Zion National Park – Day 6

Yes, sleeping in a real bed does beat a tent. After having breakfast I got all of my gear packed for the trip home tonight. Loaded up the car and headed out for a day of driving to some remote areas of the park. I had plenty of time as my flight is at 1am and I’ve got the whole Time Zone thing working in my favor today.

First route was the Kolob Terrace Road which heads into the middle of the park from the south. The road actually meanders in and out of the park boundaries and ends at the Kolob Reservoir which looked to be a bit low at the moment. A couple of miles before the reservoir is a turnoff back into the park to Lava Point Lookout which provides a long distance view at Zion Canyon from above. There’s a campground here with access to some of the back-country trails. Definitely worth the drive.

View from Lava Point

View from Lava Point

Second stop was the Kolob Canyons area in the northwest region of the park. There are several trails here as well but as I was planning a relaxing day I only took he Timber Creek Overlook trail which is just a short 1 mile round trip with views southward over the park along with the adjacent Kolob Canyons. Again definitely worth the effort to make it to this section of the park.

Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon

I finished touring this section of the park around 3:30 (2:30 in Las Vegas) so still had plenty of time to kill so decided to head up to Cedar Breaks National Monument which was only about 45 minutes north. I had visited this two years ago during my road trip but figured it would also be worth seeing again in a different season. I also took a slightly different route that passed through a portion of the Dixie National Forest which has some spectacular overlooks. I only stopped at one of the overlooks in the monument before heading back towards Vegas.

On the way back to Vegas I realized I was still going to have a few hours to kill so decided I would try to catch a movie. I pulled over after getting into the city and found a theater showing Gone Girl at 8pm – perfect! It was a good show – did not expect the twist. The movie let out shortly before 11 and by the time I filled the car’s gas tank, returned the car, checked my luggage and got through security I arrived at the gate about 15 minutes before boarding started so the timing couldn’t have been better.

Zion is such an amazing place. There really aren’t words worthy to describe it and the pictures that I’ll be posting in the coming days can’t do it justice either. It is a place that simply must be witnessed first hand. Even if you can’t do the hiking, just visiting the canyon along the shuttle route is worth the trip.

​Zion National Park – Day 5

So last night I called an audible and decided that this would be my last night in the central area of the park. Since I didn’t have any activities planned in Zion canyon for Friday I opted to check out of the campground this morning and instead spend some of my Hampton points tonight and relax.

So after getting breakfast made and camp packed up I finally boarded a shuttle to Weeping Rock at 10 o’clock. Was on the trail up into Hidden Canyon by about 10:30. This was only about a 3.5 mile round trip but the first mile was pretty much straight up. About 2/3 of the way up I heard some commotion a couple of switchbacks above me. I wasn’t able to get my camera to the ready quick enough to capture the bighorn sheep ram jumping up the slope so there’s no evidence but it was pretty cool. There were three guys on the trail and they said at first he had headed straight at them! It’s nearing the end of the rut season for the bighorns so you definitely don’t want to be on their bad side…

Once reaching the top of the climb it was then a matter of following the trail along the ledges around and into Hidden Canyon. The park service had again placed some chains for hand holds. I actually think these are a bad idea in most cases. It seems to give people who perhaps shouldn’t be up there in the first place some false security. To me it felt better to keep a hand in the rock because the chains are slack and if you’re falling outwards you may not be able to hold onto the chain. Better to have a hand on the rock and be leaning towards it. But what do I know?

Trail to Hidden Canyon

Trail to Hidden Canyon

Anyway after reaching the entrance to the canyon the maintained section of the trail ends. The options are either just turn back or head into the canyon which requires a bit of scrambling over debris in the canyon; rocks, boulders and trees. The payoff is a little arch along the canyon wall. Nothing spectacular but it was fun to climb over stuff!

From there I headed up to the Temple of Sinewava which is at the upper end of the canyon and is the start of the Riverwalk and entrance to the Narrows “trail”. I walked along the Riverwalk as there are some great views but had decided not to do the Narrows hike. Perhaps I’ll make it back someday to do that one. There are so many people heading in there that it just seems too crowded – nothing worse than a crowd on a trail as far as I’m concerned.

