IS IT TIGHT IN HERE OR IS IT JUST ME?!

Hello again everyone,

Yet another big blog update!  Make sure to watch the videos at the end to see some of the crazy hikes we did this time around. After leaving Valley of Fire, we made our way to Zion National Park. Zion uses a shuttle system to drop everyone off at the various viewpoints and trailheads due to the high amount of visitors to the park.
The Zion Shuttle

  We were a little disappointed at first because we like to drive through parks and scout out photo locations that aren't necessarily located near a parking lot or trailhead.  We thought that the shuttle system would limit us, but it turned out that there was plenty to see and do along the shuttle stops.  We arrived at the park around mid afternoon and by that time it was already packed, like 200 people waiting in line for the shuttle at the visitor center packed.  We decided against trying to park and getting the shuttle and decided to go ahead and rent some wetsuits to hike the virgin river narrows the next day.  As the daytime highs were only in the 60s and the water temperature was in the high 30s - 40s, wetsuits were a must.  We went to one of the many hiking outfitters in the town of Springdale, which is located just outside the park, and rented wetsuits, neoprene socks, walking sticks, and super jazzy water shoes.

Ready for action

The rentals only set us back 80 dollars, which was cheaper than we expected.  We arrived at the park around 645 the next morning and took the 45 minute shuttle ride to the Temple of Sinawava, where the trailhead to The Narrows is located. It's about a 1 mile walk along the river before the trail ends and you are forced into the cold water in order to make your way up the canyon.
To say this was one of our favorite hikes on this trip so far is an understatement. It's hard to put the experience into words, but it can simply be described as breathtaking. We walked about 4 miles upstream, fighting the current every step of the way, and at times we were over waist-deep in water. Our walking sticks came in very handy, not only for helping us keep our balance, but also for keeping us from stepping into any deep holes that would have put the water at head level. Our plan was to make it into the deeper, narrower, and more interesting parts of the canyon in time for the morning light to start hitting the canyon walls.  For the first 2 miles, our feet were pretty much frozen and it was a pretty brutal experience.  Eventually, we couldn't even feel our feet at all.  When the sun finally started to come out, it was slightly more bearable. When we felt that we had seen enough of the canyon, we turned around and made our way back out. The way back went much faster as we were traveling with the current, but that also presented its own difficulty.
The blue water of The Narrows

Occasionally we would have to criss cross back and forth across the stream and the current/rapids were so strong that we were nearly swept off our feet several times (and by we, I mean Melinda).  It was about 230 when we made it back to the top of the canyon and the place was PACKED, which is precisely the reason why we left as early as we did.  We hopped on the next available shuttle and when we finally arrived at the car, we tore off our wetsuits and blasted the heater. We really didn't feel the effects of the hike until we got back to camp and dried out. Our muscles were sore, our backs were stiff, and we needed a nap. We called it an early night since we were planning on getting up the next morning to hike The Angels Landing trail.

Early morning light on the canyon walls


Despite our best efforts we didn't roll out of bed until around 9 the next morning. Luckily the park wasn't too crowded by the time we arrived and we showed up to the trailhead around 10. The trail to Angels Landing is 2.4 miles one way which isn't far at all, but what makes it tough is the steep change in elevation in a short amount of time.

Our destination is the very top

The toughest part of the hike is an area called Walter's Wiggles, which is a series of 21 brutal switchbacks. By the time we reached the top, our hearts felt like they were going to burst out of out chests, but we were also speed-walking the entire way.  After this area, the trail arrives at Scout Lookout which is usually a turnaround point for most people since the next area gets very interesting. The last half mile of the trail is filled with sharp drop-offs and very narrow paths.

The horrible switchbacks
Chain rails are provided to keep you from falling off the edge to your death. People have died here in the past, but it was probably just from being careless since the trail isn't as bad as it's made out to be as long as you're careful. At no time did we feel like any part of it was too sketchy or dangerous to continue. The view from atop Angels Landing was pretty terrific. The shuttle buses down below look like tiny specks and the you have a view for miles. The hike back down was much less painful and the part that takes the longest is when you have to stop and let other people pass you on the narrowest part of the mountain top.

