Southwest Exploration, Part Two: Utah
Trip Dates: June 27th-30th, 2017
This is the last post for my (epic) Southwest road trip. I started in Havasu Falls with Girls Who Hike LA and then parted ways to continue onto the Grand Canyon and Page, Arizona, and finally my first visit to Zion National Park in Utah. From Page, AZ it was about a two hour drive to Zion, not bad - not bad at all! I came into Zion through the East side of the park and had a bit of a drive to the visitor center. Pro tip: if you put "visitor center" into your GPS, you might just be directed to a visitor center outside of the park and not the official National Park Service visitor center (yes, confusing!) Anyway, the drive through the park was incredible - cliffs, canyons, the river - beauty everywhere I looked.
In the summer months, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the main road through the park) is closed to private vehicles so the only way to get around to trail-heads (Angel's Landing, the Narrows, etc.) is to use the Shuttle System. I didn't cross the Arizona/Utah border until about 10:30 and I didn't arrive at the visitor center until about 2:00/2:30pm. I had a few must-do hikes on my to do list: Angel's Landing & The Subway (more on that one soon). I stopped in to talk to the rangers and pick up my permit for the Subway and get their perspective on whether I had enough time to hike Angel's Landing. There was some hesitation as the last shuttle back was around 8-something. But, in my mind, I had plenty of time and I filled my CamelBak and hopped on the shuttle.
To those of you who decided to head to Zion and hike Angel's Landing on a whim, like I did, might not be aware of "Walter's Wiggles." I had done some research but focused on the height/chain aspect and was pleasantly surprised at the 20 or so tight switchbacks. Regardless, I entered Refrigerator Canyon, hustled up the switchbacks, judged the significantly under-prepared 'hikers,' made my way to Scout's Lookout, and then onto the best part of the hike: the infamous chains. Since I went so late in the afternoon (4/4:30pm), there were not many people on the chains and even fewer at the Landing. Like, so few people, I really struggled to get a good picture!! Eventually I started my way back down the chains (going down seemed much faster??) and was back at Scout's Lookout in no time. This was another hike in which I said a quick prayer for surviving but it wasn't as bad as many people make it out to be. My rationales were something along the following: "don't look down, don't look down" and if this hike really was so dangerous, the National Park Service wouldn't let just anyone up there. Read: you can do it - just be prepared: wear appropriate footwear and bring plenty of water. I was back at the shuttle stop by 6:30pm and enjoyed the views back to the visitor center, possibly coupled with catching a few Zzz's!
Even though many think I live like a homeless person while camping/backpacking (for good reason...), I definitely don't mind treating myself
for some scrumptious food. After hiking Angel's Landing I went to the Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon to really treat myself! I opted for the Chips & Salsa (and guac!) and the Sweet Potato Tamales (roasted sweet potato and masa tamales with pork or sauteed mushrooms, tomato-tomatillo salsa, queso fresco, and black beans). Oh, my, Goodness! I got one of each (pork carnitas and sauteed mushroom) and they were just so heavenly. Highly recommend.
After an incredible table-for-one dinner, it was time to figure out where I was sleeping... I had a campsite reserved at Watchman Campground in the park but... for the following night. Luckily for me, there is plenty of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land surrounding the park. This was my first time using BLM land but it certainly won't be my last. Although initially difficult to find, I was eventually successful and found the spots off Sheep Bridge Road - thank you Campendium.com. Since it was my first time using BLM land and I was by myself, I was a bit hesitant and decided to sleep in my car rather than set up my tent. Plus, I had to be up early for my big day at The Subway and did not want to have to pack up my tent, etc.
Five paragraphs later and we're finally to day two: The Subway. This is a slot canyon that leads to a magical place complete with waterfalls and just absolutely gorgeous views. The catch is that there's a lottery system in order to get a coveted permit. Whether you're planning to explore the canyon via the top down or the bottom up, a permit is required. I ended up entering the lottery via the "Last Minute Drawing" (entering 2-7 days in advance) and was a winner! Having no idea what I was getting myself into, I visited the ranger station to inquire (and pick up the permit). Wednesday morning I woke up early and started the 9-mile hike. It sure was a journey that required some serious route-finding/cross-country navigation skills, boulder hopping, and river/creek crossings. But, 9-miles later I came across the beauty of it all: The Subway.
Since this was a solo trip, upon reaching my destination I asked someone to take my picture. It turns out my photographer's name was Christa, we had the same day pack, she didn't mind taking pictures, and she was super friendly! Christa had hiked the Subway with her friend Stacey and we ended up hiking back out together. They live in Houston and love traveling/exploring/adventuring as well. I ended up going for dinner with them after the hike (Mexican food for the win) and while I was setting up my tent at Watchman Campground, Christa had texted me asking if I wanted to shower in their hotel. Only hesitating for about 5 seconds, I knew the answer was yes: I had been on the road for far too long, had just hiked 9+ miles (not including Angel's Landing the day before) and honestly didn't know the next time I would shower!
Christa and Stacey had planned to hike Angel's Landing the following day and the Narrows on Friday. Since I did still want to check out the
Narrows, I planned to visit Kanarraville Falls on Thursday and joined the girls for the Narrows on Friday. Kanarraville Falls/Creek is outside the park, approximately an hour or so north of Zion. It is such a hidden gem - slot canyons, running water, waterfalls, ladders up the waterfalls - again, just breathtaking. I was so happy I made the trek to Kanarra Creek and again, highly recommend this day trip to anyone staying in the park. Thursday night was another evening at the BLM Land but this time I was accompanied by fellow WTCers, Josue and Angela! We indulged in a few beers and enjoyed the sunset!
Josue, Angela, and I parted ways in the morning as they went to hike Angel's Landing and I met up with Christa and Stacey at their hotel to pick up our canyoneering boots & hiking stick before hopping on the shuttle to the Narrows. If you're exploring the Narrows, check out Zion Outfitter for your rental gear. We ended up hiking the Narrows and then veering right at the fork to explore Orderville Canyon. There was a waterfall, signaling to turnaround, and we hiked back out and explored a bit of the Narrows. It was slick, hard to walk on the rocks, deep in some spots, crowded in others, but overall quite majestic. I don't know exactly how far we hiked but it seemed our departure was never ending.
After the Narrows, I ended up driving all the way back to LA. I had thought about stopping in Vegas to sleep but I continued on, stopping for about an hour to catch some zzzs. All in all, it was an epic trip. I explored some incredible sights and met some great people along the way! In fact, Christa is going to be joining me on my next adventure: Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail! She is going to fly in tomorrow and we're departing on the 6am Catalina Express Wednesday morning! And, sneak peak: Packit Gourmet is hooking us up with a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions! I cannot wait to try some of their meals. Check back soon to see how they turned out!!!