Southwest Utah Trip. May 2014


Once again a three day weekend poised a question of place to visit. Rouge River was always my favorite, though perhaps it should be visited a couple of weeks earlier before the rafting flood. For some reason I’ve decided against it. Instead I’ve decided to visit the South West corner of Utah. That would involve mostly Zion NP and Buckskin Gulch, in addition to some driving around and seeing sights.

Friday, May 23

Leave for the airport in the afternoon. As much as possible I try to travel from San Jose Airport. Mostly because it is just a one stop away on CalTrain, but also because it is small which results in less hassle. I worked from home this day so that we could just start going to the airport quickly. We met Wei on the train station and went to our scheduled Southwest flight.

We have gotten to Las Vegas on time and without any losses (losing a backpack would certainly change the trip substantially). I generally allocate quite a bit of time for getting a rental car – the companies throw a ton of paperwork at you and try to up-sell all sorts of things, thus creating quite a line. This time I’ve rented from Alamo for some reason and there was no-one. We’ve gotten a car faster than all the people collected in the rental area, which was located a bit away from the main airport. That was a good surprise. Perhaps it was a company dependent because Thrifty had a line of people as far as the eye can see.

After getting a standard issue Chrysler mini van (red color) we were off to find some dinner food. For some reason Rita wanted ramen. The place she found only served meat related stuff. Even a so-called vegetarian ramen was based on meat soup. Thus Parul felt quite excluded. Then there was a very long drive to Jacob Lake though the night. The crew was sleeping and I was driving. Cursing myself along the way for picking such a far away place. Kanab would have served fine. Well, I’ve read a couple of bad reviews about the two RV ‘resorts’ they had there so I wanted to find a nicer place. Plus it would have made driving on Monday more interesting (little did I know).

Saturday, May 24

The first item on my plan for this day was to visit Buckskin Gulch. However, that depended on the current weather. Mostly the possibility of rain and as a result a flush flood. We could have gone to the visitor’s center in Kanab, UT and inquire about it. The aforementioned visitor’s center was right on the way to either Zion or Buckskin Gulch. Originally, I did check that there was a bakery on the Jacob Lake Inn. That was a nice touch. We could have just got up, eat and be ready to go in 30 min. I thought it would be like Starbucks or something – ready to go baked goods and coffee. What I didn’t realize was that this place was the only place to eat for many miles. Thus there was no need for people running it to make any effort whatsoever to provide fast service. So we had to sit down, get water, stare at the menus, order the regular breakfast stuff, wait for food, eat, etc. All total 90 minutes. Perhaps it would be good for a slow relaxing trip. But late start turns into crowds and related problems.

The visitor’s center in Kanab was an interesting place. It could provide a lot of helpful information about the things that could be done in the vast South Utah desert. But the main thing was that it was handing out permits for The Wave, assuming you won the lottery of course. Thus there were these hordes of visitors who couldn’t figure out why they just couldn’t go see it. “No, you cannot come. Why? I’m just one person. Because the group permit is 6 people and the permit is given for a group …“. The people working in this visitor’s center must have a lot of patience. And what is so special about The Wave anyway? Yes, it is an interesting rock formation. But it requires a 3 mile slog to it, that is not including all the fight for permits. Buckskin Gulch is much more impressive and it’s free. But I digress.

It turned out that the weather could be raining and thus making visiting a narrow slot canyon a bit dangerous. So we went to Zion, which was in close proximity. Zion National Park was crowded. We drove from the East through that very long tunnel after waiting in line for our one way turn. I guess NPS stopped the two way traffic to accommodate all that giant RVs and rookies driving them. Trying to find some parking we quickly skipped to the town of Springdale, UT. Found one spot there. I wonder how the residents of Springdale handle all the hordes of tourists that flood their town every year. But, on the other hand, they bring quite a bit of money also. The park is well organized in terms of transportation. In reality, there is just one main road there. There is a free shuttle going around. The driver would provide some interesting information about the park with some route info about the stops. There were really two “doable” interesting hikes in the time we had (it was already passed noon) – angels landing (5 miles) and observation point (8 miles). Obviously I’ve picked the later.


The View from Observation Point

In reality Zion is one giant canyon curved in the sandstone by Virgin river. Thus all the interesting hikes just go out from the canyon to the rim requiring a couple of thousand feet climb. Once the group started I had to leave Rita behind to do hike at her own pace. The trail was going through some interesting sandstone formations. There was even a short slot canyon. The color of the layers was slowly getting lighter. Eventually we made it to the top with great view of the Zion river valley and Angels Landing. We had lunch, sometimes feeding the begging chipmunks. Right when we started heading down we met Rita! Apparently she can hike much better on her own without me kicking her butt.

