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Heading to Zion

I remember singing an old hymn in church, “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion…..” and that is how I felt as is seemed we slowly made our way to Zion National Park. Don’t get me wrong, the areas we drove through and photographed were incredible. But Zion was our last bit of westward travel, after visiting here for a few days we had to start driving SLOWLY back home. So as much as I looked forward to visiting the park, exploring some new areas, climbing Angels Landing and meeting up with Amy’s folks in St. George, arriving there was rather bittersweet - I love the park, but in just a few days we were heading home and that would be the end of our epic trip.

BUT we still had some great times ahead.

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An easy walk in the early morning led us to the lower Emerald Pool waterfall. We’d had so much rain that the falls were running nicely. The sun lit up the falls in an amazing display. Beautiful.

Amy about to head up to the top of Angels Landing. Note the chains.

Amy about to head up to the top of Angels Landing. Note the chains.

The one thing Amy wanted to do on this visit to Zion was hike Angels Landing. It was an amazing hike. Yes it was tough, but awesome. We had perfect weather and timed it right by being on the first bus to the drop off point.

You can find Amy’s blog here on the climb.

The classic view of the Watchman from the bridge over the rain swollen Virgin River.

The classic view of the Watchman from the bridge over the rain swollen Virgin River.

Never been there before

After leaving Hanksville, we continued westward on Hwy 24 to Capitol Reef National Park. We drove through mile after mile of scrub land, hills and mountains and a few small towns but again, mainly a whole lot of nothing.

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We came up on this sign in the first picture, and as you can see, there is literally NOTHING as far as the eye can see.

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A bit further, the road started winding through these mounds of rock. It looked as though huge truckloads of rock were just dumped in a hit or miss fashion. And in the middle of it all, there was this old cement truck that had been there for who knows how long. I love the yellow of the old truck against the stark gray of the ground and hills.

Finally, we made it to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. This park is a real beauty. And as you can see in the photo below, you won’t find much out here. We did find a small town on the west side of the park in eat and get a motel. A storm passed through turning the sky a gorgeous red and pink. This photo was taken after the sun set, the blue clouds and sky contrasting nicely with the reds of the rock.

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Devil's Garden

Next stop Grand Staircase-Escalante NP. Specifically, we wanted to go to Devils’ Garden and a few of the slot canyons, Peekaboo in particular. Unfortunately, as had been the case so much on this trip, this area was getting a lot of rain, which we were told wasn’t normal at all for this time of year. Flash floods can happen in these type canyons even if it isn’t raining right on top of you. We heard warning after warning to be careful, watch the weather and stay out of the canyons if there was rain. So all that to say, we didn’t want to go into the slot canyons with clouds skies and rain in the forcast.

It is amazing at how much awesome scenery you can’t see at all until you are right on top of it. You drive along and see a whole lotta nothing, turn off the road and boom, there’s this area of strange shaped hoodoos. (Same with Goblin Valley State Park - you couldn’t see it until you were right on top of it). It is amazing that at some point in the last couple hundred years people were out exploring in these areas and just happened to find these places. It always makes me wonder what we might have been missing because we couldn’t see it and it may not have been marked with a sign.

Metate Arch in Devils Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park, Utah

Metate Arch in Devils Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park, Utah

We figured by now if we were going to have trouble with the truck again it would have happened so we did venture out onto the dirt road and go to Devil’s Garden. The drive is about 11 miles on a washboard dirt road. No matter how fast or slow you drive, it still shakes and rattles everything in the truck.

Sadly, by the time we made it the wind was picking up, the sky was a boring gray and it was the middle of the day. But, this place is so cool. We were able to walk and climb around and really get into the place rather than have to see it from behind some fence. These were my favorite parks, the ones you go as far into as you like.

So we wandered around, took photos, climbed around, and snapped the required selfies to share later. Side note: there was absolutely NO cell service where we were in the park, which was awesome in my opinion.

As soon as I took the photos of Metate Arch I envisioned this stark black and white photo.

As soon as I took the photos of Metate Arch I envisioned this stark black and white photo.

We hung out for a couple hours, and as mentioned above, because of the rain and decidedly not wanting to get swept away in a flash flood in the slot canyons, we headed back toward the main highway rather than venturing on another 15 miles or so to the slots.

We drove on till we found the visitor center for the park and, of course, we got another sticker for our ever growing collection on the truck topper.

Camping in the middle of nowhere...nice!

As far as the eye can see - nothing.

As far as the eye can see - nothing.

