Empty Chains – Winter Weekend in Zion

Utah’s National Parks were the first thing I experienced in this state, and they remain one of my favorite things about living here. Last weekend we made the short drive from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park to take advantage of the unusually warm winter we are having. It was so warm that we camped on our first night there. In February. It was chilly but nothing we couldn’t handle.

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The next morning I was up for sunrise in shorts next to the Virgin River along the Pa’Rus trail shooting reflections and waiting for the sun to peek out from behind the clouds. The clouds weren’t cooperating so I got what I could before heading out. Driving up the park road was a new experience for me since I’ve only been in this park during the warmer months when the road is only open for shuttle traffic. We got to the Weeping Rock trailhead for Observation Point early enough to snag one of the dozen parking spots.

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The trail was quiet and empty as we quickly ascended the switchbacks out of the valley. The four-mile hike is challenging but offers amazing vistas as you walk along the exposed edges dropping off sharply into the canyon. Just when you think you’ve made progress you pass a sign saying there’s two miles to go. There is some reprieve after hiking another mile of steep trail when you reach a plateau with gently rolling, rocky sections until you arrive at the official overlook.

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Observation Point offers a view that rivals that of Angels Landing. You are looking straight down on that more famous overlook and on through the canyon. There are almost always people up here as well, but it never gets as crowded or as congested as the single-file climb that dominates the last half-mile of Angels Landing. There are plenty of places to sit and rest and even get some shade if you desire. We met some great people from Zion Resort on their daily exercise hike. After their workout one of the instructors, Eddie, played soothing music on glass bowls he carried to the top. They were all very friendly, excited, and open to letting us join in.

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Before descending all the way there is another trail that takes you over a small ridge and through some narrow rock walls to Hidden Canyon. Yes, there’s a sign for it, so it’s hidden only to those who choose to ignore it. This short hike is well worth it as you climb up rock steps and along a steep edge with chains to help calm your nerves and steady your footfalls. After you get into the canyon proper the trail is what you make it. There are several sections where you need to scramble over rockfalls and large boulders to continue on. The light reflects beautifully off the walls and enhances the rich colors of the rock. There is even an exposed arch formation shortly before the end of the “official” trail. The hike ends unceremoniously with a sign next to a boulder. You can continue on, but there really isn’t much more to see from what I could tell.

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After the 10+ miles of hiking on those trails it’s hard to muster up much energy for more hiking. We also found that we were no longer alone in the parking lot as we saw cars lining the main road. The parking situation at The Grotto was even worse, so we decided to see ourselves out of the park for the day. We drove through Springdale and stopped at the Grafton Ghost Town just for something to do. It was an interesting little piece of history with some well-preserved building, a schoolhouse, and a cemetery. There isn’t much to do aside from walk around and look in some windows, but it was fun. The wind was picking up considerably and getting cold so we decided to call it an early day and got a hotel in Hurricane just down the road for the night.

Zion Sunrise-2

After a great night of rest with the wind whipping outside all night we made our way back to Zion and set up my tripod along the river just in time to catch the morning sun hitting the tops of the rocks. It helped that I scouted it out yesterday and knew exactly how I wanted to frame my shot. I’m pretty happy with what I got. Sunrise can be tricky, but you have to keep coming back until you get what you want. As I learn repeatedly, you also need to work with what you get. It’s so much more rewarding to get something you didn’t expect than to go in with specific expectations and leave disappointed.

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Once I got my shots we headed right for The Grotto and hit the trail for Angels Landing. By the time we had ascended just a bit above the river we could see groups of people lining the trail below. Getting an early start here is a must, especially on a weekend. This trail is much shorter than Observation Point, but the views along the way are equally captivating. Along with canyon overlooks it offers views of winding slots filled with water, huge overhanging red rock, and a wonderfully winding section of 21 switchbacks called Walters Wiggles. Once you get past that you get a little break at Scout Lookout before starting the best section.

