2. National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

day 4…4.23
I began my morning in the McDonalds parking lot using their wifi (grrrr…I detest McDonalds!).  I checked the weather & mapquest for my upcoming drive when I would be done in Page.  The last time I was here in Page, I passed on signing up for a tour of Antelope Canyon…always on a tight budget.  But this time, it’s why I routed this way.  The canyons, upper Antelope & lower Antelope are on tribal lands, so all the tour operators are Native American Indian.  I’d done some research about the tours & spoke to one of the tour companies yesterday.  I decided to sign up for a mid morning (best light for the slot canyon) tour with a place called Ken’s (not your typical Native American name).  I headed out in the morning & got in line to go book my tour.  It didn’t take long & I had some time to kill so I drove out to Horseshoe Bend for the sandy hike to the lookout point.  The winds were crazy wild this morning & there were three buses of tourists.  I love to observe the differences in cultures.  This mornings groups were from Asia & France.  I made the way up & over the hill down towards the lookout.  Sand was flying everywhere!  I can tell from my photos, early morning isn’t the best time to catch this view, but it was the best time for me to be here.

I took lots of photos from different angles, but this seems to be the best one.  There were alot of people at the viewpoint, but the best was the marriage proposal I witnessed….complete with handsome prince on one knee & a bouquet that was trying to blow away!  Awww…pretty sweet.  Everyone hooted, clapped & cheered when she hugged him & presumably said yes.  This is the second time I’ve been in nature & witnessed a down-on-one-knee wilderness proposal.  The other time was when I summited Mt. Crested Butte & a couple had rock climbed up the side of the mountain….as soon as they caught their breath, he proposed.  What a wonderful way to begin the day…true love!  I hope their happy forever!

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As climbed into the 4Runner I could feel sand everywhere…in my ears, all over my scalp & cruching inside my mouth; the wind had blown it everywhere possible.  I hadn’t planned on showering for awhile…ewww!  I drove back out the slot canyon & waited for my tour time.  Ken’s runs groups through every 20 minutes..which is a ton of people.  There were about 12 in my group.  We walked together out onto the sandy rocks & towards the canyon.  My young Navajo guide was such a happy guy, always smiling & super friendly.  We walked to the top of five stairways that would take us underground into the canyon.  The difference between the lower canyon & the upper canyon is that you just walk into the upper Canyon, turn around & walk back out on ground level.  The lower canyon you need to climb down into & it’s about 3 times as long as the upper.  If you’re a serious photographer there are some lighting differences between the two canyons.  But since I’m just a hobbyist & can’t really afford to do both, I’m just doing the lower canyon.

AND I WAS BLOWN AWAY BY THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THIS CANYON!  Here’s how I would describe it…SUPER, AMAZING, FANTASTIC, AWESOME, MIND-BLOWING & INCREDIBLE.  I think that does it.  In 3/4 of a mile, I took nearly 200 photos….here are just a few.

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It was other-worldly in here.  Because it was so windy outside, our guide had warned us that sand & tiny rocks would ‘rain’ down on us…& they did.  We had to cover our cameras & heads many times.  And it did look like rain coming down, but pretty awesome with the light shining down into these amazing colors onto the falling sand.  He’d told us what settings to use both for our DSLR’s & for camera phones & what settings also wouldn’t drain our battery.  About three times, he offered to take photos of us.  He was so informative, funny, open to questions & just about everything postive you’d want in a guide.  Turn after turn through the sometimes super narrow canyon we went; each twist bringing another jaw dropping view.

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There were several formations that looked like & therefore were called by chosen names:  the Eagle, the Chief, the Lion, the Bison…but my favorite was the Princess—complete with hair flowing behind her.

Here’s the pano pic our guide took of me & a few of the pics of our group getting in & out of the canyon.

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I can’t say enough wonderful things about our guide & the canyon.  Even though they ran alot of people through there, you never felt like you were in a crowd or ever rushed.  Once outside, the wind died briefly & our guide showed us how the canyons were formed using a pile of the sand, some water & make shift wind.  Once back near where the tour began, he ended the tour next to a memorial plaque dedicated to 10 people who were killed in the canyon in a flash flood…two bodies were never found.  The whole thing exceeded my expectations by a gazillion & I’ll never forget how beautiful & magnificent this canyon was.  Light, wind, water, sand, rock & millions of years created this majestic place.  It was just perfect!

I had explored Lake Powell the last time I was here—swam in the lake (it was a lot warmer!) & took lots of pics of the lake  (I’m no fan of dams—so no pics of the ugly monstrosity). Back in Utah On my way up the highway I pulled off the road briefly to zoom in on Paria…an old town with beautiful colorfully striped mountains.  Last time I was here, I drove up the sandy dirt road to check it out.  I passed on that excursion this time, but here’s a long shot of these geological wonders.