By the time I finished there it was about 4:30. So after the ~40 minute shuttle ride to the visitor center and walk to the car I finally made it to the hotel about 5:30. Got cleaned up and headed out for dinner. The town of Springdale exists pretty much to serve the tourists, so every place was pretty busy. The third place I hit, The Flying Monkey, I was able to get a table without waiting. It wasn’t great but at least I didn’t have to wait.

Back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to spend driving to a couple of the more remote areas of the park before heading back to Vegas for my red-eye flight home.

​Zion National Park – Day 4

There was a full lunar eclipse this morning at about 4:30. Unfortunately Zion was completely overcast so I didn’t get to see it. I wasn’t really surprised as the clouds had started rolling in last night. And anyway I got to sleep longer this way.

For awhile it actually looked like it would rain so I didn’t roll out of my tent until after 7:30. After breakfast and a little reading I finally headed out a little before 10. Today’s hike was to the Emerald Pools. I got off the shuttle at Zion Lodge and then took the Grotto Trail to the Grotto. I got some nice shots of Angels Landing from the canyon floor and then headed up the Kayenta trail, which offers spectacular views of the canyon , towards the Emerald Pools.


I had intended to hit the Middle Pool first then the Upper and the Lower last to avoid unnecessary backtracking. Somehow I missed the spur the Middle Pool and ended up first at the Lower Pool which is really not impressive. From there it was up to the Middle Pool which certainly had some potential – at this time of year the water is running rather low. Finally it was onward to the Upper Pool which is spectacular. Photos can’t really do justice unless you have a super wide angle lens, as its a relatively small pool but it’s at the base of this enormous cliff face. I’ll probably post the video I took once I’m back home. Just stunning. It was shaded and cool and being right around noon was the perfect spot for lunch.

After about a half hour I headed back down the trail and ended my hike back at the lodge. I hung out on the lawn for a little while deciding what to do next. Ended up hopping the shuttle down canyon and took in the short film about the park at the Zion Human History Museum. After that I took the Par’us trail back to camp.

I’ve gotten a little reading in this afternoon and now it’s time to make some dinner. Later I’ll be heading over to the amphitheater for the evening ranger talk. No idea what the topic is…

​Zion National Park – Day 3

Today was a pretty lazy day as I wasn’t quite sure what I felt like doing. In the end I made this my driving day, just to the east side of the park which is entirely different from Zion Canyon. In addition to the scenery it’s just a fun little drive up the switchbacks and through the tunnel and back again.


It was somewhat cloudy all day so after the little drive I came back to camp and took a little nap. Then got some reading in, made dinner and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had no expectations whatsoever so have to say I did enjoy it. And the soundtrack is amazing!

Tomorrow it’s back on the trails. I’ll be taking in the Emerald Pools in a loop from Zion Lodge to The Grotto and back. May relax with a nice lunch in the lodge.

​Zion National Park – Day 2

I did not make the first shuttle leaving the visitor center today at 7am. Instead I had a nice leisurely morning and finally boarded a bus around 9am. I road up to The Grotto which is where the trailhead to Angels Landing is found. Was on the trail about 9:30.

This hike is a little over 5 miles round trip with the first half being pretty much entirely uphill. At a little over the two mile point you reach Scout Lookout after making the climb up Walter’s Wiggles, a series of switchbacks, and then the last half mile is the section out to Angels Landing, which is essentially a climb along the side of a cliff. The park service has placed chains for assistance but in my opinion they were generally more trouble than they were worth. In any case I arrived without any issues and the effort was certainly worth it.

Walter's Wiggles viewed from above.

Walter’s Wiggles viewed from above.

The view of Zion Canyon from Angels Landing

The view of Zion Canyon from Angels Landing

I relaxed and ate lunch, fending off numerous chipmunks all the while, and then headed back down. Thought I had been drinking enough water or maybe it was something in my lunch but I really wasn’t feeling well by about half way back to Scout Lookout. Took a few breaks along the way and then found some shade at the Scout Lookout and just rested for awhile. Still not sure whether it was something I ate or some mild heat exhaustion but long story short, after I puked I felt great…

Headed back down the rest of the way which took about an hour and then caught the shuttle back to camp. Took a nap, made some dinner and then attended the evening ranger program hosted by Ranger Adam. Tonight’s presentation was about nocturnal life in the park.

