Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One Week Trip to the Utah National Parks

The Mission

The one week trip was planned with the following things in mind: Get the maximum out of the 7 day road trip, good photography, eat few times as possible eating outside and a lot of hiking.  Since I was planning to travel solo, I was confident that all of these can be achieved.  


Getting There

Initial plan was to drive from Seattle to Utah but the the distance and the time it would take to drive, made me gave up the idea.  the next option is to fly into Las Vegas and fly out of Salt Late city also got dropped because of the cost of the one way rentals.  One interesting findings while shopping for the one way rentals was if I rent on Saturday, the price for the one way rental was a lot cheaper.  Since I was starting my trip on Thursday, it was not economical to rent the one way rental.  The next option is either to fly to Los Vegas or to Salt Lake city.  Able to get cheaper tickets in the South West airlines to Salt lake city (round trip < $250), which worked out better because of the free checked in bags.  Since it is a car camping trip, a ton of stuff to carry from home, e.g. tent, sleeping bags, pad, cooking utencials, etc.  So booked the round trip ticket in the South West airlines to Salt Lake city.  The cheapest one week rental that I was getting from Hertz was for $260 (including tax) from the Salt Lake City airport, but if I rent the same size car from the city, it costed me $160 (including taxes), so decided to rent it from the city and return to the airport (no additional fee involved) and the initial estimation for the taxi fare from Salt lake city airport to the Hertz in the city was $25.   So the savings was not bad ;-)  

Where to Sleep

The next decision to be made was whether to start the trip from Arches NP or from Zion NP.  Decided to start from Arches NP because thought that I could reach Arches before sunset and could spend an hour or two before calling it a day.  If I decided to go to Zion, there's no time to spend in the part the first day.  So the Arches is the winner.  I know when and where I am going to start my trip, started planning my daily visits and campground reservations.  Hoping that it's the school season and I should be able to get campgrounds easily, started looking at the reservation site for the National Park Service.  To my (shock) surprise, most of the camp sites were full and some of them are only First In First Get kind of campgrounds.  I was able to get the campground reservation only at Zion for the last two nights (still at the day level planning but only concrete at this point was that I'd spend last two nights at Zion).  Managed to book first two nights in Moab Xoa campgrounds and the fourth night in the Ruby Campgrounds in Bryce National Park.  Decided to take a chance with the third night.

Day One

Drive to Arches

When landed in Salt Lake city, it was hot and sunny (for a person from Seattle).  As usual, my checked in bag always comes late and after picking it up got a taxi to get to the Hertz in the city.  The taxi driver is a refugee from Iraq and moved to Utah five years back from Iraq with his brothers and parents.  We're talking about the life in Iraq and his transition to USA.  It's surprising to hear that a lot of Iraqi refugees moved to Utah despite his family didn't have any know people living in Utah.  Hamzaa, the driver, was going to college in Iraq when the war broke out and he's saying how he had to restart his life here, at the same time how the people of USA were so welcoming and the system was able to support him to start a decent life.  His statement was that if someone wants to work hard and lead a living, this is the country of opportunity.  He was saying that he's taking evening classes to get a degree in para-legal.  His command of English was very good and when asked about it, he indicated that he's learning English while in Iraq.  By the time Hamzaa dropped me at the Hertz in the city, it was 1:55pm and costed me about $30.

After picking up the car from Hertz, started heading towards Moab.  I was tempted to stop over to pick up lunch and gas canisters for the stove, but decided to get out of the city first and get these after an hour.  It was a mistake, there were Wal*Mart and other fast food places close by before taking the highway but after taking highway I had to spend time to get to these places because they were away from the highway.  I was happy to see the speed limits in Utah, couldn't believe the speed limits are way high (70 mph) even in the undivided highways.  After stopping for a quick lunch and camping supplies shopping, reached at the Arches NP visitor center at 540pm.  

