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In 1983 I watched the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies from 1000 miles away in my new home here in Florida. The following year, on a trip to Baltimore, I stopped by the team’s offices, looked at the World Series trophy and picked up some championship stickers to put in my car window.

In 1997 my beloved Birds won the American League East with a .605 win percentage. They went on to beat the Seattle Mariners for the Division Championship but ultimately lost the League Championship to the Cleveland Indians. To date, it was the last time they made the playoffs. Hell, it was the last time they had a winning record.

Until this year.

It’s easy to be a fan of a winning team. Root for the Yankees (please don’t, this is only an example) and you can be relatively assured that they’ll keep your interest going for the majority of the season. Being a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which I most assuredly am, takes a degree of commitment normally seen only among religious fanatics and/or masochists. Over the past 14 years I have lost many bets over who will win the East, usually well before the All-Star Break. My interest in baseball is optimistic in March and April. By May it’s fearful, and by June I’m usually waiting for the NFL season to start. For the past few years before each season I signed up for automatic text alerts to my phone that keep me up to date in real time to the O’s game scores and standings. Usually I cancel the service well before our nation’s birthday.

Until this year.

We finished last year pretty well, but still came up below .500. I told myself, and anybody who would listen (oh so true), that I’d be happy if they finished above .500 this year. Set your sights low and you won’t be disappointed. To say that I’m not disappointed as I write this is a world-class understatement. We’re tied for 1st (with those hated Yankees) with 4 games left in the regular season and they’re about to guarantee themselves a post-season spot. Holy crap!

Whatever the post-season brings, I’m a happy guy. A trip to the World Series would be great. The right to put one of those 29 year old stickers on my truck? Well, there’d be a really happy Baltimore ex-pat in Florida.

Capitol Reef National Park, 8/2/12

After finally getting a hot shower, we left Bryce and hit Utah Route 12 for the drive to Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park. This whole leg was a result of research back in Florida. The Rt 12 drive was described as a “must do” by the folks on TripAdvisor and it is easy to see why. It has been designated a “National Scenic Byway” and, even more impressively, an All American Road. We needed to go north anyway in order to get back to Salt Lake City, so this was a no-brainer.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, 8/1/12

And what a beautiful drive it was, too. Impressive scenery, some sphincter-tightening moments, a great lunch and some unplanned turn-offs all combined for a very enjoyable day. The first unplanned stop was at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (it’s easy to find while traveling north…just hang a left after the Airstream-themed Drive-In/Campground) where we met a very nice young lady who took our entrance fee. Since there was nobody behind us, we spoke for a bit and asked her what else we should see on the way to Torrey. She STRONGLY recommended that we drive down the Burr Trail where, about 11.5 miles in, there was a nice slot canyon we could walk into. We took a hike in the park where Patti saw petrified wood for the first time, then we pressed on. In Boulder, we stopped for a delicious lunch at Hell’s Backbone Grill where they also recommended the Burr Trail. After doing the Anasazi State Park Museum, and getting yet another Burr Trail recommendation, we headed down the Burr Trail Scenic Backway. The narrow, winding road connects Boulder, Utah, to Capitol Reef and continues on to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We wished we were in our own truck rather than a rental car so that we could keep on going but a segment of it is unpaved. It’s a stunning drive through red canyons and scrub land. We found the slot canyon without a problem, right at 11.5 miles, and got out to explore. It was raining not too far off, though, so we didn’t linger.

Torrey, UT, 8/1/12

We arrived in Torrey with plenty of daylight left, so we ducked into Capitol Reef for a bit. Stopped at the visitor’s center where the ranger told us to check out the petroglyphs that were close by. We got there just as a herd of deer moved through an orchard, complete with a fawn frolicking through the trees. After seeing the glyphs, we headed back to our hotel just outside the park. At dinner that night, Patti got her second “first” of the day when she saw hummingbirds at a feeder just outside the restaurant window. It was pretty spectacular and I got some nice photos and even a movie.

Next morning, our last on the road, we explored Capitol Reef some more, enough to know we need to come back. Lots of beautiful scenery in this lightly visited park. We also got to participate a bit in the park’s 75th birthday celebration (yummy cupcakes), took a scenic hike to Hickman Bridge, picked peaches in one of the orchards (free if eaten there, $1/lb otherwise), bought some delicious pies and preserves (which we’re still enjoying), took many more photos, then headed up the road to Salt Lake City and eventually, home. Road Trip 2012 was over. Bummer.

Slot Canyon, 11.5 miles ESE of Boulder, UT, 8/1/12

Slot Canyon, 11.5 miles ESE of Boulder, UT, 8/1/12

Capitol Reef National Park, 8/1/12

Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park, 8/1/12

Hickmans Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park, 8/2/12

Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, 8/2/12

Capitol Reef National Park, 8/2/12

The Orbiter Endeavour left KSC for the last time this morning on its way to L.A.. I got some shots from the causeway between KSC & the Air Force Station, and some from my office window.

Yet another ending in the growing list.

Endeavour Departure, KSC, 9/19/12

Endeavour Departure, KSC, 9/19/12

Endeavour Departure (from my office window), KSC, 9/19/12

Endeavour Departure (from my office window), KSC, 9/19/12

When we first started planning this trip, I was pretty excited about visiting Bryce. Photographing the bizarre hoodoos, particularly at sunrise, was another item that was on my must-do list. Plus there were a couple of trails a short walk from the lodge that were within our level of expertise/fitness and crazy beautiful at the same time. Lots to look forward to.

