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)