There is something magical about the road. There is our conception that the road goes on forever, that there is always another adventure to be had just around the corner. I find that the road is both freeing and lonely. That is the duality of travel. You are able to have that life changing adventure, to be whatever you want to be, but to have that, you have to get away from all of those that you know. While we are intricately connected to one another in invisible waves/wires that surround us, there is a magic in being lost from who we once were. We make the plans to leave, we make the goals of where we want to go, then we leave. Yet, there is this magic in not knowing, in finding the quirks of life and exploring not only ourselves, but the world around us.
Alas dear reader, I have struggled the past few days to write, this has been a challenge that I have faced because of an over taxing of myself in regards to hiking quite a bit more than usual, and the fact that I have struggled to find that theme that ties things together. It is that struggle for words that I have found the most perplexing. I’ve had thoughts and many things happen since the last time that we spoke, yet I have struggled to convey them in a meaningful way to myself. How can I expect you to render them as comprehensible if I can’t understand them myself? There is a part of me that in a post-modern way says that I don’t have to understand, because I’m talking to a universal ideal that we all can then tap into. Yet, that doesn’t satisfy me. There has to be something that grounds a conversation, otherwise why does the listener keep listening?
When last we spoke, I was at Zion, due to hike the Virgin River Narrows on Friday morning. Last year, I went to Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which is a slot canyon. This is a beautiful naturally made canyon that has the most vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows that I’ve ever seen. In the past year, I discovered that many of the slot canyons in the Southwest are like this, that they are vibrant and full of color. My fascination grew with slot canyons, and when I learned that Zion had, what some consider to be the best, slot canyon known as the Narrows, I had to go on this adventure. That was why the trip to the Narrows was so important, because I wanted to experience another slot canyon. My sister and I drove what seemed to be an entire week to make this goal possible. Needless to say that when we awoke on Friday morning with the sunrise to travel from the side of the road outside of Zion to the Visitor Center we were ready to make sure that this goal was a reality. Upon arriving there were several other adventurists who were also ready to get their permits and start on their own sojourn. Standing in line, I realized quickly that the Narrows was closed due to the enormous amount of rain that we have had this year and that the entire reason for moving heaven and earth was now gone. Upon confirming this, I talked to the ranger about other hikes in Zion and found that Angles Landing was possible that day, so was Emerald Pools. The only part of the park that had a usually flowing waterfall. Of course I was going to go to that.
After leaving the visitor center, we traveled by shuttle up to the Zion Lodge, which is absolutely gorgeous from the outside (We had no reason to go in). We hit the trailhead and were quick to discover that the reason for the Emerald pools name is because of the slick rock and algae that grow throughout the trail. After a short climb up the hill, we encountered the first of several small trickles of a waterfall. The rangers said that these waterfalls happen throughout the park due to Navajo Limestone. This is a special limestone that holds water for hundreds of years in the rock and slowly seeps out and creates these natural waterfalls throughout Zion. While the waterfall was a nice change of pace, it was merely a trickle. My sister and I kept moving through the trail up to the second and eventually the third level. At each of these levels, there was merely a trickle, and the algae became less and less pronounced. This was a slight let down, because we traveled throughout the country to get here and the one trail that we wanted to go down was closed, and the second was not nearly what we were hoping for.
Upon returning to the lodge, we were going to do the Angles Landing, but both of us by this point were tired due to not sleeping the night before and were ready to go take a nap. We saw firsthand how the camping permits in the park were gone by 7 in the morning and we knew that there was no way that we were going to be camping anywhere close to the park. I made an agreement with my sister, if I bought the hotel, that she would buy dinner, and off we went back to I-15 to try to rest for the day. While I wanted to do Angles Landing, it was just too much, the lack of sleep was one of the biggest components on my side, but on hers, the shoes that she bought before the trip were starting to tear into her feet and leaving her with large blisters that were growing as the hike up Emerald Pools went on. We arrived at the hotel in Cedar City and immediately I went for a long shower and a nap. My sister quickly followed the pace I set and after we work up in the late afternoon we were both ready for food. Eating and taking our time, we settled in that evening for a long nights rest.
