USA Roadtrip #10 – Back to Vegas + day trips from there

Our last leg of the road trip was to drive back to Las Vegas from Page.Page-Zion-ValleyofFire-LV map

As we spent the whole morning in Antelope Canyon we then drove the afternoon on Hwy 9 through Zion National Park. We entered through East entrance and first noted the different color in the road pavement. The hills also had several colors in them. There are some tunnels on the way and steep serpentine road down to the Zion Canyon. We happened to be by the river during dusk and got view the last sun rays over the mountains from bridge over North Fork Virgin River. This time we did not have time to spend in the park, just passing by. The brochure did show many interesting trails and even a shuttle bus driving the otherwise closed scenic road in the canyon. Something for the next visit then 🙂

We stopped for the night in a hotel in Mesquite and then visited Valley of Fire State Park (entered from East Entrance) the next day before getting back to Las Vegas. It is a really nice park just approximately one hour drive from Las Vegas so it can also be visited on a day/half day trip from there. This park is also not that commonly known destination. When entering the park there wasn’t any open pay booths so the entrance fee was left in an envelope to a mailbox (soon after a ranger came to empty the box). Just next to the entrance was the Elephant Rock, an arched rock that looks like a sitting elephant when you climb higher on the hill.

Next we continued directly to Parking lot P3 to take the trail to Fire Wave. The trail is a sandy path (sand goes everywhere) and takes about one hour. It was very windy day causing the sand to fly with the gusts. Well worth the hike. Fire Wave was beautiful with its different stripes and the hills behind were very colorful. I have not seen this kind of rock coloring and stripes anywhere before.

This time in Las Vegas we stayed in Stratosphere hotel at the other end of the Strip. This was quite far from the other resorts (longer walking distance to everywhere) but otherwise very nice hotel and casino. Of course we went to the top of the tower the very first evening to see the crazy amusement rides on top of it (I did not dare to try as I am afraid of heights) and admire the view over the city. The hotel casino had everything one might need inside (restaurants, shops, gambling, amusement park rides, pool etc.) so really there would have been no reason for anyone to leave. However there was still some places around Vegas that we wanted to see and couple of days before our flight home.

We did a half day trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just outside of Las Vegas. It was only 30 min drive from the Strip and had a 13-mile scenic drive around it. It was Saturday when we visited the park and though the weather was very windy and cloudy there were many families enjoying time outdoors climbing the rocks, having picnic in park or just walking around.

We also did one more day trip towards Death Valley. I had heard that there are many abandoned (ghost) towns around this area and really wanted to visit one. So we took the I-95 through Beatty to Rhyolite Ghost Town. I had high expectations of the place and images in my head of this western style empty town. In reality however it was only few walls left in some buildings scattered along the main town road and a closed up old Casino/Saloon with abandoned railroad wagon at the end of it. It was quickly looked through.

We continued towards the state line and noted a dirt road with sign for Leadfield Ghost Town. We thought that this might be more what I was imagining and turned to the road. This was one-way road so no turning back. After a while driving to more and more mountainous scenery the road got really bad. Good thing that our rental had four-wheel drive because otherwise I am not sure we would have made it across the mountains. There were huge holes on the road as well as soft sand in some parts. The nature and scenery though was picturesque. When we finally arrived in the ghost town it really was only three rusted shacks far apart. However the feel was very different from Rhyolite as this was in the middle of nowhere and you could see the closed up mineshafts around the town. There were only very few other cars and adventurous people taking the same road (so not the common tourist road).

Continuing the drive towards Death Valley the road declined to the bottom of Titus Canyon. Actually the road was the dried up river bottom and you still could see where the water had flown earlier in the year and years ago. This trip took us the whole day and after getting out of Titus Canyon we still had over two hour drive back to Las Vegas.

 

 

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USA Roadtrip #9 – Page and Lower Antelope Canyon

From Bryce Canyon we headed to Page to visit famous Antelope Canyon.

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On our way we drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a dirt road. We stopped to see the Grosvenor Arch (B on the map) and then followed the Cottonwood Creek (Cottonwood Canyon Road) all the way to Hwy 89. As the road was not paved I do not suggest taking it during spring floods or rain. We also had four-wheel drive which would have come in handy if the road had not been in such good shape.

The reason we came to Page on our trip was to visit the Antelope Canyons. These are narrow canyons mostly underground (not visible up above) and always require a guide to go with. They have been molded by erosion and flash flooding which still occur at times. There are two different Antelope Canyons. The upper Antelope canyons are larger and more famous (National Geographic pictures) and the lower Antelope smaller with only two tour companies taking people there.

