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Corona Arch – Near Moab Utah, Also Nearby Bowtie Arch. Advice and Directions.

Corona Arch is one of the best arches you’ll find anywhere. It is located near Moab, Utah in Arch country but is on public land. If you enjoy the arches in Arches National Park, then you need to make the short trip to see Corona Arch as well. It is nearly as good as Delicate Arch but with a fraction of the people. The hike is probably just a bit less difficult. Near Corona arch is Bowtie arch – you’ll see both on this hike.

Bowtie Arch, Utah, Moab
Bowtie Arch

The hike is scenic enough in its own right. Sandstone bluffs and far expanses offer plenty to look at. My kids enjoyed the cairn forest that previous hikers have erected at one spot and added their own for good measure.

Corona Arch Trail, Utah, Moab, Bowie Arch, Cairn Forest
Cairn Forest Along Trail

The opening of Corona arch is 110 feet high and wide. Due to its similar appearance to the more famous Rainbow Bridge, it has been called ‘Little Rainbow Bridge’, but it is neither little nor a bridge. It is one of the best arches in Utah, and since it is so easily approached (unlike Landscape Arch), it is more fun to experience. It also doesn’t have the crowds of people to worry about if you want to linger under the arch for a while.

Corona Arch, Utah, Moab
Corona Arch

It is hard to describe how cool it is approaching Corona arch. The size is impressive and its overall attractive shape and location allowing for the blue sky to fill the arch makes it very photogenic. Orange-tan stone stands out nicely against the usually cloudless blue sky. Standing or lying under the arch looking upward, you will be awed at how this could have formed naturally. It is not as fragile as Delicate Arch or Landscape arch, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive it is.

The Dangerous Stuff

There are videos on YouTube showing people rigging a giant swing on Corona arch. There have also been deaths for some who have tried to repeat the experience. Corona arch is also used for rappelling at times (guides can be hired to assist). This is not a good rappel for beginners. It is possible to climb to the top of Corona arch, but the trail is difficult and dangerous. It will require hiking up exposed Moki steps – there are pitons and bolted anchors for handlines along the way.

Directions

Map to Corona Arch, Utah Bowtie Arch, Moab
google maps 2017

To get Corona Arch from Moab, simply head north on Hwy 191 toward Arches National Park. About 4 miles from Moab, after you cross the Colorado River but before you get to Arches park, turn left on Hwy 279 (Potash Rd). This road follows the Colorado south. Go about 10 miles on Hwy 279 and you’ll see the parking for Corona and Bowtie Arches on the right.

Moab Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs & Dinosaur Tracks

On your way along hwy 279, watch for the petroglyphs on the bluff to your right (north) and make a stop to take a look. There are also dinosaur tracks – stop at the Poison Spider Trailhead and walk east. The tracks are on a large flat rock on the ridge 200 yards away. After your hike to Corona, continue on Hwy 279 to Jug Handle Arch, which is visible from the Highway but a turnout offers a better view.

Trail Difficulty

Corona Arch trail, Utah Bowtie Arch, Moab
Train Track crossing

The trail is about 1.5 miles each way. The elevations rise a bit (440 feet total) as you go and you’ll cross a railroad track early on. The trail is pretty easy to navigate other than near the end when there is a short ladder and a few Moki steps to climb. Moki steps are carved steps in a stone face. This might prove a little challenging if you have mobility issues, but anyone who can walk the 3 miles needed for this hike will likely not have any trouble doing it. Most children will be able to manage it as well, but child in a backpack could prove difficult and I wouldn’t recommend it with a stroller child. The steps do come near the end of the hike, so you could take turns going the final distance if there is more than one adult in your group.

Corona Arch, Utah, Ladder, Moab, Bowtie Arch
Ladder on trail

Wear shoes with good grip as you’ll be walking along slickrock for a good portion of the hike. There is little in the way of shade along the hike. Bowtie arch is before Corona arch, but they are near one another. You’ll see both of them along the same bluff after you round the last corner.

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

The Moab area is hot. It gets really hot in late spring on through late autumn. It is hottest in the summer. Please take plenty of water with you on this hike, cover your head and do not exhaust yourself. There are no services along the trail and while you’re likely to meet a few people, it is not highly trafficked (which is a plus).

To see a list of all the arches and natural bridges I have seen, along with helpful descriptions and directions, go here.

Agua Azul Waterfall – Read about our Visit to this Amazingly Blue Falls in Mexico

Cascadas de Agua Azul (Spanish for “Blue Water Falls”) is an amazing series of waterfalls and cascades that is 69 km south of Palenque Mayan ruins. Located in the middle of the Chiapas rainforest, the water (during the dry season) is a rich aquamarine color due to the high mineral content (limestone) in the water.

