Day 8 – Bryce Canyon and then on the road to Zion

Bryce Canyon was super awesome, but we were on our way into Memorial Day weekend, and you know how much Americans like Memorial Day (3-day weekend kicking off the summer). So there were just mobs of people all over the trail, selfie sticks, hiking in tutus, generally making me hate humanity.

The hike itself was pretty cool, another down THEN up version, where we were able to see a bunch of hoodoos that are formed by freeze-thaw – “windows” are created, and then the tops fall out and make these cool looking rock formations.

We hiked down to a spot at the bottom called the Queen (a hoodoo that looked like a queen on a throne, but honestly it looked more like a witch with a broom). Half the group didn’t listen to directions and totally missed this. The way back up was pretty tough, a bunch of switchbacks and a pretty steep altitude gain, and WAY too many people. I think I’m probably in a bunch of selfies that I inadvertently photo bombed. Found a good hiking buddy, Emma, who likes to take the uphills at a similar pace, and we were able to get up without totally dying.

Then we were on the road to Zion NP. The drive was stunning and I had just bought the Death in Zion book so read all about the two big hikes I’d be attempting tomorrow (Angel’s Landing and the Narrows), probably not recommended.

Pulled into another beautiful campsite right outside of Zion NP, at the foot of some awesome mountains, and set up camp. We would be waking up very early the next morning to get to Angel’s Landing ahead of the crowd (5:00am) so it was a fairly early night.

Day 7 – 2 NPs and 1 SP

Oh boy, I was tired on day 7. We went to bed pretty late (1ish) and woke up at 6. Luckily it was a break day, lots of driving, but I unfortunately can not sleep in the car, so it was just relaxing and reading in the car.

We were driving from Canyonlands to Bryce, with some stops on the way.

We swung by Goblin NP to check out the rock formations there, these were also created by the freeze thaw method that has made holes in the slick rock. They look like little creatures, maybe goblins?

Then we checked out Capitol Reef NP, where you can find a monocline, single step giant rift. Since it happened on a fault line, you get this giant step miles across.

Then we went to see some more petroglyphs that were carved along some rock faces. It really is amazing that people drew them so long ago and that they haven’t been touched at all (except for some dumb dumbs that have carved their names next to things).

Next up was an old Mormon pioneer house, we stopped here for lunch and ice cream/pie. Both were delicious.

We took a scenic drive on the way to our super awesome, (via the coolest coffee shop on the side of a mountain) and by far, the best camp ground at Kodachrome Campsite. We were so secluded from the other campsites, but still within a 2 min walk to the very nice bathrooms and showers.

This was one of the top nights with he group, introduced everyone to Corn Hole and found that a handful of people were naturals, found two trees for a hammock spot (finally), and had a great view of Kodachrome State Park in ALL directions and hiked all around. After dinner we just chilled as a group, had WAY too much fun playing Heads Up (accents specifically), and had a camp fire.

Day 6 – The Maze: High Spur Canyon

Day 6 was intense! Woke up early, but didn’t get on the road until 8:15 or so. Our guides were a bit disorganized and the dynamic was a bit stressful, but we did it.

On the drive to High Spur trailhead, we could see why it may have taken some time to pick us up on the canyon yesterday. 4WD was 100% necessary to get around up here, and is great for deterring tourists.

I was not sure about what to expect with this hike, but once we got into it, I was not comfortable. We were going to be climbing through a slot canyon, which is a path that thunderous walls of water have carved out over time. The canyon has steep drops, narrow paths, and twisting turns. All of the rock is the same slick rock, except for rocks that have been delivered by flash floods from above.

The first tricky part looked very steep, my knee has been bothering me on downhill parts, and the guides said we could easily go around, so I did. Ok, not so bad. Here’s what the first drop looked like:

The next drop down was not optional. I was freaked out. I thought I’d be ok, but was not trusting this rock as much as I had yesterday. With the help of the others, made it down this one successfully with only a little bit of cursing and screaming like a little girl. I was not feeling this hike, but once we made it down further into the canyon, the view was amazing. The light shone down in some places, others were shady, and the colors were amazing.

