It was the second night in a row I had slept in the parking lot of this hotel complex on the way to the airport. A car door slammed beside me scaring me awake at 5:30am. Paul’s flight did not land until 6:20am so I decided to head to the nearest airport gas station and wait out my time there and freshen up a little bit. We hit the road running before 7am into the middle of no where.
Our first stop before crossing into Utah was a last minute decision to pull off and make a detour to see the Colorado Monument Valley. We both misunderstood what I actually was, thinking we could just pull off, see it, take a picture and drive away. Nope, it was giant and ended up being a 2 hour detour, but worth it. As we drove up and up to the top of the canyon we pulled off at almost every lookout because it was just so beautiful. Before leaving we stopped off at the visitors center to refill our water bottles. After talking to the rangers about the area and our route they gave us a different suggestion on how to get to Moab. The route was a bit of a back alleyway, but much more scenic of a drive and followed a river through a canyon.
It took us an extra 45 minutes to go this route, which we added more time to in order to swim in the river, but as any scenic detour and exploration it was worth it. This road trip this summer isn’t just about the destination, but everything that is in between. We drove into the desert, which then began to open up wide, with canyon walls on either side of us, As we drove further the slowly enclosed on us until the dirt red walls rose high on either side of us, giving a little shade to cool the drive off, and directing the river through its windy valley. We followed the Colorado River for a while, wanting to swim so badly, until we finally came across the perfect spot as we flew by it, then making a quick U turn. A few others had stopped here as well to enjoy the sandy beach and clay-ridden river. It felt amazing to escape the 42-degree sun pounding down on our windshield, standing in the water in the shade and cool off. What a good start to our trip.
We had booked a campsite online in Island in the Sky, in Canyonlands National Park for tonight. However we did not anticipate it would have taken us so long to get here, how jet lagged Paul was, or that I accidently booked a campsite that was a couple mile walk into the desert. We were here just an hour before sunset, so we drove around trying to find a campsite, stopping at vantage points along the way, giving up on walking into the park and just grabbing a campsite in town. This place was extraordinary, extraterrestrial. We found the perfect place to watch the sunset light up the canyons and flat lands below with all of its colours on our drive out. An old rock and roller biker pulled up beside us to watch it there as well. He confirmed that this is fact was the best spot, he had lived here and been coming here for years, and this is where all the photographers shot from as well.
As we had decided by this point not to use our backcountry permit we were discussing what the options in town were with our new biker friend. He told us everything was crazy expensive these days and that we could pitch our tent in his backyard. I was all for it as I didn’t want to pay and did not have the money to do so. But instead Paul decided he would look up the cheapest hotel room in Moab. It was $150! What?!
We were up at a decent time, stuffing our faces with the continental breakfast, then made our way to Arches National Park. To avoid the mid day head as much as possible we started our explorations at the far end of the park. It was a 6 mile flat loop that passed through 5-6 different type of natural arches, they were beautiful yet so unusual for my eyes to see. The whole landscape through Utah seemed like the moon to me. By the time we were walking back down the primitive trail the sun was beating down on us and the heat was becoming extremely unbearable for Paul as there was no shady escape in sight.
We ate lunch at the Delicate Arch viewpoint. As we ate out lunch, nearly in silence, we had decided we had seen a lot of arches today so there was no reason to get back out there in the heat of the day to get a closer look at this one. Instead we moved onwards to Goblin State Park, which was recommended to me by a friend who lived in Utah his whole life. He said it was a smaller park, but under rated and visited by a lot less people. Sounds like the perfect place to me.
As we headed back to the highway we passed a sign saying no gas or water for another 106 miles, so I crossed my fingers we were going to be ok until then. I was very confused as to where this park was a my GPS directed us to take a turn onto a small road into vast wide open nothingness. Finally off in the distance a group of rocks started to appear, then a canyon, and we were finally here. It was a good thing we had booked a campsite because the place was booked full. We set up everything before heading off to explore the Goblin Valley.
Goblin Valley was full of hoodoos, which are mushroom shaped sandstone rocks making the place look like something you’d find on mars. The weirdest thing about it for me was that we had complete full rein over the place. There was no where you couldn’t walk, nothing you couldn’t climb on, which to me was a bit concerning as ever time I stepped on a hoodoo the sand slowly crumbled apart underneath my feet. It is already a hard type of rock formation to preserve for weathering and we were just making it a bit more hopeless of a goal.