After the observation point we went all the way to the end of The Narrows. I wanted to show the group how this slot canyon look like. The water level was a lot lower than the last time I saw it. On the way we saw this family of ravens that built their nest in small eddy hole in the wall. They were noisily tending their little ones. By the time we reached the car on the last crowded bus it was already dark. People were hungry but driving to Kanab would take quite a bit of time. Aside from the fact that everything could be closed by the time we get there. However, Springdale offered some food choices. There was a decent steak house right outside the park entrance called Zion Canyon Brewing Company, or maybe we were just tired and hungry.

Sunday, May 25

The original plan for this day was to visit Zion. But now it had to be adjusted. We visited it yesterday, so today would be the visit to Buckskin Gulch. I’ve learned my lesson from the day before about the local food services and, thus, as soon as the group was ready we went off to Kanab. Well, I wanted to be safe. The ranger there, however, said that there was some tini-bini chance of rain maybe and so on. A typical avoidance of responsibility. That was a bit discouraging. I’ve picked up some information and we went off to look for breakfast. For some reason we found another “relaxed” place. Could have just gone to McDonald’s. However, that slow breakfast gave me time to think things over. There was a ranger station on US89. I figured that the people there could have a better idea about the current conditions in Buckskin.

That was correct. The office was very interesting. It looked lonely, remote, and dusty in the middle of the vast Utah desert. The guy there looked like an old weathered wolf. He said that the conditions were great. And that I (mostly I) should let go and stop running stressed and just enjoy the nature. No need to run around on tight schedule doing all that mileage. It seemed that he reached some level of wisdom. DSC_2617 After all that encouragement we went to do the actual hike.

It turned out that the parking lot for The Wave is the same as for Buckskin Gulch. I didn’t know that. Two Chinese girls who probably won the lottery asked me right at the turn from US89 and if not for Sasha’a help I would have sent them very far away.

The parking lot was busy, pretty much fool. Forest service was charging all humans and dogs. Cats or elephants were fine. Some people stayed there in their RVs. Probably not a bad place to camp, especially if you don’t have to carry all the food and water. The weather was nicely cloudy and cool.

We went through the initial very narrow but not deep slot canyon. Then to the large opening, more canyon, some junction, etc. At some point it all started looking a bit the same. At some point we left Rita to enjoy her solitary view of some rock face and continue. It was getting sunny and a bit hot. There were some people in the canyon though obviously they were thinning out the further away from the trailhead we were.

Unlike my old impression the canyon wasn’t really flat all the time. There were boulders, some rock piles, and sand dunes in places. It probably was constantly being changed by the periodic flush floods. DSC_2655 Walking on sand could get quite tedious at times. Only Sasha with his bare feet probably enjoyed it. Even I tried it, but at some point I’ve gotten tired of carefully watching for small rocks.

We reached the car at a reasonable evening time. At least it was still light. This day, I thought, we could have a normal car camping experience with campfire and some sausage frying. We found one reasonable reviewed restaurant in Kanab. It seemed to have been the only interesting place around and thus it was packed. The place was some sort of Italian fare. They even had bison steaks (for nice price of $40). Interestingly, they had some sort of art gallery on the second floor. After all the wait, and then eating we again ended up in our unwisely chosen campground way passed good time.

Monday, May 26

My original plan was to go drive around Arizona, see the Horseshoe Bend and go back. That was the reason I picked the camping site on Jacob Lake in the first place – it was a bit part way to the Horseshoe Bend. But, as always, I’ve missed to check all the details. We started with the regular breakfast thing in the same Jacob Lake Inn. Not sure why. I’ve been quite unhappy about the speed of their service. Sitting at the bar didn’t make much difference. Eventually we rolled out down the highway 89A. It didn’t look like the crew was actually enjoying the ride as much as I did. There were vast views of red rocks and buttes. We stopped at the new bridge over Colorado river for some photos. This was where I found that the highway is closed for construction around Page and that we won’t be able to get to Horseshoe Bend this way. The only possible route was to go back to Kanab and around that way. That was really depressing – not only did this Jakob Lake campground cost us at least an hour each day, it also cost us the visit to Horseshoe Bend. That was extremely disappointing. So that was the end of the trip. We slowly slogged to Las Vegas oven barely making to the flights due to heavy traffic. Then flew back without any events.


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