The next day, we were ready to go again on our hiking adventures. The previous night I saw that we were close to a national monument known as Cedar Bluffs, and I thought that this might be a worthy adventure. When we packed the car to go, she reminded me that we needed to pick up some supplies and we went to the local store. It was there that I discovered a new adventure that we could go on that might make up for the fact that we could not go down the Narrows.
Maybe now is the time to discuss how I travel. This makes the third trip that I’ve planned to go on and each time I spend months and months of planning to figure out some of the best spots to go to and what I would like to see. The first time, I planned that I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Austin, and Muscle Shoals. These were the planned place, and because there was a tight nine-day timeline, those were about all that I could do. The second trip, in September-October, was slightly different. I planned that I wanted to try to go to the New England area and see the beautiful fall foliage for the first time. I planned that I also wanted to go to five different parks: Cuyahoga, Niagara, Watson-Glenn, Acadia, and Shenandoah. The goal was to take a few weeks to make it from here to New England and see these colors explode, then come down with the leaves through the Appalachians. With that, I went northward and found that at each night, I had new places that I wanted to go to. I spend almost four weeks traveling and exploring, using both Instagram and locals advice to find cool and interesting spots. With that, I also gained quite a few stories from misadventures as well. To me this is what traveling is really about, finding new and cool places to go and explore life with. I believe that the technical term is called serendipity. This type of luck has yet to fail me to this point….
When we arrived at the store, I checked Instagram and noticed that there was a waterfall that was within a 15 minute drive from us. The waterfall was at Kanarraville, upon a few more minutes of research, this was also a slot canyon. I was instantly sold.
After getting the supplies, we traveled down I-15 to the spot. There was a small parking lot that had some amazing attendants. My sister and I spoke with them for a few minutes and learned that they recently purchased the property and that they wished us luck with taking the camera up to the falls. There were three different falls, that each had different levels of water, from knee to chest deep. Already I was a bit nervous because I didn’t want to ruin a brand new camera in such a situation. I packed everything triple tight and was ready to go. The short hike was in and out of the water throughout. Part of the problem was that the water was freezing cold, due to the weather. I can imagine on a warm summer day that this would be refreshing, but not when the temperature is closer to 60 degrees.
We made it to the opening of the slot canyon, about three miles in and that was when the magic started. Both my sister and I were complaining that the water was so cold on our feet that we couldn’t feel them. Yet, when we got to the orange and black opening of the mountain, both of our heads turned up. We arrived right around noon, so the sun was perfect, casting that beautiful glow on the upper rim of the canyon, making the walls glow with an iridescent feeling of fire. I heard my sister say, “wow.” I knew that she was hooked on the slot canyon as much as I was. We walked a few paces and she was just as eager as I was to set up the camera and take pictures of the canyon walls. The water was alive and roaring in our ears, the sun was almost melting away this beautiful orange above us, it didn’t matter that we had no feeling in our feet at this point. We were both lost in the moment of the canyon. Taking a few pictures, we kept moving to the first falls. There is a short step latter to the top of the 10 foot falls. Patiently we waited for that perfect moment to capture the water and latter for the long exposure. Thirty minutes passed standing in the knee deep water waiting before that shot arrived.
Both of us climbed the latter, but quickly realized that the next leg of the journey was up steep rocks that had no way down safely without getting completely soaked. Thinking about the expensive camera on my back, I was not ready to take that extra chance. We quickly decided that the adventure was over and to turn around to the car. On our way back, we met a wonderful couple from Oregon who talked to us for the last mile. They were amazing. I learned so much about Oregon’s natural history and places to go, we exchanged information and was offered that if I was in the Portland area to look them up for coffee. This is another part of the life on the road that is so difficult to replicate. You meet people and go to places that you never thought was possible before. This is all part of the experience that is individualized and personal for you. Also, when we returned to the parking area, the attendants asked if there were any good pictures. I showed them the back of the camera and they were very interested in the images that I shot. They asked if there was any way that they could possibly sell some of these images at their gift shop. I’ve never been asked if my art work was sellable before and that was a wonderful feeling.
