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Advice needed for trip in the southwest this winter
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Alan Greene
(AlanGreene3) - F
Advice needed for trip in the southwest this winter on 05/21/2011 17:33:18 MDT Print View

I have 3 weeks free this December and I'm looking into a possible trip somewhere in the SW. Its a region I've wanted to see for awhile. I've been entertaining a few options: Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Big Bend. The Grand Canyon looks great because as far as I can tell I would be able to fly into Flagstaff and then reach the south rim by public transportation and I can avoid the summer crowds. Any suggestions on how to spend a week or two in this area? I'm open to all suggestions. I guess one of my biggest concerns is ease of access. Thanks in advance for any advice.

Alan

Jason Torres
(burytherails) - F

Locale: Texas
SW trip... on 05/25/2011 13:58:41 MDT Print View

Alan,

There is plenty you can do in three weeks. My only concern is trail closures and transportation (or the lack thereof). I was in Zion Jan of last yr and had a blast (see pics in the Zion in April, general forum thread). The north rim was closed. Are you set on flying into flagstaff? If you rent a car you will open yourself to a plethora of options as everything is fairly within reach starting in the south and working your way around headed east. Also, if you plan to thru hike (weather and trail closures not being an issue) you will still have to find a ride back. For the money, I would suggest renting a car as it will easily add up. Is this an option?

Jason

Alan Greene
(AlanGreene3) - F
RE: on 05/26/2011 08:09:51 MDT Print View

I'm pretty sure I will be renting a car. I'm open to flying into any city in the area. I am from South Carolina so driving is definitely not an option with gas prices. What park are you referring to when you say thru hike? Your pics from Zion are awesome. Are closures pretty common during winter months? An idea I'm kicking around is hitting the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Capitol Reef.

obx hiker
(obxcola) - MLife

Locale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
Advice needed for trip in the southwest this winter on 05/26/2011 18:28:57 MDT Print View

I've been watching this thread to see if any locals would add comment and am hesitant as a far east southerner......... but we do go out to Bluff Utah several times a year including the winter and maybe the perspective of a fellow "East Coaster" might be helpful.

In my experience in the greater 4 corners so many things are stratified by elevation. 5000 to 6500 = JP (juniper pinyon) 7000 to @ 8000 is Ponderosa. Etc. Same is true for snow. If you're high enough for Ponderosa you're high enough to likely have snow on the ground...maybe a lot of snow on the ground, anytime in winter and that might be why this is the elevation at which the Ponderosa's appear. Your marginal elevations are going to be 4500 to 5500 where it will snow but hopefully the snow won't last or be a big problem. Below 4500 ( and maybe higher as you get further south..... unless you're along a stream bed the vegetation is getting scarce and is like rabbit bush, great sage and like kind brush. When you look at the likely places to hike you want to try to keep the elevations below 6000 and better yet @ 5500.

You also have to consider getting to the places you plan to visit. You can't get to much of anywhere without crossing some pass at 8000 plus which can be trouble in a snow storm.

We tend to divide up our trips to the broad categories of east of the river and west of the river. THE RIVER is the Colorado. For flying in we've found Vegas is easily the best for west of the river except maybe for Hanksville/Torrey ( Capitol Reef) where the east side choice (Albuquerque) is best. We've tried Phoenix and don't like it. Long Drive to everywhere except the south rim and not a great place to get a motel for the night before leaving...... which we've found to be almost a necessity given the driving and the need to get an early flight to arrive home at any reasonable hour given the time difference and etc.

We've come to greatly prefer the east side and love the town of Bluff, UT as a "headquarters" ; to the point where my brother and a neighbor have property there and a nice Airstream.

I've backpacked in the Needles in winter and while snow can be an issue especially for getting there, it wasn't a problem while hiking. Same basically true for Grand Gulch. Also Comb Ridge is an amazing place to hike as can be learned from Books by Robert McPherson and David Roberts. You could also go down around Page and hike the wave area and with some good winter warmth diving boots do Buckskin Gulch. You might also consider the Muley Twist area and the many side canyons of the Escalante; but getting to Escalante and especially going over Boulder Mt. to Torrey will be dependent on the weather, and may be more easily done on the Burr Trail..... which is another reason the whole region might be better approached from the east. Any hiking/camping over 7000 or 7200 is likely to be in the snow and 8000 and up could well be snowshoes and snow caves.

