On our program were now some highlights of the state of Utah. We started with Zion National Park. On our wish list was the hike “Angels Landing Trail”. Due to the popularity of this hike, one needs a permit, which is awarded by lottery. We had bought one lot online for a hike start before 9am the next morning. And indeed, it had worked, we were allowed to rise early the next day.
Waking up early for a change has its advantages. We saw the sun rapidly gain height behind the mountains. The sky turned red and yellow, and as we slurped down our coffee and tea, the first sun rays of the day warmed our car.
Arriving at the Visitor Center parking lot, we transferred to the free shuttle bus that took us comfortably to the starting point of the hike. For us autumn has been going on for about three months. Ever since we crossed the border at Glacier National Park we have been enjoying the beautiful fall colors and as we cross America we follow the season southward. Under a canopy of yellow, red and brown leaves we looked above toward the steep red rock walls that Zion is known for. We got off at “The Grotto” stop and began the Angels Landing hike.
In total we had 500 altitude meters ahead of us today. The Angels Landing is a huge protruding rock that towered right in front of us. Through a number of sharp hairpins in succession we gained height quickly. After another steep staircase we had reached the intermediate goal and were already getting fantastic views to the left and right into the canyon. Angels Landing rose far above us.
It immediately became clear to us why they have established a permit system here and why it is a popular hike. The narrow ridge invites to be climbed although it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. We looked deep into the valley once more on the left and began the climb. Some sections were so narrow it was impossible to pass each other. Clinging to a chain you looked hundreds of feet deep into the ravine. Sometimes there was no chain and you also looked hundreds of meters into the ravine.
We were, of course, extremely lucky with the weather. The colored leaves canopy, the red rock walls above and a bright blue sky above that again. After about 30 minutes, we had arrived at the end. We enjoyed our lunch and the view, accompanied by some chipmunks hoping for some crumbs. Then we began the descent. By now it had become quite crowded and we really wondered how all these people were supposed to move up and down without accidents.
We decided to drive to the park’s terminus and walk a bit of hiking trail “The Narrows.” The canyon gets narrower and narrower at the end until only the river fits through. We walked up to the end of the Riverwalk trail where the trail did indeed merge into the river and then deeper into the canyon. We were in no mood for cold wet feet today. We jumped from rock to rock just to get around the corner to watch the river disappear behind the next bend. On the way back to the visitor center, the very nice bus driver stopped at a herd of bighorn sheep and some mule deer so the bus ride almost seemed to resemble a safari. Then we drove with Thomas and Sima toward the East Entrance where the four of us hiked the short Canyon Lookout Trail.
The next morning we drove north to Bryce Canyon. Not much happened on the way until we turned onto Highway 12 and drove along Red Canyon. A good foretaste for what awaited us at Bryce Canyon. The rocks glowed red, we saw the bizarre rock formations and drove through archways cut into the rock. After about 1.5 hours of driving we had reached the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. In the meantime we had arrived at an altitude of more than 2300 meters and the temperatures were accordingly. The sun did its best, but plus degrees were not reached. We wrapped up really warm and started the Navajo Trail at Sunset Point.
The first views were already fantastic, an indescribable landscape. A huge collection of sand and blob castles, everything shone in orange and red and yellow and on top was a sugar layer of snow. For the next 4 hours we hiked through this fairy tale landscape 10 kilometers on the Navajo – and Peck-a-boo Trail. The trail meandered in a constant up and down and was quite snowy and icy in places. There was also an icy wind blowing here and there, but that hardly diminished the hiking experience.
Behind every bend it seemed to be even more beautiful, the rock formations were even more spectacular and the view even more fantastic and so we were back at the car only around 4 pm. One last photo of the lowering sun, which illuminated everything once again in warm tones, and then we headed for lower elevations, as the nights here at Bryce Canyon went down to double-digit subzero temperatures.
We drove about an hour further north to the small town of Escalante. After this exhausting day of hiking, we treated ourselves to a delicious pizza and warmed up with tea once again. Then we fell asleep at our overnight campsite at the start of the Hole-in-the-Rock-Road. On this gravel road we would drive tomorrow into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to discover some slot canyons.
