*Flashbacks continued. Hopefully only one more after this one.*
After waking to a dry morning, we hit the Headwaters Canyon Trail for a quick morning hike. Unfortunately just as the canyon narrowed, a 20 foot pool of water stopped our progressed and we turned back. This was remarkable timing because the weather started to turn and the rain began as soon as we hit the car. Then, driving west through the Waterpocket Fold, the first snow of the trip began to fall. We experienced on and off snow throughout the day as we traveled through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. For the most part, Rob and I stayed dry, but a pocket of precip hit us during the 6 miles round-trip hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Luckily, it stopped on the way back and we enjoyed some sun.
Since it was super cheap to camp after paying the entrance free ($8 entrance or $16 primitive camp), Rob and I decided to stay the night and get some OMG hot showers! We finally took time to do some cooking and made a bunch of chili, too. Since there was only one other group at the campground (in a minivan campervan), we invited them to join our campfire. One of them came over and it turned out that he and his girlfriend were visiting from Germany. We introduced him to S’mores and Rob gave an excellent marshmallow roasting lesson. It turns out that he had tried before, but had just stuck it in the flames.
All the snow from the previous day made Bryce Canyon into a winter wonderland. Kodachrome is below 6000 ft, where Bryce climbs to almost 10,000 ft. It was cold! We shared Sunrise/Sunset points with a busload of Korean tourists. After doing a longer hike from Sunset to Sunrise along the Rim trail, continuing on the Queens Garden trail (there’s a rock resembling Queen Victoria), a bit of the Navajo Loop Trail, half of the Peekaboo Loop trail, the Bryce Point Connector trail and finally back to the Rim Trail to return to Sunset Point, we cooked a quick ramen lunch (finally we ate the Korean ramen we had been hoarding) and ate it during the geology ranger talk. Then, we finished out the day with the scenic drive and the Bristlecone Pine Trail hike.
Lower Antelope Canyon
After talking to the German couple , Rob really wanted to go to Antelope Canyon, so we drove past Zion to get to Paige, AZ camping one night in a primitive BLM campground (White House Trailhead) that was surprisingly popular. En route to Paige, we also made a quick stop at Lake Powell. In the morning, the sky was filled with a multitude of hot air balloons enjoying views over the lake, which was quite a sight.
Since you need a guide to enter the canyons, I looked for the cheapest, well-reviewed tour and found Ken’s Tours, which guides on Lower Antelope Canyon (rather than Upper Antelope Canyon). They had good reviews on TripAdvisor and were only $20 pp + $8 Navajo permit fee + guide tip. We arrived early and managed to get a group of only 4 with a guide who was happy to let us spend plenty of time in the canyon. The Lower Canyon gets fewer light rays because of it’s shape, but during the winter the light rays aren’t as common, so that doesn’t matter as much. This was half the price of visiting upper and probably was quieter because the visit requires a number of ladders you must climb. You can just walk into the upper canyon.
As soon as we entered Zion, I wanted to leave. After the peace and quiet everywhere else, Zion was chock full of people on a random Saturday in November. Cars and people were all over the road. We figured on camping in the first-come first-serve campground, but it was full because even though they had over 100 sites, half were closed because of low staffing. Instead, we found free camping off a forest road near an old ghost town (There are designated sites – might be better for a camper/mobile home). It was great until the winds picked up and the ground was about 2 inches of sand on top of rock. The tent would not stay up and sand got everywhere. I finally convinced Rob to sleep in the car.
The next morning, we woke early and cooked breakfast at the final lookout of Kolob canyon’s scenic drive. We finished the day with a hike up Angel’s Landing. We ended up camping on this private land that many folks in town mentioned (also on freecampsites.net).
The next day, Rob and I rented cold water gear to do the day hike up the Virgin River through the Narrows. The Neoprene socks and dry pants definitely made us forget that the water was 46 deg F. The pants actually kept us dry and the walking stick was really useful for depth and balance checks. The canyon shoes were also nice to have, but our boundary waters wet shoes probably would have been fine.
Canyoneering with Zion Adventures
For our last day in Utah, we booked a canyoneering trip with Zion Adventures. We opted for dry canyons after a day in the river and our guide, Jon, took us to the Hunted and Huntress Canyons. Jon taught us how to set up a number of different rope configurations, including rappelling with an autoblock as a backup, meat belay, bottom belayed rappel and top belayed down climbing. He let us belay him, so I guess he thought we knew what we were doing. Friction climbing was a fun change to normal gym top roping, although I would definitely wear crappier clothes next time because you can go through pants quickly doing this type of activity. Our guide had a butt pad to protect his pants, but still mentioned going through many pairs during a season. Rob and I both had a great time and would recommend the experience to anyone visiting Zion. Unfortunately, I don’t think Washington has the similar canyons, so we could do this closer to home.