A year ago I don’t think I would have had the balls to do this type of trip. I don’t fully understand what accounts for my change in attitude, but one thing I have tried to embrace was advice from my old college roommate Mud. She’s an artist, a creative soul, free spirit and a Burner. We’ve been sending each other postal love for over 10 years and everything that comes in the mail from her is a work of art. When she gives me advice it sometimes takes a while for it to really sink in and really get what she is saying.
Last winter I was re-reading a letter she had written months earlier and the light bulb went off. As usual, she had a brilliant perspective:
I had been looking at life all wrong. I was constantly trying to justify why I was doing something in the nice logical way that society told me was acceptable – instead of following what actually made me happy. I should have been asking myself “Why The Fuck Not?”
Which brings me back to my road trip across the west, where I was embracing the unknown and not having a plan. Following the Grand Canyon, I decided to drive to Antelope Canyon and then head to Zion National Park. I had gotten the advice that it was better to spend more time exploring Zion, and skip Bryce Canyon rather than briefly stopping at both national parks in order to check more things off.
Antelope Canyon was a bit of a challenge to find (sorry Google Maps), and I didn’t realize that unlike the national parks there is no real obvious entrance. (Okay maybe I should have done some research before Googling on the side of the road). It is on Navajo reservation land and you need a guide in order to access it. The first place I stumbled upon wanted $60 cash for what was probably going to be 20 minutes of me taking photos. Being a woman on a budget, and going by my less-than-pro-ability with my DSLR, that seemed like an expensive photo op. I eventually found a small tour spot (Canyon-X tours) further down the road that essentially was a pop-up tent, a table and a few 4x4 vehicles. This made me a bit nervous (goal for the day: don’t die), but being no frills meant a more reasonable cost. I was fortunate to ride down into the canyon with some Navajo elders, including an woman who thought it was incredibly brave that I was travelling by myself, particularly so far from home. I explored the canyons and attempted to take photos, but of course nothing can do it justice. My mother’s advice (she’s a horrible photographer) – sometimes it is better to just buy the postcard.
I headed to Zion with no idea where I was going to stay the night (sadly this was becoming a trend), and hoped that I could find a campground, or BLM land that my car could handle. I was way too late for the prime first-come, first-serve sites that I had heard so much about. The beauty about telling others about my adventures is that get so many suggestions of what to do along the way. It was fine that I was winging my trip because my itinerary built itself over time and I didn’t have to waste hours doing research online.
I traveled to the East entrance, stopping at the Visitors Center. I learned the campgrounds both in and around the park were full (shit!) and got information on the two hikes that had been recommended to me most.
After having little success finding a place to stay, I channeled my inner WTFN and decided to drive past the two “Full” signs outside of the South Campground to talk to the campsite hosts and see if there were any cancellations (it never hurts to ask, right?). Along the way I saw a tiny whiteboard with a note that the group campsites would be opened up for individual use in about an hour. Within five minutes I had a place for the night and could finally rest easy. I was also finally able to pay-it-forward by giving advice to a German couple who were headed to the Grand Canyon with their RV.
Golden hour in Zion taken after setting up camp
The next morning, sticking with the suggestion I had heard from a hiker on the bus at the Grand Canyon, I headed to Angels Landing as soon as possible. I was told the hike was difficult in parts (it was listed as “strenuous,” as was Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon), but it was more a mental than physical challenge if you had issues with heights since the trail includes narrow sections with 1,000+ foot drop offs on either side. I had no idea how I would do as I have not really tested how I do with heights. Over the last few months I have learned to recognize my limits, figuring worst case scenario I would turn around and head back on the trail. When I got to the chains, I was a bit nervous but focused on a few steps at a time, channeling my inner mountain goat. I may not be the fastest on hiking up switchbacks, but I am speedy at scrambling up rocks. I do not think I am cool enough to own a GoPro, but hopefully this video gives you a good sense of what the hike is like.
Trailhead warning: Six people have died from falling off this trail since 2004.
The final view was stunning, and I kept waiting for a brontosaurus to go walking through the lush green areas of the valley below me.
Light Green Light, with limited space and too many people.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Springdale and taking in all the beauty the park had to offer. One perk of being solo is the ability to set your own agenda and really do what you want (although that nap never happened). I have been trying to be as intentional as possible during this trip, and not simply doing things because I felt like I was supposed to. It is a freeing approach which makes you truly appreciate the time you have. With that in mind, I found some firewood, started a campfire and enjoyed a some of my Bonfire Ember red wine while I appreciated how simple, yet happy my life had become on the road. All I needed was a place to camp, a fire, some wine and the Milky Way above me.
I swear the wine was there. It was just too dark to see.
The other hike I had heard about was The Narrows, which could be as challenging as you wanted, since you are literally hiking in a river, and could turn around at any point. Keep in mind the water was about 55 degrees and could be very deep in sections. I was torn between getting my hiking boots soaked, paying to rent waterproof equipment, or sacrificing my old running sneakers to the river gods. At 7:30 in the morning, with the air temperature in the 40s, I hiked towards the river, prepared to freeze my ass off and get my Brooks completely soaked. Back home I swim in the ocean in Maine (also about 55 degrees), so I thought I was fully prepared for what awaited me. About part way through the hike, I realized I only swim in the summer when it is sunny out and hot, not barely above freezing. I plotted as best I could along with some other hikers, and when I couldn’t feel certain body parts, I realized I hit my limit, and turned around. I wanted to see more of the river and the canyon above, but it wasn’t worth risking hypothermia, and I’m a bit partial to keeping my toes. I was there to have fun and enjoy my stay, and being miserably cold wasn’t exactly it. Next time I will do The Narrows when it is warmer, and with better gear.
View from The Narrows
I swear my toes didn’t feel right until I got to Moab.
After finding coffee and taking a much needed hot shower, I got back in my car for the five-hour drive to Moab and Arches National Park. I had heard so much about Moab, so I was excited to to see that next, along with the rest of Utah along the way.
I had made it this far West, so, again, why the f*** not?