Was planning to hike the emerald pools trail tomorrow, but may opt for a driving day around the park instead. I’ll see what the morning brings.

​Zion National Park – Day 1

I flew into Las Vegas yesterday afternoon, thinking I might take in a show before heading over to Zion today. However after getting the last of my camping supplies and grabbing a bite to eat, I decided to just hang out at the hotel. So I got a good nights sleep and was on the road shortly after 9 am. Puts me into Zion shortly before noon barring any stops.

So I stopped for some snacks and bottled water just to make life easy in camp. And once again Time Zones have affected a National Parks trip… OK, it’s really not a big deal in this case, but for future reference, Las Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone and Utah is in the Mountain Time Zone. So I pulled into the campground (glad that I made my reservation 6 months ago!) around 1:30 this afternoon local time.

Got my tent setup and all my gear situated and then just had a look around the campground. I’m in the Watchman campground which is adjacent to the entrance to the park and the visitor center. Just outside the gate is the town of Springdale. They have an IMAX film about the park, surrounding area and early inhabitants – rather cheesy but so be it. They’re also showing Guardians of the Galaxy in the evenings so I may take that in one evening.

So for now it’s time to make some dinner and then decide whether or not to go see a movie. One things for sure, this is the sight I’ll be waking up to tomorrow:

View from my campsite

View from my campsite

On the agenda for tomorrow is the hike to Angels Landing which offers spectacular views overlooking the canyon. First shuttle departs at 7:30 – don’t think I’ll be aboard that one!

​Joshua Tree National Park

Having to be in San Diego the week of June 2, I opted to fly out early (actually bypassed home for the weekend) and spend the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park.  I arrived in San Diego about 7:30 Friday evening and then drove over to Palm Desert, CA which is just about a half hour drive from the park.

Saturday morning I headed into the park just taking the drive from the West Entrance Station through the park to the south entrance.  I stopped for pictures at several places and took a couple of short hikes.  Scoped out a slightly bigger hike for Sunday.  Can’t figure out why people want to live in the middle of the desert – it was 90 degrees at 9am and 108 by the time I got back to the hotel.  At least the part is a bit cooler due to it’s higher elevation – temperature peaked in the low 90s.

Sunday morning I headed back to the park via the opposite route – things always look different the other way ’round.  I stopped for a short hike through the Cholla Cactus Garden.  These are also called Teddy Bear and Jumping Cholla.  They look soft from a distance, but in fact are comprised of roughly inch long brittle spikes.  If there is any doubt as to the true nastiness of these guys, watch this clip from the Saguaro National Park episode of Motion.

My primary objective for the day was to hike Ryan Mountain which offers views of the surrounding valleys within the park.  It’s just a 3 mile round trip, but the first half up to the peak is an elevation gain of about 1,000 ft.  It wasn’t too bad, and definitely worth the effort.

After the hike, it was out of the park through the North Entrance Station at 29 Palms which was a route I hadn’t yet covered and back to the hotel to just relax.

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 7, Homeward Bound

Last day “on” Isle Royale.

Was up at 6am (ET), got my sleeping gear in my pack and pulled out some snacks for the day long boat ride back to Grand Portage.  Hauled my pack down to the docks and headed over to the restaurant at 7 and had a nice relaxing breakfast with fresh brewed coffee – much better than the freeze dried variety!

After breakfast I wandered back to my shelter to double check that I hadn’t left anything and then finally back to the dock a little after 8 ET so 7 am CT.  I was plenty early – not gonna be “That guy” again.  We started loading onto the boat around 7:30 and were under way at 8 am CT sharp.  There were two or three stops along the trip back to Windigo at the other end of the island where I had started my hike.  These stops were to pick updrop off people at these various locations.  We pulled into Windigo around 12:30.  There was a thirty minute stop for loadingunloading and then we were underway at 1 o’clock.  Two more hours to Grand Portage.  The day was cool and cloudy so I sat inside the entire trip, tried to get some sleep but the waves made for a bumpy ride the whole day.  Docked in Grand Portage about 3 pm.

