Road tripping the SW

desert monolith

It’s been a ride, literally.

Over the last two weeks, I took two extended trips. I probably drove over 4000 miles between both trips through the heart of the southwest. I got to spend a lot of time thinking, reevaluating, and just having a bit of fun.

The first trip was a bit crazy. I ended up going solo, and had incredible luck. Due to some cold weather that was forecasted, I ended up staying further south that I originally planned. First I drove to Cedar Mesa, just south of Bridges National Monument. My goal was to backpack Fish and Owl creek canyons, so my first stop was the Kane Gulch BLM office to pick up an overnight permit. I could have probably done it as a day hike, but I thought backpacking the route would be fun. After watching an environmental impact video at the ranger station, they sent me on my way. Fish and Owl canyons were awesome. I ended up going down Owl, and up Fish canyon, which I found to work pretty well and navigated very easily. If you are just going to hike one of the two canyons, I was much more impressed with Owl canyon. I hiked out on day two (which involved a short, two move scramble at the top of fish canyon). During my trip through the two canyons, I only saw 3 other people, which attests to its remoteness.

The goal of day two was to make it to Kanab, UT by nightfall, so I had all day to drive a scenic route over there. First was Bridges national monument which was a pretty cool area and it made a nice place to have an early lunch. Then I drove highway 261 south to see the Moki Dugway and Valley of the Gods. The Moki Dugway was pretty impressive, and the views from the dugway lookout points were amazing. Driving Valley of the Gods was fun, and I ended up stopping at Monument Valley afterwards. I ended up forgoing a trip on the dirt roads of monument valley, and driving straight to Page, AZ to see antelope canyon. I ended up catching the last tour of the day for lower antelope canyon, which was visually stunning. I also met a few awesome people on my tour which made it even more interesting. After visiting page, walking the bridge at glen canyon dam at sunset, I drove to Kanab though the night.

Day 3 started at the BLM office in Kanab, snagging a solo permit to see the Wave (It was purely dumb luck that I got mine). After talking with a very nice guy at the lottery that didn’t pull a permit, we hatched a plan to have him shuttle me from the Whitehouse trailhead to wire pass, so I could hike the Paria river and buckskin gulch the next day. However, just before getting to the road to wire pass (house rock valley road) it began to rain, HARD! We both decided it would be a bad idea to hike down in the canyons due to the potential for flash floods, so I ended up going to the state line campground and hanging out there most of the day while it rained. Once the rain let up, I ended up hiking in to see the wave since it did not have any flash flood danger. The weather decided to have fits the rest of the day, eventually sleeting/snowing on me while I was at the wave. After getting back to wire pass, I drove the rest of the day and night to the south rim of the Grand Canyon on a whim.

I have been to the Grand Canyon twice, both time unplanned, and both times I didn’t have the time to hike into the canyon, so my goal was to spend a night in the canyon. In retrospect, I wish I would have spent two nights and hiked more of the canyon, but I’ll be there again. Hopefully the next time will be a planned trip with reserved permits. I ended up having some more luck, snagging the last permit for Bright Angel Campground that night, and hiked down the South Kaibab trail. After setting up camp, I ended up hiking a portion of the north Kaibab trail that afternoon, and finally went back to camp, and stayed up talking with some awesome folks from upstate New York.

Day 5 was spent hiking back out of the Grand Canyon using the Bright Angel trail. For gaining 5000 feet of elevation, along with taking WAY too many photos, I think my 5 hour hike out time was pretty respectable. I ended up passing many backpackers and day hikers. One thing I realized after backpacking the Grand Canyon is how many people take MONSTER packs down there for only a few nights. I saw a group of 6 each taking a 75L pack down to bright angel camp, and they were only spending one night.  One thing I am inspired to try is doing a rim to rim to rim run at some point. Maybe next fall since I should be in pretty good running shape after training and running the Georgetown to Idaho springs half marathon. After getting back to the rim and checking the weather forecast, I felt pretty good about heading back up to Canyonlands to backpack Chesler Park, so I drove back, getting to the needles district in the middle of the night.

Day 6 was a bit of a letdown. The weather hadn’t cleared like I hoped it would, and it was raining and overcast. Canyonlands didn’t have any permits for Chesler Park either, and I didn’t feel like day hiking it since I didn’t want to feel rushed, so I ended up hiking out to the Colorado River overlook. Since the road is a 4WD only road, I hiked the entire road. The overlook is pretty cool, and the road is a portion of the Hayduke trail, so I got to check that out too. After getting back to the car, I stopped in at Moab to grab some food at the grocery store, and drove through arches to see the salt valley and check out the roads on the north side, and then drove to the island in the sky district of canyonlands to watch the sunset from the green river overlook. After watching the sunset, I started my drive home, and ended up staying at Rabbit Valley, just west of Grand Junction, and finished the drive the next morning.

Throughout the first trip, I stayed in contact with Aaron, the owner and operator of Trailgroove Magazine. He was planning on doing a trip out to that area, however had to postpone it due to weather issues and finishing up some work. He said his new plan was to drive out on Tuesday the 16th, and wanting to get out there for 4-5 days. To help with costs, he said he’d cover the gas if I met him in Grand Junction, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Tuesday night, after driving through a pretty terrible snowstorm, I met him at the Kokopelli trailhead off I-70, and we set off for Kanab, UT again, spending the night near Salina, UT.

The initial plan was to try to get another permit for the wave so Aaron could see it too, however this time we weren’t so lucky and didn’t get drawn in the lottery. From Kanab, we drove to Whitehouse TH to stash a bike to self-shuttle ourselves after hiking buckskin gulch, and then headed to White Pocket. White Pocket is an amazing sandstone formation east of coyote buttes, and is a full day trip due to its remoteness. Aaron’s F-150 handled the road great, and we spend the entire afternoon exploring the area. We then drove back to State Line campground to spend the night before hiking buckskin. Unfortunately we had to change a flat just before getting back to the campground.

A late start on day 2 meant we needed to begin at wire pass instead of the longer buckskin trailhead. On our way through the beautiful slot canyon, we met a group of 5 New Zealanders and two girls from Massachusetts. The two girls originally had plans and permits for an overnight trip, however they felt inspired by us and decided to finish the hike with us, and even gave us a ride back to the car so we didn’t have to bike back. Buckskin was definitely the highlight of the second trip, and I’m looking forward to hiking it again or hiking the paria river to lee’s ferry.

Day 3 started in Kanab, trying again for a wave permit for Aaron and getting the flat fixed so we weren’t relying on the spare tire. After missing out on the lottery again, we drove up to see cottonwood canyon road, hiked the start of lower hackberry canyon, which was beautiful. Then after stopping for a couple photos of Grosvenor arch, we headed for Escalante and hiked zebra slot just before the sunset.

Day 4 was tentatively planned for backpacking into coyote gulch, however due to some weather scheduled to roll in, we decided to just hike hurricane wash to the confluence with coyote gulch. It was a beautiful hike, and with the time remaining we decided to drive the remainder of hole in the rock road. Once we got there, I decided to climb down to Lake Powell, while Aaron explored the rim of glen canyon. The hole in the rock area was such an isolated place, and after climbing down to the lake and back, i really felt inspired by the pioneers that originally used that as a wagon route to explore the west.

Day 5 we just drove back, driving the rest highway 12 and highway 24 through capitol reef national park, beating out the snowy weather that hit colorado and wyoming that evening.

It was a great way to see a lot of the southwest that I have wanted to see for years, and it gave me some new ideas for future trips to the area.

I also had my surgery yesterday, which seems to have been completely successful. I hope I never have to through that again.

Posted in Backpacking, Planning and Prep

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