We got to the park after a short and pleasant drive from Zion. It was drizzling when we arrived, so we tried to check in right away, but it was way too early and they told us to return at 4:00. OK, we figured it shouldn’t be too hard to find something to do and we were right. We got our first look at the canyon, and the hoodoos, from Inspiration Point. I’ve gotta tell you, Mother Nature sure is a strange bird. The hoodoos are just indescribable, all shades of oranges, whites, grays. The structures reminded me of those I had seen in caves in Virginia and West Virginia, except under a blue sky instead of a low ceiling. I knew I was going to enjoy photographing this place.

We went on and completely overloaded on the views at Bryce Point, Paria View and Sunset Point before heading back to the lobby a few minutes before 4:00. They made us wait again, which I felt was odd. Finally, at the stroke of 4:00, a nice lady started to check us in and we found out what was up: while upgrading the lodge’s plumbing the workers had busted the water main. No water, no they didn’t know when it would be back on, I’d be happy to get you a bag of ice from the kitchen. On the way to the room I saw a guy obviously opening a buried valve and sure enough we had running water in about an hour. No big deal.

Sunrise Point, BCNP, 7/31/12

The next morning I got up very early in order to shoot the sunrise while Patti elected to remain horizontal. As I was heading towards the door with my gear, the fire alarm went off. Loudly. Patti rolled out of bed, got dressed and joined me to walk to the rim of the canyon on a brisk morning before sunrise. She was thrilled. While waiting for the sun, we finally heard the alarm stop, so Patti retreated to the showers while I shot the amazing sunrise. The colors changed by the moment. That 20 minutes lived up to the anticipation.

After breakfast Patti and I packed up some water and the cameras and walked down the Navajo Loop Trail, through Wall Street and back up the Queen’s Garden Trail. About 3 hours and it also lived up to the hype. The canyon is even more impressive when you’re down in it. We drove the park that afternoon, from Rainbow Point back to the lodge. A couple of adult beverages, a nice dinner and we were ready for a mellow night. I was heading to bed, where Patti was already into her book, when the fire alarm went off. Again. Twenty minutes of standing around outside (at least we had put our clothes on, two British girls were out there in their night gowns wrapped in towels) and we were let back in.

The next morning I quickly discovered that there was no hot water. Great. After a dirty breakfast (we were dirty, not the food), we went back to our room where hot water awaited. To be fair, all of these escapades were a result of a single event, the water main break, and they did give us a break on the bill.

Interestingly, while Bryce easily met all of my high expectations, we would probably prefer to return to either Zion or the North Rim before returning here. This isn’t to knock Bryce in any way. It’s just how much we loved the other two. The reality is, we’ll be back to all of them.

Sunrise, BCNP, 7/31/12

Wall Street, BCNP, 7/31/12

Navajo Loop Trail, BCNP, 7/31/12

Queen Victoria, BCNP, 7/31/12

Queen’s Garden Loop Trail, BCNP, 7/31/12

Natural Bridge, BCNP, 7/31/12

Zion Lodge, ZNP, 7/29/12

After breakfast and a walk out to Bright Angel Point, we hit the road to Zion. After about a 3 hour leisurely drive, including a nice stop for lunch in Kanab, we found ourselves marveling once again at a landscape that was different from what we had seen so far. Shortly after entering the east entrance of the park, we pulled off just before the second of two tunnels and walked the Canyon Overlook Trail to, well, the Canyon Overlook. It was hot but spectacular, with a beautiful panoramic view down Zion Canyon that included the very winding road we were about to drive.

From there we pressed on to the Zion Lodge, which is located in the narrow valley between two towering cliffs. This portion of Zion National Park is so busy that you are only allowed to drive your car in if you are staying at the lodge, and even then you can only drive straight to the lodge. Otherwise, it’s all shuttle bus access. Our cabin was comfortable and the experience was nice, but next time we’ll stay in Springdale which is located just outside the park. More restaurants while still maintaining easy access to the park.

Cowboy Bob, ZNP, 7/29/12

Next morning it was up and out to a horseback ride with Cowboy Bob, and what a character he is. Married 49 years (to an obviously very patient woman), he spent 26 years in the Navy (including 3 tours in Viet Nam on river boats) and the rest of his life being a cowboy. He was very funny, in a bad joke kind of way, and provided us with a very pleasurable 1.5 hour ride to The Court of the Patriarchs. Just beautiful and lots-o-fun. We also met a very nice woman from Philly whose husband and sons were hiking the Narrows.

After our horsey experience, we hopped the shuttle to the end of the line at the Temple of Sinawava and walked up the Riverside Walk. This was as crowded as 5th Avenue at lunch time and, although beautiful, there were just too many damn people. We walked a couple of miles then it was back to the lodge for a cold beer. That evening we took a tour on an open air tram with a guide who was a physicist by training. He was a nice, knowledgeable guy who took us around explaining the valley to us in a way we could understand. I just wish it was in a way I could remember, because most of what he said, but not all, is lost to me now. It was a lot of fun and a very mellow evening.

Next morning we were up early and took a quick walk to the Lower Emerald Pool and got some cool photos from behind the waterfall. Then it was time to leave Zion and head to Bryce. We were pleasantly surprised by Zion. It was the park I had probably prepared for the least and therefore knew the least about, but it’s the one that’s probably near the top of the list to go back to. There’s a lot to do (hike the Narrows, hike to Angels Landing) that we didn’t get a crack at this time. We’ll be back.

View of Zion Canyon from the Canyon Overlook, ZNP, 7/28/12

Moon over The Watchman, ZNP, 7/28/12

Court Of The Patriarchs, ZNP, 7/29/12

The Virgin River, ZNP, 7/29/12

The Lower Emerald Pool, ZNP, 7/30/12

The Altar Of Sacrifice, ZNP, 7/30/12