Text and pictures © 2019-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Whenever my kids are having trouble at school, I like to tell them about myself when I was a kid. I wasn't very big, I wasn't the smartest, I wasn't the best in sports and, yes, I did get beat-up a lot. Unfortunately, that's where the story ends, so it doesn't usually cheer them up much." — Alf Whit.
So, 16 years after we left the US, we came back in good company. I'd been back a time or two for work, but it was our first family trip with some climbing in mind. No big ambitious wall scheduled this time, but we tried to plan the trip around camping in the wilderness, seeing national parks other sights, meeting some old friends and doing some short and kid-friendly climbs.
Left: So it seems there stuff to climb everywhere in CO: in the mountains, but also in friends' backyards.
Right: Back to bouldering at Horsetooth Reservoir. Still good climbing, no more polished than 20 years ago, but at lot more expensive to park.
So after flying into Denver, visiting old friends in CO and borrowing a bunch of camping gear from them, we saw the snow still around vs. our lack of winter clothing and took off for Utah.
Right: Here camping in Grand Junction, and practicing violin before going to bed.
Left: And the first rock you usually see when crossing in Utah is from the ominous Fisher Towers.
Right: Here you can clearly see climbers on the last pitch of balancing Ancient Art, which we climbed long ago.
Left: Curiously we'd never climbed this short tower named Lizard Rock right off the parking lot. Interesting and just dicey enough.
Right: Hey, look who wants to try her first sandstone tower !
Left: And that's as far up as she went, but not half-bad as a first attempt.
Rock seems long lasting on a human scale, but in less than 20 years at least one famous rock collapsed and disappeared. No, not Ancient Art (yet), but the Cobra in the Fisher towers which fell down in 2014 (some say it's lightning, but we all kow it could be a fat climber...)
Right: Wild camping below the unmistakable profile of Castleton Tower.
Left: Bouldering at Big Bend along the Colorado river.
Right: Slab climbing on flaky sandstone at Big Bend.
Left: Looking at the mesa rock above Big Bend.
Right: Kids helping me finish that beached whale move.
Above: Panorama of typical Utah scenery, with the contrast of red rocks and white mountains in the distance.
Left: Panorama of Delicate Arch.
Left: Delicate Arch as seen from above.
Right: Vertical panorama of Delicate Arch.
Left: A view on Delicate Arch from the keyhole.
Right: Castleton Tower in the moonlight.
Left: Rating the muddy Colorado river.
Right: Not too much agitation on this brown-water rafting trip.
Left: My slickrock mentor.
Right: My first ever trip mountain biking on slickrock. I didn't try it 20 years ago, but that was before I started mountain biking to work daily.
Left: Looking Glass Rock in the evening.
Right: Camping at the very base of Looking Glass Rock. Great campsite, provided you don't get trapped in the last 100m of sand.
Left: When in Rome do as the Americans do, so we too are setting marshmallow on fire and eating them.
Right: Looking Glass Rock in early morning light.
Left: Before starting the route, watch for the many rattlesnakes in the holes at your feet.
Right: That early sunlight was great, but as soon as we started on the route the weather turned cloudy and windy and cold.
Left: Here on the 4th pitch of Looking Glass Rock, where it gets uncomfortably high.
Right: And finally it feels much better on the large summit.
Left: And the rappel is FUN... It starts in a hole in the ground... The guidebook says you need two 60m ropes, but indeed the rappel is exactly 40 meters, so a single 80m will do.
Right: ...and continues into a gigantic open space.
Left: The big 40m swing off the ledge. Gotta make sure the rope is taut enough.
Left: Newspaper Rock, one of the many aptly named similar rocks. This one at the entrance of Indian Creek.
Right: Hunting for Easter eggs at the Needles outpost campground.
Left: The hunt's been good, with Mate having found about as many eggs.
Right: Since we are in Indian Creek, let's go trad climbing... if she can lift all the gear !
Left: She wanted to try that hard 5.10 after seeing me struggle on the start. Of course she needed tape gloves... and then she just ran the upper part like a spider.
Right: 5 year-old climbing a 5.10 crack at Indian Creek like a spider.
Right: After climbing, a visit of the impressive remains around Mesa Verde.
Left: Being sworn in as Junior Ranger.
Right: Castleton? No, it's an eminently climbable-looking tower in Valley of the Gods, near Monument Valley. No camping or climbing restrictions there and hardly anybody.
Above: Panorama of the Gooseneck on the San Juan river.
Right: Approaching Monument Valley.
Left: Admiring the view in Monument Valley.
Right: Horses grazing in Monument Valley.
Left: The incredible view at John Ford Point, Monument Valley.
Right: Horsing around at John Ford Point, Monument Valley.
