Yellow Van Travels: A Family Travel Blog

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

One of the things I love to do while traveling is catch the sunrise at some awesome place. Depending on the time of year this can make for an early morning, but an awesome experience. I had read in the Chimani Canyonlands app that Mesa Arch was THE place to see the sunrise because of the incredible way the arch lit up during the early golden hour. So of course I had to go.

title card: Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

How to Get There

Canyonlands is far larger and far less busy then Arches, but Mesa Arch is still a place many people want to see, especially at sunrise. Therefore, if you want to get a good view you need to get there early. We got an ok spot, but certainly not one of the prime locations, and we were probably 10 or 15 minutes before sunrise. This means if you are staying in the Moab area you will have to leave at least an hour before the predicted sunrise time.

It takes about half an hour to get to the Canyonlands Island in the Sky entrance and then you have a way to go inside the park. You enter on Island in the Sky Road which turns into Grandview Point Road in the park. You'll reach the Mesa Arch parking lot just before the turn for Upheaval Dome. It will be on your left. It will be dark if you are going for sunrise, so be sure and watch for the signs or you might miss it.

The parking lot is a good size, but you might not get a spot if you are too late during a popular time of year. From the lot you will take a short trail to get to the arch. The trail is a loop so you can go either left or right. We took the right side to the arch and the left side back to the parking lot so that we would see the whole thing.

What You Will See

Mesa Arch is very cool arch because it is breaking away from a cliff, leaving a sheer drop underneath it. The main attraction for coming to see it at sunrise is that it will glow when the rising sun hits it. And it is quite a spectacular site. The best place to take pictures is right in front of the arch looking through it, but you can see the glow best from the right hand side. We were too late to get a center spot so this is where we ended up.

Ben looking out over Canyonlands

When we were there we saw many other photographers, most of whom packed in around the arch. There were also a number of people there just to catch the sunrise. 
All the Photographers in front of Mesa Arch

If you go for sunrise this will likely be your first view of Canyonlands, and it is a great one. As the world lightens, spires of rock loom out of the darkness and you see the gashes in the earth materialize. Then the sun breaks above the horizon in one swift moment and Mesa Arch lights up with a spectacular glow.

Canyonlands rock towers in the sunrise

Mesa Arch glowing in the sunrise
Ben and Meagan at Mesa Arch

Panorama above Mesa Arch

Sum Up

If you can drag yourself out of bed early, this is one of the prettiest sights in Canyonlands. It provides a unique type of sunrise. Mesa Arch is very easy to get to, which makes it great for families, provided they are early risers. Because you will be coming in early before the ticket booth opens, make sure you go back to the visitor's center when it opens and pay your entrance fee.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Canyonlands: Whale Rock

Whale Rock was my favorite hike when we were in Canyonlands. It is basically climbing up a HUGE slick rock and the view is spectacular.

Whale Rock Title Card

How to Get There:

From the Island in the Sky Visitor's Center, head South then take a right at the fork in the road right past Mesa Arch. You will head North on the road and as it starts to curve around, there is a small parking lot on the right for Whale Rock. 

As for the hike, you start out on a packed dirt trail hat turns into slick rock. Make sure to watch for the cairns as you climb up the rock. 

view from top of whale rock with yellow van

What You Will See and Do:

view from top of whale rock As you hike you will see lots of big slick rock and desert plants and animals. Make sure you watch out for cactus! Some of it grows quite close to the trail. 

As you climb up the slightly steep rock, you will end up at the top of Whale Rock which offers beautiful 360 degree views of the area.

The hike is about 1 mile round trip and you can plan on it taking anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. There are also no restrooms and no water at the trail head. 
view from top of whale rock

view from top of whale rock

Sum Up: 

Whale Rock is a quick, relatively easy hike perfect for families. It offers incredible views and is just really cool.

Whale rock hike summary card, location: Cayonlands, UT, Seasons: all, time: 30 to 60 minutes, cost: free with park admission, people: adults, children, babies, Weather: sunny, cloudy, windy.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is one of the staple symbols of Utah, right up there with the beehive. Because of this we see Delicate Arch everywhere, it even has a prime place on half of our license plates. This is double edged sword because I knew when I went to Arches I had to see it, but I wondered if some of the magic had been spoiled by its frequent repetition. I should have learned my lesson from the Grand Canyon and shouldn't have worried. My first view of Delicate Arch came when we decided (based on the advice of a kid coming back from the arch) to climb a steep wall on the side of the path into a hole arch in the wall where I could for the first time look out on this beautiful, majestic, and artistic piece of nature. 

