Friday, May 26, 2017

A Week in the American Southwest

Open desert, narrow slot canyons, dizzying heights. Dust devils spinning across slick rock in the dry heat of the sun. Landscapes of red rocks, white sandstone, and blue sky. Fluffy clouds, orange sunsets, and moonlit starry nights. A floppy hat, extra water, compass, and camera. This isn't the Grand Circle, this is a much smaller circle in a corner of the Grand Circle. This is a Nevada-Arizona-Utah road trip. This is the American Southwest.

We planned this trip with a mind to hit the well-known highlights but also get a little off the beaten path, either way seeing some really cool stuff. Alternating between hotels and camping we rented a 4x4 Jeep to traverse the aforementioned unbeaten path and get us down unpaved BLM roads in comfort and style. Along the way we camped under a full moon, explored slot canyons, and ascended the grand staircase to the very top of Zion.

And this is how we did it.

Part 1: Grand Canyon to Kodachrome

We arrived in the Grand Canyon and found it was cold, foggy, and had just snowed. Yes it can snow in early May, the road to the north rim was still closed. On the south rim, winter coats and hats were in order.

There wasn't much in the way of grand vistas when we arrived, just a wall of fog, but someone had made a snowman. A small snowman.

Luckily weather is fickle and it cleared up into a lovely springtime climate, cool and clear. We spent a few days at the Grand Canyon, a bit of hiking, walking, riding the shuttle. Then we headed north, the usual route through Page, Utah, with a stop at the famous and much-photographed Horseshoe Bend.
photo credit Tami Wallenstein

Taking a picture of the bend requires walking or crawling out on a ledge high above the river. Not for the acrophobic!

Now the tricky part. From there we headed north to our campground in Kodachrome Basin State Park, a beautiful park named after the well known film stock, much like the Paul Simon we were singing as we arrived.

Gives us the nice bright colors
Gives us the greens of summer
Makes all the world a sunny day

To get there, we left the highway and turned north on Cottonwood Canyon Road, a dirt road that is best taken by Jeep. It's a beautiful drive with hiking stops for canyons and Grosvenor Arch (named after the editor of National Geographic magazine). To get to this road, turn right off highway 89 just after Big Water. 

The entrance to the road has a sign warning you to have the right vehicle. While people have taken normal cars on this road, I'd feel better with a Jeep. 

Lower Hackberry Canyon is the first scenic hike we came across. We spent way too much time exploring the canyon and by the time we left the sun was already getting low.

By the time we reached Cottonwood Canyon Narrows, the sun was setting, which made for a beautiful scene. The price for this beauty is we had to make the rest of the trip in the dark.

We finally arrived at our campsite, had a late dinner, and went to bed. 

Part 2: Exploring Escalante

Kodachrome Basin makes a great home base for exploring Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It's right on scenic Highway 12 and you can go in any direction. With so much to see and do, you can read a guide book, consult the Internet, or simply ask around. We got some good advice from Utah Canyon Outdoors and other vacationers. For hiking we chose Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons, which require a 4x4, some climbing, basic trail finding skills (I had to resort to using my compass on the final stretch back), and are completely worth the effort. After spending the day shimmying through a maze of colored rock we rewarded ourselves with a romp in Devil's Garden and pizza at Escalante Outfitters.

When we were finished with Escalante, or more accurately when we ran out of time, it's a scenic drive west to Zion, the final and most spectacular spot, stopping along the way at Bryce Canyon and a few smaller sights just to see some random new things. As we left highway 12 onto 89 there were coffee shops for the first espresso of the entire trip.

Part 3: Zion

A nice thing about Zion is that cars are not allowed making for a more peaceful, serene experience, and riding a shuttle is more social anyway. You don't need me to tell you the natural beauty is awe inspiring, you can read that anywhere and safely assume it's all true. I recommend everything, and schedule plenty of time besides to sit by the river and take long lazy walks on any trail. The last day we hiked the canyon from bottom to top on Observation Point Trail and then back to the lodge to relax. We stayed at at the end of the shuttle line, a bit out of town where we were surrounded by mountains rather than shops.

And how can we forget Ranger Kelly. Ranger talks are the best.

Can I get a woo-hoo?

Vacation accomplished.

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