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The last half-mile of this trail is what everyone comes for. Climbing up the “hog’s back” and over the saddle is either exhilarating or terrifying depending on your desire for sheer drop-offs and small footholds. There are chains guiding you for most of the more dangerous places, and I highly recommend using them. Less than a week earlier a teenage girl fell to her death from this section. Always be aware of your skill level, and never take unnecessary risks in places like this. The chains were uncharacteristically empty for almost our whole hike up–rewards of starting early. The hike is tough and rewarding as you crest the last section and emerge atop the formation named by some of the first to see it because “only an angel could land there.” Looking up the canyon is breathtaking to say the least, watching the Virgin river continue to carve into the landscape and looking down on tiny cars coming up the road you started at. You can carefully explore the top before descending, but be prepared to wait and move aside for people making their way up those chains.

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Before leaving, we did the short hike to the mouth of the famous Narrows, watching more people than we expected step into the water with waterproof waders and big sticks they rented from an outfitter. We also checked out the Canyon Overlook trail outside the west tunnel entrance since I had never done it before. It was a nice little hike, but after seeing some of the crown jewels up close it was hard to enjoy it quite as much. There’s no shortage of things to do in this area, and as soon as it gets a little warmer we have plans to come back and keep exploring.

dm.rt

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A Winter Day in Arches

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Looking towards Double Arch

In November of 2008 my friend Nathan and I drove across the country from New Jersey to Los Angeles. We made very few stops along the way, but one of those stops was at Arches National Park. Arches was my first introduction to what I think of as National Parks in the U.S. Sure, I had been to a few places on the east coast like Shenandoah and Valley Forge, but they didn’t resonate with me the same way. At that point my travel plans were usually focused on cities and historical sites–being from Philly will do that to you. But once I saw Arches my mind was blown wide open to the natural wonders that existed in my proverbial back yard.

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Navajo Arch

Since that fateful trip I have been back to Arches at least a dozen times. While I’ve explored the rest of the country and discovered so many amazing National Parks, mountains, and natural areas this one will always hold a special place for me. It’s a relatively small park (120 square miles compared to nearby Canyonlands’ 849 square miles,) but it packs a lot into that space. Most of the trails can be hiked in a day or at least in  a weekend. There’s no need to rush, and the best part about some of the trails is the solitude you get on even a busy weekend. Now that I’m spending my first full year in Utah I’ve found that the best time to go is winter.

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Sunrise from The Windows

This past weekend Becca and I decided we wanted to go to Moab to get away from the city and enjoy the beautiful weather. It’s late January and the temperatures were forecasted to be in the 50s. We drove down Friday and got a motel so we could be up bright and early for the sunrise Saturday–dark and early actually. We drove into the park and quickly “hiked” the short trail to the Windows, two large arches carved in the same sandstone fin. We climbed out through the north Window to a perch where we could see the formation just beyond that holds Turret Arch.

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Turret Arch through North Window Arch

As we stood in the chillier-than-expected morning hue, the sun began to rise beautifully behind the distant La Sal Mountains and over towering, snow-covered hoodoos. The first sunlight on red rock is an amazing thing to witness. The dull sandstone explodes with deep red and orange color as the light slowly washes over it. Turret Arch and its surrounding spires are perfectly framed through North Window Arch as the sun rises and begins painting the Windows with morning light as well. We were joined by another photographer here, but other than a handful of people we were remarkably alone on a Saturday at one of the most popular sections of the park for sunrise. It was incredible. And we only had to ask nicely one time for those people to step out of our frame.

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Double Arch

After warming up a bit we walked across the parking area to Double Arch, a magnificent formation of intertwining arches which captures the imagination. Standing beneath the overhanging rock is humbling and awe-inspiring. The landscape in this small area is enough to satisfy anyone’s desire for natural wonder, but it is merely a taste of what this park has to offer.

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Landscape Arch

Devil’s Garden marks the end of the 18-mile park road and one of the busiest sections of the park. While there is ample parking, this area often fills up completely in warmer months. When we arrived there were 5 other cars there. I could hardly believe it. The trail through Devil’s Garden is about 7 miles if you go take all of the side trails and the primitive loop. This area has the highest concentration of arches, and if you only have time for one trail this is the one.

