One more Thanksgiving trip. Why waste a long holiday on shopping when it can be used to visit some gorgeous places. So, under the leadership of Mr Viyasan 11 of us went to venture into Utah wilderness.
Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
The flight was at 7AM from SFO. Virgin America. This airline had the cheapest tickets I could find. I hope people aren’t too mad at me for this. It was a rather late decision and others have probably payed much more. Sorry, guys. It was rather strange that flight to Las Vegas cost so much. I was expecting a bit more discount.
So, we got up way early – 4:20AM – with not much sleep as usual for this early rise, went to pick up V and Magda, and rushed to the airport. Despite the large group we were the only ones on that VA flight (we were all together on the same flight to Anchorage). I suspect that the price differences, and perhaps some other reasons, convinced people to take other flights. All the group met up in the LV airport. I was a bit worried about this part since many people came earlier, some came on different flights, but it all turned out well.
We went to this obscure place called Valley Express to rent a 15 passenger van. It took me a while to find it. 15 passenger was important. Most of the vans can pretty much transport only people. We had 50% more people (one backpack is about half a person), so a larger van was in order. So far only one company was renting big vans – Thrifty, and they were all 12 passenger. I don’t remember how but I found this Valley Express place. Obviously no web booking or anything like that. It seemed that it is a one-man operation. I sent a couple of e-mails to make sure that we can get the van and to find out the price. I received very succinct responses. It seemed like the guy that V had to deal with in Anchorage. I guess that s how one should be to survive in this busyness. But at the end we successfully rented almost new Chevy van. The guy had a big dog in this office. He kept feeding the dog biscuits all the time.
With everyone on board and after a short stop at the proverbial SubWay for breakfast/lunch we headed to the town of Escalante, Utah. On the way we stopped at some place to get some plywood, for the case we get stuck in mud, I suppose. Also, at one gas station we loaded on some local pine nuts. Now, I used to eat Cedar Nuts that some of my relatives brought from Siberia. There are also some some pine trees in California that have relatively large nuts with insanely hard shell. So when I saw those nuts in the store I thought that they will be like Californian’s. Was I wrong! They were so good that Michael went back and probably bought everything that they had. Those were Pinyon nuts. The pine cone, it turns out, is relatively small and full of nuts, but often they are dry. You have to come on time to get the good ones. I suppose the little creatures pick up the good ones and leave the bad ones for uninitiated humans.
Eventually we landed at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park campground. What a gorgeous campground – clean, hot showers (free), hot water in the toilet, soap. Makes you wonder how Utah can keep their campgrounds open and clean but California can’t. We went to the town to get some food (and drinks). Found one (!) place open – a gas station. I suppose it should be expected in a small town right before big holiday. Plus it is off-season. Perhaps in summer there are a lot more people.
The starts were shining and the temperature was dropping. It was going to be a very cold night.
Thursday, November 26th, 2009
Trying to thaw from the freezing night. I’m not sure what the temperature was exactly, but it was low. It was very dry. However, due to temperature and the elevation everything pretty much froze – water, food, opened beer. Our tent fly was covered with frost.
It took a while to get going, but eventually we went on the road to our starting point – Hurricane Wash. Gravel road is not the most fun to drive on which proved to be quite a pain on the way back. Anyway, eventually we all packed, collected needed and not-needed belongings, did some ramblings about the gaiters and Alaska experience and set to the wintery desert. It was sunny and warm – beautiful day.
Initially it was all red sandy route with a lot of mines from the cows. Actually, we saw a lot of cow herds in this area. I’m not sure what they eat exactly. There didn’t seem to be much greenery around. No wonder their mines didn’t look normal to me. With all these cows around this area mush have great organic grass fed (?) beef. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it is like the moose meat in Alaska – only for the initiated. But eventually the canyon we all came here for appeared. It is actually rather tricky to see it appear. It seem that you are walking on flat ground. But one of a sudden you find yourself at the bottom of a quite a deep canyon cut through red sandstone. It took me some time to figure out how this can happen. It is caused, I think, by the gradual decent that makes optical illusion – you just don’t see big mountain, that’s why it seems that the elevation doesn’t change.
Well, the canyon was beautiful. A bit different from that narrow path Buckskin Gulch, but still great. It was interesting to see all the water still frozen in all the places in a shade. It was rather warm while we were walking in the sun. But as soon as it went behind the mountain – the cold was coming.
I’m not really sure what the original goal was. Some walking somewhere till some point in this Coyote Gulch. I didn’t want to bug the leader all the time about it – just enjoy the hike and take photos. Well, eventually, at some unknown time close to sunset we reached a pretty nice point right next to Jacob Hamblin arch. There was a good flat sand dune on the curve of the river, some trees, not much wind, water – beautiful. It also turned out that there were at least two toilets right next door – one up river (simple metal barrel with a seat) and one after the arch (fancy cabin) – but we found them a bit late.
So we set up the camp under the overhanging rocks (sometimes they fall) next to the arch. The rocks produce awesome echoes. Due to this curve it was sometimes difficult to understand where the person is who was talking.
There was a problem with water. That tiny river that was flowing in the canyon was carrying a lot of small sand. The filters clogged up almost immediately.They were even clogging faster than in Wrangell. Even the silt stopper didn’t help. And the problem was actually really simple – just get some bucket (like a bear box) and let the water sit for a while, then filter. V actually asked me if I my bear box can be used for that. I said that I won’t be happy, but if needed for the group – it’s ok. I should have been more explicit. Damn, sometimes telling the exact truth is not the right way.