When we arrived back at the campsite we were met by load of other campers, RVs and trailers. Just as we were getting ready to start a fire and make our dinner a group of man and their sons beside us invited us over for dinner. Thank goodness because all we had was mac and cheese with sausages and their food smelt amazing. They had all already eaten so we just helped them clean up their stack of charcoal cooked ribs, beans, hash browns and lemonade.
They were a Mormon church group who took their boys on a camping outing every year, this year Goblin Park being the destination. I thought it was an awesome experience for the kids and parents however it bothered me a little bit about the moms and girls, what outing did they do together? Paul stayed and talked to the dads, and I followed the boys lead. It was a mix of hoodoos and sandstone wall just beside us, so I climbed up through them to sit on top and watch the sun set over the expansive valley. Out in the distance there was one monument just standing there so grand, just like you see in the National Geographic photos. Paul decided not to share my 1 person tent with me, probably a smart choice not to have my twitchy and stinky feet n his face, so I slept with the rain cover off, watching the stars on and off all night, while he slept out in the open on his air mattress. I was actually a little bit jealous of his choice!
I was lucky to have woken up just as the sun was rising because it was a phenomenal sunrise. The sky was on fire, lit with every colour imaginable. I forced myself to stay awake for the whole thing, and by the time it was up it was already too hot to go back to sleep. I got up and started making breakfast the way I was use to with Brian, eating 6 eggs between the two of us mixed with things. Well turns out he is not a breakfast person, so I had a lot to finish. But we were packed and ready to go by 7:15am and headed just a bit further down the road in Goblin State park to Wild Horse and Bell Canyon. We were the only ones there at this time in the morning, it was perfect. We had originally wanted to go to the famous Antelope Canyons, but due to money and location off route, we settled for this one less known but supposedly close in beauty, and you could explore by yourself self.
It was a 7-8 mile loop trail through 2 different stretches of slot canyons. We went left first down Wild Little Horse Canyon, and the further we went, the more the canyon walls enclosed and the sandstone because smooth to run your fingers across. In some stretched the walls looked like sideways waves formed by water gushing through this passage at one point in time. This walk as an ever changing, truly amazing, I had never seen anything like this before, it surpassed all expectations. In this 3.5-hour hike we only saw 1 person coming from the other direction, besides that it was us, which meant complete silence, the canyon walls and bright blue cloudless sky.
We had wanted to check out lake Powell, as I had a more personal interest in it reading books about the damming process, and the night before one of the dads changed out route for the better with his recommendations of what to do. He sent us down to Bullfrog, which was on Utah’s side, to rent a jet ski, stop at a burger joint with giant milk shakes, then take an alternative scenic route to our next stop afterwards. So we went south to Lake Powell and did as we were told.
It was only a 2-hour drive so we got there at 2pm in the afternoon, drove right into the Marina, and hopped off to rent a jet ski. We had been quoted a different price by the church dad so when they said 500$ I had to think hard about it. My plan at this point was to stop the road trip in BC and get a job somewhere, so I said f*** it, let do it, lets rent the damn jet ski because there is nothing else to do down here. We had 2.5 hours to use the Jet Ski, because the place closed at 5pm, so I jumped in the front pretending like I knew what I was doing, and we took off into the bay.
The bay was pretty choppy so Paul hung on tight because I almost threw him off several times, muhahah, as we headed down. On a map she had given us it showed where there were caving paintings down one of the off shooting canyons, so we tried to find just which one that was. Well we failed over all in our search but we did love what we saw. The off shooting canyons had narrow passage ways that made you feel so small, floating over the water between these giant red walls. Some of them even looked like giant murals due to the streaks of minerals through the rock, nature is its own artist. In the dead ends we did donuts and swam amongst the house boat cruisers, enjoying our time a littler to much and forgetting about the ride back. We didn’t realize actually just how far we had gone, go we gunned it home, no time to slow down for waves, and made it in 10 minutes late.