Title image: Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park

I was blown away (almost literally by the wind) by how amazing it was to see this icon in person. It stands there, on the edge of cliff, a piece sculpted by God over eons of time. Much of the Colorado Plateau appears to have been God's canvas for nature's wonders, but if He had raised it for nothing but Delicate Arch it still would have been worth it. 

How to Get There:

It's not difficult to get to the trail head once you get to the park. There are pretty clear signs, just make sure you don't take the right at Balanced Rock which would lead you to the Windows District. Instead continue on to the second major fork in the road will take you to the Wolfe Ranch which is the trailhead for the Delicate Arch trail. 

The parking lot is large for a trailhead, but when we got there in the afternoon it was almost completely full. When we left a few hours later there were lots of open spots, so if you want to be sure you will find a place go either earlier in the morning or mid-afternoon. There is no water on this trail so make sure to bring plenty with you. At the parking lot there are pit toilets. 

What You Will See and Do:

This is an amazing hike of moderate difficulty, it varies significantly in the terrain that it covers. The round trip for the hike is just over three miles. The park lists it among their most difficult hikes, but we saw children doing it and even one person with a leg boot on.

You will start off on a flat trail that has two small side trails right at the beginning. The first goes to the Wolfe Ranch which consists of one small house building and one dugout. You can't go inside the buildings and there is not to much to see around them, but it doesn't add any significant distance to the hike. The second side trail goes to a rock art panel just a short ways from the ranch. It is not very far from the trail and is very clear so it is definitely worth the five extra minutes it takes to look at. We recommend that you look at on the way out because on they way back your group will probably be too tired. 

image of the Wolfe Ranch cabin in Arches National Park
The Wolfe Ranch

image of rock art in Arches National Park
Rock Art

From the rock art panel turn off the trail to Delicate Arch proceeds at a fairly steep incline which then levels off. You have a well defined trail for about the first third of the hike until you reach the slick rock.

dirt trail on the way to Delicate Arch

The slick rock is a really fun part of the hike, just be sure to watch for the cairns (little rock towers) to make sure you are going in the right direction. As you go up the slick rock you will notice one part where there are stairs cut into the slick rock for a small but steep portion. We saw that most people used these going up, but they couldn't see them on the way back down. When returning just be sure to keep to the left of the cairns and you should find the steps going down which will be a little easier for you. 

slick rock portion of the Delicate Arch trail
Meagan on the slick rock

steps cut into the slick rock on the way to to Delicate Arch
Steps in the slick rock

Also note that on your return hike when you can see the parking lot from the high point on the slick rock that you are about half way back. 

view from the top of slick rock near delicate arch
View when you are halfway back

After the slick rock you are mostly on sandstone dirt through red rock for about a third of the trail. This is a fun portion that gets you familiar with the classic Moab red rock.

Yellow Van on dirt trail on way to Delicate Arch

The last portion of the trail is on stone ledges about three feet wide. This part does not go on very long, but the drop is pretty steep on the left side so watch an children here. This is the part where you will see hole in the wall on your right that you can climb up to for a first view of Delicate Arch. When we were there it was extremely windy, so just be prepared that especially when you are up around the arch it might blow a lot. When we were up in the hole in the wall Meagan's hat actually blew off and down in the bowl below where we could not retrieve it.

Meagan on the ledge portion of the trail

Ben and Meagan in the hole in the wall before Delicate Arch
In the hole in the wall before Delicate Arch

The hike out to Delicate Arch took us about forty-five minutes. We then spent a good while at the arch itself just looking at it and waiting our turn to take pictures in it. We probably would have stayed longer if it had not been so windy. I could look at it forever. Getting down to take pictures in the arch looks steep, but it really is not too bad. 

Ben in Delicate Arch

Meagan in Delicate Arch

The return journey took us a little less time then going out, probably because we had already seen everything.

Sum Up:

We highly recommend this hike, and feel that if you do not do it you will be missing out on Arches most amazing attraction. The hike is difficult only that it is longer than most of the other popular hikes and has about 500 feet of elevation change. Most young children should be able to do the hike without much trouble and doing it with a backpack-baby is completely doable. Allow 2-3 hours for the whole thing and bring plenty of water.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks Travel Guide

For Spring Break a few weeks ago, we went down to Moab, Utah to see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We had such a great time and were able to pack in a TON of hikes. Here is a break down of how we spent our trip.

Day 1:

On the first day we drove the quick 3 hours from Provo to Moab. We went straight to Arches National Park as soon as we arrived around 11:00 am. Because it was close to the middle of the day, there was a slight line to get into the park. We waited in line for about 20 minutes. When we drove by later in the week closer to the weekend, the line was even longer and looked to be quite a wait. 

