My plan was to go to the Redwoods. To take a friend up there, hang out in the big trees, come back through Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Escalante. It sounded great. But then there was an earthquake, and suddenly the redwoods were closing some of the scenic drives and trails. Yosemite is mostly closed due to snow. That news, mixed with my waning bank account and rising price of gas means meant a change of plans. I would just go see southern Utah. I decided on a timeframe of anywhere from three to eight days, depending on how the spirit hit me.
And so last Tuesday I left the dog at Mom’s house, packed up the truck once again, and pointed northward. I travelled through somewhat familiar territory. I’d taken this road on my last jaunt North, but turned at Tuba City to chase after Canyon de Chelly. This time I head towards the Jacob’s lake, and take a stop at the Navajo Bridge, one of only a few over the Colorado River:
Then towards Kanab, and my first stop: Zion National Park. I take my time driving down the road, soaking in the sights of all these rocks:
I head to the visitor’s center, but there’s something not right. I’ve lost an hour, I forgot that daylight savings apply here in Utah. The center is closed, there’s no chance of me getting a back country permit to backpack onto some of the trails of this gorgeous place. I’ll be sleeping outside the park today. I’m a little disappointed, but not overly so. Zion is the smallest of my stops, and so I go for a hike along the river, enjoy the sight of water all around:
And then I drive back out of the park, soaking up as many of the sights as I can:
I make one last stop at the trail for Observation Point. I hike to the point as the sun sets. No magical colors in the sky tonight though, the sun just dips below the horizon, giving a nice view of the road below. The rocks catch one last bit of magical light for the day:
And then I’m out of the park, figuring I’ll cover most of the distance to Bryce Canyon, and get there nice and early. I park twenty feet off the highway for the night, and prepare for the cold. Temps are supposed to be single digits again. I snuggle in deep, missing the dog’s company and his heat.
I wake up, clear the ice off the windows, and drive the few remaining miles to Bryce. I walk up just as the visitor’s center opens, and head to talk to a ranger. I ask about open trails, snow fall, backcountry camping. He tells me that Bryce backcountry camping isn’t nearly as scenic as the vehicle drive, that the one trail he would recommend for hiking is a four mile loop down the Navajo trail and out Queen’s Garden trail. If I’m not setup for a decent amount of snow he doesn’t recommend anything beyond the established campground on the road.
Disappointed once again I head off to the trail head, and make my way down the icy switchbacks. The hoodoos quickly assuage my dour disposition:
Thankfully, the ice isn’t melting yet, and so it’s just slick-not mushy. Also, my early arrival means I see few people, and have a bit of solitude as I hike:
It’s an interesting thing. My head is pounding, my lungs are pounding, my sinuses are burning. Some of this is from hiking at 9000 feet, but I keep feeling like I’m sick. Hot and cold. I admit that I am not in the best health right now. A sinus infection that is creeping into my ear. Oh well, nothing to do but keep hiking.
So I go and visit the queen in her garden:
And then it is uphill back to the rim, with more lovely rock views along the way:
At the rim I eat a quick lunch at the truck, then go for the long scenic drive down to the south end of the canyon. The turnouts are all gorgeous, but filled with people. Still, hard to complain too loudly about this:
The scenic drive done, I head out of the park towards my final destination of the trip: Escalante. My head is pounding and my sinus is on fire. I tell myself to take it easy and not do any more hiking for the day. I stop off at an arch, a gorgeous double arch in Escalante:
I end up at a trailhead for one of the trails I wanted to hike here, and my earlier thinking of resting goes straight out the window. In no time flat I am in the Cottonwood Narrows:
A nice hike down a narrow canyon. It’s only two and half miles back to the truck, so I take it slow and enjoy the scenery:
And once I get out, I find a spot to camp right on a little creek. I make myself some tea, and enjoy the reflections of the trees in my cup:
I eat a sandwich for dinner, and pass out as soon as the sun is behind the mountains. Twelve hours later I wake up to snow on the truck, and mud on the road. There are a few trails I wanted to hike today, and so I head to the first: Hackberry Canyon. More great scenery, but this trail is nothing but walking in a creek, mud, sand, and water creeping ever deeper into my boots:
It’s a beautiful morning, but my body is giving up. It’s cold, I’m wet, and decide to call it a day. I turn around and hike back to the truck.
I drive out of Escalante and earmark it for a future visit. This is a very beautiful place, full of solitude. Just my cup of tea. I’m feeling pretty happy as I drive south into Paige. I have one more planned stop. It’s a quick one. Just south of Paige is a place called Horseshoe bend, where the Colorado River makes a big U turn around a section of rock. It’s a place that I have wanted to photograph for a few years, but never made the trek this far north for it. So I pull into the parking lot, packed with tour buses and other cars. I hike a short bit to the lookout point, and jostle my way in for a look at the bend.
All of this is a bit less romantic that I had envisioned. There is no time for a nice spiritual sit down as people shout and chatter. It’s a beautiful place, but I’m not feeling it. The pictures I am taking look just like every other picture I’ve ever seen of the place. There is only one real vantage point. So I dutifully click away, but am just as happy to leave. At least the picture has the feeling of solitude:
So now it’s onto home. But wait, my buddy Ben calls in Flagstaff, wants to know if I want to have dinner in six hours. Not one to say no to a real dinner after three days of nothing but turkey sandwiches, I agree. That means I have to kill some time, I’m only two hours away from Flag. So I turn off towards Lee’s Ferry and pull off at some random BLM gate and hike along a wash. All of the washes here head towards the Colorado, so I figure a couple of hours might get me there and back. The hiking is pretty and sun-filled:
But soon I am confronted with the nature of the landscape here. The wash quickly turns into a deep slot canyon, not something I’m setup to traverse alone. I walk along the upper levels for a bit, but soon all the rocks are getting shifty, so I turn around. The slot wins this one:
That’s alright. I poke towards Flagstaff, going slow and stopping often. By the time I get there he is off of work and we eat with his folks, then head out on the town for the evening. Good times had, and I drive home early the next morning. I’m back home by eight, and ready to rest for a few days.