As promised in the last post, I’m going to pick back up with our trip, at day 7.5! We have a (fun?) weekend planned of finishing our shower cement board installation so I’m excited to show an update on that next week.
So, back to Utah. After a morning of Canyonlands, we headed out towards Capitol Reef. In my googlemaps perusing, I saw a tiny little park off of our route, called Goblin Valley State Park. After a bit of research, I decided we’d be stopping there. The road leading to this park, both the highway (and by highway, I mean the tiny two-lane road) and then the side road, were so desolate, hot, dry, and remote it was actually a little scary. We’re glad we filled up with gas at the last station, a hundred miles back, because there wasn’t gas for another hundred at least! Goblin Valley is a small valley filled with short, sandstone shapes that look like little mushrooms, so-called ‘Goblins’. The park lets you walk right down among them which was really cool. We only lasted about 30 min, because it was so hot, but we got some good pictures!
After leaving here, we got to Capitol Reef National Park. We kind of just did a drive-through, with plans to hike some trails in it the next day, but those plans ended up changing. We did stop for a scenic point called the Goosenecks Canyon, however, although cloudy skies obscured the famous sunset at this place:
We stayed at a nice resort just outside of Capitol Reef, which was a bit touristy (they had teepees you could stay in, but at $260 a night this was out of our budget!). It did have beautiful views, though, and they had a cowboy on site who gave us a short horseback ride the morning of day 8:
After our horseback adventure, we packed up and headed out of the Capitol Reef area south on Scenic Route 12 (also called the “Million Dollar Highway”, containing a portion referred to as “Hell’s Backbone”). It was beautiful driving, unusual canyons and constantly changing scenery. We were aiming for a trail head in Grand Staircase Escalante National Park called Lower Calf Creek Falls, which was a long trail at almost 6 miles round trip, but we decided it was higher on our list than any of the hikes in Capitol Reef. We found a gourmet lunch spot a few miles before we got to the trail head, so we stopped and it was delicious! We sat on their patio, and Nik (reluctantly) had to share his space with the restaurant’s ancient resident patio cat, Jezebel.
After our yummy lunch, we continued down the road, and it turns out they were doing construction on Hell’s Backbone. This portion of the road is essentially a narrow ridge along the top of a canyon – the ground literally drops off on either side of the road! And with the construction there were areas missing guard rails and road markers, and they actually had an escort truck leading each cohort of cars past the construction. Nerve wracking!! We finally reached the trail head to Lower Calf Creek Falls and it was a beautiful hike through a canyon with smooth, striated red sandstone, with an amazing waterfall at the end.
After our hike, there was about an hour left to go to get to our hotel outside of Bryce Canyon. On Day 9, we woke up early to get into Bryce before the crowds. The drive in was surprisingly forested terrain, and it was chilly as well (Bryce has high elevation). Despite it being called a canyon, it actually was not formed by a river, but whatever weather elements caused it, the outcome was beautiful. These first two pictures are fun – that very high point in the top right of the first picture is zoomed in for the second picture and you can see teeny people standing up there. Just to give an idea of the enormous scale of this canyon!!
We hiked the Navajo trail to go down below the rim, which was pretty intense going down into the huge spires, the technical term for which is “hoodoos”:
And on our way out we stopped to see Natural Bridge, which was also beautiful:
After our morning at Bryce, it was on to Zion! The last half hour of this drive actually entered into Zion National Park to reach the main town that everyone lodges at, and it was unbelievable. There were numerous tunnels we had to drive through because there wasn’t enough room on the side of a cliff to make a road. It was really breathtaking! We woke up super early on Day 10 to get into the park, because the crowds were intense and due to the busy summer, they only allow entrance to the park on a shuttle…which you have to wait for. Even at 7:15am, we had to wait about 30 minutes to board a shuttle! But it was worth it!
We knew the park would get crowded so we picked our top hike and got started. We wanted to do the infamous Angel’s Landing, which is just steep and strenuous for the first 2 miles to Scout’s Overlook. At this point, most people turn back, but the adventurous ones can continue another 0.5 miles on a narrow, steep trail that at some points has 1,000 foot drops offs on either side of a 3 foot wide trail with a chain in the middle. It was pretty intense, and we were indecisive of whether we wanted to risk it. Several people die each year falling off this trail. But we went for it, and unfortunately there aren’t a bunch of pictures of the narrow, chain rope portion (since my hands were on the chain, not my camera!) but the view at the top of the final peak was fantastic. It certainly felt so high that angels would land here! Here’s some pictures of us on the way up, and finally at the top:
After the exhilaration of not dying on that hike, we decided to do one more easy hike all the way at the north end of the park that is a riverside stroll leading up to the other infamous Zion hike, the Narrows. Where the riverside path ends, the Narrows begins…IN THE RIVER. Literally, the river is the trail. So only serious hikers who have the right equipment to essentially the bottom of a canyon, often wading and swimming, continue much past this part. Flash floods through these slot canyons claim lives each year so there’s a lot of information warning about weather conditions. A lot of people go up the Narrows maybe half a mile or so, just to see what it’s all about though, so here’s a picture of that (note that I couldn’t even begin to get a picture of the river and the sky in the same frame, that’s how monolithic the canyon walls were!):
So, that was the end of Zion. After this last little hike, we headed out because it was getting really crowded. As in, the trails were wall-to-wall sweaty people. Crazy.
We headed out, grabbed lunch, and got on the road to Vegas! I don’t have many pictures from Vegas, but we stayed at the MGM Grand, and walked the strip for the evening. We got some food, but we were really too tired and hot to enjoy it – I was over 100 degrees even in the evening, plus, I think I was still on an adrenaline high because I kept thinking how only 8 hours before, I was on the top of Angel’s landing! We did see the Bellagio Fountains which were beautiful. And we spent $60 in slot machines, and walked away with 7 cents. The only other time I’ve played slots, I put in $2 and walked away with $60, so it seems the tables have definitely turned.
The next morning (day 11), we wandered around a little more, then caught our flight in the afternoon. We got home at 1am (with the time change), and it felt GREAT to sleep in our own bed! This was a perfect trip, because we obviously had an awesome time, and with how much hiking we did, we were also ready to go back to real life and our jobs after 11 days. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Zion was mine, despite the crowds. What continued to shock us every place we went was that each park was so different. Different rock, different shapes, different trees, different landscape and animals. I was worried that we’d get tired of the “same national park scenery” but that was never an issue. Everything was amazing – you forget what unbelievable places are right in this country!
I haven’t added up exactly what we spent, but I’m pretty sure it was well under $4000, including all hotels, rental car, flights, meals, excursions, and our park fees. In grad school that would’ve been an insane amount to spend on anything, but now that we’re real adults, for the amount that we saw and did and the length of the trip, I think I did a pretty good job keeping it reasonable. It was certainly an unforgettable adventure, and I already want to start planning our next one!