Southern Utah & northern Arizona is so full of amazing beauty.  Giant rock formations, so many colors of red, orange, purple, gold & yellow.  It’s mind blowing how much open space is out here.  I was headed to my next National Park & trying to find some National Forest ground to camp on.  Just when I thought I wouldn’t find it before getting to the park (& knowing I’d never find camping open on a Saturday night when it’s still free to get into the park), I saw the sign.  I made my way down the dirt road a couple of miles, turned off to a dispersed camping site & backed in.  No amenities, just a sweet spot to park & camp in.  I pulled out my stove & made myself dinner.  And, lo & behold, I had 3G service!  For the first time since leaving central Kansas, I was online!  I quickly checked the weather, map quest, my email, FB, & Googled a few things!  Wow…it just takes getting out IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (there wasn’t a town within 20 miles) to get good service.  I wasn’t going to complain about the past days, I was happy to have it now!

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day 5…4.24
It had gotten pretty cold last night…mid 20’s is my guess.  Super clear skies!  I left early & headed the 15 miles up to Bryce Canyon National Park.  I got to the Visitors Center before they opened, so took the time to work on the website & charge a few electronics (always a challenge!)  Once they opened, I went to talk to the Ranger about hiking.  I’ve been here once before & hiked one of the easier hikes, so I was looking for another challenge.  But, Mr. Ranger was really Mr. Crankypants in a Ranger hat & uniform.  He asked me where I was from & would only suggest I do the ‘easy’ hikes.  I tried to tell him I was experienced & don’t have problems with the altitude (it was only 7,700’), but he was insistant.  I thanked him & left…I hope his day & attitude got better; he wasn’t going to ruin mine.  I drove up to the lodge…because I love to see National Park lodges, had a cup of coffee & looked around.  It was nice & cozy, but not one of the spectacular ones like Yellowstone or Yosemite.  

I chose one of the ‘strenuous’ hikes & headed towards the trailhead.  This trail is actually a combination of trails that’s 5.5 miles & 1,500’ elevation gain.  It was a beautiful hike that begins taking you down into the amphitheater & then far back into the hoodoos.  Spectacular colors & amazing spires!  





It was really good hike!  I ended up visiting with a couple of guys I passed…twice…because neither of us could figure out if we were going in a loop in opposite directions, why we’d pass each other twice.  We finally did figure it out, but in the meantime started talking trails in Zion.  The weather was beautiful & I had continued to peel off my layers as I hiked out.  I was done hiking for the day & had parked close to the showers, so I got out my shower-gear, my $2 & bought a lovely, hot 8 minute shower….”I’m gonna wash that sand right outta my hair”.  Clean & refreshed I hit the road, backtracking about 50 miles until I found the turn off for my 4th National Park & one of my favorites…Zion! 

Wow…the mass of humanity is here!  It’s the last day of “get in free” to the NP & there are a gazillion people here!  It’s only 2 hours from Vegas & so beautiful…but wow…cars parked everywhere!  The part of the interior park that leads to all the major trails is not drivable…you must take a shuttle.  The shuttle system is soooo efficient it’s great.  You hardly ever wait more than a five or ten minutes for one & they stop at all the major trailheads, the lodge & the museum.  I SLOWLY made my way to the campground, pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to score a campsite for the night, but you never know when you’ll get lucky.  And sooo lucky I got!  Trip Magic sprinkled down on me as I slowly drove into the campground & stared at the “FULL” sign.  A man with  a white beard & friendly face was walking by & asked me if I needed help.  No, I said, just looking for a site.  He offered to let me park in his campsite…he was in a Sprinter.  I was so thrilled!  I introduced myself, told him I was going in town for dinner then I’d be back.  He introduced himself too, told me the campsite number & said he’d see me later.

I drove into Springdale looking for the Zion Brewpub.  I found it & ordered a couple of tasters… a Hefeweizen & a Stout along with a burger.  The Hefe was good, the stout ok & the overpriced (all the food in Springdale is super $$$) burger was just ok.  But I was super hungry so it all went down well.  Before heading back to camp, I went to the Visitors Center to check the weather for in the morning (yes…internet service was gone again).  I was planning a big hike in the morning.  However, the forecast is for rain..70%.  Bummer.  I drove back to camp & spent the evening visiting with my generous camp mate.  We talked travel for a couple of hours & I toured his new 4WD Sprinter…it’s really awesome.  He built out the inside himself & educated me on all the details of the adventure mobile.  He built a fire & we chatted some more.  The evening was perfect weather wise…not too cool, no breeze, just sweet.  I’d decided I wouldn’t do my big hike in the morning, but would wait until Tuesday when the weather forecast was to be colder, but dry.