After waiting for my pack to be offloaded, then getting stuff situated in the car and paying for parking, I was on the road at about 4 o’clock.  Uneventful drive home, stopped in Cloquet for a quick bite and to stretch my legs around 7 o’clock.  After a final couple of hours I pulled into my garage around 9:30 Sunday night.  After 6 days on the trail, the day was a good rest for my feet, hips, shoulders and back.  But man, oh man, after 13 hours sitting in the boat and car now my butt hurts!

Glad I planned to take Monday off, I’ll need it to recuperate and get all my gear cleaned up.

What a wonderful trip!

Isle Royale National Park – Day 6

Day 6 began relatively early since I didn’t really have to deal with breaking camp – just had to get my sleeping padbag and cooking gear into my pack. Most importantly, Rock Harbor campground also has shelters and I wanted to secure one of those to again save time tomorrow morning since I had to be ready to board the boat at 8 am. I was on the trail at 7:30.

It’s seven miles from Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor and is almost entirely along the lakeshore. There was a nice cool breeze blowing off the lake which was the perfect counter to the sunshine on my face. Absolutely beautiful morning. The first 4.2 miles going in this direction are virtually level and features some nice smooth areas and lots of boardwalks over boggy areas where streams are entering the lake. I covered this in just over two hours and was feeling great as I walked into Three Mile Campground which is, as you might guess, 3 miles from Rock Harbor.

Given this pace, I decided that I wouldn’t worry about my mid-morning stop that I had usually done or even lunch. I figured at this pace I should only be about an hour and a half from Rock Harbor. I was wrong. Unlike the previous four virtually flat miles, the last three miles are up and down over a rocky areas of cliffs. Nothing very high or very steep mind you, but just constantly up and down. The pack hadn’t been lightened enough to make this pleasant. I wandered into the campground at 11:50 so it had taken me about two and a half hours to cover the last three miles. In any case, mileage wise at 7.2 miles it was an average day but I covered it in the shortest amount of time, just four hours and twenty minutes which felt pretty good. More importantly I was able to secure what appeared to be the last available shelter, phew!

Whereas Daisy Farm was the Holiday Inn, this must be the Ritz! Showers, flush toilets, potable water, convenience store and a restaurant – almost back to the real world! There is actually a lodge here at Rock Harbor as well but I didn’t stay there since as with most lodges inside National Parks the rates are outrageous. After dropping the back in my shelter, having some lunch and resting for a few minutes the most important goal was a shower. Unfortunately, the hot water was lacking, but even the cold running water and soap felt good at this point! Got my clean clothes on and then took a walk around Snug Harbor then back to my shelter for a nap.

I also had to finally clear up the time zone issue so that I was certain to be on time for the boat in the morning. Turns out its a pretty common question. The park is indeed on Eastern Time however the boat operates out of Grand Portage in Minnesota and in fact stays on Central Time. Therefore the boat departs at 9am ET8am CT. Glad to have that cleared up!

The restaurant opened for dinner at 5 o’clock and I was one of the first people in the door. Even though I had a meal in my pack I was ready for some real cooked food. Had a nice dinner of Lake Trout, wild rice, asparagus and a beer! Delicious! Already picked out what I was having for breakfast as well – enough oatmeal for the week, I’ll be back here for breakfast.

Being at the visitor center also meant I could attend the evening Ranger presentation at 7:30 (ET). This evening however was actually a presentation from the last of the season’s Artist in Residence program. Some of the National Parks offer this program that invites artists to visit the parks for 1-2 weeks to explore whatever art form they work in and relate it to the park.

There were two photographers at the moment, both from New York. The first, whose name I can’t recall (Russell something), was primarily working with infra-red photography which I’m not really a big fan of. He showed us some of his previous work which mainly involves how people interact with landscapes. In any case, for his work at Isle Royale he went a bit abstract. Since he didn’t expect to see any wolves he decided to cut out life sized silhouettes of wolves in felt. He then laid these out on the ground or in bushes, intending to show the absence of wolves. May have been a good concept but didn’t really work. He did also take some photos of the landscape in some of the buildings in the park and those actually worked quite well.