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Hiking rock fins

After just a short walk you can take a side trail to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, which both give you a little taste of what’s to come. Less than a mile in you arrive at the appropriately-named Landscape Arch, stretching precariously across the sky. After climbing over tall rock fins that drop off steeply on either side you can take a side trail to Partition Arch, a smaller arch with a great view of the desert behind it, and Navajo Arch, a ground arch with deep reds and blacks saturating its underside. Continuing on you climb over a tall fin that allows you a sweeping view of the park below. Red rock fins rise out of the desert like battle submarines in a crimson sea. This is my favorite view on the trail.

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Double O Arch approach

After climbing down off this fin you will arrive at Double O Arch. I have been enamored with this arch since this first time I saw it. The trick is to walk right up to the lower portion and climb through to view it from the back side. I am never happier than when sitting here looking through this massive monument to the cascading rock formations behind it. Not only is this a great view, but it seems like few people find their way back there so it is often serene. It’s a great midpoint for a snack and a little rest. You can carry on from here to Dark Angel, a dramatic sandstone monolith rising out of the desert, on an out-and-back trail before continuing the loop.

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Double O Arch from behind

The primitive trail begins beyond Double O Arch. This sandy wash will take you beneath, over, and beyond the fins you saw from the trail high above. There is only one side trail to Private Arch, and we were truly the only ones there for the hour we spent in that area. It’s not a standout arch like some of the others, but the solitude makes up for the lack of spectacle. You can also climb out to gorgeous views of the landscape and watch hikers high above on the fin approaching Double O. The rest of the primitive trail will take you over some of the most challenging hiking in the park, but it’s nothing most people can’t handle–a few steep drops and skirting the edge of pooled water. After some exposed desert walking with views of the La Sals you will return to the main trail back to the parking area.

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Overlooking rock fins

There are multiple viewpoints and short walking trails to other arches along the park road to explore along the way, but everyone is turning down the road to Delicate Arch. It’s probably the most famous arch in the world but definitely in the state of Utah. It’s on our license plates. It is well known that sunset is the best time to see Delicate Arch in all its glory. The late-day light brings out the rich red-orange in an amazing way. The 1.5 mile hike allows most people to access it easily, though beyond the steep climb there were a few sections of precarious snow and ice this time.

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Delicate Arch at sunset

The typically crowded viewing area was quite bare even for a winter day. We arrived early and expected to see the usual line of people queuing for photos underneath the famous arch, but we found none of that. Several people took their photos and then moved along. It was the calmest I have ever seen it, to the joy of all of the photographers present. As the sun dropped I found a different vantage point than I usually get and shot the arch from the side with the sun behind it, creating a lovely beam of light. The clouds lit up at sunset for a gorgeous backdrop to the scene and our hike back down.

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Park Avenue stars

On the way out of the park you will pass the Park Avenue overlook. Even if you’ve seen it in the day, the night sky through this section is especially magical. It’s easy to spend a full day in this park, and it’s hard to leave. I think what stands out about this park over others for me is the ability to interact with the rocks. You can stand beneath them, on top of them, and touch them. It feels like they are communicating with you in a manner that I haven’t experienced any other place. Whether you spend an hour, a day, or a week here you will leave feeling different every time. And you will be planning your next visit as soon as you can.

dm.rt

Exploring Home

After traveling and being away from Utah for some time it has been very nice to be back home. The idea of home for me has always been transient and hard to define, but for right now Salt Lake City is it. I have gotten to really appreciate the view of the Capitol Building and the mountains from our living room window, and being able to walk or bike most anywhere I want to go is something that will be hard to move away from. So, for now I’m trying to take it all in and enjoy it while I’m here, which is really what this whole project was about from the start.

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When I got back to SLC last week it was in the 50s in January, so I took that opportunity to run and feel the altitude burn my lungs. I went out and made some friends on the disc golf course and took my time walking around the city from place to place. I did all of that specifically because I knew a snow storm was coming, and I wanted just a little more fall weather before it hit. And when it started snowing, it didn’t stop for 2 days.

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I was lucky enough to get a job working at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City as the snow began to fall. While the drive was slow, it was beautiful and different than I had seen it before. I walked with crowds of people going to see independent films through giant snowflakes, and everyone was smiling, enjoying the ephemeral beauty of it all. When I got back into Salt Lake thin tree branches supported more snow than I thought possible, and the streetlights held flakes in their triangular yellow beams as they fell softly to the ground. I couldn’t wait to see the city the next day.