After thoroughly photographing the Jacob Hamblin arch we settled to the standard camping dinner. Whomever had what. Michel and Narin brought lots of tasty treats. I think at this point they just wanted to off-load all that weight. It gotten dark fairly quickly. However, the moon was so bright that you didn’t really need a light, for most uses. People stayed around the stove to talk way late, but we went to sleep.
Friday, November 27th, 2009
Getting up under the overhanging canyon. I was actually quite cold during the night. Half of the night I wanted to go to toilet, but didn’t want to get out into cold. My flimsy sleeping bag didn’t provide much insulation, even with a liner. For some reason I think that Rita’s bag (rated at +15C) is much warmer. Good thing I took it to Alaska.
After all the morning chores the plan was to do a day hike farther in the canyon to see some more of the local sights, then come back, pack, and head to the van.
The hike was light and brisk – no backpacks. The air was crisp with the night’s frost. We made it through another cute small arch to some strange arch in a distant wall.
We saw some strange rock formations that remind of a different animals. Very pretty. We also saw a big harem of deer (at east I think it was deer) inside the canyon. One dude with lots of females. Well, it is Utah after all. And we also met some people, which was rather surprising. I guess we were not the only ones skipping black Friday.
After that there was a back pack. Man, it was brutal. I suppose it was all from the expectation. I thought it wasn’t long and was thinking all the time “when will it end, when will it end”. Also, the terrain is deceptive – you think that you walking on flat, but you are actually going uphill. Plus the trail was all sand – very difficult. Eventually we made it to the van at about dusk, getting lot in the process. I drank some beer that someone offered me to sort of celebrate and we went off back to civilization. We went back to the same campground, the same cam site even. We also stopped by the same gas station to get more supplies (beer). I don’t know if the guy there was happy to see us. The evening was spent around the fire talking. I ate too much couscous again (one box is clearly too much for one meal). Strange, but the park service even cleaned up the fire ring after last time. Maybe they are just bored.
Saturday, November 28th, 2009
It was a bit warmer this night. The sky was cloudy forecasting warmer weather with some sort of storm it seems. After some standard breakfast we all packed and piled up into the van. The leadership was planning some sort of driving trip through some nice Utah places. Whatever, I didn’t care – it would not be harder than the previous two days, sadly.
Wed did a large loop through some back-country in Utah. Lots of nasty gravel roads with some steep mountains. We went on the Burr Trail. One part of it was quite scary steep. All gravel. It was coming down Waterpocket Fold into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We saw all sorts of rock formations. STrange how wind and water curves out all sorts of different shapes out of sandstone (and other stuff embedded in it). We did a very short hike to Upper Muley Twist Canyon that Valerie was recommending. People were really not in the hiking mood. It was interesting to see. Utah, at least the part we were in, made this impression of total wilderness as far as the eye can see. Mostly desert wilderness – not much water and not much vegetation. It is probably a torture to be there in warmer season. Any trip to this area will require careful panning around water resources.
On the way back the plan was to go as close to Las Vegas as possible but stopping somewhere on the way to get a good stake. The last part was a bit difficult to find. We were going away from major population centers and most of the places were closing quite early. First plan was to stop in Mesquite, NV. Being the first town in gambling state of Nevada it should have stuff. But we were running late due to the snow storm that was going North. As a result we stopped in town called St George, UT. One place there was open and had stake. I ordered again the wrong stuff. For some reason I can’t figure out the steak cooking nomenclature – rare, medium rare, medium, done, well done. I ordered medium rare. For me it isn’t a big deal, but Rita was upset. Well, I think I’ll remember for the next time.
During Dinner Girish found some motel that was run by an Indian. He was very happy to see so many people and gave us a good deal. The rooms in his patel were strangely designed with all the insides from 60s. They were also huge – we could probably all fit into one.
Sunday, November 29th, 2009
Last night in the motel. Losers.
This day was simple: clean the van, eat breakfast and drive to Las Vegas.
Seriously, I don’t really fit into this country. We went to Denny’s for breakfast. The best meal I could order was senior meal. The rest was just horrible crap (and lots of it) with that paper fried bacon (still don’t understand why Americans like it this way).
On the way to Vegas there were a lot of advertisements for some The Gun Store. Viyasan wanted to check the price on some rifle to shoot polar bears in Svalbard but apparently they cannot sell stuff to California residents. After that we just park the van in some parking structure behind Paris casino and went to see some places in Las Vegas.
Rita desperately wanted to see the fountain in front of the Bellagio. They were actually working. For some reason I thought the fountains only sing in the evening. Others – I’m not really sure. Girish and Manali, it seems, were just tired from this place and wanted to rest.Viyasan just hated this place, don’t know why. As a result we halfheartedly walked around the town checking some of the things that they have there in LV for free. Eventually the group made it to the Venetian, saw some gondolas, I bought some supposedly Italian gellato, and we headed back to the van.
After that we just waited for our flight and went home. Surprisingly, Virgin Atlantic upgraded their fancy in-flight system on the plane in the mean time – the seat-to-seat chat was working. It was rather difficult to type though.