It’s only my second post, not even halfway through the trip, and I already don’t know what day of the week it is. We’ve been packing so much adventure into our days that they seem more than just 24 hours long. If it wasn’t for the site, things would start to blur together. (A beautiful blur nonetheless). So, here’s the last few jam-packed days of fun:
We drove to Capitol Reef National Park and happened upon the Gifford House. A cute little historical house that serves as a bakery and museum. We mostly stopped in because we were hangry and ready for lunch. Inside, we found the best loaf of bread I have ever tasted. Evan was making fun of me for how excited I was about this loaf. (If you don’t know, I love bread). It was this wonderful wild rice bread that had a great mixture of salt and herbs with the wild rice. If you’re passing through Capitol Reef, stop there. You won’t regret it. I hear they have very tasty pies as well.
Aside from the bread, Capitol Reef was unique with its deep river beds within which we were allowed to drive. It was funny to see our small car amidst the dusty off-road vehicles around us. It was worth it though once we stepped out of the car and felt how small we were as the canyon consumed us.
After our skin had almost become sunburnt, we drove to Bear’s Ears National Monument to set up our tent for the evening.
We began our hike up Bear’s Ears on the extremely vague trail. Once sumitted though, we could see for miles. There were the mesas and the mountains in the hazy distance. I could’ve sat there all day.
From there, we checked out Natural Bridges National Monument which was a smaller park with more natural arches, as the name would suggest. With the quick loop of the park done, we headed down the dirt road to the Valley of the Gods. I suppose our little car had about had it with dusty dirt roads because our check engine light came on. As we stopped to check under the hood, a couple came to help us out. The guy was a mechanic (I don’t know how we got so lucky) and had a scanner in his truck. While chatting with him and his girlfriend, we found out that they were doing a few month long road trip just like ours, but starting west and heading east. They were slightly more suited up than us since their truck bed was outfitted with a platform bed and storage compartments. I wish I could take pictures of all of the different car, van and truck sleeping setups because it’s amazing what people can do in small spaces.
The mechanic said we were okay to continue for now, but should get a full diagnostic once we hit a town with an auto shop. So, we continued on our way and stopped at a fabulous viewpoint overlooking the Valley of the Gods. That’s where we met the retired St. Louis Art Museum director. He’s a man who now travels weeks at a time, multiple times a year, to take stunning pictures seen on SREimages.com. He told us about his tour guide for the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley. The tour guide had given multiple personal tours to John Wayne when he had come back to his old filming location. It sounded awesome, and we were already heading toward Monument Valley anyway.
On our way, we did stop at the Olde Bridge Grille for some fabulous Navajo tacos. The place was quite busy and definitely the place to be for lunch in that area.
Once at Monument Valley, though, there was a $20 entrance fee. That would normally be fine, but you could really just see the three large monoliths (see the upcoming Like “Ask Paula” in the Newspaper, But Geology article for more explanation). There was a road leading you closer to the rock formations, but we didn’t feel compelled to go further. In-depth, off-road tours were available, but the tours started at $160 and you were in an open back of a truck. I can’t imagine how much dust you’d be breathing in as you flew through the desert during that tour. So, a first for this trip, Evan and I would not recommend Monument Valley.
The next stop was Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. It was beautiful and very picturesque, don’t get me wrong, but it was far less remote than both Evan or I expected. After weaving our way through the throngs of tourists, we staked out our Walmart parking lot spot.
I never thought I’d say this, but Walmart parking lots are the bees’ knees. It was more like an RV and campground heaven. People were set up, out waking their dogs and chatting with the “neighbors.” Taking that as my inspiration, I whipped out our camping stove and cooked a meal. Why not, right?
With going back and forth between time zones and states, our internal clocks were messed up. Evan and I were wide awake at 5 a.m. We tidied up the car, and ourselves, until the auto shop in Page opened at 8 a.m. Luckily they took us right away, but our car problem was only something a Volkswagen dealer could fix.
So, we moved on to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. By the visitor’s center, there was a guy with a University of Michigan hat and, being an Ohio State alum, I gave him the good old “Go Bucks!” After a bit of good-natured heckling, he started telling us about his love for the national monument. He could barely contain his excitement–probably off a rush from his fifteen-day float down the Escalate River. He was a cool guy who had gotten to the point where he makes a sale, then takes off work for however long his next outdoor adventure is planned.
With his advice, we headed onto the Cottonwood Road that leads straight through the national monument. We passed amazing scenery with sharp peaks, dipping valleys and hiking spots. Not to mention all of the cows since the whole area is a free range. If you want to head down Cottonwood Road, you definitely should, but only if you have a better off-road car than Evan and I do (Volkswagen Golf just barely cut it).
Bryce was sweet with more pointed rock formations that nearly made it look like a torture pit. It was a shorter visit, and we stayed at Ruby’s Inn and Campground (which had amazing showers by the way. Rolling in style).
We headed to Zion National Park, and made a point to hit Angel’s Landing. The Angel’s Landing trail is 21 switchbacks, an elevation of 5,970 feet at the top and an estimated 4 hour hike. Once up the bottom half of the trail, you hit the rocky part. It’s narrow and even has chains cemented into the side of the rock face to help you safely to the peak. To be honest, being slightly out of shape right now, I was panting quite a bit during the lower half with the switchbacks. Once onto the rock face though, it’s easier as long as you’re being careful. At the top, it is absolutely breathtaking. We even caught some condors swooping through the canyons around us. The beautiful hike had us wiped at the end, but we made it in 3 hours round trip.
We took another (shorter) hike to the start of The Narrows which were unfortunately closed due to high waters. It was a nice walk at the end of a long day.
From there we unpacked at the Quality Inn Campground and snagged some much needed ice cream.
Our first move was to visit the Volkswagen dealership in St. George, Utah. They told us to go on our way, and if the check engine light showed up again that we should go to another dealership in a larger city because they’d have more parts available. So, here’s to hoping we don’t get stuck on the side of the road with an engine going caput.
We made it to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Rangers recommended we hit the North Rim because that’s what they have found to be the prettiest and least crowded. Evan and I were shocked as we drove through pine forests and patches of snow. We hadn’t thought about the elevation; we had only thought of the stereotypical desert images of the Grand Canyon.
Once at the top, we saw how vast the canyon truly was. It was beautiful, and Evan was excited to see all the different layers of rocks the canyon had to offer. To be honest though, we were done with the place fairly quickly. Maybe it was because it looked mostly like most other canyons we had seen all too recently or the fact that we weren’t doing a day or more long hike. So, we checked out the Grand Canyon Lodge. It was an impressively large, yet cozy, cabin feel with food that smelled mouth watering.
On our way out of the canyon, the altitude was really getting to me. We had gained at least 5,000 feet in a matter of a couple hours. I was pretty wrecked, which meant we needed to find a place to stay as quickly as possible. We found a cheap place to rent cabins an hour out of the canyon, but we didn’t fully realize how sketchy the place was. We slept through the night with a recliner chair shoved in front of the door because it wouldn’t lock.
So, I lied in my last post about this one being shorter. Our days keep getting longer, and there’s less and less time to stay up to date with posting. This trip is exhausting, but it is amazing. Can’t wait to share with you our trek through California on this next trip leg!