We started off our trip at the Visitor's Center. We looked around the exhibits and watched the video. We also stopped for a few minutes to use the free internet, eat lunch that we brought and plan out our day. 
Arches National Park Visitor's Center photo
After lunch, we packed up our bags and drove the 20-ish minutes to Delicate Arch. It was as good as everyone says it is. Totally worth it! The day we went it was SUPER windy. So windy, in fact, that I lost my hat :( The hike took us about 2-2 1/2 hours round trip. This included a nice rest at the actual arch. 
Delicate Arch Photo
After Delicate Arch, we decided it was time to find our campsite. We stayed at Archview RV Resort and Campground that we booked through There are a lot of campsites in and around Moab that are owned by the same company. And luckily the other places were able to give us directions to our campsite because our GPSes didn't know where our campsite was. It thought it was in the Colorado River...but once we found our campsite, we set up our tent (still in the crazy wind) and then went to have dinner with my aunt and her family who were also in Moab for Spring Break.

Day 2:

We were up before the crack of dawn on day 2. We drove the 30-40 minutes from our campsite to the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park and headed to Mesa Arch to see the sunrise. We got there about 20 minutes before sunrise and there were already quite a few people there. It was beautiful to see the first morning light cut across the canyon. 
Mesa Arch Photo
After sunrise, we headed to the visitor's center to check out some maps, plan our hikes, and use the internet :) 

Our first hike of the day was to Whale Rock. It was a really fun hike up a HUGE slick rock. At the top we got a beautiful view of the area we were in. This was my favorite hike of the day. 
View from Whale Rock photo
View from Whale Rock
After Whale Rock, we drove up the road and hiked to the two outlook points of Upheaval Dome. This was truly a geological wonder. As we headed up to the second outlook point, we took a harder trail (unintentionally). On our way back we were on the easier trail and I wished that we had taken it to begin with. Make sure you look carefully for the cairns along this trail. 
Upheaval Doem photo
After our hike, we ate lunch at a nice picnic area near the Upheaval Dome trailhead. After lunch we were getting pretty tired so we just did outlook points for the rest of the day. We stopped at Green River Outlook which gave us a beautiful view and showed us why this National Park is called Canyonlands. After, we tried to stop at Grand View Point Outlook but the parking lot was full, so we backtracked a bit to go to Orange Cliffs Outlook and still got a spectacular view. 
Green River Outlook Photo
Green River Outlook 
By this point we were exhausted, so we left in the middle of the afternoon and headed to our campsite to rest for a bit. After our siesta, we headed into Moab for dinner and to look at some of the funny shops.

Day 3:

Day 3 we had another early start to see the sunrise in Arches National Park. We pulled into Panorama Point to see the sunrise. There was no one there with us and probably because it was not the greatest place to see sunrise, but it was the easiest place. 

After sunrise, we headed to the Devil's Garden area of Arches to hike Landscape Arch. Because we hiked in the morning it was quite chilly for most of the hike mostly because a majority of the hike was in the morning shadows. Along out way we veered off the main trail to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. As we hiked to Landscape Arch, we were able to actually get a lot closer than we thought because the trail actually went for a quite a ways after the main plaque. 
Tunnel Arch photo
Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch photo
Pine Tree Arch
Landscape Arch photo
Landscape Arch
As we got back to the car after Landscape Arch, we headed on a quick side-of-the-road hike to Skyline Arch. It was a super easy hike that ended at a wall of rock. At the end of the hike there are also lots of fun boulders that you could climb on. 
Skyline Arch photo
After Skyline Arch we headed to the outlooks for Delicate Arch. These outlooks are on the opposite side of the trail for Delicate Arch. The arch seems pretty small, but it is fun to see the landscape that you can't see from the hike. 
Delicate Arch Outlook Point picture
We made a stop for lunch at a picnic area across from the Balance Rock before heading to the Tunnel District for the afternoon. First we went to Turret Arch followed by the South and North Window. It was a pretty easy and fun hike where you could go right up under the arches. Then we headed across the parking lot to go to Double Arch, our favorite hike of the day. It was very short and was pretty much a giant playground. You could climb all over the arches and it was so beautiful. It also provided plenty of shade and incredible views. We made a quick stop at the Garden of Eden where we saw some rock climbers going up one of the huge pillars before heading back to the Visitor's Center. 
North and south window arches photo
North and South Window arches view from Turret Arch

Underneath Double Arch photo
Underneath Double Arch  
Garden of Eden photo
Garden of Eden
We went into town after leaving Arches and looked around at some of the outdoor adventure stores before having dinner at the Moab Diner. Then we headed back to our campsite after another long day.

