For the first time in our whole relationship, Mikey and I took a vacation for no reason the first week of October. We’ve traveled a bunch but it’s always been based around a wedding to attend, a show of Mikey’s, a zine fest, a holiday, etc. We decided to plan a vacation to celebrate our five year anniversary and take some real time off.
We flew into Vegas and rented a car. Then we drove to Zion just in time for sunset and to find our motel.
The whole time we were driving to Zion we were blown away by the mountains and the scenery and were talking about how it seemed like it would be arbitrary to designate a national park when everything was so beautiful. Then we got to Zion and understood what made it National Park worthy. It was soo pretty.
Since we arrived at dark, we didn’t have time to really hike or anything and just relaxed and ate dinner in the town at the base of Zion.
Outside of our motel the next morning in Hurricane, UT.
Classic continental breakfast
Instead of starting out in Zion, we kept driving to get out to Bryce Canyon, which was our furthest destination on our trip. There were soo many rainbows along the way.
Since we had seen a glimpse of Zion, we expected that Bryce might be similar, but when we pulled in, we were surprised to find a pine forest. It was a sort of dreary day. We hadn’t seen any photos of Bryce so we had no idea what to expect or how to know where to go. We found our campsite, put on hiking stuff, and followed some signs to a trail.
We could see a clearing ahead where the trail was and when we reached it, we were blown away. So many people had told us how awe inspiring these national parks are and we still just had no idea until we saw it ourselves.
One of the wildest things is how much you really are just on your own. There are other people out there but there’s no oversight at all. No one to make sure you’re being safe, going the right way, not littering, etc. They just trust that you’ll figure it out. No guard rails even!
It was a little weird to get used to the idea that we could actually just trip and fall over a cliff edge, but there were tons of people there and it was comforting to know that millions of people visit without incident (though a lot of people do get hurt and a handful do die every year. Yikes!)
Just like, what!
It was kind of chilly and rain was expected at some point so we had to carry a few layers to be prepared.
We definitely didn’t have full-on proper attire for major hiking trips, but we acquired some crucial stuff before this trip that was definitely helpful – trailrunner shoes and good socks and some camping gear. Before our next trip we will probably get some better rain coats and lighter/water resistant backpacks.
It was hard to even comprehend how many miles of trails there were, up along the cliffs and down below in the hoodoos.
We started out hiking up high along the cliff edge, and then double backed and started walking down into the canyon.
We climbed down this really steep switchback as it started to drizzle. We were just going to walk down to the bottom real quick and then walk back up and take another high trail.
The rain quickly started to pickup so we headed back to start making our way back up.
But then it was downpouring. We hid out under some overhangs with a bunch of other hikers as rocks from overhead started falling down onto the trail. It was a little harry and all we could do was wait it out. The falling rocks were too dangerous to risk.
The trail was also pretty washed out so we just would’ve been even more soaked than we already were. Eventually the rain stopped and the water died down, so we made our way back up the switchbacks with all the other hikers we had been stuck with. We chilled out in the lodge and dried off for a while.
Then caught the sunset over the canyon.
After dark it wasn’t really safe to do any more hiking. Nothing was lighted and there were no guardrails. After reading in the lodge by the fireplace a bit and going to the campstore to get some firewood, we headed back to our campsite and made a fire.
Having good camping gear has made all the difference for how much I actually like camping. I always liked the idea of it but my camping trips were always super casual and impromptu. I’d bring a sleeping bag and a cheap tent and that’s about it, and after one night the idea of sleeping on the ground again a second night was never that appealing. But with sleeping pads and actual good sleeping bags, and camping pillows, I woke up feeling way more refreshed than previous times, and had actually been warm and dry the whole night! Almost any other time before I would always wake up in the middle of the night cold or wet. I’d still be nowhere near ready to go actual off roads camping, but at least for car camping I’m way more set.
The next morning.
We packed up our stuff and then got on the road to start heading toward the Grand Canyon. On the way we saw signs for Coral Pink Sand Dunes and decided to take a little detour.
I loved these old signs and maps. They seem like they’ve been out there forever.