Atop Angels Landing
Long way down

That afternoon we explored a bit of the eastern side of the park which doesn't require the use of the shuttle service. The scenery is very different from the other side of the park. The rocks turn into a beautifully swirled array of colors and atop them sit little pinyon pine trees somehow surviving despite growing out of the massive boulders. We stuck around until later in the afternoon until it turned very cloudy and we figured hanging around for sunset was pointless.

Somehow surviving

  We headed back to camp and pounded some food.  On a side note, we are getting very creative with our poor-folk dinners: rice mixed with cream of chicken soup, rice mixed with Chef-Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, rice mixed with ground beef and taco seasoning, and the yummiest combo yet is Mac & Cheese mixed with ramen.  The next morning was our last in the area so we drove over to the park's museum, which has a wonderful view of The Towers of the Virgin behind it.

Towers of the Virgin

They are the first rock faces to see the morning light and they have a wonderful shadow cast on them from the surrounding mountain ranges. After the sun did it's thing, we took the shuttle over to the Zion Lodge and hiked up to the Emerald Pools.  Out of the three pools, the lower pool was the most interesting because the trail went underneath a cascading water fall and water droplets rained down on us.  Altogether, it was a pleasant two-mile hike.  We then returned to camp, packed up, and drove off to Bryce Canyon.

Bryce is very much a viewpoint park. You can get an up close look at all the hoodoos and rock formations from a few main viewpoints all within about 2 miles of each other. There aren't too many hiking trails in the park, but we did do the Navajo Loop and Queens's Garden trails, which took us into the bottom of the canyon.  The trail loop was a pretty easy 3.5-mile hike including the  1/2 mile detour to the Wall Street area which was unfortunately closed due to wintery conditions.

Hiking in Bryce
Big giants
On the up-side, when we reached the closed portion of the trail, there were several towering evergreen trees shooting up the narrow slot of the surrounding canyon walls.
While Bryce was very tame, the nearby Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument proved to be quite a bit more interesting.

The Queen's Garden in Bryce

Thor's Hammer at sunrise

From our campsite outside of Bryce Canyon, we drove about 40 miles to the beginning of Hole in the Rock Road, which provides access to the major areas of this massive park.  There are no paved roads within the monument and at least half the roads require 4WD and high clearance, neither of which the Jetta has.  Prior to heading out, we went to the visitor center and verified which roads were suitable for a passenger car.  The park ranger told us that Hole in the Rock Road was just fine for a car, so we decided to drive 36 miles down that beast of a road to the Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons.

The most horrible road ever. But at least it had cute cows

I say beast of a road because it took us over 2 hours to go those 36 miles. The road was the most rough, bumpy, and demanding road we've driven on this trip, and we have definitely tested the limits of the Jetta before.  The washboard was so bad in some areas that we had to go about 5 mph because going any faster made the car feel like it was going to fall apart.  It reminded Melinda of the vehicle testing she worked on at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and she kept saying how she could picture all the bolts rattling loose.  Sure enough, we lost two bolts securing the rubber skid plate underneath the car and later on we discovered a random bolt in the trunk.  The last 1/4 mile to the trailhead is a sandy test of clever driving. Drops and dips with huge holes and jagged rocks made us a bit nervous (Melinda had to cover her eyes), but we ended up making it and getting one of the last parking spots. The long drive was definitely worth it.  We hiked about mile until we came upon the first slot canyon, Peek-a-Boo.  To enter the canyon, we had to climb up a 12-foot high wall, which was sandy and slippery but made easier by a few foot holds carved into the wall.

