Zigzag to Zion

Salt Lake City
September 14 – 23, 2018

From Moab we headed to Salt Lake City. It wasn’t exactly a straight shot since our ultimate destination was Zion, but we needed to take care of some regular maintenance on the truck. Then we took our flat in Moab as a sign that we should replace our tires too. We knew they needed replaced before we headed to Alaska but with the flat we decided it was better to take care of it sooner. And after the accident we added bodywork to our list of items to take care of while we were in town. Whew that’s a lot to take care of in one week!

Heading across Highway 6 we found that we hadn’t escaped the wildfires of the summer as the sky progressively darkened.

It was pretty eerie and I could even see flames on the hillside off to our left. The next day the road was closed so I guess we lucked out.

While biding our time in Salt Lake we made a trip to Scheel’s, the giant sporting goods store we had initially found in Sioux Falls. With it’s amazing walk-thru fish tank and indoor ferris wheel it’s quite a sight. We also enjoyed dinner at Smokin Bones BBQ and amazing custard at a local family institution, Nielsen’s Frozen Custard. So yummy!

Everywhere we went in SLC we found the nicest people. The folks at the dealership and bodyshop bent over backwards to get all our tasks completed so we could make our reservation at Zion. Since we made this reservation nearly 9 months ago we didn’t want to miss out! 

Zion National Park
September 23 – October 2, 2018

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I’m not sure I knew what to expect before going to Zion, but it turned out to be a pretty awesome park.

IMG_1457We started off by getting set up in our campsite. The sites were pretty well spaced for a national park campground and it’s got to be one of the best for views! Plus you can walk a few hundred feet along the riverside path to the visitor’s center and park shuttles. Just as close, across the pedestrian bridge, is a small market, outdoor store, and a brewery.

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The main visitor’s center is a bustling place.

The first day we rode our bikes down the paved Pa’rus trail which runs about 1.5 miles north through the river valley.

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The red rock landscape surrounds you on the Pa’rus trail.

From the map it looked like we should be able to get directly to the nature center, but we ended up having to walk our bikes up a narrow, sandy spur trail and then carry them up some steep, winding steps to make it there. Thanks honey for carrying my bike! 🙂

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View behind the nature center.

Another day we rode the park shuttle (cars are not allowed into most of the valley), hopping off and on at the various stops to explore.

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The short steep hike to the viewpoint was worth the effort.

We also walked through an extremely busy Zion Lodge and then out to the Lower Emerald Pools (Upper Emerald Pools was closed). We felt like we were just following the crowd along this trail to it’s disappointing end where some water trickled over a ledge. I didn’t even keep a picture so you’ll just have to trust me that it’s not worth the 1.2 mile round trip in late summer. Our final stop this day was Big Bend where we walked down by the river a bit before catching the shuttle back.

Hiking The Narrows

The most amazing hike we did (and probably the most amazing hike of the summer) was trekking up the Virgin River to The Narrows. This is not a hike to be taken on lightly. The park brochure warns of flash floods, slippery rocks, deep water and hypothermia. But we prepared the best we could. I read about the hike in Joe’s Guide to Zion NP (citrusmilo.com) and picked a warm day with no threat of rain upstream.

After checking out the various outfitters who all charged about the same price, I decided to rent water boots and neoprene socks from the one just across the bridge because it was convenient. (Tip: You can pick up your gear the night before so you can head straight for the shuttle bus in the morning and they don’t track the stuff so if you are late getting back don’t worry.) Chuck went with his regular hiking boots and wool socks. We were both happy with our choice. While my feet didn’t stay dry or warm (the water was sloshing in and out with every step) they were never cold and Chuck reported the same. We both took our regular hiking poles although I could have gotten a wooden one with my rental. A pole is a definite must on this hike!

We thought we’d let it warm up a little so took a shuttle around 9am and rode to the end of the line. After walking a mile down the paved path we took some steps down to the river and start wading.

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This is the start of the river hiking. Not so bad. Only ankle deep water here.
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Most of the time you zigzag from one little bit of sandy shore to another.
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Then you hit a stretch like this.
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Testing the depth of the water with my pole to find the shallowest way.
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It pays to watch the folks ahead of you to ascertain the best way to go.
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And don’t forget to stop every once in a while and look up at the amazing views!