We didn’t book guided tour in advance because wanted to be sure that the weather was good on the day we would be visiting. Well this was not a good decision and all the tours were fully booked for Upper Antelope when we checked the day before. After checking through all the companies we managed to book a photography tour for the lower canyon. Instead of normal tour we chose a photography tour because it gave us more time to take pictures inside the canyon and to use tripods. On a normal tour you just walk through the canyon with a guide. The canyon is very narrow and has steps to get in and out. There also is a continuous flow of groups passing through so in some places there will be queues to go forward. This causes also that groups are hurried forward and you cannot just stop to take photos where ever you want. We were on Ken’s tour and noticed that their guides did not tell much of the canyon but rather let people listen to the other tour company’s guides explain the history and formations (one even had a flute with and played it at some point). Next time I would choose Dixie Ellis’ tour.

I recommend the photo tour if you have a tripod and want to take better pictures (it is dark in the canyon and you have more time on this trip). This tour is longer than regular tour and gives you more time to take pictures (our guide walked us through the canyon twice). The guide also stopped the other groups once in a while so that we could get pictures without any people in them.

I warmly recommend visiting the Antelope Canyon. Next time I will definitely want to visit also the larger Upper Antelope Canyon (just have to remember to book the tour well in advance, not the day before) to try to get pictures of sun beams flowing in the canyon.

Another must place to see in Page was Horseshoe Bend (D on the map). This is a great view of the Colorado River from high cliff. There are no fences and the edges are slippery as well as in some places erosion has made them hollow below. So be careful!

USA Roadtrip #8 – Bryce Canyon

This national park was like non other I have visited so far. Definitely my favorite park of the whole trip. We stayed for two nights in a small cabin close to Bryce Canyon and spent one whole day walking in the park. The cabins were located in a small town called Cannonville and each of them had kitchen and a barbeque. So we were able cook picnic lunch to take to the park and nice barbeque dinner when we got back.

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View from Sunrise Point

Bryce Canyon is known for its “hoodoos” or bulbous columns created by weather and climate changes (frost-wedging) in higher elevation. We headed directly after getting a map from the Visitor Center to Sunrise Point. After admiring the view and takin hundred photos we headed down to Queens Garden trail. It was quite steep in the beginning and some snow and ice was still visible from the night time. This all melted when the sun got up and started warming the air. It was incredible to walk this narrow path with steep drop on the other side and orange covering hoodoos on the other. At the end of the trail there was “hoodoo” which did as it was named look a bit like a queen with its crown and long dress. We continued our path on the trail going to the bottom of the canyon and then joining to Navajo Loop trail.

We headed up the Navajo Loop Trail (not a loop as Wall Street portion of it was closed due to weather conditions and erosion). This was again steep climb up on a clayey path with no security fences. At the same time this climb was the best hike so far during the whole trip. The views when climbing up were unbelievable and the sun shined warmly. I truly enjoyed this part. The trail comes up to the Sunset Point so after a short picnic break we walked back on the rim trail to our car waiting for us in Sunrise Point.

We drove to see the other scenic points also and apart from Bryce Point I have to admit that the best views are from Sunrise and Sunset Points.

In the evening we returned to the park to take pictures of the sunset.

USA Roadtrip #7 – Capitol Reef National Park, Scenic Byway 12

 

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The Castle and rock layers of Capitol Reef National Park

We stayed the night right next to Capitol Reef National Park in Torrey. In the morning we headed to the Visitor Center to get the map of the park and tips on places to visit. On our way we stopped in Panorama Point and Goosenecks Overlook to admire the scenery.

 

Capitol Reef National Park is known for its geologic landform or wrinkle called Waterpocket Fold. Erosion caused by water still continues everyday to form the sandstone layers, colorful cliffs and arches.

Petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings) are seen also in this park. There is a parking lot just after Fruita historic school building and you can get a bit closer to the carvings on a fenced path. These pictures are approximately from 300 – 1300 C.E. and picture the daily life, stories, journeys, clan symbols, calendars etc. of ancient habitants of this area.

A little further from the Petroglyphs site is another parking lot and start for Hickman Bridge trail. This was a short 2 hour hike back and forth with nice views of colorful cliffs and water erosion on sandstone. At the end of the trail is Hickman Bridge towering over dried river bend (bridges form over rivers and streams vs. arches are formed on cliffs due to rain and temperature changes).

After our morning walk we continued south with the Scenic Byway 12 passing from northwest through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and to Bryce Canyon for the night.