Sunset At Arches

Sunset at North Windows

Sunset at Windows

Couldn't believe that it took me less than 4 hours to reach (believe me that I was NOT driving like a mad man).  I was thinking the time shown in my GPS was Pacific time zone since I am Seattle.  So I was driving with no hope of making to Arches for sunset.  It is my surprise I reached there an hour before the sunset.  Decided to hike to the Windows area for the sunset and shot a bunch of pictures.  The sunset view in the Windows can not be explained in words.  There was not that many tourists at this time of the year, clear skies and beautiful location.  I hiked up a rocks behind the North Window for the beautiful view of the arches and the landscape behind the arches.  After soaking in the sunset, drove to  Moab XOA campgrounds that's about 7 miles from the NP visitor center.  

Setting up the Camp and Cooking

By the time I reached the campgrounds, it was 8pm and I was really worried about the rattle snakes in the campground (there's no basis for the fear).  So surveyed the camping site for a couple minutes, started setting up the tent using the car headlights and started boiling water for dinner preparation.  The campgrounds was only occupied sparsely.  By the time I set up the tent, the hot water was ready to make some Indian food (ready made ones from Tasty Bites).  Made Punjabi Chole by letting the packet sit in the boiling water  and after it was done, used the same water to boil pasta.  The overall time to cook dinner and lunch for the next took me less than 30 minutes.  After finishing dinner, packed the lunch for the next day, washed the dishes and put them away in the car.  For the camping, I didn't pack a lot, just packed deep pan to boil water and toast bread, tub ware to eat dinner and to pack lunch, wooden spatula, fork and spoon.  So cleaning and packing them is simple and easy.  The warm camping stove was put in the deep frying pan and kept in the car just to make sure that it doesn't burn anything.  Didn't leave anything outside overnight with the fear that the rattle snake will camp in the warm place ;-)  I need to read and learn more to get rid of this fear.  

Day Two


Sunrise at Balancing Rock

  1. Set the alarm to wake up at 6 am so that I'll be in the NP for the sunrise.  Slept well 'til 6 am and took showers in the XOA bathroom that's clean and well maintained.  On the way to the park, picked up breakfast and coffee from McDonald's and parked at the Courts area of the part at 715 am.  The sunrise was good but nothing compared to the previous day's sunset.  I thought of going to the Devils Gardens area (which is suggested by the NP service for sunrise) but decided to stick around closer to the visitor center because I wanted to check whether I could get any last minute passes for the Fiery Furnace hike.  A number of people in the forum advised that I could still enjoy the park without doing the Fiery Furnace hike, but my stupid attitude wanted to do this.  This is a typical example of my mind wants to do something which is difficult to get ;-(  So after taking a few photographs,went for a short hike in the Park Avenue area.  The scenery in that area is completely different the place where the arches are, I wish that I had a chance to do the full loop there.  But decided to go to the visitor center to check on the passes.

Passes for the Fiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace
The ranger at the visitor center said that there's no cancellations and if I wanted, I could hang around there for some more time to look for cancellations.  When I started exploring the possibility of hiking by my self, the ranger is completely against it and discouraged that possibility in a number of different ways.  I planned to hike alone in the Fiery Furnace and prepared for that with GPS and hiking guide.  But couldn't convince the ranger to allow me to get the permit for the hike.  While waiting for the pass cancellation possibility, I noticed a number of people inquiring about the cancellations and turned away when asked about independent exploration.  After wasting an hour and half waiting for cancellation, left the visitor center after getting drinking water in the camel bag and Platypus.  Moral of the story here is that if you don't have the pass/ticket for the Fiery Furnace hike, don't waste time waiting for the cancellations.  

Drove to the Fiery Furnace area, walked around to take pictures and the whole place does not look impressive like other areas in the park, guessing that the hike must be good for it to get sold out very fast.  While I was leaving the whole group of Fiery Furnace hiking gang arrived with the rangers and I asked whether anyone not want to go but none of the bastards want to give up their place to me ;-) so left to the Devils Garden area.

