It’s been about a month since our last post, which is a lot longer absence than we’d intended! I’ve learned that blog posts are a bit like book reports. The longer you wait to write them, the harder it is to remember key details about the story. I don’t want these posts to feel like homework, so the key is to find a happy medium between time spent enjoying our travels and time spent writing about them. Now, onto what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks… The TLDR: We people-watched in Vegas, surveyed the Grand Canyon, hiked heights in Zion, and made friends in Moab.
After Yosemite, we spent two nights in Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon. I have only ever traveled to Vegas for two reasons, conventions and bachelorette parties, so it was interesting to be there on my own time. Unfortunately I spent the first night and most of the next day sick in bed with a 24-hour bug. Brandon took excellent care of me though, and we successfully avoided the 110 degree Easy Bake Oven that was the Strip that day. Once I was feeling better, we ventured out of our air conditioned haven at the Tropicana hotel and had a fantastic meal at Momofuku down the Strip at the Cosmopolitan. The meal was a splurge for us given our budget, but at $45 per person it was still a good value by Vegas standards! Even though we logged plenty of miles exploring the Strip and its man-made monoliths, we were ready to get back to some more wonders of nature. It was time to get to the Grand Canyon! I had never been and was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Our driving route took us along Route 66, and we stopped at the Hackberry General Store for a rest and some photos:
We arrived just after sunset at Mather Campground inside Grand Canyon National Park, so my first sighting of the canyon would have to wait until the next day. We woke up after a cool night’s sleep (thanks, 6,800 ft elevation!) with a raven-powered alarm clock. The park ranger who checked us in likened the raven situation at the campground to a scene out of The Birds, and he wasn’t kidding. Brandon and I joke that ravens always look like they’re up to no good, and they proved us right on multiple occasions, including the pillaging of our breakfast trash while we were washing dishes that morning. My first sighting of the Grand Canyon was not as overwhelming as I expected it to be; I think I had built it up too much in my mind. We also realized that mid-day is not the best time to see the canyon, since the harsh light hides the contours and shadows of the cliffs and chasms. We got a much better look at it the next morning on our bike ride to our Dripping Springs hike and again from Yaki Point at sunset.
The contrast between the Grand Canyon at mid-day and at sunset:
We spent two full days at Grand Canyon National Park, which felt like enough time. I think that was the last place we stopped where we felt like we were ready to move on. Zion was next!
We drove to Zion on Independence Day, leaving bright and early with hopes of getting one of the first come, first served campsites at Zion’s South Campground. Unfortunately, we arrived over an hour later than we had planned because Arizona and Utah, in spite sitting lit’rally on top of one another, fail to share a time zone; forgetting to factor time zone changes into our drives became a theme during this trip. It turned out, however, that our 4th of July arrival from the east entrance of the park played to our favor and secured us a campsite! There had been a parade in the town just south of the park, Springdale, that blocked traffic and prevented people from lining up for campsites. Huzzah! We thanked our lucky stars and set up camp for what would be three very uncomfortable nights of sleep given the 80-85 degree LOW temperatures at night.
Camping within the boundary of the park was worth the discomfort. It rivals Yosemite in majesty and spectacular scenery, and the beautiful red rock formations are unlike anything I’ve seen before. We got up early the second day to beat the heat and hike Angel’s Landing, a well-known hike for its breathtaking views and hold-your-breath moments on the exposed trail carved out of the side of the rock. After completing the out-and-back trail in a respectable 2 hours 25 minutes, we explored some more trails along various stops on the park shuttle and celebrated our active day with much-deserved burgers and good ol’ 4.0% Utah beers. The next day, we ventured just outside the park to a climbing spot named Lamb’s Knoll, which was the perfect way to stay out of the scorching heat during the day. The whole area is in a shaded canyon, where we climbed several routes, shimmied through a slot canyon, and practiced rappelling.
While we definitely had not gotten enough of Zion, we were excited to start our drive to Moab where The Lucky Lizard hostel was waiting for us with an air conditioned room. Determined to fill our National Parks Passport with all of Utah’s park stamps, we set our route to include Bryce Canyon National Park and, at a wise last-minute suggestion from Brandon, Capitol Reef National Park. Bryce provided a perfect hike in the Navajo Loop Trail to stretch our legs and take some photos, and Capitol Reef left us in awe with its rock formations and petroglyphs. We agreed with friends that told us Bryce was a park that we could see in a day, but we definitely need to get back to Capitol Reef and spend some more time exploring its 242,000 acres of views.
Moab was another place where hot weather precluded some of our activities, and we just didn’t have enough time to do everything we would have liked. This road trip has been a good sampler platter in that way, giving us a taste of a bunch of different places and leaving us itching to go back for a meal. It was great staying at The Lucky Lizard, recommended by our friend Erik, because the hostel atmosphere gives opportunities to meet new people. We made two new friends at the hostel, Justin and Bryan, who decided to join us for an allegedly shaded canyon hike at high noon. It ended up being mostly sun exposed, and what I thought was a recommended scramble along the trail up to an arch turned out to be a dicey ascent followed by a harrowing scree-filled descent. Those two factors merely forged our newfound friendships, which were solidified by ice cold “full strength” (Utahan for >4.0%) beers at Moab Brewery after returning to civilization. That night, we hiked out to Delicate Arch, cameras and tripods in tow, to shoot the famous scene at sunset. I had read that it’s worth it even though it’s crowded, but I was questioning that wisdom once surrounded by throngs of people, many of whom decided it was a good idea to stand underneath the arch for personal portraits. Our persistence and toting of headlamps paid off though, and we were rewarded with a full moon lighting up Delicate Arch for a night photography session to remember.
We crossed the last of Utah’s national parks off the list the next day when we toured Canyonlands with our new friend Justin, who graciously drove us around in his rental car so Black Butte could have a break. Little did we know then that the very next day the Butte would crumble from the effects of trooping through the desert for over a week. On Monday 7/10, we said goodbye for now to Utah, with its spectacular views and fascinating geology, and forged ahead to the cooler and greener pastures of Colorado.