Agua Azul Waterfall, Mexico - cascadas de Aqua Azul

Standing next to the water, it looked artificial, so rich was the color. On the day of our visit, it was overcast with occasional drizzle, but this lack of optimal conditions did not take away from the beauty of the place. None of the falls are particularly high, but there is a nice quantity of water falling over many drops like stair-steps carved into the jungle surroundings. The tan rocks accented the aquamarine water nicely and regular white-water completed the experience.

The rocks where the water flowed were coated with limestone, giving it an appearance that reminded me of cave formations or the hot spring terraces of Yellowstone. There seems to be a hundred different waterfalls and cascades along this short stretch of river. As we worked our way upstream, an amiable little beagle pup followed along with us, hopping on three legs as he had one injured. He was content for our company and never whined or begged. He made the journey all the way up and back down.

Agua Azul Waterfall, Mexico - cascadas de Aqua Azul

The boardwalk has been well designed and there are plenty of places where it allowed for excellent views of the falls. We stopped at each, taking pictures and video. It was pleasant, with a neutral temperature and the rain staying away most of the time we were there.  Other than the row of vendors lining the boardwalk opposite the river, the entire area was rich with verdant flora and just maintained enough to allow passage but still keep a nice jungle feel.

We reached the upper end of the boardwalk, where stood an official looking gentlemen who informed us we were allowed to swim here. The water was mostly calm there, but the rich azure water remained. It felt like an eden here, away from the vendors and their structures.

Agua Azul Waterfall, Mexico - cascadas de Aqua Azul

Journeying back down, we revisited all of the overlooks, unable to quite pry ourselves away from the natural beauty of the place, but eventually we reached the bottom. Purchasing four empanadas made fresh (I liked the chicken better than the cheese ones), we returned to our car and made our way. Agua Azul will remain in our memory as a unique waterfall experience.

To read important tips for seeing Agua Azul, go here.

A gallery of hi-res pictures from our visit is here.

To read about or visit to nearby Palenque Mayan Ruins, go here.

Palenque – Mayan Ruin that Might be the Most Studied and Interesting of Them All

Palenque has Plenty

Palenque (Pronounced Pah-len-kay), for me, is as I always imagined an ancient Mayan ruin site to be. Beautiful architectural stepped pyramids surrounded by a green jungle of tall trees. Verdant green grass fills the courtyards between light colored stone structures with steep steps ascending to platforms featuring an artistic temple upon the mount. I can easily say that Palenque might be my favorite ancient site I have ever explored. The overall feeling is wondrous, and it is easy to feel a connection with the ancient people who built Palenque one and a half millennia ago.

Palenque Mayan Ruin - Temple of Inscriptions
Temple of Inscriptions Courtyard

The pyramids here are smaller than I have seen at most other of the most popular Maya sites, but they are arranged in what was clearly a planned city. The monuments lay one next to another like a row of neat houses with large, accommodating courtyards between. The grass is lush and inviting – I wanted to spread a picnic blanket and marvel at the surroundings.

Unlike the Mayan sites in the Yucatan like Chichen Itza or Uxmal, where the jungle is short and stunted due to limited rain, here the jungle loomed over our heads. The Yucatan sites are likewise on flat ground, but Palenque is built in the hills. Ridges rise above the town, festooned with canopy trees making for a picturesque background for the monuments. From places in the town, I looked off to a wide vista of the surrounding plains below the hills, providing an enviable view that sets Palenque apart from the Yucatan Mayan archeological sites.

Palenque Mayan Ruin - Temple of Inscriptions
Temple of Inscriptions

Palenque was founded in the 3rd century BC and reached its zenith in the 7th century. It was abandoned around the 9th century for unknown reasons, and the jungle took it over quickly. But this helped to preserve the site for the intervening centuries. Today, less than 10% of the city has been recovered from the jungle, and I saw plenty of examples of temples still waiting repair and exploration. It’s amazing to me to realize just how little of the ancient Mayan civilization has actually been excavated – most of the work still remains to be done.

TEmple of Inscriptions

Palenque Mayan Ruin - Temple of the Cross
Temple of the Cross

Dominating the history of Palenque is the king who built much of its best structures – K’inich Janaab Pakal I (Pakal the Great). He was found buried in the most impressive pyramid in Palenque – the Temple of Inscriptions, so named for the large inscription tablet found within. His tomb is one of the most significant graves yet found from the Ancient Mayan world. He wore a jade mosaic mask over his face and a suit made of jade with each piece held together by gold wire. The carved lid of Pakal’s tomb is a very unique and famous piece of art. I remember when the book, Chariots of the Gods came out (along with a movie of the same title), the stone was compared to a Mercury astronaut as he claimed that it was evidence of extraterrestrial influence on the Maya. Plenty of others have postulated all manner of things about the image. A duplicate of the lid and sarcophagus are at the museum on site, but the actual piece is still in the temple itself, unreachable for visitors.