There were a bunch of non-optional technical parts, which I did not love, and plenty of optional stemming parts for the climbing types who I had decided to live vicariously through. I felt a bit wimpy trying to keep my feet on the floor, but in the end I’m glad I did, because even without climbing along walls, this was a hard hike (mentally and physically).

We stopped halfway for lunch (our guide said it was more than half, but the second half was hard too). We still had to get through some more technical parts, and we still had to get out (up). Looking back, I am so glad that I didn’t read any of the flash flood death stories.

The hike out was hard, and in my opinion, terrifying. We were scrambling up at steep angles on slick rock (still grippy, don’t let that name deceive you), loose sand, and krypto.

Side note about crypto: full name Crypto Biotic Soil. These are bacteria that combine over time and create this crispy looking layer on top of the sand. It provides nutrients and stability to the otherwise super loose sand. It’s a vital part of this area because it creates an environment for trees and plants to grow. It is very delicate, if you step on it, it disintegrates back into sand. Not great when people are trying to find a path to the top of a canyon, so we had to tiptoe through the crypto.

I was so nervous about falling back down this canyon, basically was hands and footing it up, and basically said fuck the crypto. My life is more important than a tree’s. Sue me in a billion years.

I’m amazed that I made it up out of that canyon. I really thought I was going to freak out enough that I was going to shut down and be terrified. Maybe that way I could get a helicopter lift out. Anyway, I did it, mostly because the group was super supportive. And so much thanks to Kiara who kept checking on me, let me go in front of her, and was ready to catch me. ❤️

I’m so glad that we did this hike when we did, 6 days in. It was so great that we already all knew and cared about each other, trusted and supported one another. We were down there a long time and it was awesome spending more one on one time with people (there’s only room for a single line of people, so you wind up talking with that person and helping them through tricky parts, plus snapping cool pics).

We finally got back to the cars, had a beer, and got on the road back to camp in Moab. We had about two hours of very rocky 4WD terrain in front of us, and 2 more hours after that, until we could get to the Moab brewery for a night of restaurant dinner and great brews.

Of course I hit a second wind, and they had a pool table, and then wound up talking around a fire until 1am, and had a 6am wake up time (for a shower finally!)

Day 5 – Horseshoe Canyon, aka “barrier canyon,” petroglyphs, and middle of nowhere camping

Today we start a two day adventure with Navtec guides. We packed up all our equipment (in record time), and started driving from camp to Canyonlands. Canyonlands consists of three different sections, the island in the sky, needles, and the Maze. We headed to Horseshoe Canyon, named for the way the canyon twists and turns from the river that made it.

There were three cars, and I instantly knew that we wanted to ride with Lisa. She seemed to be in charge of the group, and I knew she would be a great guide to talk to. Kiara, Katie, Emma, and I jumped in. I was not wrong. Lisa has a wealth of knowledge and the trip went by very quickly. We discussed stupid things people have done to get themselves killed in the canyons, different types of plants you could find in this desert and their uses, and what the day would look like.

Once we got to the trailhead, we ate some snacks and started out. The Navtec crew would be driving around to the other side of the canyon, setting up camp a bit, and then meeting us inside the canyon at the Grand Gallery.

So we were off. The trail is made up of slick rock, named by the pioneers that once traveled here with horses and wagons. Yes, for them, it was slick. For us, however, the rock was grippy against our rubber soles. The rocks are very sandpaper like, and we found we could do some very easy scrambling up and down. Lisa had mentioned that she would be able to do some almost vertical inclines up and down and she was not wrong. Even if the rocks were wet we would still be able to get some grip.

The canyons twist and turn and are not visited by people very often since you need a 4×4 truck to reach the trailhead. We only saw 5 people on our way. It’s amazing because there are so many Native American pictographs and petroglyphs. We also saw a possible alcove and abode, likely inhabited by people from 400 AD to 1100 AD.