Grand Staircase-Escalante is the largest national monument in the United States and at this point we only passed little part of it in north-west (more in later post). The road was winding and we saw some snow again up in the mountains. At one point the road went on a ridge with steep slopes on both sides the same time (good thing that there were two lanes).

USA roadtrip #6 – Arches National Park

In the morning we continued our drive towards Arches National Park. Our original plan was to stay the night in Moab (close to the park) but due to some motorsport conference all the motels were fully booked. So in the morning we still had 1 hour to drive to reach the park entrance (C->D).

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Drive from Monument Valley to Arches National Park and for the night in Torrey (Capitol Reef National Park)

We’d heard warnings from other visitors that the park is very popular (especially during weekends and public holidays) and there might be long queues in the entrance that reach all the way to the highway. So we got up early to reach the gates before rush. The frozen road from previous night’s snow storm was a bit worrying (still summer tires and no chains). Luckily the ice melted when sun got up and we drove safely to the park.

This National Park (as name might indicate) is known of its various natural rock arches caused by erosion and weather. When driving into the park you first arrive to Courthouse Towers with Three Gossips and Sheep Rock (used to be an arch connected to larger boulder but has collapsed years ago).

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Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, Sheep Rock on the left side.

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Three Gossips @Courthouse Towers Viewpoint

First arches we visited were Turret Arch – just next to the parking lot, you can also climb through it to the other side (just note that the rocks are slippery if it has rained).

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Turret Arch @ The Windows Section in Arches National Park

North and South Windows – walking trail around the hill, better view of both windows is from the backside. I recommend to take this trail, it is only 1,1 km long and easy to walk and the view in the back is much nicer than from the parking lot (and you can get both Windows in one picture).

Double Arch – quite short trail from parking lot (same lot with Windows) on a sand path.

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Double Arch @ The Windows Section in Arches National Park

One of the most photographed and famous of the arches it the Delicate Arch. The trail to this arch told to be rough and 4,8km long. You can also see the arch from viewpoints closer to the parking lot with easier access. We did not take this trail as there seem to be many people already on the path and we knew it would take time (we were on a schedule as we had a lot of driving still to do in the evening). My pictures are taken from the Upper viewpoint using. This is definitely an arch I would like to hike to some other time but it really should be either very early in the morning or later in the evening to get sunrise or sunset in the same picture.

Last stops were to Sand Dune Arch (short walk from the parking lot between the boulders, the arch itself was not very picturesque I more liked the boulders around it) and then to Devils Garden Trailhead to hike to Landscape Arch. This trail was also easy to walk as there was clear sand path, though some elevation.

This park had many families really hiking the trails (not just driving from one arch to another, though there were these also) and seemed very good for outdoor walks. This is a place that I would love to come back to and perhaps spend couple of days in walking the different trails and seeing some more of the over 2000 named arches.

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Scenery towards Parades of Elephants from Balanced Rock Viewpoint

 

Our journey continued early evening to spend the night in Torrey (Capitol Reef National Park). The drive still took over 2,5 hours + pit stops and dinner.

USA roadtrip #5 – Monument Valley

This is something I have been waiting to take pictures from for a long time… Monument Valley. Scene for many old western films and some newer ones. We splurged this night and booked a room just outside the park from Goulding’s Lodge. Our balcony had a view directly to the park!

 

We purchased the park ticket already in the evening (valid for couple of days, not included in the National Park pass) and went for a short ride between the rocks though the light was fading. Did not get many good pictures in the park, it was too dark. Of course we had to take the sunset picture 🙂 …

In the morning we got up early and drove up to the Visitor Center to get sunrise pictures. Good thing that the hotel was close by because after the “mandatory” photographing we went back to our room to get some breakfast and pack the car.

Unfortunately for us the wind was picking up during the morning which lifted the sand in the air making our pictures bit blurry. We drove around the park on a sand road loop trail between the majestic rocks. Defying the gusty wind and everywhere sticking sand we did manage to jump out of the car every once in a while.

In the evening we headed north to Monticello for the night. We wanted to take some sunset pictures from the nearby Needles Overlook but run into snowstorm when driving to the mountains. We quickly decided to turn around and get back to the hotel before we would be stuck on the mountain in snow and without winter tires.

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What and interesting weather with morning spend in a gusty sand storm and by evening surrounded by snow!

USA roadtrip #4 – Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly

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Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park is just outside of Holbrook, AZ. The park itself is divided to both sides of the I40. We entered the park from Painted Desert Visitor Center (I40, exit 311). The first viewpoints showed scenery of Painted Desert with vibrant rock colours. We also met again with Route 66 before driving to the other side of the highway.

