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James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
Westward on 07/25/2013 12:03:02 MDT Print View

This wasn’t strictly a “backpacking” trip, as the majority of the miles covered were by car. But that was really the whole point. However I backpacked some and camped, and took many, many pictures.

I took some time off this summer to go home to Minnesota, visit my family, and drive my truck back down to San Diego. It was killing me being so close to all that southern California has to offer but being unable to efficiently get there. I don’t do long hours in a car (or sitting in general) so I decided to take the drive slowly and spread it over a week. Since I was driving through some of the coolest parts of the country, it was never a question that all of the overnight stops would be spent outdoors. I could have taken a month to do this drive, but didn’t have the time, so I limited myself to 6 days of driving and 5 nights of camping.

Night One – the Badlands

Got to the park in the afternoon, drove around, took some pictures, found a scenic view pull-off that I could park at overnight, ate some dinner at the truck and hiked out.


I set up camp about a mile from my truck, and then spent the evening wandering and taking more pictures (trying to find the animal responsible for the huge poops laid like landmines throughout the grass).




The ranger had mentioned a chance of thunderstorms and hail early in the evening with a clear night. The storms never came, but I could see them brewing all around me. As they all appeared to be downwind, I set up my tarp behind a knoll but with a view.


After the longest sunset ever, the evening sky was constantly lit up by distant lightning. It was very pretty, and I fell asleep thinking that it would stay pretty at a distance.


At three in the morning I was rudely awakened by a huge gust of wind that picked up my tarp and ripped out almost all my stakes. The wind had done a complete 180 and severely increased in intensity. I cursed myself for my “campsite with a view” and as I got up to retrieve my tarp, my quilt and pad both blew away. This sudden shift in events had got my mind all racing and my blood pumping (the wind was now blowing the storm clouds my way). After I got all my stuff back and calmed my head, I packed up, moved to a sheltered hole nestled amongst the hills and set back up. The storms never came, but boy was it windy all night long. I contemplated my rookie mistakes during the morning hike back to my truck.




Night Two – Rocky Mountain National Park

After being caught speeding by patrolling aircraft somewhere in Nebraska, I continued (a little more slowly) west to Estes Park. Due to limited time and permit availability, I opted to stop at a campsite right on the edge of the park. This way I could have a few amenities and still go for a quick evening hike into the park for some pictures.




Without a map and just going by trail and recommendations from passing hikers, I didn’t make it to any spectacular viewpoints, but at least caught a glimpse of some distant peaks still holding on to a small amount of ice/snow.



And some deer that considered me to be as dangerous as a stump.



One luxury of a campground is a legal campfire.


This was the coolest night of the trip (low of mid 40’s) and my 40° quilt kept me warm until the wee hours of the morning, when I threw on a merino baselayer just because I had it with me as part of my pillow system. Overall it was a relaxing and stress-free evening that let me recharge for the next day’s drive to Utah.


Edited by DMATB on 07/25/2013 12:50:14 MDT.

James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
Westward on 07/25/2013 12:40:09 MDT Print View

Night Three – Arches

70 West through Colorado was a pretty cool drive; I had only ever gone as far as Breckenridge but the remainder of the drive was fairly pretty. Until I got to the state border, and the desert kicked in. This, coupled with an “indefinite” road closure and a sub-par detour by road composed only of potholes left me a little weary. I arrived at Arches National Park in the late afternoon, and again had time to drive around and take a few pictures.






Due to the fact that I don’t even own a free-standing tent and have zero experience backpacking in this type of environment, I again chose to stay at the local campground – Devil’s Garden.



Setting up camp was as simple as laying down. It was too hot for my quilt, so I used an old fitted twin bedsheet (thanks for the tip BPL) and cowboy camped. I was rewarded with billions of stars* and an acrobatic performance by the local bats swooping down and snatching the few bugs attracted by my breath. The first one actually grazed my face and it took me a while to figure out what had actually happened.


The next morning I woke up early and went to take some pictures of actual arches, hoping the early morning sun would be as spectacular as the sunset.


* I attempted to get some starry night-sky pictures with my D70, but could not get the results I wanted even with an array of aperture and ISO settings and various exposure lengths. Oh well, next time.

Night Four – The North Rim of the Grand Canyon

My original route did not include the Grand Canyon, but everyone I talked to scolded me for this so I added an extra day to the trip. This turned out to be for the better as it gave me more time in Zion the next day. The second half of the drive was dotted with some serious thunderstorms, but it had cleared up by the time I got to the Rim. It was still cloudy and although it rained while I was picking up my permit the rest of the night remained dry.


I had received a 1-night backcountry permit for the Widforss Trail area, chosen for proximity and the at-large camping. After another round of pictures at the touristy part of the Rim, I drove to the Widforss trailhead and hiked about 3 miles up the trail, where I could set up camp and get a good view of the Transcept.