Devils Garden hiking

Landscape Arch
There is good restroom facilities and parking at the entrance of this hike.  Started the hike around 1030 am and it was getting hot.  Started on the regular trail to the Landscape Arch and initially, I didn't realize that there's an arch there.  As I get close by, could see the arch and wondering how it is staying up like that because in 1991 part of the arch broke and fell. The hiking path had a lot of people up to the Landscape Arch area.  Remember to apply a lot of sunscreen and wear a hat because there's no shade in the hike.  At the Landscape Arch area, there is some shade.  

Landscape Arch from the trail to Navajo Arch

The crowd thins after this point and also, you continue on the regular trail or can take the primitive trail from here.  I was not sure how primitive the primitive trail is, so decided to take the regular trail to the Partition and Navajo Arch areas.  There's a little bit of climbing on the rocks was needed immediately after the Landscape Arch area and it was not difficult at all, and anyone who hiked up to this point could be able to climb this part.  The trail is well marked and once you reach the top (guessing that the climb is less than 30 feet climb), you hike pretty much in the flat area.  

Partition Arch

You have two choices whether to continue to the Double O arch area or to Partition/Navajo Arch area.  Wanted to finish off the Partition and Navajo arches first because they are close by (less than half a mile hike).  The view from the Partition arch area was very good and could see the Devils Garden area landscape.  There's a cool breeze and nice shape at the noon time.  I had the place for myself for a couple of minutes before some other people showed up.  You have to back track a bit before continuing to the Navajo area.  There's no view points in the Navajo arch area but it is a nice place to sit, relax and enjoy some snacks.
Navajo Arch

Double O Arch
Backtracked to continue on the regular trail to the Double O arch.  After a short distance, there's a need to climb up a few rocks to trek on narrow fin and the view from the fin is different rock formations.  Hike on the narrow fin was not bad but in a couple of places need to hop over few gaps in the rock.  I saw a lady who didn't want to hop over the gaps and turned back.  It is not bad at all.  There's a look out Black Arch.  I couldn't see where the Black Arch is but the view from the overlook area was good.  To get to the Black Arch overlook area, you have to hop down from the narrow fin path.  After the overlook, the hike to the Double O arch is not bad and you walk down to the arch base area.  The arches looked like one staked over the other and you could climb over the bottom arch to get to the other side.  In the afternoon sun, the views are good.  Went through the bottom arch and climbed the rock behind the arch to sit and enjoy the view.  After enjoying some snacks with a beautiful view behind the arch, deciding whether to go further or return to the trail head.  
Double O Arch 

Landscape view from the Primitive Trail
Decided to go back to the trail head and decided to take the primitive trail.  Not many people going on the primitive trail and I wanted to make sure that at least some starts in the trail before I venture in that.  I was paranoid about getting stuck or hurt in the trail and no one shows up in the trail for days.  You don't have to have to worry about because there're a quite a few people hike in this trail but not compared to number of people hike in the regular trail.  I was saw a couple decided to go on the primitive trail and after they started on the trial, I started hiking in the trail ;-)  I hiked past them and the trail is not difficult or strenuous.  Most of the time hiking in the soft sand and taking this route is longer than the regular trail, but views from the trail is better than the other route and very peaceful.  The trail is well marked with cairns, only once I missed the cairns and lost my way.  Had to track back to look for the cairns to continue on the trail.  There's Private Arch detour from the primitive trail that I didn't go but saw a couple of guys taking that trail.  

Tricky Point in the Primitive Trail
There was one section (where I lost my way) that was scary or tricky, where I need to need to walk on the rock ledge to go down to continue the trail and it's was very windy.  One good thing about the rocks in Arches NP is that they are like sand paper and don't slip unless it's wet.  Once I crossed the short ledge (the drop off was not that bad and only 20 feet), the trail continues mostly flat.  Once you get closer to the Landscape Arch, a lot of vegetation are on the trail sides.  The primitive trail connects with the main trail at the Landscape Arch area.

