Monday, April 4, 2011

Southern Utah

Southern Utah...  where to begin...  I'll start with...  AMAZING!

Ok, ok, I won't use too many superlatives.  But my time here was, uh, really, really amazing.  Alright enough of this.  Here's the rundown...

our route through southern utah

Zion National Park: I had no idea what I'd find in Zion—all I knew was "big canyon." Then these thousand-plus foot cliffs came out of nowhere:

 We hiked to Angel's Landing. I didn't know why it's called Angel's Landing until I was looking down from this:

If you're in a good mental place at this point, you think that angels probably land in the middle of the canyon.  If you're in a bad mental place at this point, you're praying to the angels!

I've turned back from a trail only once in my life; Angel's Landing nearly became the second. The first 2 miles are super easy. The last half-mile is 3rd to 4th class scrambling up a steep narrow razorback ridge with 1200 foot drops on either side to a platform that feels suspended in heaven above the valley. It's not hard, physically, but it's a bit of a mind trip! Hang on to those chains!

The way down was easier than the way up.  For sure.

I wish we'd spent more time in Zion, but we weren't sure how much time we'd have before we needed to head east, so we moved on. I would love to return here some day.

Bryce Canyon National Park: Zion is big; Bryce is intricate. It's known for its pillars of rock, called hoodoos.  This is a really fun word to say again and again.  Go ahead.  I'm not listening.  Right, eh?

these are hoodoos.  multi-colored hoodoos!
We did the "figure eight" track between the Queen's Garden, Peek-a-boo Trail, and Navajo Trail, which covers the Bryce Amphitheater pretty well. The park was still covered in snow, which was so beautiful.
hoodoo in the snow
Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument: This place is enormous, and we only scratched the surface. In that tiny scratch, though, we managed to come up with some of the most fantastic, beautiful, fun experiences of this entire trip... slot canyons!

kicking up my heels for a bit of rest!
We went through Peek-a-boo Canyon and Spooky Canyon.

Peek-a-boo Canyon was soooo beautiful, with sandstone of pink, orange, samon, gold, yellow, and white sculpted into fins, swirls, and arches. It also involved some fun scrambling and climbing.

beautiful peek-a-boo canyon's salmon-colored sandstone
Spooky Canyon was darker, gloomier, and pretty tight in places—maybe ten inches wide—not wide enough to pass through with a backpack (hint: balance it on your head or kick it forward with your foot).
making my way through spooky canyon...  a "dramatic" action shot

Neither canyon was technical or particularly difficult, but it was a perfect introduction to slot canyons. Next time, I really want to try something a bit more technical, more than just wandering and scrambling.

a tight spot in spooky

Capitol Reef National Park: I hadn't heard of Capitol Reef before this trip, but I think it's as visually stunning as the Grand Canyon or Zion. It's a big uplift of the Earth's crust, so the different layers of sandstone are visible, along with other domes, buttes, and mesas. We were only passing through, but I'd love to return in order to explore more.

beautiful rock formations in capitol reef national park

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Another place that was totally not on my radar, Glen Canyon has enormous, dramatic red cliffs. It seems like the type of place where you could park on the side of the road and wander off to explore. We spent a night on the banks of the Dirty Devil River, before crossing over the Colorado River. Another place I'll come back to explore!

camping next to the dirty devil river in glen canyon national recreation area

Natural Bridges National Monument: If something like this were on the East Coast, it would be a major tourist destination. Because it's in Southern Utah, it's meh. There are three big, white sandstone bridges. Worth a quick stop (that's all we gave it) and not much more.

this is a natural bridge

Canyonlands National Park: Canyonlands is actually three "parks," separated by the Colorado and Green Rivers. We went to The Needles section to do, what else, some hiking. Because it was supposed to be warm that day, I decided to wear my Chacos; I had to end the hike early because of pains in my feet. Wondering if all of this hiking has given me a stress fracture or tendon damage or something.  :-(

before i busted my foot
the needles section of canyonlands national park
Arches National Park: The way timing worked out, we went into Arches on three separate days. The first day, not knowing how much time we'd spend in Arches, we only did the scenic drive and walked to a distant viewpoint of Delicate Arch.

eyeballin' delicate arch
The second day was rainy and dreary. Oh no! This is supposed to be the desert! Maybe someone would cancel their spot on the ranger-guided Fiery Furnace walk... and someone did.  Once again, a lack of planning got us a last minute ticket on something that's usually booked well in advance.

fiery furnace walk
By the time we were done, the rain was clearing up, so we continued our hiking day with the loop through Devil's Garden via the Primitive Trail, marveling at the sandstone fins and arches. Pretty cool place.

resting at partition arch

The third day ended up being our rest day. We hung out in Moab at the library and grocery store (exciting, I know). That evening, we walked out to Delicate Arch to see it up close.

the classic delicate arch photo

San Rafael Swell: If you're in a slot canyon, you can bet your PB n' J that anyone you meet will mention "that guy who got stuck and cut off his own arm." Yeah, it happened in a slot here in the San Rafael Swell. No, I don't think it will ever happen in Little Wild Horse Canyon.

a pretty picture of the little wild horse slot canyon
This was another non-technical slot canyon that someone recommended to us. Very non-technical—it was packed with families with young children on the day we hiked it. The narrows were quite pretty, and some sections were indeed fairly narrow, but it would be hard to beat Peek-a-boo and Spooky!

Southern Utah is...  well...  the best word I can use is: AMAZING!  Not only is it superbly beautiful, many of the most amazing places are easy to explore and not in National Parks, so there's more freedom to camp and hike on previously disturbed areas using LNT principles.  It's really easy not to see anyone if you want to be alone. You know you've been in Southern Utah for a while when seeing two cars at the trailhead makes you grumble about crowds!

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