Fortunately, the gravel road was in reasonable condition. It had not rained much recently, which of course helped. After 40 kilometers we arrived at the parking lot. Sima had signed off in advance for this hiking day. For a short distance she walked with us and waved goodbye to us three remaining. We followed a sign that said “Dry Fork Narrows” until the hiking trail turned into a small narrow canyon.
The first section of the Dry Fork Narrows looked a bit messy as if they had forgotten to clean up the fallen rocks. We climbed and scrambled over the rocks while enjoying the bizarre shapes and colors this canyon had to offer.
The second canyon on the program today was the Peek-a-Boo, an unusual name for what later turned out to be an unusual canyon! The entrance alone was special. We stood in front of a two-meter high rock wall with a large opening above it. From the wear and tear of the rock it was clear that people had climbed here before to gain access to the canyon. Thomas stopped there. He was no match for this and he set off on his way back. Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Canyon together were something like two kilometers long so it couldn’t take us that long, either. With difficulty we had climbed to the end of the two-meter high wall.
The second task for today turned out to be even more challenging! We bumped into a deep mud puddle that blocked our way further into the canyon. We took off our socks and shoes. Our feet searched for a way on the bottom in the icy water. The cold was not the main problem, but rather that the layer of silt at the bottom was so slippery that jwe had to support ourselves on both sides of the rock to keep from sliding away. With pain and effort we pulled ourselves up and not knowing if there was another mud puddle waiting for us we walked on barefoot until the walls on both sides became lower and lower which marked the end of the Peek-a-Boo Canyon. It had taken us almost an hour to struggle through here over a distance of less than 800 meters.
Looking out over a wide desert landscape, we ate a small lunch before looking for the entrance to the Spooky Canyon. The first 50 meters went quite reasonably until some large rocks obviously fallen from above blocked our way. Not much later, we literally had to wriggle through a section no wider than 30 centimeters. Like newly born contortionists, our bodies wriggled into shapes we didn’t yet know we could do. We took in the extraordinary environment in which we found ourselves and little by little we approached the exit.
When we arrived back at the car after another three kilometers of walking and the sun was slowly disappearing behind the mountains, Thomas had not yet returned. Had something happened to him? We began an exhilarating search as it grew darker and darker. To make a long story short, after about an hour with also the intervening disappearance of Eddy we were all healthy and safe back at the cars. The four of us drank to a happy ending and a great day!
By now we had been at 2000 meters altitude or higher for weeks. At night the mercury invariably drops below freezing with lows down to -12 degrees. The heating worked overtime in the evenings and mornings and kept things reasonably warm. So by now we had our eyes set on Las Vegas. Temperatures toward 20 degrees during the day and 5 plus during the night were music to our ears.
We left Escalante and made our way up the long road to Nevada. In Red Rock Canyon, we stretched our legs some more and looked for the 15 “arches” found along this trail. The name Red Rock Canyon was probably chosen quickly. The rock in this area was even 5 shades redder than elsewhere. At least now it stood out well against the freshly fallen layer of snow. In a lap of less than a kilometer, we indeed counted 15 arches of various shapes and sizes and marveled at the intricate shapes that wind and water have left behind here.
Not the fastest, but certainly the most scenic route to Las Vegas for us ran past Zion National Park again. Therefore, we had not yet packed away the hiking boots. A great reason to put them on again in Zion. One more time that narrow canyon and high rock walls and that roof of colored autumn leaves. Like a few days back, we got off at “The Grotto” stop, but now turned left toward the Emerald Pools instead of right to Angels Landing. The trail followed the canyon about 100 meters above “street level” toward the Upper Emerald Pools. The Emerald Pools are a gathering place for water seeping down the steep Zion walls to eventually flow out of the canyon via the Upper, Middle and Lower Pools into the North Fork Virgin River.
Two hours after we started our hike we called it a day and took the shuttle bus back toward the Visitor Center. We got into the car and continued on our way to the warmth.