We are waiting at a halfway point for the Navtec crew to come meet us. Minus our group, it is quiet, but the wind is rippling through the cottonwood trees. It reminds me of Vermont in the summer. There is smooth red sand everywhere (tough to walk through but so soft). I’m pretty sure I have loads of it in my shoes.

I’m sitting on a rock bench, looking up at these paintings. They are so intricate and interesting. There are also two metal boxes here, one has binoculars, the other has a “guestbook” and some information about all the drawings.

It took us two hours of waiting for our guides and we started exploring, semi trying to find the trail that would take us out, if we needed to leave sooner. Finally they got to us.

The way out was harder than it initially looked. We could see a switch back trail up the hill, and then it looked like we’d be at the top. As we got up that path, which was actually still super sandy and hard to walk up, it turned out that was not the top. We had to do some rock scrambling up two more layers of rock. (Fun fact: we could see the gap where Aaron _______ fell in, and cut off his own arm to survive, see 127 hours). We finally got to the car, and drove to the campsite.

The camp was unlike anything we had experienced so far. We were the only people up there, we could put our tents wherever we wanted, and it was beautiful.

Our guides showed us how to use the “blue box area,” which was our only option for taking care of business while we were up there. Basically, grab the blue box, walk down the path to a convenient out of view, box, complete with a toilet seat and great smelling blue liquid. Our own personal toilet.

We had delicious burgers with all the condiments (Kiara was all about ALL the sauces), deliciously made by Sarah and Tarn, Anthony supervised.

Another campfire, more 20 questions, beers, and so much laughter. And off to bed, to get up early (6am to leave by 7:30).

Day 4 – Moki and Delicate Arch

Hi everyone! Cell service has been spotty so haven’t been able to post a bunch of these, I’m also still a couple days behind on actually writing them, but I have some car time today, so will play catch up.

Car time, which is a pretty big part of the trip, is actually pretty awesome. Even when the drives are long (max 4 hrs), there is always good scenery, mountains, ridges, wonderful colors. Being with everyone in the car is great too. Some people sleep (I cannot), we read awesome books about Death in the Grand Canyon (I’m the most avid reader, and think people MAY be tired of all the death stories), everyone has a chance to DJ, or we chat. I think I have laughed more in the last 5 days than I thought was possible. It’s amazing to see everyone’s personalities start to come out now that we are getting to know each other better. As I write this, I’m in day 6, and already thinking how sad I’ll be to leave this group. I’m already planning a Grand Canyon rafting reunion.

Anyway, Day 4, we rolled into camp late last night, so we were putting up tents and cooking in the dark. We also didn’t get to see what camp looked like, so when I woke up to go to the bathroom in the morning, I was surprised to see Nick just sitting on the picnic table staring off. More concerned that these people were seeing me with bed face, I made a sassy comment, “want to get the tea kettle going?” to which I got a response of “well I’m actually enjoying watching the sun rise (British accent included).”

Turning around, I realized we were overlooking these great buttes and spires and the sun was rising between them. Foot in my mouth.

After packing up camp, we headed towards Moki. On the way, we pulled off on the side of the road to take a picture replicating the end of Forrest Gump, when he’s done with his run and thinks he’ll go home.

We dropped off the trailer and made our way up a series of switchbacks up a great big mountain.

We picked up the trailer and we were off to Arches NP. We made a quick stop into the visitors center and learned about the changing landscape. Billions of years ago the area was an ocean, dried, ocean again, swamp, and now a desert. There was probably an ice age in there too. We also learned about the grasshopper mouse, which eats meat and howls.

We took a less strenuous hike up to Delicate Arch, up a bunch of slick rock which is actually very sandpaper like and grips your shoes perfectly. At this point, I’d read too many death stories about people “hamming it up for the camera” in the GC, and falling to their deaths, so I was not walking towards the arch which looked like it had a drop off behind it. Instead I took a picture of the group. They yelled over that they were going to do a jump pic, to which I yelled back “No Jumping!” I think only two people actually jumped and after a picture, I just told them they were great, “got it!” I’ve later learned that while my brother was here, a guy did a handstand under the arch.

