Part 12 – Canyoneering, Mountaineering and Persevering in Bryce and Zion National Parks

At the urging of a strangely feminine-looking ranger-man working at the Arches National Park Visitor Centre, we decided to take the scenic route around to Zion National Park. Really, there’s only two ways to get there from Moab, and both involve some serious backtracking but both are relatively scenic. Our chosen route was at least 1.3 times more picturesque than the other, though, so we were safe in the knowledge that our eyes would be at least 1.3 times more grateful for the detour.

We spent a rather hot, fumey day navigating the undulating terrain in the blistering Utah heat. Taking the i-70 west, we then hung a left on Highway 24 and headed southward through Capitol Reef National Park. This was an excellent detour, with the winding road taking us on a spellbinding tour through some very impressive terrain, including many rock formations, domes and natural bridges which we surprisingly hadn’t seen before. Of note was an excellent display of petroglyphs just off the road, along with some historic Mormon orchards within the national park where you could supposedly stop off and pick fruit to your hearts content. Noting the frequent traffic passing through the area, coupled with a high degree of unlawfully-high fume-emitting pickups, we declined to pick the heavy metal-laden fruits of the park, but not without some wistful backward glances at their plump deliciousness.
Capitol Reef National Park Capitol Reef National Park Capitol Reef National Park Capitol Reef National Park Capitol Reef National ParkCapitol ReefCapitol Reef
Passing through the park, we stopped off in the town of Torrey for the night at one of the nicest RV parks we’d stayed in so far. This may seem a little unimpressive to you green-land folks, as you sit in your lush garden looking out over vast bodies of water, but small things like your own patch of grass and plump orchard trees lining the park entrance make a big difference when you’ve been stuck in the desert for the last 2 weeks. The rather ostentatiously-named Wonderland RV Park had these things, along with pristine toilets and showers and spacious lots. Enjoying the opulence of tree shade and soft grass, we elected to stay for two nights in order to re-acquaint ourselves with cleanliness and green things.

Wonderland RV Park

Wonderland RV Park

Clothes drying, RV-styles

On the morning of our departure, we stopped off at the horribly under-provisioned general store and then checked out the “town” trading post. I’m usually not a fan of tacky souvenir shops lined with useless paraphernalia, but this one was actually quite cool, and we came out of the shop loaded up with surprisingly tasteful Native American agate arrowheads, peace pipes, and other shiny nicknacks.
From Torrey, we once again elected to take the scenic route on to our next destination, Bryce Canyon. Initially, this seemed like a colossal mistake, as the road took us impossibly high into the Boulder mountains with the Hunk o Junk complaining throughout, by means of clunks, thumps, roars and noxious gases. Blessedly, we made it to the top without flames or explosions, and were greeted with some very pleasant vistas.

Boulder Mountains Boulder Mountains

Boulder Mountains

A sprightly marmot of some kind

Having lounged about in Torrey for the last couple of days, our legs were itching to be stretched, so we mosied on over to the Deer Creek Lake trailhead. Involving some serious elevation gains balanced by sweeping panoramas of the valley below, the Deer Creek Lake (bit of a redundant name, when you think about it) trail continued our welcome reintroduction back into the world of the living, with pockets of high altitude forest and grassland dotted with happily grazing cattle and deer. At the top, I tried to tantalize some of the many cutthroat trout in the lake with what I assumed to be skilled fly fishing (you guessed it – no cigar), then we headed back down.
Deer Creek Lake Trail Deer Creek Lake Trail Deer Creek Lake Trail
Not having seen the usual “no camping” signs around the trailhead where the RV was parked, we decided that this was a good spot to spend the night. Next morning, we were kindly woken by strangled mooing accompanied by some unnerving shaking of the RV (at which point I stuck my head out of the window and told the cows to bugger off and rub themselves on a tree instead). Having got the hint, we made a quick brekky and continued down the mountains to Bryce Canyon.
The RV-marauders trying to look nonchalant

The RV-marauders trying to look nonchalant

Arriving late at Bryce after enjoying yet another scenic drive through the Escalante National Forest, we decided to make camp for the night and enjoy a full day of it on the morrow. Once again, freecampsites.net secured us an excellent spot just outside the park boundary in a small forest clearing. Upon our arrival, it proceeded to bucket down with rain, and didn’t stop until the morning. Luckily, we had previously sealed most of the potential leak sources on the RV, and so only had a few small lakes to mop up the next morning.
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The rain continued throughout the next day, but from all reports this was situation normal for the park at this time of year, along with relatively frequent lightning strikes (people being one of lightning’s favourite targets, from all accounts). We parked the RV up at the visitor overflow lot and were about to embark upon some sight seeing when I noticed that a brand new 1 gallon engine oil bottle had fallen over during the rough drive and miraculously managed to unscrew its own cap, spewing lovely golden oil all through the RV and onto the parking lot. Thus ensued some very guilty and very futile oil moppings, made worse by the fact that the rain was causing the oil to shine in a rainbow-esque fashion. So there we were, with a river of shiny oil running down the parking lot and attracting all manner of attention to ourselves, in the middle of a fricken national park, heralded as a wonder of natural conservation. Good times.
Having sacrificed multiple towels, we had mopped up all that we could and there was nothing left but to position another towel under the dripping pollutants and proceed with our sight seeing. We jumped on the shuttle bus, which took us to the far end of the park, and proceeded to walk back along the rim. The canyon was amazing, and even with our senses pummelled by canyon overload by this point, we were able to appreciate the awesomeness of the views. The incessant rain did put a damper on things, but we managed to enjoy ourselves nonetheless.
Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon004
Ending our rim jaunt at Sunrise Point, we took a walk down into the canyon via the Queens Garden Trail, then squeezed onto the shuttle and headed back to the RV. Having spent a solid day of walking, sightseeing and getting very wet, we were satisfied that we had seen the who’s who of the canyon and it was once again time to move on.