When we arrived at the car, both of us were ready to go on another adventure but we weren’t sure what to do next. The original plan was to go to Zion and then travel to the Grand Canyon and try to do the slot canyons in southern Utah/northern Arizona. Places such as Spooky Gulch, or Zebra Canyon, or even Buckskin Gulch. That is the problem, is that we had five days that we were trying to figure out what to do. There are so many natural beauties of the area that it is difficult. Adding to the problem was that many of these require a permit that usually have months in line waiting that we did not have the luxury of when my sister finally decided to come to the trip. With that, we decided that we would try Cedar Bluffs and there was another park pretty close by, called Bryce Canyon. When we were at the Grand Canyon, we learned that there are a few national parks in the Colorado Plateau that are known for their geological structures and heights. The highest point is Capital Reef/Bryce Canyon, then the Grand Staircase/Escalante steps down into the Grand Canyon elevation. I thought it would be a coo idea if we would go to these parks to see the different geological features. Granted, I knew nothing about where they were located in relationship to get back to Flagstaff, this just sounded like a cool few day adventure. My sister, not really understanding how big of a driving commitment that this would be agreed and off we went.
The scenic highway from Cedar City to Cedar Bluffs is one that goes basically straight up the mountain. The elevation change was so swift that within minutes of leaving Cedar City, we were in almost knee deep snows on the side of the road. I think with more preparation that we would have realized that the almost fifty-mile drive between Cedar City and Cedar Bluffs up a mountain was a bit much, but because we were improvising, distance was not a concern.
The GPS gave us that final warning, fifty feet to turn, and the sign for Cedar Bluffs was right there beckoning us to come into the park. We turned and in less than a quarter of a mile, tragedy struck. The park was still closed for winter, yet the only warning that we had was the gate being closed and the message: CLOSED FOR SEASON, written on it. Ugh, sometimes even the best improvisers get things wrong.
Looking at the map, we were already halfway to Bryce Canyon, why not continue on our journey and try to camp there for the evening. The drive up and down the mountain was at times too much. The scenic road was nothing but sharp drop offs ready for the driver to not pay attention and fall to their deaths. Or at least that was what was going on in my head. We arrived at Bryce Canyon in the late afternoon and both of us were road weary. It was close to a four-hour journey and we had already done six-miles round trip in hikes. Needless to say we were both pretty beat and went in search of. Campsite. We found one at a local campground right outside of the national park and decided that we would go back after dinner to see a ranger led night program.
Returning to the park, there was a small herd of deer standing on the side of the road, where many visitors were lined up to see these animals. While I understand the fascination of seeing wild animals, these are deer. They are overpopulating the North American continent and they are a nuance almost anywhere you go. Back in Tennessee, people stop and do the exact same thing, so this is a universal. I could understand if this was a bear, a moose, a buffalo, yet these are animals that are almost at epidemic proportions in the United States. After getting around the traffic jam, we went to see the astronomy program. This was interesting, mostly because of the heavy discussion of individual astronomers and their contributions. After the program (and having the ranger sign my junior ranger book), we returned to the tent built a small fire and went to bed.
The next day we went back to Bryce Canyon, ready to see what the park had to offer. I had heard that the Sunset Point trail was one of the most beautiful trails in the park, that stretches over the rim of the park for a few miles and to try to get there early to see the sunrise over these peaks. We arrived much later than sunrise, but were still in aw of the geological formations. The points that are standing are known as Hoodoos, and this is what the park is known for is their collection of hoodoos. We walked the rim trail and then turned down the Queen’s Garden to descend lower in elevation and watch these hoodoos climb skyward. It was a really cool feeling to see this start to take on the almost castle like formations all around us. Some of my favorite pictures are of the hoodoos in the distance.
After Bryce, the plan was to go to the Grand Staircase and see what we could find there, before turning southward to Flagstaff. The four-hour drive to the Grand Staircase was littered with small towns that were mostly devoid of people. The hard road between the different parks in the spring, would only be compounded in the winter and made even more treacherous. I can see why there wouldn’t be as many people here in rural southeastern Utah.