It was the second artist that really engaged the full house in the auditorium – I also had a chance to talk with him briefly before the presentation as I was early. He is John Isaac(not his given name) and is now a landscapewildlife photographer. He is originally from India and came to the U.S. to attend college. He became a UN photographer and did that for nearly 30 years, covering all of the war torn areas of the world during the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. He had a breakdown after covering the genocide in Rwanda and contemplated suicide before discovering wildlife photography. Showed us a lot of his work over this time. He was also focussing on more abstract photography here at Isle Royale and showed us a few of those – mainly the colors and formation of the lichen that is on the rocks all over the island, along with some general landscape stuff. After leaving Isle Royale, he was heading to Borneo to photograph orangutans. Truly a remarkable guy!

After that it was back to the shelter for my last night on Isle Royale.
Day 6 route:  Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

Day 6 route: Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 5

Today was my last near 8 mile day of the trip and it looked to be mostly level to downhill as I was headed for Daisy Farm campground which is on the Lake Superior shoreline.  I got rolling a little earlier than previous days as this site didn’t really have any place to really get comfortable for any length of time – I was on the trail at about 7:40.

The squirrelbird infested campsite at West Chickenbone campground;-)

The squirrelbird infested campsite at West Chickenbone campground;-)

As usual, there was a short climb out of Chickenbone Lake that brought me back up to the Greenstone.  The first leg of about a mile and a half that took me past East Chickenbone was lush and level so I covered that pretty quickly.  Had a bit of a surprise that I began climbing again at this point – that’s why you carry a topo map dummy.  It wasn’t that long however and led to two of the best vistas of the entire trip.


A view of the northwest side of the island.

It was at the above view point that I ran into the only guy I had met on the trail yesterday. He and his two buddies had intended to stay at W Chickenbone last night but after getting there and finding no campsites to hang their hammocks had to go another 3 miles to McCargoe Cove to find suitable sites.  They covered about 17 miles yesterday and had already caught up to me this morning – man I’m slow.  Told them I was headed to Daisy Farm and they said “Oh, the Isle Royale Holiday Inn, you’ll love it!”


Boardwalk panorama

I had stopped for lunch around 11.  While resting, a family from Sioux Falls that had been on the boat over from Grand Portage with me passed by.  They were the first people from the boat that I’d seen since Monday and they were also headed to Daisy Farm.  The second viewpoint above came around mid-day as I was still ascending when I saw a signpost at the top of the ridge.  I had expected it to be the sign indicating the turn to Daisy Farm, but was a little disappointed when it said “Viewpoint” which I had never seen a sign for previously.  Anyway, after this initial disappointment the view was definitely worth it. The sign for the last 2 miles to Daisy Farm was just another view minutes up the trail in any case.  At which point it was finally all downhill.

From this point the trail did primarily head down and also traversed a couple of beaver ponds and one large meadow with what must have been the longest stretch of boardwalk that I had crossed.  After coming out of this meadow there was a short rise around a hill.  I heard some branches cracking up the hill through the trees and stopped.  I spotted a young bull moose munching on some leaves.  By the time I got my camera out, he seemed to have spotted me and turned to head away from me.  I got a couple of shots off, but you have to use your imagination to “see” a moose.

I finally reached Daisy Farm campground at around 3 in the afternoon.  This is a huge campground and I was a little lost at first so just decided to keep heading towards the lake and around to the opposite side to save some time in the morning.  I reached the lake which was a wonderful view and then followed the trail along its edge.  It was at this point that I discovered the reason this is considered the Holiday Inn.  It’s one of the few campgrounds that has shelters available.  These are three sided, single room shelters with the front side completely screened in.  Heavenly – no need to pitch a tent just roll out the sleeping bag on the floor.  Plus there was a picnic table out front – no more sitting on logs and cooking on a rock table.  Lastly a beautiful pebble peach no more than about 75 feet from my front door.  All I had to do tonight was relax.  What a treat!

Daisy Farm Campsite!

Daisy Farm Campsite!

My favorite campground by far.  Holiday Inn indeed!

Day 5 route:  West Chickenbone to Daisy Farm

Day 5 route: West Chickenbone to Daisy Farm