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The snowfall continued, but there was no way I was staying in. Becca and I headed out early, walking up along City Creek to incredible white scenes. We had been up these paths dozens of times before, but it all felt new! Snow has the ability to completely reinvent a scene and highlight the beauty you may have missed or forgotten. The winding creek cut through the starkness of the landscape and tiny bridges reached across as we made our way up the mouth of the canyon. The falling snow limited distant visibility, but that only forced us to focus on the wonderful sights in front of us.

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After some time we wrapped around to the Capitol area. It’s one of my favorite places in the city to just sit and admire the scene. The large domed building dominates the hilltop and the white lawn falls off to either side with mountains and the city skyline just below. There is no bad vantage point, which is precisely why this location was chosen for the State Capitol. Under snow, it just seems fantastical. Each of the days after the storm began I found it slightly different, yet always holding my attention. Whether it was grey skies or bright blue I can’t seem to get enough of it.

 

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I feel genuinely privileged to be living here so close to something I can stand in awe of every day. I look forward very much to watching the seasons change around here and experiencing it first-hand in all the ways I can. There’s always something new to uncover wherever you may be, so don’t wait to go find it; explore!

dm.rt

9 Podcasts to Drive Your Road Trip

When I go on road trips I start off beaming with excitement for all the things I’ve planned to do. All those big plans will come, but there’s a lot of open road between here and there. The excitement can quickly fade if you’re not keeping your mind occupied while you’re on a long stretch of highway with nothing to look at.

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I listen to podcasts in the car more often than I listen to music these days. Traffic jams are my least favorite thing on the road, but even heavy traffic doesn’t annoy me when I’m listening to something that engages me. There’s just so much content out there and even if you have a 20-minute drive you can learn something. Long drives are the perfect opportunity to put on some long-form interviews or listen to a series of one-hour shows. From fictional content to video game reviews to political discourse, there’s honestly something for everyone. I’m going to share a few of my favorites.

This American Life

This might be one of the most well-known and popular podcasts and for good reason. Ira Glass has been doing this show for over 20 years for radio and the content has been quality the whole time. The themes can range from a very personal story of one person’s life to an embedded reporter talking to a career senator about why she is leaving government work. Even the most unlikely topic is made relatable and crafted beautifully by skilled reporters. The most recent 4 episodes are always available to download for free, but the full 600+ episode archive is available on the This American Life app for only $2.99. It’s definitely worth it for all the great content, and it supports the show continuing on. I’d suggest a favorite episode, but honestly just pick one that sounds interesting. I promise you it will be.

www.thisamericanlife.org

Radiolab

Another NPR podcast, this one often investigates scientific ideas and makes them easy to understand. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich talk to experts on myriad topics to dissect grand ideas like the structure of language or how the Supreme Court was formed. If you’re interested in things like this I would suggest starting with the episodes “Time” and “Numbers.” Two things that seem so simple will blow your mind.

www.radiolab.org

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The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim Ferriss is known for his book, The 4-Hour Workweek as well as other books, and his podcast is just as inspiring. He talks to people in business, tech, entertainment, and really any other area who are at the top of their game, and he dissects their methods to find out how they became successful and how they stay that way. As a big fan of stand-up comedy I really enjoyed the Mike Birbiglia episode. The techniques he discussed really have changed the way I work on writing. There’s something for everyone on this podcast, and I can assure you you’ll learn from it.

www.fourhourworkweek.com

Reply All

This show began as two guys talking about internet ephemera and has turned into one of my favorite shows with deep stories. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman joke around a lot. They have a segment where their boss brings them a tweet he doesn’t understand, and they proceed to explain it to him while laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. On the flip side they recently did a story where Alex travels to India to track down a call center who contacted him in an attempt to scam him for money. It’s a great balance of good reporting and fun antics.

gimletmedia.com/show/reply-all/all/

Up First

Staying informed about world events isn’t always easy on the road, so I like listening to this NPR podcast that is released every weekday. It gives a succinct report of the most important news stories you should be aware of without going too in-depth.