Temple of the Foliated Cross

His sons carried on his legacy and expanded the city further. Pakal was succeeded by his son, K’inich Kan Bahlam II, built additional structures, including the Temple of the Cross Complex. This complex includes the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Foliated Cross. All can be climbed, with the trip up the tallest, the Temple of the Cross, affording nice views of Palenque and the surrounding jungle.

Palenque Mayan Ruin - The Palace
The Palace

The Palace

In the center of town and amongst all these temples is the Palace complex which sites at a right angle to the Temple of Inscriptions. Most of the Palace is open for exploration and was a great deal of fun. Towering over the place is the Observation Tower, a four-story building that rises above the Palace and is a dominant feature of all of Palenque. Some hallways feature A-shaped Corbel arches and unusual T-shaped windows. Good examples of bas-relief carvings can be viewed here as well.

Palenque Mayan Ruin - Corbel Arch
Corbel Arch

Further beyond are additional temples and ruins. It was fun to walk about these and the crowds were small enough that we never felt crowded or failed to be able to get a picture devoid of tourists when I wanted to. There is a small museum on site that we passed on due to time constraints but I hope to visit my next time through.

I enjoyed Palenque more than I thought I would, and I was looking forward to seeing it. It was a leisurely stroll with great views everywhere I looked and climbing the steps of pyramids or exploring the rooms of the Palace or other structures was fun. It was easy to wonder at what the town was like in its hey-day and imagine the people who lived here. If you can make the trip, I heartily recommend it.

I offer tips and advice on how to see Palenque here.

A gallery of pictures from our visit is here.

To see my list of favorite Mesoamerican ruins I have visited, go here.

Cenote Chikin Ha – Three Cenotes in One Visit

Located near the coast in the Riviera Maya is a site that has a trio of cenotes, Chikin Ha. Equipped with nice facilities, it is better known as a cave dive site, but it certainly is still worth a visit for snorkeling or swimming. Since I am not a diver, I will discuss this from a snorkeling vantage only.

Cenote Chikin Ha, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
X-Tabay Cenote

Cenotes come in many shapes and sizes, but are classified by how far along their evolution they are. Cenote Chikin Ha has three examples that vary one from another. Cenote Taak Bil Ha is the farthest from the entrance, and is sacred to the Maya descendants who live in the area. You are allowed to visit it if respectful but are not allowed to swim there. Once a water-filled cavern, much of the ceiling has now collapsed, leaving a ring of water under the bluffs along the edges with the sunlight area in the center filled with dense plant life. This is a very common shape for what is known as a mature cenote.

Cenote Chikin Ha fish, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Curious molly in X-Tabay Cenote

Cenote X-Tabay is the cenote closest to the entrance, and is even more mature. Almost completely open to the sky, it is more of a natural swimming hole than a cave at this point. But what a swimming hole! Vegetation abounds around the water and the area has been cleaned up just enough to make it feel more like a botanical garden than a jungle. Paved sidewalks lead to steps that descend into the cool, very clear water. Slender red-orange water plants rise intermittently out of mossy-covered rocks in the sunnier areas and small mollies, guppies and catfish can be seen darting about, sometimes swimming close out of curiosity.

As a child, I used to keep an aquarium in my room. I enjoyed seeing the fish move about with the lights out in the room as I drifted off to sleep and I had a common reoccurring dream where I’d swim with those same fish in a lake. Swimming in X-Tabay was like a fulfillment of that dream for me as I swam with the same sail-fin mollies and guppies I remembered from my childhood.

Cenote Chikin Ha, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Chikin Ha lightbeams

The final cenote is Cenote Chikin Ha itself and I saved the best for last. The snorkeling area for this one is narrow and long, with two different entrances. Both have nice stone steps and sitting areas nearby. The snorkeling area is fairly small, but the real magic is not seen until you are underwater. At the right time of day (we were there in the morning, which was perfect), light beams pierce the water like beacons and do wondrous things with their illumination. It is fascinating to move into and out of these beams while watching them eddy against the rocks within and turn the water into a wonderful azure color. Small fish dart in and out of the light as you stare in fascination, reaching your hands out as if to grasp the light beams.

For divers, there are passages here completely submerged that are considered younger than any of those that can be visited by snorkel only.

Cenote Chikin Ha is not the best cenote in the Yucatan, but it is certainly worth the trip. Its location makes it easily accessible if you are in the Riviera Maya.

To find out how to capture a few light beams for yourself, check out the article here.

To see a gallery of pictures from our visit, click here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Sshh. Secret River is awesome! Don’t tell anyone.

Darkness closes in around you as you leave the sunlight and sunlit world behind. Before is a dim passage lit only by the light you carry. In reverent silence, you descend into the blackness.