By the time, I reached the trail head it was about 2 pm and decided to have lunch in the picnic area.  It is a nice area with barbecue grills and picnic tables.  There're some trees and shades give a good comfort after getting baked in the sun for the last 4 hrs.  It's windy and not sure why it takes forever to cook in the windy area.  It took more than 20 minutes to cook the tasty bite Indian food that normally takes about 10 minutes.  After having lunch, drove down to the trail head for the Delicate Arch trail area and slept in the car for an hour.
Primitive Trail

Sunset at Delicate Arch

Sunset at Delicate Arch

Sunset at Delicate Arch
Started hiking toward the Delicate Arch around 430 pm and it's a pretty easy hike about 3.2 miles round trip.  The trail is well marked most of the way and part of the trail slightly uphill on the slick rock where you can easily follow the cairns to reach the Arch.  There are no shades on the way and if you are planning to do this trail mid-day, please carry at least 2 liters of water.  It is really nice to do this hike during the sunset where you will be able to see the color of the rock formations change over time.  When I reached the Arch area there're a lot of people waiting to see the show and initially it was scary when I walked towards the arch afraid that I was going slip and fall.  But the slick rock is like sand paper and provides very good traction.  I saw a bunch of guys doing somersaults beneath the Delicate Arch which is pretty slope.  It was scary to watch and I didn't see anyone having difficulty landing.  You could easily run across the slopes without any problem and it was fun after you get over the initial fear.  It is not a good manners to spend a lot of time under the arch because there are a bunch of people waiting for hours to take the perfect picture of the arch with the perfect lighting..;-)  I saw the whole crowd of 50+ people shouting at a couple to get away from the arch at one point when the sun was hitting the arch at the right point.  It was funny to see the couple run away from the arch hearing the scream from the whole gang.  The color of the arch kept changing as the sun kept going down and it was great view.  Took a ton of pictures and left the arch at dark.  There was no problem walking back to the trail head after the sun set, since it is pretty open area and once you come down from the slick rock ledge area carefully, the hike is pretty easy even with limited lighting and you'll have a lot of company.

Lesson of the day

On the way to the campsite, got the pasta sauce and propane canisters for cooking as well as for lantern.  When I went to get the propane canister, I realized that there're a lot of outdoor activities I could be doing in the Moab area that I am missing out because of the tight schedule of mine.  I reached my campsite, it was about 9 pm and to my shock I couldn't find my tent.  Initially, I thought that I didn't fill out the forms properly so the XOA guys took away my tent.  But when got out of my car to look around for my tent, I found my tent stuck under the tree branch in a corner.  It didn't even occur to me before leaving in the morning for my hike or sun rise pictures that the wind will take away my tent despite having a little weight inside the tent.  I felt so stupid of my self for not securing the tent.   Even though I found the tent, I couldn't locate the plastic sheet that I put under the tent.  Decided to ask around for the plastic sheet and found it from my close by neighbor.  So nothing lost but a good lesson learnt.  


After securing and setting up the tent, cooked pasta for dinner and the next day lunch.  Decided leave early the next day to either the Dead Horse State Park or to the Canyon-lands NP for the sun rise pictures.  Not sure where to go first but know that I need to head out towards the Capital Reef NP by noon.  Washed the dishes, showered and packed everything to leave early in the morning.  Set up the alarm to wake up at 530am and went to bed.  Didn't have problem going to sleep early because all of the hiking under the sun.