There are some ruins of ancestral Puebloan living and petroglyphs in scenery stops close to the Puerco river bend. Petroglyphs are thousand year old rock art found in the park and meanings of the pictures are unknown. Largest concentration of these pictures are marked on Newspaper Rock with over 650 marks pecked, carved or incised to it. The age of the pictures vary indicating that generations of people contributed to the messages on the boulder. Newspaper rock is visible from a viewpoint but it is not possible to get near it (probably to prevent possible vandalism on the rock) so no close up pictures could be taken.

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The Teepees

My favorite parts of park were definitely short trails in Blue Forest and Crystal Forest.

Blue Mesa is a 3.5 mile drive loop with one mile long walking trail at the end of the loop (Blue Forest) and definitely worth the walk. It starts with a steep decent into a small valley with greyish-purplish hills all around it. It was like stepping into another universe or even a cartoon world. The colors on the hills were vibrant and the valley had petrified logs visible all around the paths. (Please note that it is illegal to take any rocks or wood, no matter how small, with you and help preserve the geologic features by keeping on the marked trail.)

I have used this term already few times so to explain petrified logs are fossilized trunks that look like gems or crystallized wood. It is prehistoric forest that has been buried ages ago under layers and layers of sediment and then crystallized over time. My other favorite part of the park was Crystal Forest. This is a bit shorter (0.75 mile) loop trail in a more flat terrain showcasing many colorful petrified logs.

This was definitely only a half day trip and gave us good time for driving late afternoon to Canyon de Chelly and onwards to Monument Valley.

Canyon de Chelly is a free entrance National Park on Navajo Nation lands. It is a rather small canyon (especially after just seeing Grand Canyon) but what makes it different and interesting are the marks of human habitation dating over 5000 years. We only had time to drive the south rim route showing us beautiful green canyon with peach trees grown at the bottom. White House Overlook gave a view of the Ancestral Puebloans housing from 1000 years ago. Most of the ruins were visible only from the North Rim route which we unfortunately did not have time to see.

For the night we drove north to Monument Valley but I will write more of that in the next post.

USA Roadtrip #3: Hoover Dam, Route 66 and Grand Canyon

After three days in the city we headed towards Grand Canyon stopping on our way by Lake Mead to see the Hoover Dam. We drove across the dam to the other side but did not feel like stopping for a walk so turned around back towards the highway. Actually I think that the best views of the dam are from the Great Basin Hwy bridge to which one can walk from a visitor parking lot (Boulder Dam Bridge parking) a short drive back up the road from the dam.

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Map of our drive from Las Vegas to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon

 

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Hoover Dam photographed from the Great Basin Hwy bridge

We jumped off the highway in Kingman to drive part of the legendary Route 66. There are still some abandoned gas stations and car wrecks left on the side of the old road. We made pit stops in Hackberry General store (tourist souvenirs and cold beverages) and in Grand Canyon Caverns to take some pictures of the gas pumps, road signs and old cars. I also think that the ice cold soda on a hot day tasted especially good just outside the General store 🙂

We reached Flagstaff early afternoon and after checking in our motel decided that we would still drive up to Grand Canyon for the sunset. As it was weekend motels close to Grand Canyon were booked or too expensive for our budget and therefore we chose a less expensive option to stay in Flagstaff, which is 120 km outside of the park. Drive to the east entrance of the National park took about an hour and a half. We made it to the Desert View Visitor center just in time before the sunset.

Next morning we got up early and drove via US-180 to Grand Canyon main visitor center. The route had nice picturesque views on the way with small towns and green forests. We spent the whole day walking up and down the rim of the Canyon around Visitor Center. Paths were full of other visitors and quite many families with small children. Even though there were crowds we still saw many birds, squirrels and deer who seemed surprisingly accustomed and not at all afraid of all the people taking pics around them. We had packed our own sandwich lunch and there were several picnic tables available to sit down, eat and enjoy the views.

There are also busses available to take between the scenic points on the rim however I felt that the scenery, although magnificent and … in the end is quite similar at least on the south rim between the Grand Canyon and Desert View Visitor Center. For the evening we drove again towards the east entrance to take sunset pictures from Lipan point.

