014 - utah
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
When we first crossed the boarder to Utah, the sign immediately caught our attention. The scenery on the Welcome to Utah sign was stunning already. And then it reads the slogan: life elevated. We didn't quite understand what that meant, now we do.
After a refreshing night at Lake Powell, we made our way to Zion National Park, the first of many in this state. We decided to enter the park on the east side, meaning we would have to go through a tunnel, for which, over sized vehicles like Henry [no offense to HF], have to get a permit and have to be "escorted by a park ranger". Upon reaching the entrance station we showed our annual parks pass (80$ per year instead of paying an average 20 bucks for each park and monument) and paid an easy 15 bucks for two trips through the tunnel. At zet tunnel, we waited at a ranger held stop sign, until she checked our ticket and the oncoming traffic ended. Then, we were instructed to drive through, in the middle, and that was that. On the other side, the oncoming traffic waited for the last car to come through to pass over the "I am the last" stick, and that concluded the escorting. On our way to the visitor center, with a quick in between stop at the campground, we got greeted by a few big horn sheep that decided to hop over the road right when we came along. At the visitor center we inquired information on the most spectacular and most popular hikes in the park and asked the ranger about the situation of the campground. Upon which she said, there are no walk-in sites. We told her we had asked he camp host earlier, which we did, (who kindly let us know to arrive in the morning between 7 and 8am) and she just answered with a well good luck with that, you can always try. We will. Luckily, Mike and Manuela, our new Swiss friends that we met in New Mexico also gave us some insight here. Because of the camping situation, which we were prepared for, we spent our first night at a beautiful BLM spot just outside of Springdale. The weather here was absolutely perfect. Not to hot, but enough sun to warm up our skin and enable us to soak up some Vitamin D. With the info from the camp host at Zion and the experience from M&M, we decided not to try our luck, and woke up at 4:30am to arrive at the campground no later than 5am. And of course, we were not the first (hot tip: you never are in situations like these). Thankfully, only two other campers had the crazy idea to arrive this early in the morning. We took our spot in line, cuddled up in the drivers seats where we had a good view on what was happening, and waited. To our knowledge, the host would come out and assign the walk-in sites at around 8 or 9. After watching an episode of Breaking Bad and a quick nap on my part, we noticed the people in front of us started scrambling. The host came out at 8:40 and we received a spot for the next three nights without a problem. We celebrated this accomplishment with a nice, not so power-nap as soon as we got settled on our beautiful and shady campsite. In the afternoon, we decided to hop on the free shuttle bus and tour the valley. On our way back, we got out at the emerald pools trail head and walked up the one mile trail to admire the ponds. At this point it was super hot, but because this had been a first in a long time, we really enjoyed the heat and even walked back to the last bus stop.
When we arrived back at our campsite, we met the guy, also our neighbor, that was parked in front of us when we were in line to get the campsite. Mark, probably in his 50s, had booked a total of six nights and was here to climb. His friend Ted was arriving that night. And of course, he had lived in Freiburg, Germany, for three years back when he was studying and understood and even spoke some German still. I'll tell you again, this world is small. We chatted for a bit and told him about the hikes we were planning, and when he saw the amateur sticks we had for the Narrows, he kindly lend us his. The next morning, we put on shorts, old sneakers, and grabbed Marks very robust and tall hiking poles. On the bus, an older man grabbed Mattia's pole thinking it was part of the bus. He was so embarrassed and we of course had to hold ourselves back from bursting out laughing. By the time we got to the part where you enter the river, because it was still early and the sun barely hits the bottom of the canyon anyway, we were cold already. We went with shorts, because we knew we'd get wet and we were too stubborn to rent all the waterproof gear like most of the others. The water of course was freezing and after the first two minutes, my entire calves were numb. But luckily, when you push through and your body adjusts, it becomes quite bearable and you start feeling your feet again. The hike is absolutely beautiful and definitely something unique. Walking upstream in this cold and narrow river, with the immense canyon walls on both sides, with hanging gardens and the sun only making it to the ground in rare but much appreciated spots, is both stunning and adventurous. Of course, with a popular hike like the Narrows, you also get the hilarious tourists that probably never hike otherwise. Some would go into the water up to their necks even though there is a more shallow part (of course only in fully rented waterproof gear: shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks), others would fall in involuntarily, drenching themselves with the cold water from toe to neck. We hiked about half way, turning it into about a five hour hike, and we were definitely glad we had Marks sturdy hiking sticks instead of our grilling spears.
The next day we took on the second most popular hike to Angels Landing. The first part is very steep with too many switchbacks to count, but because it's not very long, it's quite manageable. Then comes the crazy part. You can only reach Angels Landing by climbing the side of the cliffs and the ridge of the mountain with nothing but a few steal chains for security. There is no path and way to many people. After the first set of steal chains I had to give in to my uncomfortable feeling and decided to wait for Mattia to finish the last stretch on his own. The view from where I was, was spectacular already, I can only imagine how it was from the very top. Instead I enjoyed watching the cutest chipmunks scurrying around people taking their breaks and trying to get their little fingers on some spare food. One very daring one, crawled under my legs, and started scratching at Mattia's backpack, with no luck of course.