The ‘wild’ camping site was just down the road, which we were originally excited for, until the night turned into a windstorm. Unfortunately for us, were in a sandy desert and forgot to put up the windows. So the whole inside of my car was cover with red dust, the food was a little bit crunchy and bed time happened sooner than we would have liked. For me it was no problem because I had the tent. Paul still was refusing to share it, so we slept beside the wheel of my car, made a rock wall, and slept outside in the sandstorm. I was not sure if I should be impressed or question his decision making now.
I have given up on sleeping in past 7:30. Today I woke up at 6:30, lied there for a while before getting up and starting breakfast for myself which consisted of left over sausage, eggs and toast! I was not nearly as sand cover as Paul, who desperately needed the morning swim, but I took one to freshen up before we took off. The goal of the day today was to take the recommended scenic route to Escalante, grab our permits, then hike into Coyotes Gultch.
The drive was nothing short of amazing. Pretty much you don’t need to hike in order to have your mind blown in Utah, all you have to do is drive. The route went through multiple different types of land formations but the coolest part was driving on top of a ridge. It was a skinny little road which not much room for error, little to far one way and in some sections you’d be headed down to the bottom of the canyon. It was by far the coolest road on my whole cross America trip.
We reached the Escalante tourist center at 2pm, got our permits, out bags for pooping in and carrying out, then headed down to the trail head. Well the nice paved road stopped and we were not met with just gravel, but the worse washboard I have ever seen, and it was 30 miles of it. The trucks flew by as with their big wheels and suspension. My little car shook so much it felt like parts were just flying off of it and then we’d be left like a cartoon with just the steering wheel. There was no option to go as fast as them, so instead it was the slowest most painful and stressful drive for the both of us. 2 hours later, in the middle of nowhere, no other car in sight, we made it to a sign that signalled the trail started here, and it looked like it would just go off and into the abyss. It was a bit unsettling to be honest.
For the first while it felt as if we were walking nowhere, until a little slit appeared out of nowhere and started to open up. We headed down into it, walking on a dried up riverbed, finally coming up to a creek and that is where the real beauty started. We followed the water back further into the canyon, which I wondered where it came from as we could see nothing from the car park. The walls grew and grew; the bright orange contrasted brilliantly with the river and green vegetation is created on the canyon floor. It was hot outside, even though we started after the mid day heat the cloudless sky still provides no cover for the beating sun. Thankfully small trees started to pop up providing a bit of shade and the canyon walls enclosed more and more creating shade as well.
We were hiking to what was known as the amphitheatre to sleep for the night, which was known for being a giant concave wall. The further and further we walked in, the more I was impressed and taken back with beauty. At every turn I thought it was so magnificent that I was convinced it was what we had been looking for. After hours of not seeing a single person we finally ran into a group of dad’s with their young boys camping beside the stream who confirmed that the amphitheatre was just a couple turns away. I am sure glad we didn’t settler for anything earlier like I was ready to because this place was the icing on the cake. You turned the corner and it opened up into something so godly you couldn’t imagine what early humankind must have thought of such a place. There were 2 horseshoes, the end we slept on having what felt like an island, with sand and vegetation on it looking up at the open sky, surrounded by water. You felt safe yet lifted to a higher place in the giant hole. After setting up we followed the water to the other horseshoe bend where the canyon wall came down into the cave, creating a beautiful staircase to the heaves, or just to the top of the canyon, whichever. The grandeur was captivating and the cool water and sandy river bend felt great on our feet. Because we were one of the first groups here we got the coveted spot to sleep for the night hehe. Although you cannot see the sunset from in here the walls block any light pollution and give you a show while you fade in and out of sleep. I did not put up my tent tonight to make sure I got to take in everything.
We did not end up walking the full Escalante river out to the other side and were back upped by a group of boys who came from there saying it wasn’t worth it. So we did walked a bit further down until the natural arch, which had the morning light shinning perfectly thought it. The walked back, filled up our water at the natural spring, grabbed our gear and headed back to the car, not staying the 2 nights I had hoped for. Our timing was bad, we were exiting the coverage of the canyon walls at 1pm, the hottest part of the day. Our water supply was low, in fact we both ran out of water before we made it to the car. It was painful, nothing enjoyable about the last hour but I had to power through if I wanted to keep it together and make it there sane. I felt bad leaving Paul behind, I always kept him in eye sight, we were struggling to do what we each needed to make it.