I decided to hammock camp that night, because I had it and it’s comfy and the temperature wasn’t supposed to drop that low.
I was wiped out from the drive, and fell asleep before the sunset (it was pretty cloudy, but I hope I didn’t miss a dramatic one). This of course led to wake up at 5am full of energy and ready to go, so I hiked back and took plenty of pictures.





Night Five – Zion

This was the most spectacular part of my trip, hands down. When I first looked at pictures of Zion on the internet, I didn’t believe that it was a real place. In addition, the drive through the tunnel was very cool, even though it was only twice as wide as my truck making oncoming traffic a real nightmare.


My backcountry permit was for the West Rim trail, and my “campsite” was a little over 6 miles from the trailhead. This is why spending the night before only two hours away at the North Rim was a good choice.

The Zion shuttle dropped off at the trailhead, which is the same one for the Angel’s Landing hike. It wasn’t part of my original plan, but the bus driver made it sound very enticing so it became part.



For some reason I had it in my head that the hike to my campsite consisted of a quick jump in elevation followed by a nice stroll along the plateau of the West Rim.
I started to wish for clouds and rain to cool the afternoon July heat as I climbed up to the top of Angel’s Landing – which was amazing beyond words and completely downplayed by the park staff. There were some serious drops, and I don’t think some of the people in jeans and tennis shoes had (like me) realized how steep and slippery the climb was. But either way, it was awesome.





After descending the half-mile “summit” of Angel’s landing I connected back up with the West Rim trail and took off towards my campsite, looking forward to the “nice stroll” part of my hike. The stroll never came, and my trekking poles stayed set short as I climbed the rest of the way to my campsite. I would later find out that my route took me up 3400ft over the 6 miles (not including Angel’s Landing), something that I most certainly should have known before I left.

Halfway in, the clouds and rain I had been wishing for earlier rolled in and a brief afternoon thunderstorm followed. Not wanting to be exposed to it on the sections of cliff trail I had ahead, I sat and rested to wait it out.

The hike, coupled with a low supply of water, low energy and an upset stomach (some poor choices in road-trip food) had completely drained my energy by the time I got to my campsite. I didn’t have the energy to take pictures or change my smelly clothes, barely scarfed down a cliffbar and for the second night in a row went to bed before the sun. It was still so bright that I had to cover my head.


After a solid and uninterrupted night of sleep I woke up feeling significantly better. And although I had another day of driving ahead, I also had a return hike almost completely downhill. I got my pictures and took my video on the way back, and rewarded my stinky self with a swim in the river once I reached the bottom.



Overall I had a fantastic time, learned alot, didn't get hurt, didn't break my truck and walked away with some great memories (and 540 pictures, 16G of video)

Edited by DMATB on 07/25/2013 14:30:15 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Nice pics on 07/25/2013 12:49:38 MDT Print View

Gorgeous pictures. I'm glad you've gotten to check out so many places.

That's a really scrawny deer - I'm thinking CWD. Did it smell bad? (Behavioral changes include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, repetitive walking in set patterns, and a smell like meat starting to rot.)

James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
Re: Nice pics on 07/25/2013 12:55:19 MDT Print View

Thank you, I am very glad too.

Yeah the deer were pretty rough looking, there were two adults and two fawns. Both the adults were just grazing, and didn't seem to smell or behave in a weird manner. I think they were just very desensitized to humans. The fawns were very quick and playful and it was hard to get a picture of them in the low light.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Nice trip. on 07/26/2013 10:53:40 MDT Print View

Good way to get a little outdoor time in a constricted time frame. Thanks for sharing.

Edward Z
(Fuzz) - MLife

Locale: Sunny San Diego
Digging it on 07/29/2013 12:44:22 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing that report. I'm jonesing for my Zion trip in October. This just fed the beast a little bit!

James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
thanks on 07/30/2013 12:47:09 MDT Print View

thanks guys, it ended up working great

EZ - Zion was amazing, I hope you have an awesome time on your trip this fall!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Westward on 08/01/2013 20:24:25 MDT Print View

Great pictures. These are the kind of road trips that are great for scouting future backpacking trips.

Kevin Schneringer
(Slammer) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma Flat Lands
born old? on 08/01/2013 20:39:43 MDT Print View


Man you must have an old soul. This is the types of trips my grand parents took 30 years ago. to bad we dont make mor etime to do this!
So awesome that you could do this type of trip! I am to say the least Envious!
Nice pics must have just be fantastic.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: born old? on 08/01/2013 20:42:40 MDT Print View

Great pictures, wow!

@James. Love how you wrote "etime"...Freudian slip?

James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
Re: Re: Westward on 08/01/2013 22:35:13 MDT Print View

It really was a great way to scout places for trips. The whole southern Utah / northern AZ area is close enough to San Diego and has limitless opportunities. I'll definitely be back there.

"old soul" - I can only hope.

I'll get a video up after I figure out how to compress the whole trip into 4 minutes (for short attention spans like mine)