 The canyon was super tight and twisty and required some crazy scrambling to get through.  We spent some time taking some photos before making our way back out and setting out to find Spooky Canyon.  To say this canyon was tight is an understatement. There were areas where it almost seemed impossible to make it through and having my backpack and tripod made things only more interesting and slow-going. At times we had to turn sideways and force ourselves down long narrow corridors that seemed to never end. A few places required us to climb up twisted narrow passageways, where we had to be careful not to get our feet stuck or twist an ankle. It also got very interesting when other people were passing coming from the opposite direction. It was like playing a game of twister. After getting to the end of Spooky we had to turn around since it required some climbing gear to get back out. Going back the opposite way was an all new challenge since the climbs became drops and some things that were easier to navigate coming in were tougher to navigate going back out.  On a side note, when we exited Peek-a-Boo canyon, there was a family of four trying to figure out how to get their two large dogs up the 12-foot wall and into the canyon.  They were considering carrying the dogs (it was hard enough to get ourselves up there) or just climbing up and calling for the dogs to follow them as if the dogs were capable of utilizing the foot holds.  Melinda advised them that the canyon wasn't exactly pet-friendly and they were less than pleased to accept her advice.  You meet all kinds out here!




After we made our way back to the car we started the long journey back along Hole in the Rock Road. We stopped at The Devils Garden area about 7 miles from the end of the road to check out the crazy rock formations. We explored the area for about an hour before calling it quits since the sky looked pretty menacing and distant lightning bolts warned of a pretty bad incoming storm. We finished driving back out to the highway and  it felt terrific to finally hit pavement again.

The Devil's Garden

The next day we drove back to the Escalante area and went to visit Lower Calf Creek Falls. The 6 mile roundtrip hike was pretty easy and quite scenic. We had a nice breeze throughout the hike, but it was quite chilly next to the falls because of all of the mist.

Lower Calf Creek Falls
The next day we packed up and, taking the advice of two frenchmen at our campground, drove south to the Grand Canyon.  We caught small glimpses of the canyon on our drive to the campground and it looked pretty impressive. Once we set up camp we drove to a few of the overlooks to take in the view and it's definitely grand. We made our way back to the The Desert View viewpoint to catch sunset. A pretty nasty storm was coming in from the east and ended up bringing with it some really strong winds and freezing rain. It made shooting tough since everything was getting soaked, but the light was pretty spectacular and I imagine it's not really something that happens there that often. Melinda went back to the car once the cold became too much while I stayed and froze to death. She spotted the elusive Elk that we have been searching for this entire road trip. There were two grazing near the parking lot. I missed them but I have faith I'll eventually see one in real life one of these days. The next day was much more of a planning day to figure out where we are going. Since it's getting into springtime now we have to plan a bit further ahead and make some reservations so we aren't totally screwed when we show up somewhere. We made some good progress and have the next two weeks squared away. We'll be stopping back in Death Valley for two nights tomorrow before making our way over to the west coast. It's going to feel good to get out of the desert and hit the coast and some woodland areas again. We'll have another blog post next week some time so stay tuned. Later guys!! (videos down below!)


Rain at The Grand Canyon
Some great light
Melinda in The Narrows
The elusive Elk

Thor's Hammer overlooking the Bryce Amphitheatre
Giants at The Devil's Garden


Had to cut these videos down a bit, upload speeds at camp and McDonalds aren't terrific.

Us being goofy in The Narrows, I attribute it to being so cold


video

Hiking Angels Landing and me being a jerk making fun of the people in front of us ; )

video

Us inside Spooky Canyon.
video

Comments

  1. I would love to some day go to Zion to rock climb. Just curious was flash flooding a potential danger hiking up the canyon river like that? I would have been extremely nervous in there... Bear Grylls narrowly escaped one in one of the man vs wild episodes. I love that show. lol

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  2. Wow, you guys seem to be having a terrific time. No challenge that you won't try. I can't believe you carried all you gear up the Peek-a-boo canyon. Great photos and look forward to your next exciting episode.

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