Queens Garden trail at Bryce Queens Garden trail at Bryce

Queens Garden trail at Bryce

Liivi, trouserless, but playing it cool

A couple of days later, we found ourselves entering Zion National Park. From the beginning, the park bedazzled the senses, with surreal towering piles of rock in all directions. We entered the park from the east entrance, and were informed that we had to pay a fee due to the fact that we were to be escorted through one of the tunnels due to the size of our vehicle. After warming up with a host of smaller tunnels on the way in, we arrived at the mama tunnel. Here, we found that no escort was to be provided but that they closed the tunnel to opposing traffic, so we essentially had the place to ourselves, and cruised down through the mountain honking the horn and weaving erratically, just because we could.
 Zion tunnel mania Zion tunnel mania Zion tunnel mania
Emerging some time later from the far end of the tunnel, we were greeted to an even more impressive sight – we were high up amongst the peaks on the side of a mountain, and had commanding views of Zion far below. We continued down the switchbacks and suddenly found ourselves at the western gate of the park – lots within the park boundaries was full, apparently, so we had to park in nearby Springdale.
Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park
Having gleaned via tripadvisor that there were two must-do’s in the park, we jumped on the shuttle and headed up the Virgin River valley to the first – Angels Landing. This was a super cool walk that took us up a series of switchbacks cut directly into the rock, through a slot canyon and up onto the first landing. Here, I parted ways with Liivi and continued up the gruelling last section to Angels Landing. This was precarious but highly enjoyable, with many sections only made passable by holding onto a chain for dear life. Having past scores of people looking like they just soiled themselves (not helped by a long history of people falling to their deaths from this very trail), I arrived at the top and was greeted with 360 degree views of the park far below.

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if you look very closely, you'll see the trail cut directly into the side of the cliff

if you look very closely, you’ll see the trail cut directly into the side of the cliff

walk to Angels Landing walk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landingwalk to Angels Landing

Noting that all the park campgrounds were chocka block, we spent a couple of desperate hours searching around for other campsites and were eventually obliged to scale a rutted road up onto a Butte. Part way up, we encountered a couple of Tasmanians attempting the same feat in their own RV, and, not to be outdone by a couple of Aussies, zoomed up after them.
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Next morning, we made our preparations for the second of the two Zion “must-do’s” – The Narrows. This is arguably the most famous part of the park, and the one which you’d be most likely to see pictures of if you typed in “Zion National Park” in your google or Bing (no discrimination, here) search bar. *Addendum – I just did the search and turns out the Narrows only pop up way down the list. Scandal! My guess is that it’s because most people are too lazy to trudge through a river for 3 miles to take the photos.*
We came fair warned – in order to get to The Narrows most famous landmark, Wall Street, you had to slog through many miles of slot canyon, most of which involved walking along the river bed. Indeed, not 2 days previously, we had received reports of 4 people who had been killed in this area of Zion by flash floods. Most of the people we saw were wearing special neoprene boots and fancy walking sticks for stability, however as usual we scorned the masses and went stickless and in our normal walking shoes. While the sticks would have been useful, the neoprene boots were clearly all for show, and we did just fine in our peasant shoes.
The Narrows The Narrows The NarrowsThe Narrows The Narrows The Narrows The NarrowsThe Narrows - Zion National Park - UtahThe NarrowsThe Narrows Zion National Park
Having been completely gobsmacked by the sheer awesomeness of the canyon, we emerged four hours later and cradled our partially dissolved feet with a sense of great accomplishment and relief at having not come into contact with any floating corpses (some of the flash flood victims having not yet been located). Surprisingly, we both somehow gathered enough energy reserves to do yet another walk, this time a slightly drier one up to the Emerald Pools. While the walk up was enjoyable, the pools themselves were essentially just shallow puddles, their emerald hue deriving from a thick slime which coated their surfaces. Liivi declined to hike the last 0.5 mile up to the upper pool, in the wake of reports that a large tarantula was chilling on a rock beside the trail (Liivi, look away now if you know what’s good for you).
Emerald Pools Emerald Pools Emerald Pools
Having conquered the Zion, we treated ourselves to a tasty Mexican feed at the Broken Spur and headed on towards our next destination – Vegas!

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