www.npr.org/podcasts/510318/up-first

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage has his Savage Love advice column in newspapers around the country, and this podcast is an extension of that. People call in, ask questions about love, sex, and relationships, and Dan answers them in his singular decisive voice. It’s more fun than anything else. Maybe you can learn something or you can take solace in knowing other people have worse relationship issues than you.

www.savagelovecast.com

Women of the Hour

Lena Dunham talks with women who have inspired her as well as some of her friends and co-workers who also fit that description. The topics range from abuse to creative techniques for writing. It’s very much just a chat show most of the time, but the topics are engaging and keep you interested.

art19.com/shows/women-of-the-hour

Invisibilia

This show makes you think. Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller, and Hanna Rosin explore invisible forces that shape our lives; emotions, beliefs, assumptions, and a slew of brain science that they cut through to make everyone understand. It’s a light show for such heavy topics, and I always finish an episode wanting to sit with the information and think about it a while longer. Check out the episode “Emotions” for a very… emotional story of a court case that takes a turn you won’t expect.

www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia

Stuff You Should Know

This is the podcast that got me into listening to podcasts. Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant tackle anything and everything that they find interesting. That’s anything from LSD to impeachment to Jim Henson. They talk about everything, and they make it fun. The best part of the show is the relationship between Josh and Chuck. It feels like you’re hanging out with your friends who just happen to know everything about bat feces and want to tell you about it. They digress often, but it’s endearing, and that has become my favorite part of the show. I would pick one episode to suggest, but they’re almost all fantastic. Check it out!

www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts

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Honorable Mentions:

WTF with Marc Maron – Comedian Marc Maron chats with other comedians, actors, and even President Obama.
The Nerdist – Long form interviews with people all over the entertainment industry.
TED Radio Hour – Expanded TED talks and interviews.
Blabbermouth – Dan Savage and friends discuss/yell about politics.
Under the Skin w/ Russell Brand – Brand discusses deep topics like slavery and identity with experts in those fields.
More Perfect – Jad Abumrad of Radiolab examines Supreme Court cases in depth.

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I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Besides helping to pass the time on the road and feeling like I learn things from podcasts they also often recommend documentaries, books, or other podcasts that further delve into topics I want to continue learning about. It sometimes turns into an endless list of things I’ll never get to, but it’s a great resource to start on a topic. These are just my favorites, but if you search I guarantee you can find a podcast suited to whatever niche topic you might want to hear about!

dm.rt

 

Success is Not Final; Failure is Not Fatal

While watching a movie tonight I heard a quote that caught my attention. That led me to another quote. Both are attributed to, but most certainly not actually said by, Winston Churchill. Regardless of who said them, the words hold meaning:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

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Philadelphia Water Works 1.7.18

Welcome to 2018. People make resolutions and break resolutions because they are, in my opinion, fleeting optimistic traditions, fundamental miscalculations of time, and overestimations of willpower. That might be a bit reductionist, but that’s how I see it. I could say “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year!” but this can of root beer and half a vegan reuben sandwich next to my laptop would beg to differ. I think there is something to be said for optimism, but I also believe in a heavy dose of self-awareness.

I’m not anti-resolution. In fact, I really enjoy making lofty goals for myself that I almost always fall short of. Falling short isn’t the part I enjoy; I believe that making plans alone is enough motivation to actually follow through on a lot of things. In my experience the key to staying motivated and excited about something is to always have something to be working towards. Something to look forward to. Having something on the horizon towards which you can steer your ship is crucial to making even a little headway. Otherwise you’re just drifting out to sea, and that makes it very easy to lose interest and forget your initial goals.