Day Three

As soon as I woke up, set up the stove to boil water for coffee and oat meal.  While the water was boiling, started the dismantling the tent and packing the sleeping bags.  It was good timing that in 10 minutes I was able to pack the whole tent, put them in the car and the water was ready for breakfast.  Left the campsite around 630 am towards Canyon-lands NP (Island in the Sky).  It is really interesting to drive at the early morning hours to see scenery coming to life and there're a lot of things left to the imagination.  As I got closer to DH state park, decided to go to Mesa Arch in Canyon-lands NP to optimize the time spent and cut down the dollars spent (need to buy a separate ticket to get into DH state park).  When I reached the parking lot of the Mesa Arch, didn't realize that I had to hike about 0.25 miles to arch and it's about 7 am.  
Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch - Canyon-lands NP

Sunrise at Mesa Arch
It was cold in the morning and when I started to run towards the arch to catch the sun at the moment, my body warmed up.  There're a quite a number of people positioned to catch the sun at the arch and loads of tourists also there.  The overall landscape from the vantage point was very good and as the sun started to rise, the whole canyon area started to come to life with new areas becoming visible.  Found a spot closer to the arch to enjoy the sunrise and to take pictures.  There's an idiot (guessing that tourist from some where from Asia) starting walking on the top of the arch and posing for pictures.  Seeing this, there're other tourists from his group started doing it, to the frustration of other people in that area.  The view from the Mesa Arch at the day break is unforgettable.  The colors and the scenery of the whole landscape changes over time during the sunrise, and after the sun rise the scenery is good but nothing compared to the scenery during the sun rise.  You don't see the transformation once the sun is completely up.

View from the Grand View trail
Wanted to do couple of hikes before heading out to Capital Reef NP and as a first hike, started on the Grand view trek.  It is pretty much flat hike with views of endless basin with Colorado river and Green river.  The 2 mile round trip hike takes you to the southern tip of the Island in the Sky (that you can hike), the views from the hike are of cathedral like structure, totem pole like structures in the basin.  Since I was hiking in the morning with the sun coming from the same side, I was unable to get good pictures.  Also, couldn't appreciate different colors of the canyon as well as  the details of the landscape was not clear because of the sunlight.  What I found out later is that this's the best place to hike during the sunset times.  Looking at the basin and landscape created by the nature, I was wondering that the Gods must be Crazy ;-)  Wondering how there are some beautiful totem pole like structures left alone by the rivers as well as the snow/wind in the massive landscape and vast area around them is gone.  The trail is well marked with cairns and steep cliffs on one side most of the way.  Just 25 miles away from the Arches National Park, the scenery is completely different from that of Arches and couldn't locate a single arch shape rock.  Relaxed at the end of the trail with the view of Junction Butte for a few minutes, returned to the trail head.

Upheaval Hike - At First View Point
It's only 10 am and so decided to explore more of the NP, drove to the Upheaval dome and on the way stopped to take pictures of the beautiful landscape.  Considering the time that I need to head towards Capital Reef, decided to do the short hike 1 mile round trip to the crater view point.  There're conflicting theories around how this crater got created and how the sand inside the crater has formed.  The crater and the features are completely different from the surrounds and I am convinced that it's caused by meteor ;-)  After talking to a couple who became friends during the Grand view hike about the dome and advise on what to do in Bryce canyon, started towards the visitor center to find more information on Little Wild Horse Canyon on the way to Capital Reef NP.  

The ranger at the Canyon-lands NP visitor center was very helpful and gave me a brochure about the Little Wild Horse canyon in addition to some tips on what to do.  The Wild Horse canyon is a slot canyon which is on the way to the Capital Reef NP.  I was planning to hike in that slot canyon and if possible, stay in the state park that night before heading the Capital Reef NP.  Since I don't have any accommodation planned for this night, my plans are pretty much fluid.  The scenery from Canyon-lands to Goblin valley (where LWH canyon is located) was filled with a number of buttes with amazing shapes.


Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon
The LWH canyon is near the Goblin valley state park and you will be able to see signs for this on the highway SR24.  Before getting to the LWH canyon, I went to the Goblin valley state park to see whether I can get a campsite for that night and I was so unlucky to see the campsite taken away by another person ;-(  But the ranger at the park advised me that I could pull over my car and stay overnight in one of the pull over camping areas.  The LWH canyon hike is a 8 mile loop and the ranger advised me not to do the full loop but to do the slot canyon part alone because it's already 2 pm.  So collected water from the park and headed towards the trail head.  Since I had not had lunch, decided to prepare lunch at the trail head and start the hike before 3 pm.  Please check with the ranger before heading towards the trail head because the road or canyon may be flooded in a stromy weather any where in the close by areas.  Luckily the weather was awesome with clear blue skies and very pleasant when I headed towards the trail head.  Don't forget to get water before heading out.

