October 17 – 23
Shortly after touching down from Europe, it was time to head out again for our adventure in the South West. As we have mentioned before, one of the big drivers for our year off was the Grand Canyon permit we were on. We decided that we were going to head out on a bit of a road trip beforehand to visit Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Part of leaving for the year was selling our car but luckily Piero had offered us the use of his truck while we were back. So upon our return, I set about getting it ready for a week of camping in the desert. A quick SketchUp drawing had me convinced that I could make a sleeping platform that would extend to accommodate the short truck bed and Piero provided encouragement and power tools for the job. One sheet of plywood and some on-the-fly design work later, we had our accommodations figured out.
We set out on the drive from Berkeley and decided to go over Tioga pass and out through Nevada instead of shooting straight down the Central Valley. The fall colors were in full swing on our quick drive through Yosemite and the smoke from all of the wildfires made for an eerie view along the East Side of the Sierra Nevadas. We grabbed dinner in Tonapah and made it to Pahranagat Lake for our first night. The next morning we got up and finished the drive to Zion.
Zion has a special place in my heart from going there on a Green Tortoise bus tour with the Davis Bike Club when I was a kid, the many trips there to go canyoneering in college, and the post-college reunion trips out there. However, I hadn’t been back in a number of years and was unprepared for how popular it has gotten. Gone are the days of being able to drive up to an open campsite in the fall, and the one convenient BLM road I knew of is now signed “No camping.” We pulled into the park to the news that to get a drive-up spot we should have been there at 6am and that everything was full. However, going on blind optimism, we took a drive through the walk-in sites and managed to get one just as a few folks decided to leave early, literally the only available site in the whole park. Also, FYI, all campsites in Zion are going to a reservation system for next year, so no more walk-ups.
Looking through the gear closet/storage unit prior to the trip, we decided not to bring technical canyoneering gear. So our goals for Zion were hiking Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. We knocked out Angel’s Landing the first afternoon which was nice because there wasn’t a whole lot of two-way traffic on the chains section. Also, the afternoon light in the canyon is beautiful at this time of year with the fall colors dotted all throughout the red rock. The hike is pretty quick with a lot of uphill and then some exposure at the end but the views are well worth it.
The next morning we got up and headed for the Narrows. Luckily we had our dry suits with us for the next leg of the adventure so hiking through 43 degree water actually sounded like a good idea. We made our way up, stopping for lunch at the junction of Orderville Canyon. The crowds were similar to what I remember from summer time not too long ago, but we still managed to get a few quiet moments between the walls. We made it back to camp in time for me to jump on a call and then headed to Zion Pizza and Noodle Co—an institution that has remained the same for at least the decade that I have been going there—for some pizza and 4% abv beer.
The next day we made our way from Zion to the town of Escalante and then about 40 miles out Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The washboard starts out right away and doesn’t really let up. Our good friend Matt (of the blog Chasing Davis Adventures!) recommended that we hike into Coyote Gulch, best done as an overnight through-hike with a shuttle. We opted for a 20 mile day hike, 12 miles of which was the access into and then out of Coyote Gulch through a sandy wash. Coyote Gulch was beautiful, full of cottonwood trees in their fall colors. We made our way to Jacob Hamblin Arch and then further down to Coyote Natural Bridge before turning around to retrace our steps out.
It would have been great to spend more time down there but it also would have meant bringing yet another type of gear along with us. We returned to our camp from the night before and got to enjoy another desert sunset before dinner.
The next morning, we made our way back out towards Escalante, stopping at Devil’s Garden on the way. It is an area full of really interesting rock formations and was well worth the minor detour.
From Escalante, we headed to Bryce Canyon for the afternoon. We had originally planned for a long hike through Bryce and then to camp on some Forest Service land right outside the park. However, we were feeling a bit tired form the day before and opted for a shorter hike. This took us through some great hoodoos and had Theo singing “Magic Dance” from Labyrinth (“You remind me of the babe / What babe? / The babe with the power / What power? / The power of voodoo / Who do? / You do”) the whole time.
Since we opted for the shorter hike, we were done earlier than planned and decided that we would drive Cottonwood Road and get closer to Flagstaff to shorten the next day’s drive. Cottonwood Road cuts across the desert from near Bryce to near Page Arizona, picking up the Pahria River for the last few miles. The road was in much better shape than Hole-in-the-Rock Road and was incredibly scenic, outside of the HV lines running along portions of it. We found a nice campsite above a small wash and set up for the night. You could probably make a week-long trip exploring all of the canyons along this road and I’ll have to do more research next time.
In the morning we continued our drive and came across a small heard of pronghorn elk before hitting HWY 89. Since we didn’t have to be in Flagstaff until the afternoon, we decided to stop at Horseshoe Bend and take a quick look at the river we would be on for the next three weeks (especially since Theo had never seen the Grand Canyon the before!). We made it to Flagstaff in the afternoon in time to run errands, repack, and get to know some of the folks we would be floating the Canyon with.
Check out more photos from our roadtrip here!