As you can see from the photos even at mid-day not much sun makes its way down to river level. While my feet were relatively comfortable, the rest of my body was cold, especially after I slipped and dunked my front side in the river. You can rent a waterproof suit, but the outfitter said it was warm enough in September that they didn’t recommend it and I didn’t see anyone wearing one. True it was 90 degrees outside, but  down in the river gorge it was much, much cooler. Even though I had on three layers, I wished I had brought another and I was jealous of those folks with their puffy jackets.

We went about 2.5 – 3 miles up the river just past where Orderville Canyon branches off and found a spot to rest a bit before heading back. Both of our knees were hurting from the ice cold water, navigating the constant uneven surface, slipping on rocks and having to fight the strong river current. It was a bit easier on the way back as you’re going downstream but still hard. The closer you get to the start the warmer it gets. In all we spent about 6 hours hiking. The big question, was it worth it? Absolutely!

My tips: Take an extra layer for warmth beyond what you think you need. Wear short shorts, or ones you can roll up. Nothing is more uncomfortable than wet fabric chafing at your thighs. Some folks opted for leggings, but I’m not sure they were any warmer. Watch the hikers ahead of you for a clue to how deep it will be and the best way to go. Use your hiking pole for balance and testing the waters. Sometimes a few feet to the left or right means the difference between thigh high and belly high. Always assume the rocks are slippery. Take high-energy, easy to eat snacks. You don’t really want to stop for long because it’s cold. A thermos of something hot would have been lovely.

Although we couldn’t top our hiking experience in The Narrows we explored a few more areas of Zion. One day we wandered in town exploring the shops and enjoying a treat at one of the restaurants. Another day we drove the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which goes through the famous tunnel to the East Entrance. There were amazing views everywhere along this road.

We stopped at an unmarked pullout to find the “Hidden Petroglyphs” (ask a ranger or google it for an exact location). It was a short 1/4 mile walk down the hillside and back under the road to find the petroglyphs. These ancient symbols always intrigue me. Several looked like ancient backpackers.

We also hiked the Canyon Overlook trail for a different view of the canyon.

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The hike starts near the eastern end of the tunnel. 
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The trail was narrow in places with steep drop-offs. 
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Beautiful views!

We spent 10 days enjoying Zion. I’m so glad we made it for our reservation. Staying right in the park was definitely the way to go.

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Evening light on the red rocks. 

Turned out our timing was perfect. A big storm was moving in as we left.

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I loved this sign in the visitor’s center reminding us of the purpose of our national parks. We certainly enjoy visiting them. This makes number 8 this summer and 23 since the start of our adventure!

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Moab

September 4 – 14, 2018

When I last left you we had just visited Dinosaur National Monument (very cool place!) and were at Green River State Park in Utah. From there we got an early start in hopes of snagging a good campsite in Moab. Arriving at 8:45 we lucked into a huge site at the no-frills Goose Island BLM campground. It was worth it to get there early as we were only a few miles from the entrance to Arches and from the center of town. Plus we were right on the river which provided much needed cool evening breezes.

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Continue reading “Moab”

Life Elevated

More Utah adventures in Bryce Canyon
July 5 – 14, 2018

These are the things they don’t tell you about Utah: it’s dry and dusty and windy and most of all the elevations are killer! I should have known something was up when the tagline on all the tourist brochures read Utah, Life Elevated, but I was too distracted by the spectacular pictures of the red rock vistas. 🙂

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Even with the high elevations you don’t get a break from the heat, many of our days were spent in the 90s and even 100s. The only saving grace is that it cools off at night. I didn’t realize how the heat combines with the elevation to totally wipe out your energy. You would think that since we’ve been at over 5000’ for the last month I’d be somewhat acclimated, but apparently not since my heart rate shot up and I was breathing hard with every little bit of exertion. Of course Bryce sits at 8000 feet so we had climbed even higher. Let’s blame it on that. 

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We were worried this would be another very crowded national park campground, especially since it was a holiday week. So we got up super early for the drive from Escalante and ended up arriving too early. We found a good site at 9am, but by noon most of the other campers had left and we could have had our pick.

