About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

UTAH PT 2 Chapter 1: Zion National Park

Sunday, July 3rd
I packed up my tent and said my goodyes to Grand Canyon North Rim this morning.  I would be heading back into Utah.  I already visited Utah back in October, but with so much to do and so close to the southern border, I figured I could check some more things off my list that I wasn't able to get to last time when I was on a time crunch.

On the way, I visited Jacob's Lake again for another selection of cookies and sat inside the restaurant for a breakfast of typical diner fare.

Heading north of Highway 89, I stopped at the Le Fevre Overlook, "the best view of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument" and "rare chance to see all the steps of the staircase."

From the East Entrance
Entering Utah, I passed by the pretty Coral Pink Sand Dunes

I came into Zion National Park from the Eastern entrance (opposite from last time).  I learned the eastern gateway offers a much more scenic introduction to the park, definitely the way to go!  Wow!  I passed by the beautiful sandstone formations of red, white, and brown with their landmark checkerboard patterns, passed through the 1.1 mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel - a true feat of engineering and longest tunnel of its kind when completed in 1930 -  oh so much fun to drive!  Even better, I was in the back of the line (they have cars go through one direction at a time), so I got to hang back a little behind the rest and snap a couple photos :)

I stopped into the Visitor Center for maps and hiking info/recommendations and took the shuttle to the Human History Museum for the 22-minute orientation film.

I drove through the park to the other side and drove south of the park about 5 miles to BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and set my tent up in the scorching hot sun adjacent to the entrance of Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway

Beautiful Backdrop, But Too Much Sand!
Drove back to the park and took the shuttle to The Grotto Trailhead to West Rim Trail to Angel's Landing Trail, probably the most popular trail in the park (for a reason).  It's 5 miles (round-trip) ascending 1,488 feet on steep, narrow, winding switchbacks.  From Scott Lookout the trail is at its most rugged, steep, challenging - and FUN! - with rope chain supports to help keep you from falling off the sheer cliff drop-offs the last 1/2 mile to the summit of Angel's Landing, which boasts in my opinion the most stupendous of all the views in the whole park!  Along the trail were lizards, chipmunks, a mouse, wildflowers, prickly pear cactus with hot pink blooms, and a red box ran in front of me off into the woods on the way back!

On the shuttle ride back I got off at The Lodge and attended the ranger-led program "That's How it Was in the Cs," a presentation outlining the work and legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Zion National Park, mostly as seen from the personal diary entries of one of the first members.

I got back to camp only to discover a layer of fine, red sand covering the floor of my tent!  I did my best to brush it off to the sides , then decided it might not be good to lie there breathing it in all night, so I slept in my car, instead.

A View from the Last Half-Mile to Angel's Landing
Monday, the 4th of July
First thing this morning I packed up the tent and tried my odds at a site at The Watchman campground, which is reservation-only.  To my luck I scored a site for tonight!  It wasn't ready for check-in, but that was perfect.  I paid and headed over to the back-country office, where I got lucky yet again and got my hands on a same-day permit for the "Subway" hike (a strenuous 9 miles from the bottom and back), which allows only 80 hikers a day.  It was about 7:30am by the time I got cleaned up and had some breakfast and got to the parking lot for Left Fork Trailhead at about 10am.  There was actually a ranger there and he asked to see my permit.  Afterward, I took a look at the trail map on the bulletin board and hit the rail - or so I thought.  Only 10 feet from the parking lot and I found myself at the wash/dry bed of a seasonal creek, where there were only a few footprints.  I walked up the wash a little bit - no apparent trail.  I walked down the wash - same thing.  I walked over the wash to the other side into the low-brush trees - some footprints but also no maintained trail.  I was baffled and irritated; there was no sign at the parking lot indicating the trailhead, which is unheard of, given the other trails I've hiked.  I double-checked the trail description in the back-country guide I brought with me, and it did say "route-finding," which would suggest there's no obvious trail - so I picked the best path(s) to follow from the footprints I found along the way.  I remembered the ranger who issued me the permit said to head toward the canyon rim to the river, and it wasn't long before I find myself looking straight down the drop off of the canyon rim at the river below - with no maintained trail in sight.