day 6…4.25
It briefly rained in the night, but about 2:30 the skies were clear & the moon was so bright I didnt need my flashlight as I made my way to the bathroom.  When I awoke this morning the skies were blue & clearreally?  I was glad, but hoped I wasnt missing a window to do my hike.  I made coffee & packed up my pack.  My camp mate was headed up to another canyon to take on a long 14 mile hikeundaunted by the forecast.  I decided I would ride the shuttle to the very end of the park & do all the short day hikes working my way back.  That way if the weather turned wet or stormy, I could always bail.  My first hike was the 2 mile Riverside Walkits the hike that takes you to the Narrowsone of Zions most famous slot canyon hikes.  Its been closed for the past two weeks because of flash flooding.  I hiked this hike back in 2012..5 hours in the water but it was an amazing experience.  Too cold to go in without a wetsuit this time of year & I wasnt going to rent one, so  I hadn’t planned on doing it this time even before I knew it was closed.  On the shuttle ride to the trail head, we drove by Angels Landingmy hike Ive planned for tomorrow.  Its one of two of the scariest hikes Ive ever done & Im not sure since Ive done it before, if it will be more or less scary this time.  But as we drove by it, I almost didnt want to look ALL THAT WAY UP, knowing tomorrow Id be on LOOKING ALL THIS WAY DOWN!

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Here’s the entrance to the Narrows…you litterally just walk in the water & wade into the canyon!

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I jumped on the shuttle & got off on the next stop to Weeping Rock.  There are many ‘hanging gardens’ in the rocks at Zion.  The water seeps from the rock & plants are able to grow & bloom on the sides of these massive rock walls.

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My next shuttle stop was at the lodge.  It was similar to Bryce’s…quaint & cozy but not spectacular.  It had started to rain gently, so I popped inside the gift shop.  I can usually be in & out of these places in a few minutes without any purchases.  But a small piece of Native American folk art caught my eye.  I held it.  I studied it.  Uh-oh…I wanted it.  While I can buy an expensive beer without too much guilt, stuff—even cool art stuff— I have to consider more carefully.  I asked the lady in the shop about it & she said there might be more in town in some of the shops.  So I left without it.  My next hike started across the bridge & over the river from the lodge.  It’s a super popular short hike..just a couple of miles, so there were a number of people on it.  It’s called Emerald Pools..there’s a lower, a mid & an upper.  Below are pics of each of the three pools.  When I hiked these trails before, NONE of the pools were Emerald…they were all brown. As they were this time too!   The hike was good though…feel lucky to be here in this magnificent natural wonder of a park. 

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I know you’re laughing right now looking at the above pics.  These are three of Zions most popular trails.  While at Bryce, I overheard another hiker talking about these trails & she said, “I wished they’d put a sign up at the trailhead saying “ the pools are not Emerald today!” “   I thought that was funny!

Instead of going back the way Id come by all the brown pools, I jumped onto another trail called the Grotto.  It leads you back to a different shuttle stop.  The weather all morning had gone from sprinkling to dark skies to a brief show of sun. But soon after I got on the Grotto trail, the wind picked up & the gusts were incredible.  I WAS SO GLAD I WASNT HIKING ANGELS LANDING TODAY!  I couldnt imagine being up there trying to negoiate WET chains then deal with WIND GUSTS.  Here are some more pics from my hikes today.



As I was almost off the trail & crossing the bridge over the river, I decided to take one more photo….

...but, as I went to attach my lens cover onto my lens, the wind took off with it & the little black disc plummeted into the river.  I stood there for about 10 seconds kind of shocked, & then watched it float under the bridge.  I ran off the bridge & down the path alongside the river & looked for a spot to make a rescue.  I thought maybe I could use my hiking pole.  But, sad to say, it was gone.  I scanned the water, but knew it would have to surface about an inch from the shore, since I was not going  to make a long leaning plunging grab in the freezing fast flowing water if it were any further.  Goodbye lens cap…you’ve been with me & my camera forever.  

The wind was crazy as I made my way to the shuttle stop.  The skies were turning darker & as the shuttle headed down canyon, it looked like it was already raining in town.  I retrieved my 4Runner from the campground & took off to town for lunch, a look for folk art, wifi & outlets to get charged up.  I ate at Oscar’s Cafe….super yummy shrimp tacos (saved the dinner salad for dinner tonight) & a margarita that tasted good, but I think they left out the tequila (it’s Utah…they probably don’t even make them with tequila).  After lunch, I went to the two stores that might have more of the art I wanted, but they did not.  I’ve been at the warm & cozy & really nice Springdale library for the past couple of hours working on my website.  As fate would have it, their wifi is down, but it’s been a sweet spot to sit while it’s downpouring outside & the temperatures are dropping fast.  

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The day didn’t get much more exciting…the rain continued at a steady rate & I never found wifi.  I did hop back on the shuttle to the lodge & bought my awesome little piece of art!  I will truly treasure it.   I also went up to the lodge restaurant & had some yummy hot chocolate. Riding the shuttle back up the canyon, it was pretty amazing finding three giant waterfalls that weren’t there earlier in the day…a little rain here goes a long way.  It just doesn’t absorb into the ground, but quickly swells the rivers & overflows the rock.  

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My campmate & I ended up talking travel for about three hours while sitting out the bad weather.  I’m planning on hiking Angels Landing bright & early in the morning, but it’s still pouring rain & the temps are dropping…we’ll see what happens!



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