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon
At the trail head, I met a German girl who was backpacking for 4 weeks in the west coast and sharing our travel experiences while cooking pasta for lunch.  She has started at LA, then to Las Vegas and planning to end in San Francisco before heading back to Germany.  After finishing my lunch and coffee, started the hike at 250 pm (don't forget to register your name in the book near the trail head).  There is a nice rest room at the trail head.  The trail is very well marked with cairns for the first 0.5 miles and after that you'd be walking through the slot canyon.  Even if you want to get lost there is no way to get lost.  The lightings was really great by the time I started the hike but I saw only two people in the two hours that I spent in the canyon.  I am guessing that most of the people were doing the loop and completing their hike at the other end or no one wanted to start their hike this late.  But it's really nice to hike in peace with beautiful view of the canyon.  There are some places where I had to remove my day pack and crawl through the canyon.  If you can walk, you can do this hike.  But if you are a big size person, there are places where you may find it difficult to get through.  The wall formations are different and awesome.  When I was hiking in the canyon I was wondering whether my wife, Shanta, would do this hike or not because she's paranoid about disasters.  Even when we were in Venice, Italy, she worried about what she would do if there's a earth quake.  In this LWH canyon, it would be disastrous if there was a earth quake because there's no way to guess where the boulders will fall.  There's no escape because you won't know where it'd be safer ;-)  Also, it is one of the reasons to check with the ranger about the flash floods before heading out on the hike.  I was thinking what I would do if I saw a bear in my trail ;-)  It is the best hiking experience in my trip.  I don't think that you could hike any place where you would get this experience.  Once you reach an open area, it is an indication of the  end of the slot canyon and start of the Bell Canyon loop.  At this point, you can either continue on the Bell Canyon to finish the 8 mile hike or turn back.  I decided to turn back and by the time I reached the trail head it was about 445 pm.   Marked my return in the register and headed towards state park.

Drive to Capital Reef

Buttes on the way to Capital Reef NP
At the Entrance of Capital Reef
There is still at least 2 hours of day light left, so decided to check with the Capital Reef NP visitor center on the availability of the camp sites.  The ranger whom I talked to was really helpful and advised me that there's a pullover campsite available at milepost 73 near the town where I could find a spot if I reach soon but there's no campsites available in the park.  So decided to take my chances and started towards Capital Reef NP.  All along the way to the Capital Reef NP, there are a lot buttes which resembled huge cathedrals or hindu temples.  It felt like that there're a huge hindu temples those're old and destroyed by nature.  From distance, all these buttes look like temple structures.  As I get closer to the Capital Reef NP, the buttes next to the highway look like palace walls and the felt like driving through the palace grand entrance.  The huge boulders at the entrance of the park at the sun set were really colorful and beautiful.  Pulled over my car near the entrance in a number of places to take the sun set pictures but I was in a hurry to find a place to camp in the pull over area because I was not sure what to expect at the pull over area.  The pull over camping area is on the right side near the mile post 73 and I was glad that I reached before it was dark because the condition of the entrance and path (I won't call it road because it is unpaved path way) in that area.   There're a huge pot holes that I had to avoid before finding  a place to park my car.  

Camping at the Pullover Area

Pullover Camping Area
After parking the car, found a nice rock where I set up the stove to cook.  As usual, the dinner was Indian food made by tasty bites.   The camping site was very much inside, so there's no road nice and pretty good.  Found a number of people parking their RVs and staying in this area in addition to some people pitching their tents.  I had an option of pitching my tent but decided to sleep in the car.  After having dinner, decided to go to sleep early and wake up late, so no alarm set.  Planned to wake up late the next day, find a place to take shower and charge the camera. because I didn't find any information on good vantage points to take the sun rise pictures.  Packed the stove, cooking utensils in the car and went to sleep around 9 pm in car.  It's quite comfortable sleeping in the sleeping bag in the passenger side of the car and didn't feel cold or uncomfortable.