Blossom of a Prickly Pear Cactus
After a couple of aborted attempts at climbing down, I finally successfully negotiated a rugged but feasible route, and reached the the river below - that's after stopping several times to literally pull cactus needles from my ass!  I hiked in and alongside the river as the back-country ranger instructed. There were wonderful swimmin' holes at every turn and I had them all to myself :)  I took a dip in one, plopped into the water swinging underneath a fallen tree, and checked out the scenery from behind a little waterfall.

Much time had passed since leaving the parking lot and I figured I'd be reaching "Subway" in a couple of hours.  However, to my surprise I came to a trail marker pointing to Left Fork Trailhead.  Huh?  Just a few yards from the marker was a man and his son who told me it was about 1pm.  I had hiked THREE HOURS out of the way off trail!  And man, did I get an earful about it from one of the rangers I passed shortly thereafter.  Instead of asking if I was okay, she barked at me about how important it is to stay on trail and indirectly called me a beginner hiker!  Ouch.  I hiked maybe a mile further and decided to rethink my original plan.  My needle-poked ass and hands had taken a beating and I felt no ambition to hike another 3.5 miles and back, so I chose to take a load off and remember this hike as one enjoying a balance of death-defying adventure and playful relaxation.  I removed my pack, shoes and socks, had some water and a snack, took a dip in the perfect, single-person swimmin' hole, and soaked up some sun on a low incline rock.  Satisfied I was.  Then I made my way back to the Left Fork trail marker I had seen earlier and climbed the steep canyon wall to the parking lot - this time on trail.  Upon arriving at my car, I found a note on my windshield.  Another reprimanding remark from the ranger perhaps?  Had she not grilled me enough?!  I turned the piece of paper over and read:
"Glad you got back safely.  We were a little worried about you.  Hope you had fun!   ~ The guy who gave you the rope.  P.S. ~ You are very sexy!"
I big smile came across my face.  That man offered me nearly everything in his pack that his son and him might have possibly needed.  I guess it was 2 parts worry, 1 part crush, lol.  I had no idea!  I'm usually so good at detecting sexual cues.  This was a nice surprise :)

Along my Hike to "Subway"
When I got back to the main area of the park I checked into Watchman Campground and set up my tent - nice site, tent pad, and short walk to the nicest park bathrooms I've seen in a quite a while!  And they have soap, hooray!

I hadn't forgotten it was Independence Day, so I drove to the town of La Verkin about 20 miles away or so - nothing was going on until the fireworks a lot later on.  So I drove just two more miles Hurricane - same thing.  So I stuffed myself silly with crab legs, sushi and the usual at a Chinese Buffet, then saw Transformers 3 (nonstop, in-your-face action!), before heading to the ball fields to catch the dazzling fireworks :)

Tuesday, July 5th
Watchman Campground was all full tonight, so I moved to South Campground only about a quarter of a mile away, which is on a first come-first served basis, and I had plenty of spots to choose from at this early in the day. I found a great site surrounded by a couple of big boulders and a little, flowing creek.  The people at the site next to me have the most FUN set up I've ever seen!  Their tent is set up like a tree house on top of their SUV with a ladder up one side and they have a very welcoming hammock.  Never have I seen a tent like that before - going on my wish list!

A View of "The Watchman" from Camp
I went to Elements Coffee Shop down the road for some tea before the day's fun began.  I went to Sol Foods and bought a hot/cold insulation bag, munchies beer and an inner-tube (only $4!), and tubed down the Virgin River!  It would've been $15 to go on an organized trip with a local adventure company.  This was waaay better.  I was expecting a slow, lazy river (hence the snacks), so I was surprised to find it as fast and bumpy, which made it that much more fun, despite plenty of ouch-my-ass moments, lol.