Spot the nerds.
Another pit stop nearby was the Moqui Cave, a cave that had been bought by an archeologist in the 1950’s. It was originally turned into a dance hall before later being turned into a museum to hold the collection of artifacts that the archeologist had personally found. It was kind of hokey but in a cool, authentic way.
Unreal color schemes.
We also kept stopping just to look at the landscapes,
which changed drastically as we drove toward the Grand Canyon. I think I was just naive about the Southwest, but in my head when I imagined our parks trip, I imagined vast desert expanses and it wasn’t like that at all!
I was in awe of this really weird area on the way to the Grand Canyon. So eerie. Once again, it was starting to rain.
Arriving at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The park itself was miles and miles. You had to drive for a half an hour within the park before reaching the actual Grand Canyon. This is further up in the park at a trailhead for a hike we decided to do.
We finished our hike and then drove further into the park to reach the actual Grand Canyon in time for sunset.
Again, it was totally unreal and far exceeded our expectations.
Out on a lookout peak (one actually with guardrails!)
When it got dark, we headed back out of the park to a tiny town called Jacob Lake. We had reserved a little cabin to sleep in that night. Between the Grand Canyon and Jacob Lake, we stopped by the side of the road to look up at the darkest sky we had ever seen. It was a designated dark sky park and also a new moon so we had a crystal clear view of the milky way and a million stars. After sitting in wonder for a while, we kept driving and reached our cabin’s lodge.
Lodge life. At all the parks there were lodges where you could just hang out by a fire, play games, get food, etc. We were all about it.
We had some diner food in the lodge and then found our individual cabin.
We tried to alternate camping and sleeping in actual lodging so we wouldn’t get burnt out too early. It was only a six day trip, but we didn’t know how sore we would be after lots of hiking or what to expect for the weather or showers. In hindsight, we probably could’ve camped every night and would’ve been fine.
That morning we drove back to Zion. We basically drove a triangle, from Zion to Bryce to the Grand Canyon and then back over to Zion, where we would end our trip.
It was incredible how different each park looked. So beautiful. We had heard that Zion was the one to spend the most time at because you got to hike up into the mountains, whereas at the Grand Canyon and even Bryce, it’s more looking out over, instead of going up in.
It’s hard to really get an idea of scale, from pictures, but if you look closely in the middle of this pic you can see a guardrail and some tiny people on the trail we had walked up.
Fortunately, we finally got a sunny day when we hit Zion.
All the hikes were pretty different from each other. Zion had the most that were on steep cliff edges. I had no idea that I had a little vertigo until we were up on the side of the mountain. I expected to go hard, up some of the highest trails, but I was totally good not pushing myself once I was up there and felt all disoriented. Pretty weird and humbling!
So many cool plants!
Under weeping rock.
We did several different trails and had a full day of hiking. We ended with this little sunset lookout trail.
Dinner in town near Zion.
The next morning, we drove to Kenab, a nearby town, to tour Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
Lunch in Kenab.
Our campground tag.
Driving back in to Zion for day 2 of hiking, we saw all these cool mountain goats.
Our campground was at the east entrance to the park, but the shuttle stops that bring you to the trailheads are at the south entrance of the park. So we had to make a very winding and treacherous mountain drive a couple times each day to start hiking and to get “home” at night. Pretty nerve wrecking! We tried to get a campground in the actual park but they were all full by 10am each day (and first come first serve, no reservations.)
Another creature. We saw all sorts of things up close – mule deer, tarantula, mountain goats, snakes, etc.
We planned to do a long hike, 8 miles round trip, that took several hours, but we got going later than we wanted and just hiked as far as made sense for how much time we had left before dark. It was a trail that was all long switch backs up the side of the mountain, and was very steep! Definitely tested my nerves. In this photo you can see the trail below that we had climbed up.
Our last hike of the day at Zion.
We always tried to strategize where we would be during sunsets.
Back at our campground, the night before we headed home. My camera isn’t really equipped for good long exposures of a really dark night sky, but I tried anyway. Hoping for more parks trips in 2017.