will be able to see the outside of the historic building, walk around the beautiful grounds, see and go inside the waiting area gazebo, and view the historic lintel stone from the first Provo meetinghouse.

This history is enough reason to come to see the Provo City Center Temple. The gazebo is a nice touch, especially since there will soon be many weddings performed in the temple and guests unable to go inside will be able to wait in the gazebo. The grounds are perfect for peaceful reflection or taking beautiful pictures. The Temple is also located at the very heart of downtown Provo which provides excellent dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

Sum Up
This is an incredible sacred building that is full of history. Definitely worth stopping by to see it. We really enjoyed being able to go through the building with Meagan's family. Both the interior and exterior are exquisite.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Utah RV Show 2016: Review

Ben has a dream to convert an old VW Microbus into a camping van for us to take across the country and live in. I don't share that dream. In fact, I have been a hater on RVs, camping trailers, fifth wheels, etc. Until this weekend. We went to the Utah RV Show and my eyes were opened to all of the possibilities of a home on wheels.
The Yellow Van in our favorite trailer
The RV Show was an amazing expo. There were so many different types of vehicles each with completely different features and functionalities. We loved walking around and inside so many different homes on wheels.

With over 230,000 square feet of floor space, there are HUNDREDS of RVs to look at. While we weren't seriously looking, we did discover that you should really know what you are looking for if you are in the market for an RV. Are you looking for a traditional RV? A trailer? A fifth wheel? Decide what you want and then look at those specific types of vehicles.

We would also suggest setting a budget and only looking at those vehicles that fit in your price range. By going to the RV Show you are going to be saving THOUSANDS of dollars off of the MSRP.

Our last suggestion would be to know what features you need and what features would be nice. How many people do you need to sleep? How big of a kitchen do you need? How much counter space do you want? Do you need a table? Couches? What kind of storage do you want? Do you need a bathroom? What features do you need in your bathroom?

Our favorite trailer. It would go great with our yellow van!
We had a great afternoon at The Utah RV Show. It really opened our eyes to all of the possibilities we can be looking for in the future.

The Utah RV Show is a 4 day event. Tickets are $10 per person 13+ per day with the option for an $18 pass for the whole show. The event is held at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah. Look for the dates in mid-February as well as other information on the website here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Lincoln Monument on the Lincoln Memorial Highway

I-80 through Wyoming is one of the roads that I have traveled the most in my life. Traveling to Utah from Colorado as a boy and vice versa as a college student has made me well familiar with this stretch of asphalt crossing the Equality State, and I can tell you there isn't a whole lot to see.

If you happen to be traveling on one of the ten clear days a year seeing Elk Mountain standing against the American prairie can be a cool sight, but due to the weather patterns you rarely do and it becomes one of the most dangerous parts of the trip. Little America has also proved a favorite stops because as kids we were into cheap ice cream and polished rocks with a little bit of penguin history thrown in.

But for roadside attractions your basically looking at nil. Except for one piece of history rising above the plane. The Lincoln Monument, like a tiny Mount Rushmore, towers over I-80 at exit 323, the Summit Rest Area and Visitor Center.

So why is it here? I mean it's a little odd in all honesty to have a giant Abraham Lincoln head chilling on the side of the Wyoming road. If it were Illinois I'm sure no one would bat an eye at it. Well it all has to do with the Lincoln Memorial Highway and the great man's 150th birthday. The highway ran coast to coast across America and was named in honor of the great president. So in addition to a highway they decided to make a monument and place it at the highest point on that highway. This was, I am told by the internet, Sherman Summit not too far from where it now stands. The head was there for about a decade before I-80 was completed and it was moved to that lower but more frequented point where it now stands.

As far as Wyoming rest stops go it is a pretty good one. We were there in the winter so we just looked at the monument from the observation deck in building. Its a pretty good view and for us it provided a nice place to look out on not only the monument but also the snow encrusted trees. If its warmer when you visit you can go down to the monument and there is space to walk and run around.

So in sum up, its probably worth a stop if you need to stretch your legs, see something cool, and use the restroom. If you haven't got the time it's at least worth a gander as you drive past.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Seeing the Grand Canyon in Two Days

While everyone has a different amount of time to spend at the Grand Canyon, we were on a limited time frame due to work schedules, but I feel we were able to make the most out of our 2 days.

Day 1

We entered into the Grand Canyon via the Desert Tower entrance on the East side of the South Rim. Upon entering we were handed a newspaper that had all sorts of information. At our first stop we took the time to familiarize ourselves with our maps, bus routes, etc. and made a game plan for our two days spent in the Canyon.

