When we headed to Utah for Veteran’s Day, we had a very loose-and-fast plan. Other than booking our flights and hotel rooms in advance (and the car rental two days prior to take-off), we had a laid-back, flexible approach to our trip. This turned out to be a really good thing.
At first, Alan was a little critical of my lack of researched-based structure for our journey. I actually had done plenty of research. I made my little bucket list of the most noteworthy and amazing hikes. I talked to travel bloggers, friends, family, went on forums, and looked up reviews. A certain pattern emerged. The same trail names kept popping up. I took note, then I put that aside.
Once we arrived, I relayed my opinion, based on my research, of what I thought we should spend time doing. But I wanted Alan to come to his own decision. This was his (belated) birthday present, after all. His own research corroborated mine and threw out a few new trail names as well. We also consulted the national park’s literature on what hikes that should not be missed in Zion. There were way more than we had time for, but two of the shining stars were on that list as well. For Bryce, we had a general idea of a loop we wanted to make, based on referrals, but would consolidate our plan once we arrived at the visitor center and talked to a ranger.
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We had two main goals with Zion:
1) Hiking The Narrows, which was unique because of the river-walking in a slot canyon aspect.
2) And hiking Angel’s Landing, one of the most dangerous and spectacular hikes in the country.
Originally, I was too ambitious and thought we could squeeze each of these hikes in two consecutive days with another smaller hike each day. Once we got to The Narrows, Alan wanted to take it slow and enjoy the ride, so I had to adjust my expectation a bit. It’s a really good thing I did, because there’s no way I could have done another trail after that doozie of a trek!
The unplanned surprise in Zion was discovering some non-publicized Native American pictographs on the top of the mountain bowl. Even though the area is protected by the park with informational signage, the rangers don’t advertise the location out of fear of human degradation. Alan found info about the site on some guy’s blog (note to self: find the blog name to share on future post).
We fell in love with this area of the park, but only had a couple of hours to explore here. It’s so quiet and secluded. The sandy, dried-out canyon floors reminded me of the beach. The valleys are shallow and gentle here, with rounded-off hill tops you can easily scurry up. If we get back to Zion, we’ve vowed to come back here and explore more. Many folks we met along the way, along with some park rangers all claimed this was also their favorite part of the park. Another win for not-planning!
With Bryce, we knew of a loop combining three trails that (we later found out) was ranked one of the best hikes in the world by National Geographic! Roughly planning for two days in the park, we headed to the ranger station to see what else we should do while there.
The awesomely bearded, pony-tailed park ranger whipped out a map and started drawing lines around the Queens Garden- Peekaboo- Navajo Loop path. This was “the hike,” and we’d see the best views in the park. It’s a half day to a day hike, he said (6 miles), and we should do the scenic 18 mile drive, checking out the dozen or so viewpoints, afterwards.
Then he threw a monkey wrench into our agenda. “Are you planning on going to Capitol Reef National Park? Because if you’re not, you should change your plans right NOW. It’s the best park in Utah…. and I live here.” Woah! Stop the presses! I had looked up Capitol Reef, noted its proximity, but never was I ambitious enough to think we could squeeze in another national park in four days! He said we could easily hit the park, while also driving through Grand Staircae/Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest (2 more!), on the way back to Salt Lake City to catch out 6 PM flight the next day.
So that’s what we did! After a full day in Bryce, we knew that no other trail would beat the views and experience we had there. So we moved on.
The drive was spectacular. Once we got to Capitol Reef, there was a true sense of being in the middle of nowhere. Only established as a national park in 1971, the roads are narrow, some just dirt, and the ranger station suggests a $5 donation at a box when you enter (as opposed to the normally obligatory $25 to get your car through other national parks).
We drove through and hiked some- as much as we could in two hours. We didn’t make it to the Waterpocket Fold (a large reason the park was created), but it’s on our list for next time.
If our travel schedule and attitude had not have been so open and flexible, I doubt we would have experienced half of the fun surprises we did. If I had forced my ambitious plan to hike as many trails as possible, I know I would have been completely burned out by the second day. It’s important to allow for dynamic plans because when you arrive somewhere and talk to the local experts, there are often things you may not have thought of before.
I’m looking forward to sharing more photos and details about each hike, each day, and each park. Even though this was Alan’s treat, I think I enjoyed the trip as much as he did!