Left: The horse is named Spirit and was very gentle.
Right: Horsing around Monument Valley.
Left: Very pround to be on a real horse and not just a puny pony.
Right: Reconstruction of a native american house.
Left: Climbing in the canyons of Lambs Knoll, right at the entrance of Zion NP.
Right: Slot canyons in Lams Knoll.
Left: Bouldering in Zion.
Right: The squirrels are very tame, probably asking for food to whoever passes nearby.
Left: Slab climbing in Zion.
Right: Going out of Zion NP via the Mount Carmel Highway; the many layers of the rock near the Many Pools trailhead.
Right: OK, that's not in AZ, but we pushed a little farther and spent 2 days in Vegas, unfortunately without having the time to go back and climb in Red Rocks. Here a vew from the hotel window.
Left: And quickly back to Rome at the Trevi Fountain. With some extra pink.
Right: After the desert, let's play a bit in the water of Lake Powell
Left: A real sandy beach, not even too mudy.
Right: Near Page, there's the famous slot canyon named Antelope Canyon and its many variants. The most famous one is expensive and crowded but there are cheaper alternatives such as Antelope-X, here.
Left: The light is very time-dependant for photography, the best light being when the sun is straight above, so around mid-day, so that it bounces on the walls but also reaches the ground.
Right: Sometimes narrow, sometimes large.
Left: The rock is smoothed up by the water during the rainy season.
Left: Without reference you can't tell where up is.
Right: The narrower parts are dark and ominous.
Left: Tiny cave troll.
Right: Different layers of rock in the canyon. During rainy season the water can reach above 5 meters.
Right: Sand running down the rock.
Left: The many layers are readily apparent.
Right: Fireside camping: keep warm, barbecue lamb or marshmallow, keep bears at bay.
Left: Meteor crater and a nice lesson in astronomy and geology.
Right: Climbing in Jacks Canyon. Nice rock, but it was very windy and rain kept interrupting.
Left: Petrified Forest NP.
Left: Some fossilized trees are over 100ft long.
Right: Petrified tree broken in sections.
Left: Bright red cristalized trees.
Right: Climbing in Mentmore, NM. This place has many great routes for adults, but plenty of potential for kids too; but there aren't any routes on the easier sections of rock, which is a shame. Well, a shouder belay works fine.
Left: A longer easy route at Mentmore. Another problem with this place is the garbage and broken glass at the base. It's need a good cleanup. And a 3rd minor issue is that there are many round climbing holds... which are indeed bullet holes !
Right: Playing violin in the middle of curved trees.
Left: A fat coyote walking around, looking for unaware little kids to eat.
Above: Panorama of the Great Sand Dunes under ominous clouds.
Right: A shallow river crossing to get to the sand dunes.
Left: A sandboard and a slide, available on rental at the lodge at the entrance of the park (where you can also camp if the park campground is full).
Right: You might want to wear a helmet and some padding as the falls are pretty hard; the sand is not as soft as you might expect, quite compact in places indeed.
Left: Sandboarding. Maybe it's that I'm out of practice snowboarding, which I haven't done in 30 years, or it's because I'm barefoot, but I found that frontside turns were just impossible, while backside were doable.
Right: A demonstration of the angle of repose on sand. It's always time for some physics teaching.
Left: Hiking up the greatest dune. One of many times. She ended up walking on sand for 4 hours, without complaining !
Right: Summit of the tallest dune.
Left: Synchronized sandboarding and sliding. Yup, the sky color is for real.
Right: Backside turn.
Left: And back to where we started, or almost, climbing at Combat Rock, near Estes Park. Great granite.
Right: High up on Combat Rock.
Left: The famous annual Estes Park river duck chase.
Left: Fishing trouts on Estes Lake.
Right: Haaaa, back to Lumpy Ridge.
Left: And climbing on the Book. We'd already done that route 20 years ago, but I whimpered like a little baby on the first 10 meters of the route before I found some crack climbing skill again.
Right: Summit of the Book, Lumpy ridge.
Left: Bear lake, RMNP.
Right: Dream Lake and a view on Hallett Peak.
Left: Hallett Peak with plenty of snow and several skiers on it.
Right: Ice on Dream Lake.
Right: Playing with a violin.
Left: Different cousins, different violins.
Right: Could be the same family, but doesn't look like it.
Left: New York city seen from the Upper Bay.
Right: The statue of Liberty.
Right: The new World Trade Center, with its head in the clouds.
Left: And the Empire State Building. Or smaller. Also too cloudy to get up top.
A big thank you to the Repaci, McKee, Brandewie, Kostadinov and Aubert families for their hospitality, food, fishing lessons and equipment loans !