**Note: As of Dec. 2015, the National Park Service is no longer passing these papers out. Before heading to the Grand Canyon, they suggest downloading this map, the Park Ranger Shows and Bus Routes Schedules (changes seasonally, click here for most recent schedules), and this hiking guide.**
Our first view of the Grand Canyon
The Yellow Van at the Desert View Watchtower
Desert View Watchtower:
This was our first view of the Grand Canyon and it was breath taking. Looking back, it was not my favorite view of the Canyon, but there are other interesting things to see and do here. There is a large watch tower that you can climb up and see other views of the Canyon as well as learn a little bit of history.

After spending a little bit of time at the watchtower, we drove for 22 miles until we arrived at the Grand Canyon Village. This is the main area for the South Rim where the main visitor's center is as well as the base for shuttles, trails and facilities.

Mather Campground:
After arriving at the Grand Canyon Village, we continued a short distance to our campsite. We quickly set up camp and packed our backpack so we could get to some hiking we had planned for the day.

Checking out the view from below the rim.

Bright Angel Trail:
We decided to do our big hike the first day. Ben chose for us to take the Bright Angel Trail. We only hiked part way down, but going below the Canyon rim gives you an amazing point of view that shows the Canyon in a completely different light. I would definitely suggest taking a hike below the rim of whatever length works for you and your family.

Sunset at Yaki Point:
After our hike (which I was exhausted from!) we took a shuttle to Yaki Point to watch the sunset. We made sure to get there well before the sun set. This made it able for us to get a good spot right on a cliff without anyone in our way. We ate a picnic dinner and enjoyed taking in the beauty of the Canyon in the changing light. After the sunset, make sure you catch the shuttle back! It is super important to be aware of the time as well as the bus schedule so that you can make it back. The busses tend to run about an hour after the sun sets.
Right before sunset at Yaki Point
Ranger Programs:
We thought about attending one of the nightly Ranger Programs that are given at the Grand Canyon, but when we got back to our campsite after watching the sunset, we were so exhausted from a day of traveling and somewhat rigorous hiking, we were too exhausted to leave our campsite. I have heard that these nightly programs are amazing, so if you're not too tired make sure you take advantage of them!

Day 2

Sunrise at Mather Point:
This is something you don't want to miss either. Even if you saw the sunset the night before, a sunrise over the Grand Canyon is a spectacle of its own. Even though we were tired, it was totally worth getting up for.

After the sunrise, we headed back to our campsite, ate breakfast and packed up camp. We then drove and parked at the Visitor's Center. We were there early enough that parking was not an issue.

Rim Trail and Museums:
One of our stops along the Rim Trail
We walked along the Rim Trail for almost the whole length of the paved trail. As we came along sites, we would hop off the trail and go see what they had to offer. The Rim Trail is nice because it is flat and paved; it was a nice, easy walk especially after we hiked Bright Angel the day before. Along the Rim Trail we stopped at Yavapai Point and the Geology Museum. They have a pretty cool view of the Canyon as well as lots of interesting information as to how the Canyon was formed. As we continued along the Rim Trail, we walked along the Trail of Time which was an outdoor display that gave information about the different types of rocks in the Grand Canyon, how it was formed and displayed a timeline along the trail that was neat to see. We ended our Rim Trail walk at the Hopi House and Verkamp's Visitor Center where we saw small museums and displays about the history of the Grand Canyon Village and about the Native Americans who lived in the area.

Main Visitor's Center:
We grabbed a shuttle back to the Main Visitor's Center and went inside to watch a video about the Grand Canyon. While it may seem funny to watch an introductory video to the Grand Canyon after we had already been there for a while, we intentionally planned to do it the second day because there was some serious chance of rain. It is a good video and I think it is worth your time to watch. It is also a nice break from the large amount of hiking and walking you will probably be doing at the Grand Canyon.

Tusayan Museum and Ruins:

After we had a quick picnic lunch, we hopped in our car and drove East to start to head out of the Canyon. But before we left, we stopped at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin. We looked at a small museum about the ancient people who lived on the rim of the Grand Canyon and then went on a very short walking tour of actual ruins from these Ancestral Puebloans.

Outside one of the main ruins.
Navajo Point:
This was our last stop in the Grand Canyon. We just stopped for a quick last view before we left. It was pretty crowded without a lot of parking, but we are glad we took one last look and stopped for a few more pictures :)

Our last look at the Grand Canyon.
All in all, we feel like we were able to explore quite a bit of what the Grand Canyon has to offer. The only parts we didn't get to see were the areas around Hermit's Rest. But we are already planning on going there on our next trip to the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chimani Grand Canyon App Review

When you are a techie you download the app, it's what you do.
Actually in my case it is often several apps. 
I think smartphones and tablets have really made a big difference in how we experience the world, and I have written elsewhere on the positives and negatives associated with that change. But I think when used intelligently, they can greatly enhance an experience, so from time to time I will give you my take on the best tech and apps to use for certain trips and adventures.