We headed back to camp, had spaghetti and meat sauce, and finally a camp fire! Thanks Hannah! Nick had made an amazing salad and coordinated the whole dinner incredibly with having the right people doing the right jobs (I cannot stress this enough)!!!! (Guest writer: Nick Speers)

Day 3: Helicopter ride and Monument Valley

This one is short because I’m a few days away from here now.

We took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. As we approached the canyon, the pilot told us the drop off view would be great. Going at 150 mph and seeing the ground drop out beneath you is truly an experience.

They took us on a 50 min loop over the north and south rims and pointed out some of the peaks along the way. Our pilot pointed out the butte fault line, which was pretty cool. You can tell the difference between the fault line and the rest of the surrounding rock, the fault line shows more vertical layers of rock, vs the horizontal layers of surrounding rock. Overall, great experience.

Then we picked up the rest of the crew and we were off to Monument Valley.

We went on a guided Navajo tour of the different “monuments.” The Navajo people named the different rock structures based on what they looked like. Our tour guide Richard was a real hoot. He caught Emma and me off guard when he asked if we were going to put our bandanas on our faces, and told us it would be extremely disrespectful to do this. Turns out he was just kidding.

There were a couple spots that we stopped that were truly amazing. At one spot, Richard played his flute a bit and we laid back on the rock, stared up at a big hole cut through the rock at the blue sky.

We were running a bit behind so when we finally left the tour, we were all starving, a bit chilly, and had not set up camp yet. It was a bit crazy trying to set up camp AND make dinner (it was my groups turn).

Dinner was barbecue chicken, salad, and quinoa. It was great!

So there’s the late and short update.

Day 2: hike to skeleton point – Grand Canyon

Yesterday we hiked down into the canyon and back. There’s three different lookout points, and each one is harder than the one before. They note on the trail guides that in order to do skeleton point you should have three liters of water and three sandwiches for a 4-6 hr hike. As you travel deeper into the canyon it just gets hotter and hotter and you don’t get any shade. 

We made our descent quickly, I was not enjoying it because downhill is bad on my knee and it’s hard to take a look around when you’re busy looking at where you’re going. But the views were amazing. 

After Cedar Ridge, I thought about turning around and doing the trek back up and getting a bike to ride around the rim, but my whole group was going to press onwards so I continued. 

About halfway to Skeleton point, I was running slightly lower on water than I would have wanted, and I had just found a nice shady spot to rest with my companion hikers (Emma and Matthew). I decided that I would stay there for a bit and then start working my way back up. I hoisted myself up onto a rock above the trail and had lunch. I looked out to the canyon, I had a perfect view. It’s amazing that something so so big exists, it made me feel rather small. 

A couple of other hikers were making their way back up and stopped to take a break a few yards away from me. I was surprised that they stopped to rest in the sun when there was such a nice shady spot just a bit further. After about 5 minutes, the woman got up and then I heard the man holding onto her, she was limp, he was yelling “Vivo!” I jumped down from my rock and ran over with water and trail mix. She was as white as a sheet, non responsive. I told him to give her water, he poured some in her mouth and she came back. We got her sitting up on a rock, and got her to eat some trail mix. My first thought was “Call 911,” but then realized that I had read “No Service” on my phone minutes ago. This is when I realized that they were serious about drinking water. I had thought, they only say that so stupid tourists at least pack SOME water. 

In any case, we were able to get her to the shady spot, they relaxed, drank water and ate. I asked them if they needed more water and they replied that they had plenty. Wtf, drink the water guys! Turns out they were from France, they described themselves as seasoned hikers. They had made their way to Skeleton point and then decided to go further towards the Colorado river. You can see the path from my shady rock, it’s even more switchbacks, zig zagging down a huge drop. No wonder she was exhausted. And that was only one leg of the very hard journey back up. They took a bit more of a break and then decided to continue their ascent. 

If I hadn’t been there, would she have been ok? I don’t think so. Even though they had water, he had seemed completely overwhelmed and hadn’t even tried to get water out because he didn’t know what to do with the lifeless woman in his arms. It’s scary to think that this sort of thing probably happens every day. 