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Scenery from Desert View just after sunset

Ps. I think one day is enough to see the south rim however for the next trip I am definitely spending more time by taking a hike down to the river bend. I was told that going up and down during one day is not recommended as it takes 5 hours down and at least 6 hours back up. This trail was something that I wanted to do already on this holiday but our planned schedule could not fit two additional days at this time. Oh well, next time then 🙂

USA Roadtrip #2: Las Vegas and Death Valley

We started our trip with flights to Las Vegas, rented the car straight from the airport and drove to our accommodation. My perceptions and expectations of the “party and gamble capital” are mostly from Hollywood movies and American television shows. In many ways I was not disappointed and the city (at least the Strip, 7 km long road where most of the famous casino hotels are located) felt very alive and full of partying people. We stayed in a Center Strip Travelodge which was nicely positioned midway of the strip and we could easily walk to see the hotels such as Bellagio, The Mirage, MGM Grand, NewYork NewYork and Luxor.

Altogether we spent three nights in Las Vegas mainly to get used to the time difference. During this stay we spent one day walking up and down the Vegas Strip looking at the different casinos and hotels both in daylight as well as by night. Unfortunately our schedules and ticket availability did not match with any of the huge shows on-going in the city so this will be left for next visit. We noted that Vegas is a place where you can easily lose all your holiday budget and I don’t mean just by gambling but also to shopping, shows, dinners etc. Also as a tip when booking hotel in Las Vegas check if the hotel has additional resort fee. This is very common to all the hotels and will be added to the mentioned room price when checking in.

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NewYork NewYork hotel, casino and shoppes

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MGM Grand

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Luxor and Sphinx

During the three days we also did a day trip to sunny California and Death Valley National Park. We drove the NV-160, approx. 2 hours 30 minutes to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and purchased the annual pass for National Parks. We started our visit by driving a little way back to the park entrance and take the Dante’s View Road to a scenery point (B in the map) for a general view of the whole valley.

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Route for the day trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley

 

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Scenery from Dante’s View in Death Valley National Park

After this we drove down to the valley, Badwater Basin (D in the map), which is the lowest elevation point in North America with 86 meters below sea level. We also stopped at Devils Golf Course (C in the map) on the way to see the white salty rocks up close. The valley is very warm and shadowless place on sunny days and I suggest to take some water and a sunhat with you (or at least have water in the car).

We were really lucky as this year was exceptional with the spring bloom in the desert and the sides of the road were full of yellow flowers.

I also recommend to take the short scenic drive between the hills called Artists Drive (E in the map). There are beautiful colors on the hill sides caused by the oxidation of different metals throughout the drive. Half way through the loop you can find the best colors in a place called Artists Palette. The road quite narrow and oneway but in good condition (paved road) and can be accessed with normal car.

For the sunset we drove to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (F in the map) a bit farther into the park. The sun doesn’t set behind the dunes but gives nice red glow to the sand and the mountains behind. If you go to see sunset and walk in the dunes I suggest to bring a flashlight with you as it gets fast dark after the sun goes down behind the mountains and there are no streetlights on the parking lot.

After dark we still had to drive back Las Vegas on the I-95. The drive was rather monotonous and as it was pitch black there was no scenery to view.

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USA roadtrip #1 – Nevada, Arizona, Utah

Road trips are the best ways to see multiple destinations during one holiday trip. We found good flight deals to Las Vegas for March 2016 and started to plan road trip to the US. There are several National Parks and Monuments around this area with incredible scenery so we started to add them on a list. In the end our list of places to visit included over ten different parks, monuments or destinations across three states meaning that we would need to do a lot of driving and spend approximately one night per place in order to see them all. The final planned route can be seen in the map below.

For the road trip we rented a car from Budget and I have to admit that I cannot recommend that to anyone. The car itself was a 4×4 Jeep Compass and in nice condition as well as perfect for our planned trip. However what the rental place did not mention to us was that the car would need to be returned washed (I have never heard before that you need to wash the rental car before returning?!) and as we were not aware of this the company billed us extra $100 for the wash on return. Originally we had chosen car from Budget as it was least expensive option for our travel dates and car requirements. However after their additional expenses (that were not mentioned when booking) it would have been cheaper to choose some other company.

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We were on a budget so we stayed mostly in motels and only booked the first three nights in Vegas beforehand. Other accommodations we booked usually online the evening before when we had planned our next stop. Sometimes though we had to modify our plans if all places were fully booked or very expensive. We usually also bought breakfast and lunch materials from supermarkets. There are a lot of nice picnic tables in the parks to enjoy lunch and the view.

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Arches National Park, Utah

Because our planned trip included mainly National parks and monuments we decided to purchase a National Parks annual pass as that would provide us entrance to most of the places we wanted to see (the annual pass was 80$ vs. ~200$ with separate vehicle fees). This can be bought from most National Parks.

Overall this trip was really great and we saw many amazing sceneries on the way. I would also suggest that you have more than one driver as the distances are actually quite long. I will write separate posts of the different parks and monuments on our trip with photos of the views.

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