For the Grand Canyon I looked through the Apple App Store. If you search for Grand Canyon you will actually get quite a few results. I looked through most of these and ultimately settled on the app Grand Canyon National Park by Chimani. It was a great app experience and I will likely use more Chimani apps in the future because it was so helpful.

Note that shortly after our trip to the Grand Canyon there was a large interface updated to the app, so my experience may not be exactly the same as yours, but from looking the new interface over it actually looks even better than what we had. 

Whenever you are heading out somewhere remote and you want to use an app it is important to download it before you leave a reliable wifi location. In our case I did all my downloading and app checking in St. George before we left for the Canyon. Don't just download the app either, make sure to go in and check it out. This isn't just to see if it is useful, it is also because an app's initial download package often does not include all of its data. As you browse around you may see sections downloading. The Grand Canyon has WiFI in only a few locations and LTE/4G coverage is spotty.

The app is full of useful sections detailing everything you can do in the park. It will tell you good places to stop in your car, where to picnic, and the all important water and restroom stops. In the screenshot above you can also see a ranking badge system where it says I am a scout. This is a new system that wasn't in place while we were at the Canyon so I can't speak directly to it. The app does many things, but its most useful features may be the section on the Grand Canyon shuttle routes and on the hikes.

The shuttle section will show you every stop on the Canyon's five shuttle routes and the (approximate) times they will arrive. While the shuttles don't always arrive on time you will at least know how often they run, so it should give you a good idea of how long you will have to wait. We found this feature to be very valuable to making and adjusting plans while we were visiting.

The hiking trails section is also very helpful in getting details on the trails, their conditions, and length of time. This is information you will want to have and it is extremely convenient to have it in an app on your phone.

There are a ton of other sections in this app that can help you in the park depending on what you are doing. I highly recommend using it both when you are planning your trip and while you are there. Chimani has apps for a bunch of the National Parks and I plan on using some of them in the future.

One other thing to remember is that if you are camping you won't have outlets to plug your phone in to, so make sure to bring an extra battery pack and a car charger. The app won't do you much good if your phone is dead :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Shops at the Riverwoods: Fire and Ice Event

The Shops at Riverwoods in Provo, Utah is a cute, small outdoor mall located at the mouth of Provo Canyon. There are many festivals and events held in its outdoor areas throughout the year.

Around the beginning of February each year, the Riverwoods joins with the community to help the homeless by putting on the Fire and Ice event. Ice sculptures are sprinkled throughout the outdoor pavilions as well as heaters and outdoor fire pits. By donating cans of food, you can receive a s'mores kit and enjoy roasting your marshmallow over a warm fire on a crisp winter night.

This year was the first year that Ben and I attended the event and we were quite impressed with it! This year's theme was Star Wars and there were many beautifully sculpted pieces of ice of very familiar characters. It was quite chilly when we were there, so make sure you bundle up! In addition to walking around and seeing the ice sculptures and warming up by the fires, you can take a look at the shops (we always love going into Blickenstaff's) or get some dinner or treats at one of the many restaurants at the Riverwoods (our favorite is Tucanos). There is also live entertainment at the main gazebo that is fun to stop and listen to (and occasionally dance to :)

We always love going to events at The Riverwoods and this is one we will definitely be attending again next year.

For future events and information, be sure to check out The Shops at Riverwoods website here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cliff Dwellers Arizona

As we traveled South from Utah to the Grand Canyon we entered Arizona and soon passed the most interesting and odd collection of giant boulders arranged randomly along one short section of the road. There was a small sign indicating that this was called Cliff Dwellers. I love roadside attractions and having never seen cliff dwellings before I was naturally intrigued by this place. Meagan is not as in to stopping randomly as I am, she would rather we knew where we were going to stop before we go, so she said we could not stop right then, but on our way back through we could.

So when we were on our way out from the Grand Canyon I tried to find out where this place was and what it was. I couldn't remember exactly what it was called so I searched things like cliff dwellings in Arizona. I didn't know this at the time but this site actually has nothing to do with Native Americans, or even actual cliff dwellings. There are real honest to goodness cliff dwellings in Arizona, and the Internet knows more about them then they do about this strange place. As a result of this my searches didn't turn up much, but I knew we would see it on our way through so we could stop when we saw it.

Turns out to get to it from the Grand Canyon's South Rim you actually have to cross over the Colorado River on Highway 89A in a place called Marble Canyon. Then you will be driving through the scenic vermillion cliffs and nestled at the base of them just past a restraunt also bearing the name Cliff Dwellers you will find this interesting place of both geological and historical phenomenon.

What you will see:
This one looks like an ice cream cone

The main thing you will see that will clue you into the fact you are at Cliff Dwellers, Arizona is the huge strangely shaped boulders. When you see this scattered around the base of the vermillion cliffs look for the turnoff. Its just a dirt patch to the side of a set of very large boulders, so don't miss it. there are no formal parking stalls, so pick a place, but try to be courteous and not block anyone else in or get you car in people's pictures.

