Thursday, September 29, 2022
On the way to Hoover Dam and Las Vegas we concluded the outdoor portion of our trip with a stop at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. We encountered a herd of wild burros driving into the park and then did a short hike at the Redstone Dunes Trail.
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
We started Wednesday with a quick 2.1 mile hike to Lower and Middle Emerald Pools in Zion. The trail to the lower pool is paved with a gradual incline. After reaching the lower pool, the path skirts under the waterfall and then leads to the middle pool via a series of steps. Both waterfalls had very low water, but it was fun walking under the waterfall at the lower pool. At the middle pool we spent time watching a tarantula that was walking around the area.
We then hiked The Narrows, a quintessential Zion hike that travels upstream in the Virgin River through a slot canyon. We hiked a total of 7 miles, the first and last of which were the Riverside Walk. The hike then enters the river and alternates between hiking on land, fording the river, and in many cases just hiking in the river itself. We hiked 2.5 miles up The Narrows until reaching Orderville Canyon. We turned around at this point due to forecasted rain and clouds starting to form in the sky, raising the potential for flash flooding.
This was easily the best hike we did on our entire trip and a fitting way to end the trip. Although crowded at first, the crowds thinned the further upstream we went.
In the afternoon we explored Zion Canyon with two relatively flat hikes - the Pa'rus and the Riverside Walk.
The paved Pa'rus Trail starts at the park's visitor center and heads north into the park through a desert landscape surrounded by Zion's imposing mountains in all directions. The trail has little shade although it does have a few covered rest areas. We went a little over two miles before hopping on the park's shuttle.
After a brief stop to explore the Zion Lodge area, we took the shuttle to the Riverside Walk at the northernmost point on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Riverside Walk is a flat easy paved trail that also serves as the starting point for The Narrows hike, but it is a pleasant walk on its own (due to the popularity of The Narrows, it is also a crowded walk). Along the way we stopped and watched a herd of mule deer grazing across the river.
We arrived back at the visitor center via the shuttle as the sun was starting to set.
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Utah Trip Part 2 (Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park)
We started Monday hiking the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon. The trailhead is located outside the main park and when we arrived shortly after sunrise there was only one other car in the lot. This was a relatively easy one mile hike with incredible scenery including hoodoos, a waterfall and a cave.
We then headed south to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and on the way stopped for two short hikes in the Kanab District of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Grand Staircase is a huge federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. At 1.9 million acres it is slightly larger than the state of Delaware.
Our first stop was to see the Belly of the Dragon tunnel under Highway 89. This is a short walk through a man-made tunnel that was created to divert water under the highway. It is more of a roadside attraction than hike but worth the stop (there is a hike that continues past the tunnel but we were short on time).
We then hiked a section of the Elkheart Cliffs Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase. We learned of the trail after seeing the trailhead labeled on Google Maps. We started down the trail and although we did not have time to get down into the slot canyon we did enjoy excellent views of Grand Staircase Escalante. The trail was unmarked and initially follows a jeep trail before branching off.
The highlight of our day was an one hour ATV tour of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The 3,700 acre state park has 1,200 acres of naturally occurring sand Dunes, 90 percent of which are open to ATV tours. The tour leads throughout the entire park and ends on a large sand dune before returning to the rental center. This was far more exciting than we anticipated given it was a guided tour.
Our final stop of the day was the east side of Zion National Park. We had intended on hiking a lesser known trail but when we could not find the trailhead we stopped at a pullout to take some pictures. We noticed an unmarked trail leading down from the pullout and followed it to a short slot canyon. It was incredible to explore and we had it all to ourselves, which was amazing considering we waited in traffic to get into the park.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Utah Trip Part 1 (Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Cedar Breaks and Mammoth Cave in Dixie National Forest)
Friends and I spent a week exploring national and state parks in Utah and Arizona.
Saturday 9/24 - Zion Park, Kolob Canyons Entrance and Timber Creek Overlook Trail
Our first stop after landing and getting the rental car was the west entrance to Zion National Park. We arrived as the sun was setting and hiked the short Timber Creek Overlook Trail (1 mile round trip) to watch the sunset.
Despite it being a beautiful Saturday evening there were very few people in this part of Zion. The entire 5 mile drive to the trailhead was filled with amazing views.
The trail itself was relatively easy and the perfect end to a long day of travel. Here is a short YouTube video I made from the overlook.
Sunday 9/25 - Cedar Breaks National Monument, Mammoth Cave, Bryce Canyon
Located north of Zion and west of Bryce, Cedar Breaks National Monument gets significantly less visitation than it's neighbors despite amazingly beautiful scenery. The park is above 10,000 feet elevation, resulting in thinner air and colder temperatures.
After watching the sunrise from the North View Overlook, we started the first hike of the day at the Alpine Pond Trail. This loop trail meanders through spruce, fir and aspen forests and meadows to excellent views of the park's amphitheater. We started from the south parking lot and did a 1.4 mile loop to the Alpine Pond. The lower part of the trail skirts along the rim of the amphitheater and then switchbacks up to the pond.
We visited the other overlooks in the park before heading to our next destination. Here is a short YouTube video of the view from the start of the Ramparts Trail.
After leaving Cedar Breaks we stopped and explored Mammoth Cave in Dixie National Forest. The cave is one of the largest lava tubes in Utah with over 2,200 feet of passage. The cave was formed during volcanic activity a few thousand years ago.
We spent the afternoon at Bryce Canyon National Park hiking the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails. This is the most popular hike in the park as it provides diverse scenary including open views, hoodoos and tall limestone walls. Although at times the trail felt crowded at other times we had the trail to ourselves. There was a particularly beautiful section at the lowest elevation where the trail flattened out and went through a more forested area.
After the hike we ate at the Bryce Lodge and then explored the rest of the park by car and the sun set.