Finally, we made it to the Grand Staircase park headquarters. The Bureau of Land Management shares the building with the National Monument’s headquarters. Walking in the door, I was greeted with the fossil of what I have always called a triceratops. It was so cool to know that this fossil was found right here in this area. Talking with the ranger for the Bureau of Land Management, I learned that Lower Calf Creek Falls is the only waterfall in the park and that it was only a ‘short mile’ or two to the waterfall. By this point, there was a rainstorm front that looked like it was developing and when I asked would this trail be safe if it did rain, I was reassured that this was almost flat. Eager, I went to the car and we drove the few miles to the start of the trail.
While the ranger was right, that this was a “short” hike, that was not exactly accurate. The Lower Calf Creek trail has a number of interesting cultural and geological aspects to it. First, the trail starts off in what can only be described as harsh red desert rocks, then ends with a beautiful lush green environment. The ecological and geological changes are amazing. This is mostly due to the sharp increase in elevation and water table. That means, the “flat’ walk that the ranger had stated before, was not exactly accurate. Also, there are a number of petroglyphs littering the canyon walls that are interesting as well. The last problem is that this was not exactly a short hike, it was closer to six-miles round trip. Though, what the ranger didn’t say was how beautiful the falls really is. The orange clay of the rock is highlighted by an almost 80 foot drop to the bottom. The free flow of the waterfall is absolutely amazing. And worth the trip. Though the return hike isn’t the most fun, knowing that you have almost three miles of up and down hill climbs ahead of you. Also, note that the trail is not accurately marked as you go back from the fall, so that it is pretty easy to get lost a, as we did a time or two.
Leaving Calf Creek Falls, we climbed the steep almost 11 percent grade up the mountain to find the two-lane road is all that separates you from a close to 1000 foot drop on either side of the road. There are little guard rails and there are moments you feel that you are going to fall off the side at any moment. Though the views of the valley floor are spectacular. When we arrived in Boulder Utah, we were in desperate need of food and lodging for the night. I stopped at the only gas station in town and was greeted by a very friendly attendant who told us of the free camping in the area and the restaurant down the road that had the “best food in town.” This might have been true because it was the only one of two restaurants in the town, and the other one was already closed for the evening. Both my sister and I were starving and eagerly ate the food in front of us. When we left, we found the free camping spot that the attendant talked about and set up camp for the night.
The next day we realized how far east that we had gone. The major high way down to Flagstaff is State Route 89 and it passes through the Grand Canyon. Where we were there were only two routes to get to 89, the first was to continue through Capital Reef, then turn south through the Navajo Reservation; the other was to turn around and go back from where we came. Eager for another national park, I pushed us forward towards Capital Reef. We ma it to the park, and the headquarters suggested that we go on the Chimney Tops trail. Hiking the almost 700 foot in elevation climb, the valley floor became in clear focus. I feel in love with the evergreen trees that littered the side of the mountain. While I’m highly allergic to these trees, the smell was intoxicating. It was almost as if the west is personified with this evergreen/aspen smell. We climbed, again, what was supposed to be a short hike, that turned out to be closer to 6 miles. We returned to the car and continued our way Southward back into Arizona.
It was at this point, in the early afternoon, that I realized that we were going to be going through Page and that we had an opportunity to go to Horseshoe Bend. This is a famous site in Arizona, where the Colorado River bends like a horseshoe. Many photographers come here to try to capture the bend in the glory of the sunset. When I realized that we would be getting to the Horseshoe Bend area by about sunset, I quickly pushed us on to make sure that I tried to get the shot. The next three hours drive through the Navajo reservation was treacherous. I was trying hard not to speed, yet I wanted to make it there before sunset. Ugh the struggle.
We made it there about fifteen minutes before sunset. I bolted out of the car and raced up the short hill to the bend. I found that it was not just myself that had this same side, but about one hundred other people. On the way, I set up my tripod and was looking for that magical hole to get my shot. I arrived at the center of the bend, where a young lady was sitting at the farthest edge of the rock. I set up my camera and started shooting, only to share the spot with another photographer trying to capture the same moment. My sister arrived a few minutes after and we talked about the next few shots. I continued to take pictures until right after the sun went down. Both of us were hungry and decided to turn around to Page to get food before climbing up the Grand Canon’s North Rim.