Many ancient peoples believed that caves were gateways to the underworld. In the Mexican Yucatan, these caves most often take the form of a cenote. A cenote (pronounced see-know-tea in English from the Mayan word ‘Dzonot’ or sacred well) is a remarkable version of a cave. For ancient Mayans, they were life-giving sources of water and mysticism. By definition, cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies, but that sterile definition fails utterly to describe the experience of exploring these caves and their hidden waters.

I have been to dozens of caves in the States, and I always enjoy them. My childhood fascination of the wondrous formations that adorn most limestone caves seem like they were shaped by the very hand of God. In most caves, to see a standing pool of water from a distance is the most you can expect, with the pool being caged off from access similar to how animals are enclosed to protect the zoo animals and its patrons.

But in cenotes, the water is not caged off. It is an integral part of the experience. The water is accessible, and you can touch it, wade in it and even swim in it. Such is Rio Secreto, or Secret River in English. While many cenotes are more of a swimming hole with perhaps a roof of natural stone over it, Rio Secreto is more a cave with a river that can be traversed intimately.

Rio Secreto (Secret River), cenote in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Hiking through Rio Secreto

Hidden in the dense jungle of the Yucatan a relatively short distance from the coastal highway, Rio Secreto escaped detection until 2004 when it was discovered by landowner Don Cleo as he chased an iguana into a hole in the ground. This hole ended up being an entrance to what is now recognized as the longest cave in the Yucatan at over 12 kilometers of semi-submerged cave system that is unique. Unlike many cenotes that are completely submerged and require special diving skills to traverse, Rio Secreto is accessible to nearly all, allowing for walking, wading and floating through the cave and its river.

As if the crystal clear river wasn’t enough, Rio Secreto is loaded with speleothems. Stalactites, stalagmites and columns are innumerable, decorating the walls and ceilings in a wondrous array of beauty. You’ll marvel with how close you come to these as you swim or wade amongst them like old friends.

Since its opening in 2008, Rio Secreto has been operated properly as the natural treasure that it is. All guests shower before entering and are guided in small groups to ensure safety and preservation while

Rio Secreto (Secret River), cenote in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Wading through Rio Secreto

enjoyment is assured. It’s good to know that it should retain its beauty for decades to come. But access to this wonder is, by its nature, limited and only a few dozen people get to experience it in a given day.

Join this small list of the fortunate by adding this wonder to your collection of special moments. It is a perfect example of careful adventure. Risks are small, and the payoff is amazing.

To get all the nitty-gritty details on how to experience Secret River (Rio Secreto) cenote for yourself, check out the companion article here.

You can see a gallery of pictures from our trip here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

What is Careful Adventures? The Name Says it All.

Careful Adventures. The two words may seem like contradictory terms. The word careful defines itself – being full of care. Adventure, on the other hand, can conjure up a larger variety of meanings. A dictionary will define it as a bold or risky undertaking, a hazardous action with an uncertain outcome. But an alternate definition is an exciting or very unusual experience. That is the definition I choose to use for purposes of this website. Combining the two, then, gives this definition:

Careful Adventures – Exciting or very unusual experiences performed in a manner full of care so that the real risk is minimal.

I love adventure, but I love my life and limbs even more. Spoken another way, travel variety is the spice of life, but if I lose my life in the process, then the goal of having a remembered experience is lost. For that is the core of travel for me: to acquire memories of varied experiences that I am fond of recollecting.

For me, variety of experience is a key. I like adventurous things, like swimming with manta rays or

Careful Trip through Spooky Canyon, Utah
Spooky Canyon

squeezing through slot canyons. But I also like a lazy day at a beach where the azure water is so clear that you can easily see the colorful fish nipping at your toes. I enjoy road trips, guided tours, resort stays and cruises, as long as each lead to a memory I treasure.

I still cherish the memory of wading in the warm, wave-less aquamarine waters of Bora Bora juxtaposed with the lush, green volcanic core of the island. I recall the shafts of sunlight piercing the shadows and illuminating the red-orange walls of Upper Antelope Canyon. I can still taste the clear water flowing off of Athabasca glacier in the Canadian Rockies. In my mind’s eye I can still remember the 7’ lemon shark that languorously swam a few feet under me as I helped my 9 year old daughter snorkel for the first time over the elk coral of Buck Island in St. Croix. These and countless other memories are mine, shared only with the loved ones I was fortunate to have with me on each trip or with other travelers who have also been there and done that. I want more of these experiences. My hope and goal with this website is to foster in you the same desire.

I am not rich. I am not young or a physical specimen in any way. Fact is I need to lose 50 lbs (I’m working on it). As my son says, I am not a Point Break kind of guy (he was referring to the movie). But that doesn’t keep me from seeking out adventure – I’m just careful doing it.