Day 4:

After a restful night, we took our time in the morning taking down camp and re-packing our car. After we checked out, we headed towards Moab and went to another arch outside of Arches National Park. We headed to Corona and Bow Tie Arches. This is on BLM land and was a pretty fun hike. It was on the same strenuous level as Delicate Arch, maybe even a tiny bit harder. But it might have just seemed harder because we had hiked for 2 1/2 straight days and it was the hottest day we were there. But it was totally worth the view. Corona Arch is where people used to swing from until someone died and they prohibited such activity. But you can still hike right up to the arch and sit right underneath it.

Bowtie Arch photo
Bowtie Arch
Corona Arch  photo
Corona Arch 
After we hiked back, we had a quick lunch and hit the road to head home.

General Tips:

  • Parking is limited at both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Be prepared with a back-up plan in case the hike you want to go on has a full parking lot. 
  • Parking seems to get worse after 12:00 but starts to clear up after 3:00 or 4:00. 
  • Bring lots of water and sunscreen, regardless of the time of year.
  • The visitor's centers offer free wifi. It's a great place to quickly check your social media or throw up a few blog posts :)
  • The park rangers are super helpful! Ask them any question about hikes you are considering or recommendations they have based on your family and ability level. 
  • If you are planning on going to both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, get the Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass. It is the same price as paying for each park separately but it is good for a whole year and you get into two national monuments as well with the pass!
  • The parks are much busier on the weekends, especially during the summer months.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Adventure + Gear Fest in Salt Lake

This past weekend we arrived back from Moab Friday evening and the next morning immediately went to the Adventure + Gear Fest at the South Towne Expo Center. Having just gotten back from a week of hiking and camping we were in a great mood to be excited about everything we saw there. Here is the run down on some of our favorites.


This was a very active expo with a lot more to do then just talk with vendors. When we came in we could sign waivers at the entrance and get a wrist band with a QR code on it that they could scan at the different activities to keep you from filling out a bunch of different waivers for each place. Alternatively you could get waivers at the specific activities if you wanted. 

I did several of the activities but Meagan didn't feel up to doing them after hiking all over Moab her back was a little sore. I climbed both rock walls, despite the fact that I had unwisely worn my sneakers. I also took a paddle board out in a wading pool, road a big tricycle, and climbed inside a giant truck. Here are some videos and pictures. I really enjoyed the focus on activities at this particular expo; it made it a lot more fun in my opinion.

Ben climbing a rock wall

Ben on a paddle board


Ben on a large trike

Ben on a giant truck


There were quite a few vendors at this show selling everything from vacation packages to hammocks to glasses cleaner. We actually made two purchases which is unusual for us, but there are times when you get really good deals because companies offer show prices. 


the unshoe
We knew that Meagan was going to need some new, more comfortable sandals for hiking and for our adventures this summer, so we looked at several different options in the Chaco-style sandals at the show. Finally she decided on the Unshoes and we got a good show price on them. They look like they will be very comfortable (they had some rocks that she walked on) and the team at the booth was really friendly and helpful.

Z Clear Lens Cleaner

In our more unexpected purchase of the day we ended up buying some lens cleaner from a company called Z Clear. It was a bit impulsive on my part, but the salesman was extremely good and when he handed me back a pair of glasses that were as clear as the day I bought the cleaner. I was sold. I have notoriously dirty and scratched glasses, so I hope that in the long run it will turn out to be a good purchase. 

We didn't buy one, but I wanted to. These awesome hammock-tents use three straps to suspend your shelter in the air between trees. They were probably one of the more awesome products that we saw at the show. I tried one out and seemed to be very comfortable as well as being very awesome. 


We also got a couple things just for showing up. First we were greeted by the Jeep booth, which gave us t-shirts, that would have been a little bit more exciting if they had had some that weren't larges, but it was free. 

There was also a whole set up from the Recreation Outlet store where they were selling a lot of camping gear at pretty good prices. They had a wheel you could spin to get something for free, so of course we spun it. I really wanted a self inflating camping pillow since I had not been very happy with my regular pillow (which is normally awesome) while camping in Moab. I was so excited when I spun the wheel and it landed on free pillow! Meagan's spin landed on a water proof card case for river rafting, fishing, or water hiking.

Sum Up:

The Adventure + Gear Fest was a blast. We had a lot of fun and saw a lot of great products. They haven't posted the dates for next year on their website yet, but definitely keep an eye out for it if you live in the area.

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