In my humble opinion, the desert scenery in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona is probably some of the most impressive scenery in the world. So Teresa and I were pretty excited when we crossed over into Utah. Our first stop was Zion National Park, known for it’s sheer, deep canyon called Zion Canyon (duh!). Due to its proximity to I-15, it receives high visitation. During my last visit to the park, I pretty much skipped Zion Canyon because it was inaccessible due to the volume of cars. In the past, I had no luck finding parking at some of the more interesting sites within the canyon. Now, you have to take the free shuttle to visit Zion Canyon. So instead of a bazillion cars entering the canyon, you now have clean natural gas buses driving up and down the canyon. This has done a number of wonderful things for the park. First, there are no more hoards of cars. Less obvious, some of the micro-organisms in the park are on the rebound (IE the algae living in some of the pools which was dieing off due to air pollution). It also drastically increased our enjoyment of Zion Canyon. Now, after the bus leaves, you can sit and enjoy the sounds of nature undisturbed.
Although there is free camping outside of Zion, we decided to spend some money to stay in the campground. It was just easier for us. We could park the car and ride the shuttle without having to worry about moving the car from our campsite. We spent two fabulous nights, and met some other wonderful travelers staying in the campground. During our stay in Zion, we did a number of hikes including the Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Hidden Canyon. Hidden Canyon involved some of the scariest hiking I’ve ever done, involving a 2 ft wide sloping ledge, a sheer drop-off of over 500 ft, a loose chain bolted to the rock, and white knuckles. (Other hikers say the Angel’s Landing trail is even scarier!) The next day, we did a fabulous bike ride up Zion Canyon combined with a hike to the mouth of The Narrows, an area of Zion Canyon where sheer walls attempt to choke the Virgin river. Unfortunately, we were visiting during the height of snow melt and couldn’t wade into the Narrows, but the water flow was very impressive. We headed out of Zion via Utah state highway 9. This road takes you up into sheer rock where they have blasted a tunnel with portals affording views out into the canyon. It’s pretty strange driving through a tunnel with an occasional large “window” off to one side with a sheer dropoff. After a quick view of the Checkerboard Mesa, we headed over to Bryce Canyon.
Our next stop was supposed to be Cedar Breaks National Monument and North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, both were closed for the season. (They were due to open in a week or two after some of the snow melted.) So, after a quick side-trip to view the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, we moved on to Bryce Canyon National Park, known for it’s amazing hoodoo rock formations. Although at high altitude, Bryce is open year round. The hoodoos form due to an erosion-resistant cap rock lying over softer geologic material. The end result is these bizarre, tall, and colorful hoodoos which make up a very surreal landscape. Some were hundreds of feet tall. We ended up doing a long 8.8 mile day hike on Fairyland Loop trail affording us great views from Sunrise Point, Fairyland Point, and the Rim Trail, and also getting us deep into the hoodoos.
At this point, we were running up against a deadline to meet my parents in Moab, UT, so we had to blast right through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. This is unfortunate. Grand Staircase – Escalante is huge, and given enough time, we could have explored some incredible desert geology and scenery. One spot, Wire Pass, we will definitely have to check out in the future. It sounds like a really neat slot canyon! Speaking of slot canyons, we stopped in Page, AZ to see if we could visit the famous Antelope Canyon. This is the classic slot canyon of the desert southwest. You’ve probably seen photos of it. Unfortunately, the canyon is on Navajo Nation land, is strictly regulated, and costs significant bucks to visit. In addition, it seems a bit touristy. For example, on a guided tour, a Navajo guide will guide you up to the right spot to get a postcard-quality photo of the sunlight shining into the slot. That’s just a little too costly and little too touristy for us. We did manage a stop at the Glen Canyon Dam. It has been said that this dam sparked the dam environmental movement as we now know it.
Teresa and I were both pretty excited to get to Grand Canyon National Park. Ever since I have known Teresa, she has wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I have been on the North Rim, but really wanted to catch some of the prime views from the South Rim. It is difficult to describe the Grand Canyon in human terms. It has a way of making you feel incredibly small in an incredibly immense universe. The scale is simply impossible for the human mind to comprehend. And you really cannot get a feel for the scale for the canyon without walking down into it. So although Teresa was wanting to fill our digital camera’s memory card with pictures from the very first overlook we came to, I was itching to get our backcountry reservations for a trip into the canyon. We ended up getting our backcountry reservation 30 minutes before the office closed.
I had never been to the South Rim before. I was amazed at the amount of development throughout the park. The area is called Grand Canyon Village, and it is aptly named. Scattered throughout the village, they have just about anything an NPS or concessionaire employee might need, including a full blown grocery store, outfitter, restaurants, post office, bank, etc… even a school for children of the employees! Many of the hotels have interesting history and architecture.
Grand Canyon probably has the busiest backcountry of any National Park. The intra-canyon corridor, as it is called, runs from rim to rim and sees very heavy visitation. Most people make their backcountry reservations into the canyon way in advance. But because of our “foot-loose and fancy-free” attitude, we did no such thing, but we did end up getting a reservation. Inside the canyon, there are three campgrounds. Bright Angel campground (at the bottom), Cottonwood campground (about halfway up the North rim [7 miles in]), and Indian Garden (about halfway up the South rim [4.5 miles in]). Although we didn’t get the ideal trip, we did get a reservation to stay in Indian Garden for two nights. This allowed us to bounce down to the river on day two with day-hiking gear only, hiking out on day three. Highlights of the backpack included an incredible sunset dinner from Plateau Point, just a mile and a half from Indian Garden and taking a nice cool dip in the Colorado River at the canyon bottom. We also caught our first glimpse of a rattle snake hiding out under a rock. After our grueling hike out, we splurged on a nice meal in the Arizona Room Restaurant in Bright Angel Lodge. The following day was spent trying to catch some views from some of the overlooks on the Hermits Rest shuttle bus route, but unfortunately the weather was not cooperating so we headed back towards the village and eventually out to Phoenix to catch up with a long lost friend and run some errands.
Note: As you can tell, I have yet to finish our blog entries that take us up to Colorado. But they are indeed coming, slowly but surely. Stay tuned for another update on Northeast Arizona, North-central Arizona and Southeast Utah.
Up-to-date update: Teresa and I are currently searching Colorado for land, and a landing spot after our travels. So far, we love Salida, CO and we think we have found 7+ acres of land we’d like to purchase in Spruce Basin 15 minutes outside of Cotopaxi, CO, 45 minutes from Salida, 50 minutes from Canon City (a slightly bigger town), 4 hours from Edwards (where my parents own a second home), and 2 hours from Colorado Springs (with an international airport). We do still plan on traveling to Alaska this summer, returning to the land in the winter for planning and some construction, but Europe has fallen off of the itinerary. We can do this after we get settled and while we are employed again. See Teresa’s Daily Diary for more details for now, with updates in this blog soon to follow… hopefully!!!