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!

Day 11: Cedar Breaks National Monument

I departed Cedar City for Cedar Breaks National Monument which was my last planned destination in Utah.  The direct route out of town was not an option as the road was closed due to a “massive rockslide”.  So the GPS thought I should take a dirt road over the mountain – uh, no thanks.  I kept going a bit further until I found the alternate paved road.  It was a fun drive that climbs about 5000 feet in about 20 miles.


The Cedar Breaks is an isolated version of the same type of formation at Bryce Canyon.  It’s a single amphitheater that is about 2500 feet deep and 3 miles across.  It’s located at just over 10,000 feet and there is still snow present as seen in the picture above.

From there I headed up to Evanston, Wyoming where I’;m spending the night.  The plan was to head to Grand Teton tomorrow.  However, I knew from the beginning that the back half of this trip was going to be a bit dicey given the time of year and the locations.  Looking at the weather for the next few days in Grand Teton shows snow/rain mix which is not a good idea with the Solstice and a trailer.  It’s also forecast to be raining at Devils Tower.  So, I’m pulling the plug on both of those and just heading for home.  Probably to Cheyenne tomorrow, then Omaha and home on Friday.

Day 10: Zion National Park

This morning was a short drive over to Zion National Park – only about 90 miles.  I got on the road about 8:30 and after stopping to top off the tank just outside the park I hit the gate about 10:30.  Asked the ranger which campground was best.  His answer, “whichever one you can find a spot in.  They’ll likely be full in the next few minutes”.  That didn’t bode well.  Neither did all the traffic in front of me.

When planning this trip I had tried to reserve a campsite in Zion but there are only a limited number available for this.  Most are simply first come, first serve.  I was hoping that since I was arriving on a Monday, before noon, I would be OK.  There are two campgrounds in the park and as I approached the first, the sign at the entrance said “Full”.  Ditto for the second.  Uh-oh.

So I ended up at the visitor center and decided to hop the shuttle up the scenic route – no private cars allowed except during the off-season.  I got off at two stops, the first just snapped a few shots, the second took a 2 mile hike along the river to the “Narrows” where the canyon narrows to a slot.  From there it was back to the car and decision time.


I have mixed feelings about Zion.  Without doubt it is one of the most beautiful parks, but it’s ridiculously crowded.  The campgrounds are in the bottom of the canyon near the visitor center and even today in late May it was very hot – hindsight I’m actually glad I couldn’t get a campsite.  The lodge rates were from $175-$200 a night – they had vacancies but I wasn’t going to pay that.  So I headed out of the park and of course all the hotels in the little town were filled.  I had decided by this time that I didn’t want to come back to Zion tomorrow as originally planned given all the crowds and the distance I’d likely have to drive.  So it was on to Cedar City which is near my next planned sight anyway – Cedar Breaks National Monument.  I put my Hilton Honors points to good use and am staying at a Hampton Inn tonight.  A nice break from the camping.  Besides it was awfully hot today…

I certainly want to come back to Zion as there are a lot of areas that I didn’t get to see and there are a number of hikes that I would like to do.  But given the crowds it seems like a visit here really needs to be in the off-season and more importantly needs to be a destination rather than a side trip as was the case this time.


Day 9: Eclipse Day at Bryce Canyon NP!

A beautiful day for an eclipse – clear blue sky and just a little wind!

I started the day at the park by just driving up the scenic drive again, this time capturing it in real time on my camera to compare with the time-lapse that I took yesterday.  After that I parked the car at Sunrise Point and headed off to hike the Navajo Loop Trail.

The Navajo loop is a 1.3 mile trail that goes down 0.6 miles and then back up 0.7 miles if you go in the clockwise direction.  Yesterday near the end of my 6 mile hike I took the 0.6 mile section up.  So today I went down that side and came back up the other way which I hadn’t seen yet.  On this leg which is called “Wall Street” the trail goes through a narrow slot canyon which makes for some spectacular views up the vertical walls to the open sky and also through the canyon looking at the switchbacks you have to climb to get out.  It took me about an hour to do this given all the photos I had to stop and take;-)

After that I headed to the Bryce Canyon Lodge and had a leisurely lunch.  From there I headed back to my car since I had seen enough of the canyon for awhile.  Just did a little reading and relaxing until about 3:30 when I headed down the road to grab a shuttle ride out to Bryce Point.  Turns out I should have taken that time to check my equipment – I had forgotten my tripod back at camp.  I was going to be forced to take pictures of the eclipse the hard way.

Made it out to Bryce Point about 4 pm and got myself situated right on the rim across from the Bryce Amphitheater.  There were hundreds of people at Bryce Point and I don’t know how many at the other sites.  Chatted with a nice couple from Eugene, OR while waiting for the show to start.  She’s French Canadian and he’s Czech and they had also lived in Owatonna, MN for awhile in the 80s.


It took me a few tries to dial in the settings on my camera to get images of the sun (should have had a neutral density filter…) but I finally got as best as could be.  The sun was still too bright for about the first half – even though I could see through the eclipse glasses the transit, it still caused overexposure of the sun.  But as the moon got a bit more than halfway across the sun, I could start to see a crescent in my images.  Then at the maximum I got the image above.  I then continued snapping photos through the remainder of the eclipse – all the way to sunset.  I’m going to assemble a time lapse of this as well but unfortunately since I did this all handheld I’m going to have to crop a lot of images otherwise it’ll be jumping all over the place.

After that it was a bit of waiting for the shuttle ride back to my car (or close to my car anyway).  Not sure if it’s always so disorganized, they also had one bus break down, but I think I waited nearly an hour.  This was after also sitting through the entire eclipse – most people had headed to the busses just after the maximum.  Then it was back to camp and bed.  On to Zion tomorrow!

Day 8: Bryce Canyon National Park – Day 2

Last night was another very windy night and I didn’t get much sleep.  Fortunately the modifications that I made to the rain fly during the day yesterday did go a long way in keeping additional sand out of the tent – so at least I didn’t have that flying in my face all night.

Today I had planned to be just a hiking day, but I realized that I had missed two of the viewpoints during my visit yesterday – Yovimpa Point and Piracy Point.  So on returning to the park this morning I ran out to those two viewpoints and got some pictures.  Then headed down to Sunset Point to start my hike.

While yesterday was a more or less cloudy day with less than optimal lighting conditions, today was absolutely perfect.  The sky was clear with just an occasional lazy cloud and the most stunning shade of blue.

The hike I chose was actually a combination of three trails; Queen’s Garden, Peek-a-Boo Loop and Navajo loop.  These take you down into the Bryce Amphitheater so that you are down in and amongst the hoodoos.  The lower section takes you through a nice conifer forest.  The total length is somewhere around 6 miles.  The Navajo loop is the steepest section as far as I can tell and is completely uphill/downhill with no flat sections.  After making it up one side of the loop I had the option of going down the other side and back up again (1 mile total) – or just taking the remaining half mile back to the car – I chose the car.  I’m planning to do the rest of Navajo loop tomorrow morning as from the top it does look very interesting.


The rest of tomorrow will be getting ready to view the eclipse which starts at about 6:20 MT and lasts about 2 hours.  I already have my snazzy eclipse viewing glasses!