Soooo the way back up was HARD. I honestly thought that trail was going to go on forever. I met back up with Emma and Matthew who had attempted Skeleton but turned back when they thought about the route back up. Kudos to Matthew too, he has CP and hiked so well. 

After so many breaks and waiting for the sun to go behind a cloud (thank god for clouds), I finally made it back up. We had started at 9:30, it took about 2 hours down with breaks and photo ops, and was about 3 hours back with no photo ops (I could have cared less at that point) and lots of breaks. When I got to the top, I was amazed that I had made it. I am even more amazed now thinking about how I almost completed the longest and most difficult day hike you can do in the Canyon. I don’t regret going all the way to Skeleton, apparently there was no shade down there either, and I knew I’d see the Colorado river the next day from above in a relaxing helicopter ride. 

We got home, relaxed, showered and enjoyed refreshing beers with dinner. I’m amazed that I stayed up until 9:30 and was asleep so fast. Overall, great day, hard hike and my body hurts today, but so far so good, great company. 

Alexis Park Resort aka last night in a real bed

I walked into the hotel, it was crazy. I immediately thought, “if this is Vegas, I’m good with never coming to Vegas again.”

All the women were wearing super tight dresses, had huge boobs, and heels and sparkles galore. 

I walked around the corner to check out one of Vegas’ 24-hour head shops and it was amazing. So much selection, such friendly staff, great experience. 

Falling asleep was a bit of a challenge, there was a huge party across the hall, these people sounded like they had their door open, electronic dubstep blasting, and every time someone asked them to turn it down I could hear these valley girl bimbos yelling back in the worst tone of voice ever. So sleep wasn’t great, but got about 5 hours. 

So we are into Day 1, I’ve met the rest of the group and everyone is so friendly and cool and down to earth. My fears that the party people would be one and the same as the group have been debunked. I’m the only American except for our guide Jeremy who is from NC. 

We are driving towards Seligman where the 40 meets Route 66 for lunch and then it’s on to the Grand Canyon. 

Spirit Airlines – totally weird experience

So Spirit Air is a pretty crazy experience. The company is all about the “bare fare” which means you pay a great price for round trip tickets (direct round trip to Vegas was $400), but similar to WOW air (to Iceland), you make up for the low flight cost with paying for literally everything when you get to the airport. 

So, I’m on this plane where I think the average age is 25, the oldest passenger might be 40 (from the people I saw), and everyone is going to Vegas for something called EDC. I hear it’s Coachella for Electronic Dance Music?

So yup, I’m on a plane where everyone is younger than me and apparently ready to party, there’s no cool mom figure to chat about my trip with (everyone here literally doesn’t care), and I can’t fall asleep because the grown adult behind me keeps kicking my seat. 

I MAY fly with these guys again, but it’s only really worth it if you buy a seat with more legroom for $25. P.S. checking a bag is $40, bringing a carry on is $45, but you do get one “personal item” for free. 

Plus there is not a complimentary snack or beverage. So since I already paid some $77 for the bag and seat with extra legroom, why not top it all off with a Tecate? I mean it is vacation…

Headed to the West!

I leave on Thursday to head out on a “Canyon Adventure” tour with TrekAmerica. I was looking for a trip to do and settled on this tour that would take me to a bunch of National parks out west that I hadn’t been to. I’ll be visiting Route 66, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, Goblin Valley, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion.

I’m especially curious about this trip, since when I booked, I didn’t think much of the name of the travel group “Trek America,” but upon further investigation, it did seem a bit strange that the cost of the trip showed in Euros, and the temperatures of 21-24 degrees seemed pretty abnormally low. Turns out I’m probably the only American on an all European tour!

I’ve got my new sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, and fancy inflatable pillow so hopefully sleep will not be an issue. Now just packing the rest of everything (kindle, camera tripod, etc.)

Be sure to refresh for updates, which will come as I have time, and typing will be on my iPhone so it may just be pictures…let me know what you want to see!

-Caitlin