Wednesday, July 6th
This morning I got a back-country permit for the 16-mile thru-hike down "The Narrows" that I'll be backpacking tomorrow and Friday.  It was tough to decide to do this hike or not - the flash flood report is at "Moderate" and may be unsafe if it rains.

I hiked a strenuous 8 miles (round-trip), ascending 2,148 feet on the East Rim Trail to Observation Point - over 600 feet higher than the more popular Angel's Landing.  Steep switchbacks the first mile, then alongside a serpentine, water-carved slot known as Echo Canyon, up cliff-side zigzags, and onto the red-stained path through the scattered junipers and pinyon pines to the summit at 6,507 feet, affording views of the West Rim Trail, Angels Landing, Three Patriarchs, East Rim, Cable Mountain and Great White Throne.  I didn't find the views as astounding as from Angel's Landing, because they're so far away, but the actual trail itself was more diverse and interesting.  Beautiful wildflowers, birds, geology, and lizards - including a glimpse of one that had neon blue and yellow stripes!

A Slot Canyon on the Hike to Observation Point
Had my post-hike carbs with a cheese pizza from Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., followed by ice cream at Springdale Candy Company.

Then I got outfitted for tomorrow's backpacking trek at Zion Adventure Company - the place is a zoo run by a bunch of kids.  It took FOUR different people as they one by one dropped me by the wayside to fend for myself.  The first person left me in the middle of trying on water shoes.  The next one literally left without a word; I'm guessing he was done with his shift.  And the next guy left me to go help a couple of attractive girls. They probably have what you need, but they're absolutely rude and unprofessional.

I went back to the campsite and got all my stuff together for tomorrow, talked with a young French guy from a neighboring site about Zion's different hikes, and went to bed early at about 8:30pm.

Between the heavy winds, thunder, lightning, the little bit of rain in a cheap tent that has yet to prove itself waterproof (has never been in a rain storm) and my anxiousness for tomorrow, I barely slept a wink.

View from the Summit of Observation Point
Thursday, July 7th
I got up at 5:15am, packed my tent and got over to Zion Adventure Company to board the 6:30am shuttle van to the trailhead of the Upper Narrows an hour away.

Pack List
Driver's License, Hiking Permit, Trail Map, Nat'l Park Pass
Iodine Water Purifying Tablets
Glasses, Contacts & Case, retainer, TP, Hand Sanitizer, First Aid Kit, Ziplock Bags
Trash Bags, "Poop Bag"
Food - Pizza (YUM!), Pringles, Almond-Raisin Trail Mix
Camelbak Water Carrier
Tent, Sleeping Bag (Rental), Sleeping Mat (Rental)
Water Shoes & Socks (Rental)
Walking Stick (Rental)
Camera and Brand New Waterproof Camera Case
Backpack (Rental)
Drysack (Rental)
Dry set of underwear, socks, non-cotton pants, long sleeve non-cotton shirt, light non-cotton jacket, stocking hat, cap and bandana
Journal, Pen, Poetry Book

Rental Equipment = $94
Shuttle Van = $29

 "Few hikes on Earth surround you with such grandeur over the entire length of the hike.  Starting from the top, this hike takes you on an eighteen-million year journey through geologic time.  From open pasture lands on the plateau, the river slowly slice into the Earth, sinking deeper and deeper below the stone walls on either side.  Gradually the shorelines grow smaller and smaller, the walls grow taller and taller; you find yourself in a grand and enormous hallway of beautifully carved stone.  The drama continues for miles, as corner after corner reveals more surprises and wonders of this unique and magical place."