I do prefer to use the word goals instead of resolution, just to keep myself from feeling like I’m doing this for someone else. Thus, my GOALS for this year are:

  1. To be honest with myself. This is something of a general goal that bleeds into my other goals. It seems prudent to be genuine, but also to take stock about the real reasons for my motivations. Why do I choose to eat or drink the things I do? Why am I choosing a TV show over exercise or reading? What do I really want out of life? That got a bit existential at the end, but you see the point.
  2. To commit to making better art. At the end of the day, I really enjoy creating. Whether that means taking photos, making videos, writing poetry, or playing music, it all comes down to making something from nothing. I love the process as much as the finished product, but I find my enthusiasm waning at times. This goes back to taking stock and being honest, but I know that once I get started on something the desire is there, and I am committing to remember that and start things!
  3. To travel to a new country! This is cliché, but what would a New Years Resolution Goal be without one? Even though I find myself traveling often for one reason or another, I also make vague plans each year to finally get to Switzerland or Iceland or Thailand. All the while I take no steps toward actually doing it, thereby putting it off for another year. Not this time. I fully intend to step foot in (at least) one new country in 2018. I need some content for this blog after all..

I’m leaving it at 3 because anything further seems like asking to fail. I will, however, add a 3b: finally get to Alaska. I want to travel more of Canada this year and also cross the 50th state off my list once and for all. I’ve had conversations debating the legitimacy of crossing things off lists in this manner, but, as I argued, this is not at all arbitrary, and I have no intention of sitting in the Anchorage airport and glibly checking the last box off the list on some Facebook quiz. I want to experience Alaska just like I want to experience so many other places. I have lists of hikes and sights I’d like to see, and I also have a couple of friends there, so I have high hopes that it will be a memorable visit!

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Union Lake, Millville, NJ 1.6.18

So far this year I have been skiing in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, seen more snow in New Jersey than anytime I can remember even when I lived here, and had my camera out most days trying to capture a unique shot of the day. I hope to continue this trend of being present, while also continuing to travel to new places, meet new people, and learn new things on a regular basis. It sounds like I’m making a whole new list, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead! Happy New Year and may you achieve all of your Goals this year! Even if you don’t, just remember:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

dm.rt

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Day 3: Living and Dying in the Grand Canyon

When the alarm went off at 4:45am I was somewhere between excited and dreading our rim to river to rim hike of the Grand Canyon. Before I had a chance to think twice about it I got myself out of bed and put on my hiking clothes for the day. Making sure everything was ready the night before is the best way to avoid procrastination and time-killing mundane tasks in the morning. So, after a few minutes of teeth-brushing we were out the door with the leftover pizza for breakfast on our way to the Grand Canyon. It was about an hour drive to the entrance from our Hotel in Williams and a short wait for a bus when we arrived. When we saw the Orange Line bus roll up early we high-tailed it to the stop and boarded for the 5-minute jaunt to the South Kaibab Trailhead.

There are myriad signs and warnings to not attempt hiking to the river and back in one day. That’s just for tourists, though, right? Not to mention Becca had completed this same hike last December and made out just fine. Funny enough, my initial reticence turned to total confidence once we started our hike, yet Becca’s knowledge of what was to come made her a bit more wary of what was to come.

As we quickly descended into the canyon the sun was slowly lighting up the towering walls around us and in the distance. The incredible beauty of this sight can hardly be described as anything but magical. I stopped repeatedly to gaze out into the endless canyon as it lit up in blues, reds, and oranges. The light and shadow play off of one another like great actors in a play, and it’s extremely hard to hike a narrow, rutted trail while you’re looking off into the distance constantly. The path drops steeply in curves and switchbacks, and we get passed by a large team of mules on their way to Phantom Ranch with supplies. We meet other early morning hikers who are taking in the views, some with freshly-brewed coffee they brought with them. Most of the these hikers are heading down to one of the campsites near the river to set up for the night and most likely hike back up tomorrow. Not us. We’re doing it all in one day. It’s not totally hubris; we also couldn’t get a permit to camp.

The hike to the river is long—5 miles—but it goes by quickly. The views slowly become more closed in and remind me of other canyons like Zion. When we first see the Colorado River the rushing water echoes loud enough to make us think we’re close. We aren’t. One of the great deceptions of the Grand Canyon is the scale, which becomes very apparent as you hike and hike seeming to only gain incrementally on something that seemed so near. Hiking down first also has its mental disadvantage of not realizing just how far back up you will have to go to finish.