After leaving Shafers Trail and driving to the middle of nowhere, we set up camp. We’d found this area after leaving Goblin Valley State Park a few days before. The only reason we knew this open field was a campground, as compared to all the other open fields - that’s all there were, was because we saw a trailer and several fire rings dotting the various camp sites. The camping spots were free so we grabbed one before the rush of campers. HA! Surprisingly, we actually had two neighbors, a small pull behind trailer and a tent camper on the other side.

Other than these two, we saw a whole lotta nothing. Perfect in my mind. After a long weekend in Moab jammed to the gills with folks, this kind of solitude was nice.

This time we were prepared with fire wood and a freshly stocked cooler. We set up camp, mainly by emptying out the truck, and using the tail gate as our camp table. After eating, I think it hit Amy that we were nowhere near a bathroom so it was down into the gulch behind our site.

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The evening promised a wonderful sunset over the mountains to the west and a clear night later, perfect for shooting the Milky Way.

We sat around the fire for a good while, chatting a bit but otherwise simply enjoying each other’s company and the stillness of the night and the fire. Who doesn’t enjoy a good campfire?

And thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as chilly as it had been the last several nights.

We finally climbed into the camper and went to sleep.

I set my mental alarm to wake up about 1:00 am to shoot the night sky, but it let me down and I didn’t get up till 2:00 when nature called.

The sky was clear, the stars unbelievably bright. We had to be at least 50 miles from a town of any size and twice that from any bigger town.

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Next morning we were up early. A guy from the camper came over and noticing my camera and tripod told us about a really neat place in the hills behind us, called “Hole in the Rock.” So we decided we’d go check it out.

“Just follow the cairns and you can’t miss it,” he told us confidently.

Famous last words. There were so many cairns leading to everywhere but where we were going that we never did find it. I was disappointed, Amy was hungry so off to Hanksville we drove in search of a great breakfast.

We had a delicious breakfast at Blondies. It was great. We got to talking to the owner and asked her how in the world she came to be in this little town in the middle, and I mean the middle, of nowhere. Her husband got a job in the mines, she had some family around and they enjoyed it there. She said she was gong to sell the restaurant so she could have more time with her grand kids.

We said goodbye, tipped her well, and now stuffed, we headed off towards places unknown.

True test

As promised, we got the call Monday that the truck was done and ready to roll! We happily checked out of the inn and went to pick up the truck. and turn in the rental. I wanted to make sure the truck was good to go offroad, the Mechanic assured me it was. I asked him if we had an issue if he would come out and tow us back from the trail at the bottom of Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands NP. He just smiled.

With the assurance of a smile warranty we set out to Shafer trail. Ever since I’d seen it five years ago from the overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park I wanted to go back and drive it. Actually, that’s the main reason we took the truck - to go offroad and sleep in the bed.

Now the true test of the repairs.

Prince’s Plume. We saw this all over in Utah but I loved how this was highlighted by the sun against a dark rock at the bottom of the canyon.

The trail itself wasn’t technical at all. We went slow at first, maybe too slow, just to make sure we ddin’t have to call the tow truck. But no worries, the truck did great. And turns out we didn’t have cell service so we would have been out of luck anyway.

Only one area on the trail that Amy had to get out and help me navigate. It was a blind corner with a 100’ drop on one side to the Colorado River and a cliff on the other. A fellow I’d met at an overlook at Dead Horse Point actually pointed this out to me a few days earlier so I kinda knew about it, just not sure where it was. But as I was saying, Amy had to get out, walk ahead and make sure no one else was coming. I really felt like my truck barely squeezed through, no way we could have passed another car. But Amy said there was plenty of room, so no worries.

We made the blind corner just fine. We stopped for photos pretty often and enjoyed the sights. There weren’t very many people on the trail, but it was Monday after all.

A few times we put the truck into 4-wheel drive, more just to do it than anything. One thing about a pickup is that the back end is so light it can slip in dirt or rocks. Only on the switchbacks coming up out of the canyon at Canyonlands NP did we have to use the 4-wheel drive. And because the truck was so long we couldn’t actually make the turns on a few of the switchbacks. I had to back up a few feet to make it. Not really ideal with a 100’ drop, but we made it just fine.

We finally topped out, hit the pavement again and went to the overlook across from the visitor center to see where we’d been and take pictures of the switchback. We heard a couple talking about the “crazy” people who were driving on the trail. Amy and I just smiled at each other, knowing we were a couple of the crazies. We hit the Visitor center for our sticker of the Shafer Trail to put on the truck. And sadly, this couple had no idea the adventure and sights they missed. A little crazy goes a long way!

View from the top of the canyon with the Shafer Trail far below and a portion of the road leading up to exit at Canyonlands NP.

View from the top of the canyon with the Shafer Trail far below and a portion of the road leading up to exit at Canyonlands NP.