Utah Rocks! – Part 3 (the end)

*Flashbacks continued. Hopefully only one more after this one.*

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Capitol Reef – Headwaters Canyon Hike

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.

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Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Kodachrome Basin State Park

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.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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.

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Rocky Mountain Sunset

Zion National Park

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.

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Before getting in the Virgin River.

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Entering the Narrows. Not shown: The 5 guys with tripods all trying to capture this view.

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The Narrows

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.

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Our biggest rappel – 80 feet off of a tree.

Utah Rocks! – Part 2

**Flashback-I’m attempting to finish out catching up on our US road trip heading back to Seattle. **

For the next two nights, Rob and I based ourselves out of the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab, UT. For just under $18 we could camp and have access to a kitchen, bathroom, laundry (small extra fee) and showers. When we pulled into the hostel parking lot for the first time (it’s behind a storage unit complex), we were both pretty uncertain about the place. A corner of the parking lot had a number of tarps haphazardly stretched over an eclectic assortment of old furniture (indoor and outdoor). Rob looked around the camping and compared it to Nickelsville, a homeless encampment in Seattle. With this first impression, we drove back to another camping place in town, however, they wanted $40 a night for a site, so we were back and checking into the hostel not long after leaving. It turned out to have some really nice folks; many of whom are living there for the season as this place is the cheapest housing in town. Laundry was another couple bucks per load.

The night we arrived turned out to be Halloween. Rob helped me set up camp, scarfed dinner then prepared himself a Capital Reef (it’s another Utah National Park named because settlers with a marine background called the obstacle a reef) diver costume to go out bar hopping with the other hostel denizens. It was nice for him to let loose and for me to have a quiet evening doing laundry, hanging out watching old Halloween movies and catching up on the internet.

The next day we continued our explorations of Arches National Park. The previous day we hiked the Devils Garden and Balanced Rock before going to the hostel, so we wanted to explore some of the other areas.

On this day, we rented a off-roading jeep since one of the shops had a November discount (yay November 1st). This shop also happened to be one of the only places in town that would rent you jeeps to take on a course called Hell’s Revenge (although there’s a whole list of obstacles, including the Hot tubs, Escalator, Hell’s Gate and Potato Salad Hill, that are excluded). We began using some of the 4×4 roads in Arches National Park to go out to see the Tower Arch. Since I’ve never been off-roading, starting on something easier seemed like a good idea, especially after Rob’s story about a family vacation where the Smiths rented a jeep and Bob drove the hardest road. Our first road turned out to be more than just a beginner road. At times, we were so sideways that I had to hold myself in the seat and Rob was watching to make sure we didn’t hit the mirror on the roadside embankment. We also went down a steep decent with 2+ foot rock drops the entire way down. After surviving all of that, Sand Flat National Recreation area, home of Hell’s Revenge, was the next stop. The course is 6.5 miles of driving that’s suppose to take 2-3 hours.We called it quits part way through opting for the shortcut since it was getting dark. It still took us a couple hours for the 3 miles we did. I was so thankful we made it back to the pavement in one piece. Only then did Rob tell me how freaked out he had been and was afraid he had almost tipped us.

The next morning, we set out from Canyonlands Island in the Sky section. Unfortunately, we got a later start due to cooking some good breakfast and returning the jeep, so we missed sunrise at Mesa Arch. Just as we got into the park, we saw this really neat road (Schafer Road), so we decided to go for a drive before exploring the rest of the park. It was pretty narrow in spots and there were a few rocks in the road, but overall not too bad a drive. Luckily, we only passed one car on the way out (but of course it was during the 2 minutes I decided to change shirts in the car. Grrr.).  After our scenic detour, Rob and I did the obligatory hikes – Mesa Arch, Upheaval Dome and the Grand View Point.

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Schafer Road down to the White Rim Canyon Road. View from the park scenic drive lookout.

San Rafael Swell

Looking for a free place to camp between Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Goblin Valley State Park, I found the San Rafael Swell, a popular off-roading area and neat geological formation. We drove through a canyon like area and discovered a number of boondocking sites in a wider section. We parked to car to do better scouting on foot and after seeing no one for awhile, another car pulled in and parked right next to us. As we looked for campsites, they went to examine the large pictographs on the canyon wall that we hadn’t noticed, but just happened to park right next to.

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Rob had fun with night sky photography. It was so dark out there. Here’s a shot of our luxury car camping tent- Rob’s old REI half dome plus from the early 2000s.

Goblin Valley State Park

We started the next day at Goblin Valley State Park ($10 entrance fee), which is right next to San Rafael Swell and made a great stop between Moab and Capitol Reef. This was a fun couple hour detour, although you could get lost in the Goblin Valleys (there are 3) for much longer. With the surreal landscape, we felt like we were on another planet-mushrooms and drip castles galore. They let you climb on whatever, so it’s a fun place to scramble around.

Capitol Reef National Park

The winds were howling as we drove into Capitol Reef National Park. Once again, we ate lunch in the car to escape the ferocious gusts. Afterwards, we hiked the Grand Wash and did the scenic drive. The Grand Wash is neat as you’re following one of the water paths through the Capitol Reef. These are really the only ways through the formation (the Waterpocket fold). Initially, there’s a road, but eventually you park and start walking in the wash itself (normally dry, but you need to watch for flash floods). There’s a section about a mile in, where the walls are quite high and the passage narrows to several feet wide.

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Cottonwoods in Capitol Reef National Park

On recommendation of one of the rangers, we also hiked up to another canyon, Cohab canyon, and viewpoint. Finally, we camped at one of the free primitive campgrounds in the National Park, Cedar Mesa. Located in the southern park section, we had to drive back east through the park before heading south along a mostly dirt road. The rain began as we hit the dirt road, but luckily it was only off and on, so we had a chance to rig up a dining tarp when we got to camp (The only other folks there were staying in their Unimog. Rob and I were amazed at the number of these crazy vehicles we saw on the trip.). The last time it rained on us camping, our tent vents were open and Rob got rained on. After some futzing with the fly and vents, we managed to get it sealed up this time and stay dry.