Day Four

Bath and Breakfast

Woke up around 730am (what's wrong with me…couldn't sleep longer even during the vacation) and made coffee before heading out to find a place to take shower in Torrey.  When I stopped over the Shell gas station to enquire about the showers, I was recommended to go to Torrey Cabins for showers.  The shower at the Torrey Cabins was excellent and I couldn't expect them to provide soad/shampoo/conditioner.  It's a very clean and well maintained bath room that costed me $5.  Well worth it.  After the shower, stopped at the Castle Rock Coffee mainly to charge the camera battery.  To spend 30 or so minutes there while charging the camera battery, got coffee and breakfast.  Shared the table with a couple from England who were running a resort in Guatemala and started talking about drugs/crimes/corruption/life in Guatemala.  This couple fell in love with the Guatemala island when they visited and decided to retire there.  In their opinion, as long as you don't involve in any of the gang activity and stay away from the gangs you are safe in the island and the island is much safer than the mainland.  

Capital Reef NP

Capitol Gorge
Scenic Drive at Capital Reef NP

The plan is to drive to the NP and to explore the park 'til noon before heading out to Peek-A-Boo slot canyons on the way to Bryce canyon for the sunset.  Drove towards the Capitol Gorge in the Scenic Drive to do a small hike before leaving for Bryce.  The location of the Fruita Campground is in an awesome location and the views from this campsite is so beautiful, I wish that I had a few more days to stay here.  Stopped along a way to take a lot of pictures and the scenery is different from the other national parks, Arches and Canyonlands.  This park is full of huge domes and canyons.  The Capitol Gorge is a gravel road and don't miss driving in that road, the scenery is amazing.  Parked at the end of the road and hiked in the canyon towards tanks, which is about a mile hike.  Nothing awesome about the hike and if you are not careful, you will miss the Pioneer Register point.  There's nothing great about it and not even sure whether the writings were from the Pioneers ;-)  The whole hike was in the shade and the temperature was cool in the morning.  The trail is well marked.  I was looking for the Pioneer Register but somehow missed it and trekked up to the "Tanks".  The hike is pretty easy and on the river bed between the canyons.  I didn't see any arches either in the drive or in the hike.  

Drive to Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Dixie National Forest
The Peek-A-Boo trail was highly recommended by one of my friends and I assumed that it's one of the well marked locations, and I have no idea where this place but only know that it's between Capitol Reef NP and Bryce canyon.  So wanted to get a better idea about where it is before leaving the Capital Reef NP and stopped in the visitor center to get the directions to Peek-A-Boo trail.  Got my first shock, when the ranger told me that he didn't have clue where it's but he heard about it and advised me to enquire about this in Escalante.  Also, he told me not to expect any well marked directions to this place.  Started heading towards Escalante around 11 am.  The drive was through the Dixie National Forest and it's one of the very scenic drives with the foliage colors in Utah.  In all other drives in Utah, I never seen that may trees and this section has a lot of trees with beautiful foliage colors.  One more interesting thing is that there're a bunch bulls hanging around the sides of the highway.  So be careful when drive through this section of the highway.  The drive is very beautiful drive with gaining elevation to 9000+ ft before dropping off and there're a number of scenic overlooks.  Please take a look at Scenic Road information, for more detailed description of the drive.  If you have time, you can enjoy the drive much better than what I did.  When I reached Escalante, it's about 2pm and I didn't find any signs for the hike or trail that I was planning to do.  So stopped in the first gas station in the town and asked the lady at the gas station about the Peek-A-Boo slot canyon, seemed like that it's a well known slot canyon locally, she told me where to go.  I had to back track 5 miles to get to the gravel road to Hole in the Wall in which I had to drive about 30 miles to the trail head for the Peek-A-Boo slot canyon.  