The people passing me amazed me. Proper hiking gear was definitely a minority. I could tell from a lot of peoples faces and hands that they also felt uncomfortable and even scared, but unlike me pushed on because they saw the crowd of people in front of them. A little girl, wearing a dress down to her tiny hello kitty shoes skipped from rock to rock, not even holding on. She could have taken one wrong step or stumbled over her dress and fallen to her death immediately. This hike, although well worth it, even to where I hiked, is definitely underrated by too many and wrongly marked and described by the park. I wish they would require people to get permits to do it, just like you need them to do backcountry hikes.
The rest of the day was spent in our hammocks wondering why Marks car was gone and by enjoying the perfect weather. Later in the evening our wondering took an end, when Ted got out of Marks car, to walk over to the passenger side and help Mark get out, because, well, he was on crutches. It turns out that Mark took a bad fall on the wall while climbing, they had to overnight on the wall 350 feet above ground because it was too late to get down, in order to get rescued in the morning and drive to the emergency room with Marks dislocated ankle. Unfortunately that ended Marks six night stay early, but it did start a nice conversation for us with Ted, including pictures from the ER. The next day we continued our journey to Bryce Canyon National Park. On our way, we stopped in a little pass through town to buy some more cassettes at an antique store [yes Henry is still old school] and to end our cravings after seeing the sign a few miles back and check out the German Bäckerei Forscher. No Pretzels! With our watery mouths unsatisfied, we went on. The campground at Bryce was quite empty, compared to Zion, we could have arrived late at night and still had a spot, and we even payed ten bucks more for no amenities whatsoever. Again, for our getting to know the park, we hopped on the shuttle bus to hit the overlooks. Our first stop, Bryce Point, was spectacular already. Bryce Canyon is something completely different, with Hoodoos or tent rocks sticking up from the ground in very close proximity. And hundreds of them. After the awe moment passed, we continued our bus tour.
Our second day at Bryce, we drove Henry all the way to the farthest end, to Rainbow Point, to do a quick loop trail, apparently with a waterfall, which we never actually saw. On our drive back, we hit every possible pull-out to admire the canyon anew. We ended our day walking from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point and on to the general store to acquire some snacks. Back at the campground we watched our 75 year old single camp-neighbor walk his kitty for what seemed like hours and finished our third season of Breaking Bad.
The following day we filled up on very expensive gas and groceries, we were as M&M would say, am ADW ("End" of the World), drove through parts of our newly reduced Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and continued to the edge of Capitol Reef National Park where we overnighted on a beautiful red desert BLM spot. That same day, we hit our two months on the road. What an incredible journey it has been so far.
On day 61 we visited Capitol Reef only to realize we were a little overloaded and couldn't quite grasp this park. After a quick drive-through we drove onward to Hanksville over hills, where the rocks and sandstone continuously changed colors. This drive was incredibly beautiful, the scenery simply taking our breaths away. By the time we arrived in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area we knew we hit the jackpot with our free overnight spot. We got out, overlooking the canyon, with views going on for miles and structures just like the ones at Monument Valley breaking the horizon. Our camping spot, was just at the base on the other side of the river, overlooking the water.
The following days we spent exploring and enjoying some more quiet time, with no cell-service of course, (in the last couple of days we were lucky if a WhatsApp or a text message to our families would send) at Natural Bridges National Monument. We scored the last camping spot and enjoyed a wonderful night by the fire with a bottle of wine and a cigar for Mattia.
We decided to take the detour to Monument Valley because it had been something I had wanted to see for a while. The drive to reach it was spectacular in itself. Because we were coming from Natural Bridges, the most direct route was a very steep (10% grades) gravel road down the side of a mountain, with views overlooking the Valley of the Gods. And even though we enjoyed similar sceneries on our drives the past couple of days, there's something about looking down the very straight and downward sloping highway 163 with the incredible natural skyline in the back. It was definitely worth it.
On the same day, we drove all the way up to Moab, Utah, the outdoor and off-road capitol, our last stop in this incredible state. Most campgrounds were already booked out by the time we arrived, but luckily we scored the last spot a little further down the Colorado River. That night, we were surprised by heavy rain and were once more glad we had our comfortable Henry and did not have to make a use of the open-air pit toilets. We hit Arches National Park the next morning and because the clouds were rolling in once again, we decided to spend our afternoon in the small but cute downtown where we waited out the worst of the rain in a lovely cafe with WiFi. Its amazing how differently you view the time spent on the internet and on our cell-phones when you almost never have cell-service. It's a nice change sometimes.
By the time we got back to our campsite, our very odd neighbor questioned us whether we had paid for our spot (of course we had, in the morning already), because apparently Scott was here first. Well, thanks to him, we were left wondering all night, whether Scott would show up and fight for it, of course he never did. On our drive along the Colorado River the next day we surprisingly spotted a BL (Baselland) license plate and found out that the owners of the massive truck-camper were two climbers from a small town not to far from where we live in Switzerland. After Moab and a quick visit to Colorado, they are heading south, “South America that is.“ On our last half day in Utah, we visited our last National Park in the state, Canyonlands, only to cross paths again with Mike and Manuela on our way to the park. Unfortunately we were both so perplexed and couldn't act fast enough to pull over, that we are now left with the thought of when the next time will be that we see them again. Canyonlands once again, delivered views that went on for miles, and we were glad we took our time to visit this incredible National Park as well.
As for our time in Utah, our lives were definitely elevated.
You have not seen the last of us.