We were so exhausted from the heat afterwards that he actually passed out somehow on that horrible washboard road on our way out. We went straight to a restaurant in town, ate the biggest burger in order to revive our bodies. I had had to poop so bad, but since we had decided to only stay one night I didn’t feel like doing it in a bag and carrying it out, so boy it felt so relieving to go (all the fun facts you wish you are glad you are reading about right?!) On the restaurant’s wifi we found a last minute campground site just outside of Bryce Canyon, our next stop, bought it and headed straight there, arriving around 5pm. When we got there we went straight to the pool and relaxed the remainder of the night, a well deserved rest.
Our bodies were hurting a little today so we explored Bryce Canyon more by car. I never feel as if I have truly visited a park unless I hike it, put a little sweat into its soil, so even though it wasn’t much I did make us do a easy 5 mile walk through the doodoo columns so at least we could feel like we had visited and experienced an aspect of the unique park. It was Canada day so I wore my glasses loud and proud, a great ice break for meeting other Canadians traveling around. The path we chose was the most popular, so therefor it was the most crowded with people but for good reason because it took you through some fo the most interesting land formations. It was a short walk though so we were done early.
It was surprisingly very difficult to find any sort of accommodation near Zion, everything was sold out of crazy expensive. Time was ticking and I was getting nervous until we found one that was a hour away from the park entrance. Not ideal but we took it and left, getting there just in time for a swim again and make dinner before dark. We were in a different climate now. Bryce was cold the night before sleeping in my hammock but were it was freezing. I slept in the car because I was so cold and Paul, still deciding to not use my tent even thought I wasn’t even in it, slept in the picnic bench.
Rise and shine at 4:30am. We were packed and out the gate at 4:55am and headed to Zion National Park. The park opened at 6am, the first shuttle buses being available then as we cannot drive in the park, so we wanted to beet the crowds. Zion is notorious for being over crowded so many people had the same idea as us. We were in line at 5:50am and still did not catch the first bus! We got off the second shuttle bus at Angles Landing and it was something like a race walk to the top from there. I have never been in such a competitive fast pace hiking environment. Everyone wants to get up there to watch the sunset, but more importantly what I learned later, they want to get up and down through the chain portion before the big crowds of scared hikers who create extremely long bottle necks. It was a thrilling hike, tough too, but I felt as if I couldn’t enjoy the beautiful view at the top or the whole way up die to the crazy mentality. But I did understand it as I waited for a long period of time of the wall trying to just make it back across and around the scared people not moving in order to go down again. And this was only at 730am. It was just the start of the rush.
We had thought it would have taken much longer so we had originally only chose to do angles landing. But it was 1030 and we had the whole day so we headed up to hike through the water in the Narrows to nature’s version of Wall Street. Well many busses had made their runs since 6am and now the park was packed with many more people. The walk through the water was difficult at first because not only were the rocks slippery, the water current slightly strong enough to make you think about each step, but you were constantly dodging people. After a while we broke free from the bathers and children to a more peaceful wander through the water. We did not think we were going to do this hike so we had no water shoes, just used this opportunity to clean out hiking boots. It was beautiful to walk through the tall canyons being kept cool by the water, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and even though I had ben in many canyons as of late all of them seemed so different and spectacular in their own way. However over all I did not enjoy it as much as everyone hyped the park up to be. It was beautiful but the atmosphere made me miss the journey and the destination was beautiful but it isn’t the same without the love for discovery.
On the way to Vegas we got scary low on gas, which tensed up the ride significantly as I did not want to be stranded in the desert, however we made it to Vegas in good time and tired as hell. After a mid day nap and shower at one of the cheapest motels close to the strip we headed out to check out what the city was all about. I had always envisioned my first time in Vegas being with a different crowd, a little bit more energy and alcohol but none the less it was still a cool experience to visit. We took and early dinner because we were starving after an early wake up call and loads of walking in the heat, however it turns out people in Vegas start their nights out much later, as we noticed the lack of people in the bar. The rest of the night was just walking through hotels and casinos, trying to recall scenes from The Hangover before giving up on my idea if a good time and heading to bed at 11:30pm.
Paul got up and went for a morning walk while I ate at the restaurant next before we said our goodbyes. I dropped him off at the airport and headed to Lake Tahoe where I would be meeting up with Frederik. I was alone again. But not for long, only 7.5 hours actually.