We finally make it to an overlook where the river is just below us and the bridges we will cross are in plain view. Technically we don’t need to cross the bridges, but it barely adds any mileage to our hikes and they’re just a fun novelty of being down there. To cross Black Bridge, we pass through a dark, carved tunnel of rock that leads us onto it. Standing over the rushing Colorado that carved this magnificent canyon is an amazing feeling. We wander along the banks, where rafters have stopped to take a break from floating the rapids, and we refill our water bladders at the pump before continuing on. Having reliable running water to refill on a hike so infamous for people running dry is a fantastic luxury. No need to carry a filter or triple the weight if you can fill up along the way!

We cross over Silver Bridge, staring through the holes under our feet at the rushing water creating whitecaps on the rocks below. We stop for lunch on the other side, where we eat our Buds sandwich from Salt Lake City that we specifically saved to bring with us for this trip. It’s delicious and great fuel to move us along the river as we slowly begin to leave the bottom of the canyon. The hike up begins very gradually, winding along the river’s edge, offering views of the twisting flow until the trail turns in toward the rim and we leave it behind. From here the terrain and scenery will change rapidly. We pass through an oasis of beautiful trees, some green and other in full autumn color. A pair of mule deer cross the path gingerly as we quietly walk up on them. As the trail becomes steeper we arrive at Indian Gardens, the last stop before the real ascent begins. We have a short break, people watch, fill up our water and start the climb.

This final section is what I think most people think when they imagine hiking the Grand Canyon. It’s steep, mostly exposed, and pretty crowded. We speak to a few people along the way who had stayed overnight by the river, and they are genuinely surprised we’re doing it in a day. I understand why one might want to avoid this hike in the summer months when the heat can be stifling, but on a perfectly cool day in November the hike down did little to exhaust us, and we are perfectly fresh for the hike up. This section does become somewhat of a grueling plod at times. Just one foot after the other and promise of achievement and, more importantly, food at the top.

We’ve passed many people along the way, but suddenly our dusty footsteps come to a halt along with a large group of others behind a mule team. My first thought is the mules are coming down and we have to allow them navigate past us on the narrow trail. My assumption is quite wrong as we find out a hiker has died up ahead on the trail and the rangers are holding everyone until the person can be airlifted out. We take the opportunity to rest, but as it becomes clear the helicopter might take longer than expected the rangers allow us to pass. The unfortunate hiker’s body is covered in a tarp, only boots sticking out as a few dozen of us shuffle quietly by, all seeming to feel the same morbid curiosity and empathy for the lost soul.

From here, the throngs of people who were waiting are now hiking in a long, solemn line for final two miles and two-thousand feet of elevation. It’s impossible to not be affected by the thought of dying in a place of such extremes, but seeing someone dead along the trail really pounds the thought home. If nothing else, it makes you grateful to be alive in such an incredible place. Personally I’d much rather die on a Monday in the Grand Canyon than at home on the couch or sitting at an office. That said, Becca and I made it out alive and happily took our last steps back up to the rim. We were surprised at how quickly we made it. At 3pm we finished in just over 8 hours. I had built this hike up to be monumental, so I was fully prepared to be finishing after dark, but this outcome was very welcome.

We took our extra time to ride the Red Line bus down to Hopi Point, where the panoramic view of the canyon we just hiked in allowed us to bask in our accomplishment and stand in awe of the incredible beauty of this place. The views are incredible. Incredible views. Just ask our bus driver. We walked down the rim trail a bit, peeping other overlooks along the way, before hopping back on the bus and making our way back to the car. Clouds had overtaken the canyon to the east, so we left expecting there to be no amazing light show for sunset. Although the canyon probably wouldn’t have lit up, I again learned the lesson I’ve kicked myself for many times in the past: you always wait for sunset. The sky turned to beautiful fire in the west as the sun hit the clouds from below. We stopped along the road and I got some great shots anyway.

After such a big hike we retired right to our hotel, showered, and relaxed the night away. It was a perfect day, and our downtime was well-deserved.

dm.rt

Day 2: Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon

Besides having a comfortable bed, the best part of waking up at a hotel is the free breakfast. The Page Quality Inn was really cheap, had a great room and king bed, and has a big hot breakfast spread. There were the usual eggs and breakfast meat, and everyone’s favorite: the waffle maker. We opted for the potatoes with hot sauce and I attempted the “blue mush,” which was described as a Native American version of grits. It was not good. The potatoes and OJ were a filling meal and the view was fantastic!