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That’s ok we enjoyed watching the park police pull folks over (I presume for speeding) and some sort of propane leak scare involving the fire department in the day-use parking lot below us. And we were just a short walk from the visitor’s center, shuttle bus, and right on the bike path which we rode up to the lodge one afternoon.

We saw the old service station that used to serve the park before private businesses set up shop just outside the park.

The lodge and cabins had cool log cabin architecture.

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One evening we went to the rim to watch the fading light play across the hoodoos.

Nearly every hike in Bryce starts with a descent into the canyon, a bunch of little hills and the promise of a steep climb back up at the end. That combined with the elevation factor meant our hikes here required a lot more stops and a slower pace plus a day off to recuperate. Still we managed to get out quite a bit.

For our first foray, I decided to avoid the steep climb with a hike along the rim. This gave us a good overview of the canyon that we’d later explore. We started by boarding the free park shuttle near the campground and riding to it’s furthest stop, Inspiration Point. From there it was about a 2.5 mile, mostly downhill trek back with every little turn giving a different view of the canyon. Because you can see so far and with the way the light falls on the hoodoos, sometimes it’s hard to have any depth perception when looking into the canyon. 

Next up was the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop Trail, our most ambitious hike at 5 miles with 1500’ of elevation gain. We had everything packed and ready the night before so we could get an early start to avoid the parking crowds and beat the heat. We started with the steep downhill through the Wall Street area and into the canyon.

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Those are the steep switchbacks which later in the day will be filled with ant-like people marching up and down.

Then the Peekaboo Loop took us up close with some of the hoodoos. It was a lot of up and down and since it is also used by the horse tours, parts were pretty smelly.

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On this hike we earned our “I Hiked the Hoodoos” status by collecting selfies with various markers in the canyon.

The last leg came back up past Thor’s Hammer.

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It was a trek, but well-worth it!

Over the weekend we took the 18 mile drive to Rainbow Point. Since most folks stay in the Bryce Amphitheater area which is accessible via the shuttle, this drive further into Bryce Canyon is less crowded. I had read somewhere to drive all the way to the end and then stop at the viewpoints on the way back. This turned out to be good advice since the pullouts were then on the right hand side and easier to enter and exit. Also by the time we finished at Rainbow Point the parking lot was overfilled. Be sure to visit both the Rainbow and Yovimpa viewpoints while you’re parked there. Many folks missed the second as it isn’t well marked. 

We originally paid for a week at our campsite, but decided to extend a few more days and take one more hike into the canyon. The views were just too amazing to miss. This time we did the Queen’s-Navajo Loop. It started with a gentler descent into the canyon ending up at a hoodoo named for it’s resemblance to Queen Victoria.

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Then instead of heading back the way we came we figured we’d go up the Navajo trail through Wall Street since it had looked so cool the day we hiked down it. We were glad to be finished up by early afternoon as thunderstorms moved in. 

The views here never grow old. Every time we ventured to the rim, we were in awe.

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And so we spent our entire stay in the park even though there are many other things to see in the area. Guess we’ll just save those other places for next time. 

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Another spectacular Utah park!

Escalante

Late June-early July 2018

We left Capitol Reef on our two year “on the road” anniversary. Driving through the amazing views seemed a fitting way to celebrate.

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One last look at this amazing red rock.

Our route took us down Scenic Highway 12, one of 31 “All-American Roads” according to the brochure I picked up at the visitor’s center in Torrey. The pamphlet alerted us to all the scenic pullouts along the way including mile markers so we had plenty of time to slow down. Nice to have advance warning when you’re towing 9000 pounds!  Continue reading “Escalante”

To Utah!

Mid-July 2018

When we left on this adventure, at the very top of our list were the Utah parks. Two years later we’ve finally made it to our first one and I have to admit I’m having a hard time writing this post because we have so many awesome pictures, yet they don’t quite capture the wonder of Capitol Reef.

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Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser known Utah parks. It straddles the highway so most folks just drive through on their way from Zion and Bryce up to Arches and Canyonlands but boy are they missing out. With it’s campground set among the orchards and the spectacular geology all around, Capitol Reef is an amazing park! It may well turn out to be my favorite in Utah, but I guess I should reserve judgement until I’ve seen the other four. 🙂  Continue reading “To Utah!”