The boulders are all around but there is plenty of space so it is a great place to stretch you legs. When we were there we saw a port-a-potty off to the side but we did not use it so I can't vouch for its state. In and around the largest of the boulders you will see what remains of a house. The weather and local vandals have not been kind to this house, so take caution in checking it out. When we visited a section of the roof in the second room was caved in. Meagan didn't want us walking around in there, but it reminded me of exploring abandoned houses when I was a kid.

In front of the main house. You can't really tell from the pic how big that boulder is.

Several of the other boulders are also homes to the remains of buildings. Walking around them and looking in you get the feeling that this place is strange, and the improbable shapes of the boulders give it an almost alien feel.

You can take as much time as you like wandering through the boulders. I also climbed a couple of them, although I think there would have been even better bouldering material up toward the area where the port-a-potty was.

Why didn't I go explore these other boulders? Believe me, I would have loved to but after we had been in Cliff Dwellers for a little while the storm we had left the Grand Canyon to avoid started catching up with us. There had been about three other cars at the site when we arrived but they had all driven off by this time and drops of rain stated to spatter the boulders around us. I suggested that we just hide inside one of the boulder-buildings, but Meagan wasn't keen on that suggestion. So we got in our car and took off. Unfortunately the storm would really catch up to us in Utah.

The History:
After we had stopped at the site I was able to do a better internet search with information gleaned from a nearly unreadable sign placed at the base of one of the largest boulders. There isn't much information about it, but these are the facts I found thanks to the sign, Trip Advisor reviews, and this article from AZ Central.

The Yellow Van looks out from inside one of the boulders

So what is this place? Well for one it is a geological erosion phenomena and I know people who would stop just for that. But there is a set of history even closer to our own time period that makes it even more interesting to me. So what is the story of the strange, charming, and almost alien place where it is clear that people once lived?

The story goes that Blanche Russell who had been a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, had given up dancing to care for her ailing husband and was taking him to the South West for his health when there car broke down next to these huge rocks. This was during the Depression. Many people lived then in ways we can't imagine now, and when the Russell's car broke down apparently they decided they might as well live under these strange rocks.

They set up a house next to the biggest one, expanding it from a lean-to as they went along. This is the building that remains somewhat intact to this day. They started selling food out of it and called it The Old Cliff Dwellers Lodge. The restaurant eventually added a gas pump to service not only travelers but their cars. An interesting fact for us is that it is said to have serviced Mormon couples on the Honey Moon Trail to the St. George temple. Since we are Mormon, we found that interesting, but I have been unable to confirm if the dates from the Honey Moon Trail really do overlap with the Old Cliff Dwellers Lodge.

The place changed hands a couple of times while still staying in operation, and other buildings were built around the boulders. But eventually the isolation and the danger of the rocks falling became too much and it was abandoned.

There is something in this place though, even in its abandonment that makes you want to know about,  to try and picture the lives of the people who lived here. It is a testimony to the grit and tenacity of the depression era generation that some of them would not only live but in a way prosper while literally living between a rock and hard place.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Grand Canyon Camping

Camping is the most economical way to stay at the Grand Canyon. While there are hotels both in and around the canyon as well as RV spots, we chose to do your basic tent camping. And we both really enjoyed it (even I did, and I am not really the camping type :)

There are 3 campgrounds located within the Grand Canyon. The first is the North Rim campground. In general, the North Rim is a lot more remote and doesn't have near the facilities that the South Rim has. That being said, it's campsites have limited facilities and are only open from mid-May through October.

The second campground is located near the South Rim area of the canyon. Desert Tower campground is located about 25 miles East of the Village. There are no reservations and this campground is limited to tent camping only. There are limited facilities here as well. Just like the North Rim campground, Desert Tower is only open for part of the year generally from mid-April through the fall.

The third (and most popular) campground is Mather campground located in the Grand Canyon Village. This is by far the most conveniently located campground which is what makes it so popular. Make sure you make your reservations early! This place fills up quite quickly. This is where we stayed and we loved it. There are shower and laundry facilities at this campground and it is open year-round.


  • North Rim campground: $18-$25
  • Desert Tower campground: $12
  • Mather campground: $18


  • Make reservations early!: If you choose  a site that will take reservations, do it early. If you are camping at a place without reservations, get there early. Most campsites without reservations fill up by the early afternoon during the busy season (Spring through early Fall)
  • Use a packing list: Check out our list here.
  • Camp close: Decide what you are going to be doing at the Grand Canyon and find a campsite close to where you'll be. There are lots of fun activities at night and you will also be exhausted! 
  • Set-up right away: Take care of setting up camp right when you get to the canyon. Then you'll be able to enjoy the rest of your time and you won't have to set up camp in the dark.