After some brief research we headed just down the road to the famous Horseshoe Bend. The trailhead was full of cars from all over the US, and people flooded up the short, steep embankment leading to the overlook. The trail was only about a half mile on a wide path so it was hardly a hike, and the edge was crowded with so many people that they were the most challenging obstacle to get around. Once at the edge the view is breathtaking. The river seems to whip around this massive tower of rock in an inexplicable curve. The scope of what you’re looking at is hard to comprehend until you see a tiny structure on the bank below and then everything feels ten times larger. To escape the crowd (and just to see if I could do it) I climbed out on a small rock outcropping and stood there for quite a while as Becca and lots of other tourists took my photo hanging above the thousand-foot drop. After getting all the photos I scrambled back onto solid ground and we made our way back to the parking lot.

Most people have seen photos of Antelope Canyon even if they don’t know that’s what it was. The picturesque slot canyon with sinuous red walls and shafts of light beaming in through the sand in the air is one of the most photographed places in southern Utah, and it has been featured in countless magazines, default backgrounds, and wonderful WordPress travel blogs. The popularity of this place has always kept me from visiting. You have to book a tour with a large group and pay an entrance fee. Even though National Parks charge fees to get in, I feel like those fees go toward park improvements and places like this are more for-profit. My thinking could be flawed, but nevertheless we decided to give it a try!

First off, there’s a waiting room. We only had to wait about 45 minutes from the time we arrived to start our tour, but the whole commercial aspect was amusing. Once our tour guide, Rihanna, introduced herself we took the short walk to the corral above the canyon entrance where about a hundred people from different tour groups were in queue. Here we waited for the better part of a half hour as people slowly filed down a narrow stairway to get into the canyon. Our guide pleasantly chatted with us about other hikes in the area and where we came from which helped pass the time. As we descended the stairs, guides from below yelled up at people taking photos down into the canyon. It was explained to us that they have had incidents of people dropping cell phones and water bottles from above so they have instituted a “no photos on the stairs” policy. This is a phrase we would hear repeatedly throughout the tour. The long climb down the stairs ended on the sandy wash floor of Antelope Canyon and we got our first views of the slots.

Someone in an online review described this tour as “waiting in line at Magic Mountain” and that description was perfect. The hordes of tourists snaked through the narrow corridors slowly, which ended up being great for getting the shots I wanted. Avoiding the people meant I had to shoot aiming upward most of the time, but that’s where the best views seem to be anyway. A few times I was able to wait out the people in front of us to get a clear shot of the full, open canyon. Our guide actually held me back and told me to shoot with the photography tour and then catch up to them when I’m done. The canyon felt longer than I expected, and I came out the other side with a smile on my face, lots of good photos, and a new, less-jaded opinion of Antelope Canyon tours. It was well-worth the money, and the guides really made the experience better among the flocks of people and their children bumping into one another. I highly recommend checking it out and using Ken’s Tours!

We felt good about our day in Page so we hit the road to Flagstaff, where we attempted to find a park or overlook for sunset. We ended up wandering at the Observatory, but found out it closes early on Sunday so we couldn’t explore too much. We settled on a little pull-off above town where the late-day sun washed over it as the shadow of the mountain behind us overtook the rest. Then we were ready for a beer. Dark Sky Brewing is right down the road from the observatory, and it’s a cute little space with string lights and Brewing tanks in full view. We got a flight of beers that included a great IPA, a rye sour, an amazing coffee vanilla pale ale, and a coconut coffee stout that may as well have been a candy bar. We had a really nice time there looking at photos from the day and talking about our big Grand Canyon hike for tomorrow.

We found a local pizza shop, Pizza Patio, that makes vegan pies and got one for the drive to our hotel. We got vegan buffalo cheese and sausage, which turned out to be wonderful. The man running the shop was super friendly and interested in my thoughts about vegan options so he could expand his menu. The drive to our hotel was short and the $33/night room was just perfect! Another great day on the books.

dm.rt