The "Upper Narrows"

First words out of our Australian shuttle driver's mouth on the way to the trailhead?  "It rained last night and it wasn't much, but many places in the road are clay and we might make it, but you'll get half your money refunded."  What?!  *Sigh*  The drive was intense and in some places the slippery clay on the winding, cliff-side road left us all stunned with fingers crossed that we wouldn't go over the edge.  With much luck and some amazing driving, we eventually made it to the trailhead at 8am.  During the ride I got a little acquainted with some of the surrounding passengers, including a couple fellow mid-westerners - Jesse originally from North Dakota and Morgan originally from Minnesota!  They invited me along with them and I had a blast spending time with them on the "trail," which by the way is IN the river.  It was nice having some company, especially for a long and potentially dangerous hike such as this.
We were wide-eyed entering the canyon and watching the walls get higher and narrower around us as we turned each corner of the Upper Narrows.  The water felt great - good temperature - and it was a nice, sunny day :)  The water was muddy due to last night's rains, making it difficult to confidently find proper footing below.  The water was higher and faster from the rains too, which made negotiating the rocks especially difficult when crossing the currents.  Jesse and Morgan were determined to hike the whole 16 miles in one day (as did some others), but evening fell and at 7pm with all these factors combined, they wisely decided to take me up on my offer to be my overnight guests.  With 5 miles left of the trail, with water much deeper than the stuff we encountered today, it was the safest way to go.  I had all the necessary supplies to share (tent and drinking water), and it felt nice to spend some more time with my new friends :)

Cool, eh?!
Friday, July 8th
We packed up, stocked up on drinking water and hit the trail swimming, lol, at 8am.  Highlights of today included beautiful Big Springs and floating through water over our heads (thanks to our buoyant packs)!  We took several breaks today, including one at a small waterfall where we briefly exchanged conversation with the same French guy I talked to at my site last night!  He was doing the popular day-hike UP the river and found it looked like he didn't know what he was in for, so he decided it best not go all the way to Big Springs.  Jesse and Morgan and I continued on and had a nice break in Orderville Canyon - a popular side canyon just a few miles from our destination.  We reached the end of the narrows at approximately 2:30pm, immediately got dinner (pizza and veggie burgers!) at Wildcat Willie's, and then I got my tent set up at their campsite at Watchman Campground (they insisted on returning the favor :)  We didn't stay up long, we were all so tired.  We separated the campground with guys tent and girls tent, lol.

Saturday, July 9th
When Jesse and I got up, he whipped me up a hearty bowl of oatmeal with tropical dry fruit and soy milk.  Then I went to Elements Coffee Shop to chat with Annie the friendly supervisor, and get caught up with picture uploads and journaling - oh, and to shave in their bathroom that has an electrical outlet (unlike the campground), lol.  Jesse and Morgan came by in the late afternoon to check on me and I finished journaling.  We went to the Sol Foods for some supplies and went tubing in the Virgin River for a bit (fun!) before hading back to the campsite where Jesse prepared us a delicious veggie sausage dish over the campfire, while I supplied bread and hummus :)  The camp stayed gender-divided again tonight, haha.

We did it!
Sunday, July 10th, 9:51pm, in front of the toasty, crackling campfire :)
Another delicious oatmeal breakfast thanks to my generous friends; this morning we found we had been sharing our company with a baby Praying Mantis that that found a spot so comfortable on my can of Pringles that Jesse had to practically pry him off to set him somewhere while the three of us got our tents broken down and things packed into our cars.  We went to Elements Coffee Shop for a cup of coffee and conversation (sadly our last until who knows how long) during our final moments before saying our goodbyes.  Jesse encouraged me to come back to Utah the first week of October when him and his friends are going on another adventure.  I didn't promise anything, but I was flattered by the enthusiastic invite and will try my best to make it!  It was sad parting ways with my new friends.  Jesse and I have kept in contact, which lessens the blow a little bit.  They're great people :)

I exited Zion through the East entrance, the same one I used coming in, which certainly didn't lose it's luster from last time - so beautiful.

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