Pandemic hermits seek mountain retreat

Gas stations, fast food along the way, groceries, communal bathrooms, and problems with the tiny house you booked—in my excitement for a vacation, it didn’t occur to me how many people you see during a camping trip, especially to a national park. We had booked the trip months ago when there was hope that covid was only going to last a few weeks (months?). Surely, by September, things will be better. In retrospect, it wasn’t the safe pandemic trip I had been hoping for when I thought of the Great Outdoors as escape, but it happened. Here I am on the other side.

Last week, Scott and I visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and some places nearby.

Jack drinking from a mug while two deer are near by in the background
First campsite. We ended up moving campsites 3 times.

I’m basically in-operational in heat and on our way there we saw the thermometer creeped up passed 100F…104…110. ?. Low humidity helps a lot because you don’t immediately feel like you’re in a sweat suit the moment you step outside, but any time the sun is directly on you, you feel like you’re facing the oven burners. To be fair, most of the time we were in Zion I think it was only in the low 90s. The difference between the sun and the shade is dramatic. I would watch with great interest for the moment the sun creeped behind the mountain in the evening because it felt like the fire had been turned off. It even got pretty chilly on the other side of midnight.

Bushes in foreground, mountains reflecting setting sun background
Our later campsites were more secluded and had a much better view.

Even though it was more people than we’d seen for months, the park was limiting the amount of visitors in various ways by reducing shuttle stops, roads available for private vehicles, and parking lots.

Two not-great-planners combined still resulted in a pretty good time because everything around us was beautiful. On the first day we arrived we went on the very-short Canyon Overlook Trail which is just off the road and about a 1-mile well-paved trek.

Scott overlooking railing next to canyon on trail
train overlooking canyon and windy highway very far below

It’s nice to naturally wake up and sleep with the sun. Mysteriously waking up at 6:30a feels natural even though you think you should sleep-in while you’re on vacation. My fitbit told me that I was getting some of the best sleep I had for a while on my not-spectacular sleeping pad.

Campsite with flowering cacti foreground, mountains and Scott walking background
Close up of smoked ribs
Scott smoked ribs before we learned that propane-only grills were allowed

We also went on the nearby Watchmen Trail early enough to hit the shade most of the way up.

Scott walking up Watchman train, sun, mountains, trees galore.
Not a great example of shade here.
View from the top of the hike. Photo chosen for Grant because bird.

We caught the shuttle (/you actually have to book the shuttle the day before so no spontaneity involved) to the Emerald Pools Trail. We saw all three levels and they were all three disappointing. They were less emerald pools and more murky puddles. On our back I saw someone hiking up in a swimsuit with flip flops clipped to the back of her bag — such optimism.

The most exciting part of the hike was this overhang with water coming off of it.

The next day we caught the 7am shuttle to hike The Narrows, which is along/in a river through a slot canyon. We had no idea what we were looking for or really how far we should/could go (turns out 16 miles), but I can tell you that we ended up spending 8 hours on the hike, mostly in water on slippery rocks, without walking sticks. Both of had a bad ankle the next day. Personally, I was a puddle before as soon as we got back to our campsite.

Jack river hiking The Narrows hike
More open part of the narrows hike with water running down side wall

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we did it. But maybe more planning would have been nice too.

Jack standing next between a large rock in the water and the canyon wall waist deep in water.
This was one of the crazier parts where the water went chest high (I’m standing on something in the water) and you had to scoot over this rock. Scott hoisted our bags over his head through this part.

To recover the next day we went to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Zion. It’s smaller than I expected, but beautiful. You can drive up to different parts of the rim and immediately see beautiful sights. Painfully slowly, we did a rim hike from Sunset Point to Inspiration Point and back that is really quite short while still letting us see what seemed like the deepest part of the canyon.

Scott with walking sticks looking into the canyon.
Bryce Canyon hoodoos and blue blue sky.
The rock formations are called “hoodoos”

We popped over into the other parts of the canyon as well since why were a drive and overlook away. If we had been feeling stronger, we would done the Navajo loop down into the canyon as well. Instead, we got freezer ice cream at the general store. Note: This was a great compliment to the many road-trip Pringles we had had and would have during this trip. Don’t sleep on cheddar-sour cream, people!

I was reading the park’s guide on the drive back and they boast Bryce Canyon’s “high-quality darkness.” This was really amusing to me. Although I also have to admit that every night at Zion had seemed incredibly bright because of the moon. I never felt like I needed a light at night because of the blinding moon. Is that what it’s always like and I’m just never in nature?

Zion mountains at night with some stars.
Scott helping me figure out how to take night photos in Zion.

After four days of camping we spent the remaining two nights in a rented tiny home. Since the place we were staying was nearby and our ankles were still in pain, we had a driving day through Arizona. Our tour of the Lower Antelope slot canyon had been cancelled due to covid, but we went to see if we could still explore the area.

Dessert picture of soft green brush on red dirt with a very blue sky.
Pretty colors but heat like death

You know, it turns out you can’t really see slot canyon from above.

We went to the horseshoe bend spot, which honestly was cooler than I expected because the water was so vibrant and you really could just look off the cliff. The 1-mile (round trip?) completely flat and paved hike was like walking through a flame thrower.

Horseshoe bend photo, a place where the river turns in a sharp U-shape.
Horseshoe bend photo

I felt pitiful making my way to the end. There were different pockets of girls in slinky outfits taking instagram photos and I was in full, long-sleeve, long-legged UV clothes tried to keep my eyes open against the glaring light like a mole.

V cute.

I was at my weakest when we tried the Water Canyon Trail the next day. Again, for some reason we were hiking at the hottest part of the day and you would have seen a very surely, resentful Jack struggling up the mountain to do so with frequent glare-filled breaks in the shade. The hike was along a stream, but I knew there must be more water somewhere because of the name. When the two mountain walls came together, finally there was an open, shady area with water. Not very deep, but the shade and view were truly replenishing.

shady narrow part of a canyon hike with some water running down the right walls
At our stopping point, going towards some of the upper parts
Water running down a narrow area of a canyon
Looking back towards the previous photo. Scott’s dipping his feet in the a pool in the center of the picture

Honestly, it was one my favorite hikes because of effort to get the there and what an oasis the top felt like.

Me, lounging on some narrow rocks at the top

Scott had helped me learn how to take some night photos while we were in Zion and I used our last night at the tiny home to try taking photos myself. It was really incredible to see more stars in the photo than I could see with my own eyes.

Night sky with milky way visible above a field
Campfire, tiny home, and some stars in the back
That glowing light in the background is the moon coming up!

We ended the trip by getting a car wash at my enthusiastic insistence. It was awesome.

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