The North Rim is closed in winter for these reasons though I have been out to that rim in February by luck...... and it's really pretty in the snow. The Rim Top at Zion ( and most of the backpacking there is up on top) is also in the Ponderosa zone and might very likely be in snow. Plus you have to consider the fraught potential of a slip in the wrong place; you could grab some big air!

I haven't explored Arizona "Below the Rim" and want to check out the Sky Islands in the SE like the Chiricahua but I imagine the issues will be the same with the snow line. Also BTW the dirt roads out there can really really ugly after a snowfall and melt.

Good Luck and happy to try and answer questions

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: Advice needed for trip in the southwest this winter on 05/27/2011 05:12:30 MDT Print View

Cola is dead on with his advice. As one who lived in Utah and now also resides in NC he has hit most of the nails on the head. Las Vegas is definitely the cheapest to fly into for the west side and the rental cars are cheap too. Phoenix is difficult and because of the taxes, the rental cars are expensive. Coming from the west side you will have to drive over some high passes, which if the sun is out and it is a few days after the storm you should have no troubles but be aware and careful.

obx hiker
(obxcola) - MLife

Locale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
Advice needed for trip in the southwest this winter on 05/27/2011 09:19:46 MDT Print View

Thanks Alex. You obviously haven't met my wife.

Coming from the east you still have to transition the continental divide either between Grants and Gallop on I-40 or out past Cuba on 550 but both those are very big highways and should get cleared almost immediately and once you're over those spots it's pretty clear sailing at lower elevations. And if you take 550 and the weather's OK you can visit Chaco http://www.nps.gov/chcu/index.htm if you like that sort of thing.

And then there's "The Range Cafe" on Manaul for the last supper. or if you're taking route 550 you can time dinner for the original Range in Bernalillo. http://rangecafe.com/

Also lots of clean, safe, reasonably priced motels right at the nice airport on University or Yale Blvd. and the rental car return is a snap.

We really like Albuquerque.

A good tool for getting a general idea of the elevations is Google earth. But the insert or add on Google earth that's part of Google maps doesn't show elevations. "Regular" Google earth shows the elevation your mouse pointer is on.

Edited by obxcola on 05/27/2011 09:23:38 MDT.

Jason Torres
(burytherails) - F

Locale: Texas
SW trip.. on 05/27/2011 14:07:23 MDT Print View

Alan,

The posts above have some great advice. It is definitely cheaper to fly into Vegas and rent a car there. Having three weeks helps as a day lost in travel really doesn't hurt since you have so much time. I have made that trip multiple times and the drive is easy and will put you at the South Rim mid-afternoon if you get an early start.

In a week I will be making the drive out of Vegas to Zion, on to Page, and around the eastern side of the canyon to the South Rim. I will be stopping in each for several days. I will report back to you complete with travel times, route info, and any special details I think you would like to know.

In the winter your travel time will be slightly longer. Last year in January there were many sections that were closed down to one lane due to snow and ice on the roads. There will most likely be several feet of snow when you are traveling but as long as you take this into consideration there should not be any surprises.

In Jan there was several feet of snow (3-4ft) on the Rim but was relatively nice in the canyon. The temperature was around 20 degrees with a wind chill of 10-15. The wind was howling so bring a bomber tent. Also, snow shoes and micro spikes would be a wise choice. We also spent time in Bryce - I highly recommend it. It was cooler in Bryce (10-15 degrees) with a wind chill of 5 in the canyon. It is just hours away from Zion but one of the most scenic hikes I have ever done.

What hikes are you looking into in Zion, GC, and CR?

Jason

Alan Greene
(AlanGreene3) - F
RE: on 05/30/2011 13:45:39 MDT Print View

Thanks for all of the replies. I've just finished getting everything set for the JMT later this July and am now just starting to scratch the surface when it comes to this next trip. All of your suggestions are definitely going to help me narrow down my choices. I'm just now starting to do some research on specific hikes and I know I'll have a ton more questions in the near future on specific routes.