On the way to the North Rim, both of us started talking about home and realizing that the trip was ending for her very soon. It is funny, the past few days we have seen more than I ever expected to see and traveled to places in Utah that I had never heard of before. I was really grateful that she came, because not only was she a traveling companion, but she also made me realize that I enjoy having someone to share my experiences with. While I love taking Scout with me, it is not quite the same as having another person to say, Wow” or “look at that!” Sorry Scout, I still love to take you, just not quite the same as another person. We talked for a while as we rounded what seems Like the forever long basin of the valley floor before the canyon. When reaching the near top, we pulled off and made camp in the forest. Around 1 or so, I decided that I wanted to try to capture the Milk Way one last time before I was in areas that would have too much light pollution. There are a few good shots of this that I have attached.
The next morning, we. Made it to the Grand Canyon and watched as the sun slowly started to rise over the rim. This was a moment of peace and harmony. I have heard of such beauty before, but to experience it first hand is something else. The sun rose from behind and you get to see time on full display, slowly moving further and further down these ancient walls of the canyon, revealing more and more ancient rock. This feels like home to me in a very strange way. I feel oddly comforted feeling and that there is no one else that is experiencing this beauty around me. That I am the first to see this (clearly I am not, but there is this magic of the canyon that gives you that illusion). After spending some time on the North Rim, both of us were tired and ready to go get Scout.
The four-hour drive back to Flagstaff was uneventful. The traffic is a steady pace and both of us were pretty tired. The goal was to rest and recuperate a little before trying to make it to Las Vegas to send her home on Friday. We got a very eager Scout from the border and found a hotel for the night. Both of us were ready for that late afternoon shower and nap, which we did. By 8, we were both fast asleep from almost three days camping, a bed was more than welcome.
By Wednesday, there was little that we had planned, the goal was to rest and try to relax before heading to Las Vegas. We woke up late and decided that since it was our first day back with Scout that we needed to take him on a short hike before leaving for Las Vegas. We both knew that it would be hot in Las Vegas and so we wanted to try to find something in Flagstaff that would take some time and make our arrival in Las Vegas later in the day. We went to the Coconino National Forest headquarters and was told about a small park right down the road called Tuthill Fortress. This was a great suggestion because there were several trails that were available to go down. Scout has a weird affinity to evergreens and was eager to brush up against any and all of them that he could. We walked for a few miles in the park before heading Westward.
The trip from Flagstaff to Las Vegas was hot, it was odd to go from snow to over 100 degree heat in a matter of a few days. We went down I40 and then turned up State Route 93. Signs for the Hoover Dam appeared and I decided that we would check it out. When we got there, we realized that this was not dog friendly and so we went over the dam, tried to find a visitor center, and then left. That is an adventure for another day. We kept going to Las Vegas and found a campsite in the Red Rocks National Forest for the night. Again, looking for something at the last minute on the road, I was lucky that I found the campgrounds at Red Rocks. While the temperature was well over 100 degrees, the strong winds made it feel like the lower 70s. After setting up the tent, my sister and I talked for hours about family, relationships, and life. It was reaffirming because we haven’t connected in that way in years. It was good to hear about her perspectives and ideas.
At this point, it is becoming more and more apparent that the road does keep going on for forever. We have traveled most of the way across the United States, circled southern Utah, and arrived at a destination of Las Vegas in less than two weeks. It strikes me more that she is about to leave. Part of me is sad, because we have connected and found that there is a bond on the road. There is another part of me that is glad that she is going because she has been done with the desert for a few days. I don’t want to push her any more than I have to. For me, I’m getting to the end of the first leg of this journey. I planned this for close to six months. I want to go and see new places, but this first leg has been a remix of new and familiar areas from the past year. I felt free on the road last year, it was an escape from that life that I was drowning in. This time, having a companion was nice to share the load and to have someone to talk to. More and more I am realizing that I want to have someone to share these types of experiences with, someone that I can have the magic of hearing: “wow, that is amazing.” Sharing that moment with another is bliss. With that, you never know what the road brings. There are the good days and the bad days. There is the harsh winds that sometimes try to push you around, and then there is the sun that is always shining asking you to keep going.