Costly Mistake

The Hole in the Rock Road to Peek-A-Boo
Driving in the gravel was painful and I couldn't drive more than 30 miles an hour in that bumpy dirt road.  There's no traffic in the road and I was little concerned about hiking in a remote area at the late afternoon.  Also, I didn't have any local maps of the canyon or hike.  Anyway, decided to continue to the trail head to see whether it is worth the risk because the drive and scenery was different and good.  There're no vehicles or people for miles and I was thinking about the TV Drama "Breaking Bad" in relation to a place where Waltz could his meth in peace.  In the 45 minutes that I was driving on that road, I saw only two vehicles coming from the opposite direction and it's already closer to 3 pm when I was near the 30 mile mark in the dirt road..still no sign of Peek-A-Boo trail sign.  Decided to drive another 5 miles before turing back if I don't find the sign because the lady told me that I should see the sign for the trail at the 30th mile mark.  After driving a mile, I saw a car coming in the opposite direction and decided to ask the drive about the trail head, so waited for the car to come closer.  The driver of the on-coming car stopped and referred to the map that he had but couldn't find any sign of Peek-A-Boo trail in the map or in the Utah hiking guide book that he was carrying.  Also, he mentioned that there's no sign for the Peek-A-Boo trail further in the road.  I was totally pissed with my self for driving for two hours for nothing and not doing the hike that I really wanted to do, turned around to head back to Escalante and then to Bryce canyon.  By the time I reached the highway 12 from the dirt road, it was about 4 pm and started heading towards Bryce.  Just about half a mile past the gas station where I got the direction for the trail, I came across the office for the Public Lands management that I decided to enter to find where the heck the Peek-A-Boo trail is and how I missed it.  The ranger at the office indicated that the name Peek-A-Boo is the local name and there is no sign indicating that name in that area, and I was supposed to take the Dry Fork Road at the 30 mile mark (which I saw) to get to the Peek-A-Boo canyon.  Also indicated that it's too late to go now and I should have had maps before going there because there not much directions or markers in that area.  So after wasting about 2 hours, not doing the hike and learning a lesson about better preparing for hike, headed towards Bryce for the sunset.

Sunset Bryce

Sunset at Bryce
Sunset at Bryce
The drive from Escalante to Bryce is nothing great compared to the drives in the other areas, reached the Sunset point in the Bryce NP around 530 pm and decided to get the better use of time by cooking dinner (lunch for the next day) in the parking lot.  By the I had my coffee and made pasta, it's about 615pm, ready to enjoy the sunset.  It's a beautiful scenery but nothing great that you have to be there for the sunset because sun sets in the direction where the light does not have direct impact on the colors of the "hoodoos".  Since Bryce is located at the higher elevation, it's getting cold when the sun start going down.  After walking along the rim 'til the dark and taking a bunch of pictures, returned to the car to settle in the Ruby camp ground.  Since the Bryce campgrounds are First Come First Serve and no reservations, I didn't want to take any chances and booked a site in Ruby Campground which is located just outside the park entrance.  The Bryce NP is very small compared to the other three parks, it does not make any difference whether you stay inside the park or outside the park.  Initially, I booked a tee-pee for the stay and to save 10 bugs, I changed to regular tent site thinking that I could sleep in the car.  The Ruby campground is a nice place with clean bath rooms and jacuzzi.  After checking in and setting up the tent (decided to sleep comfortably in the tent because it was expected to freeze at night), relaxed in the Jacuzzi for about 30 minutes before coming back to the campsite to have dinner.  After enjoying peace and quiet in the dark for some time, set the alarm to get up at 615 am to go for the sunrise pictures and went to bed around 1030pm.  

Day Five

Bryce Canyon

Sunrise at Bryce
Sunrise at Bryce
It was a torture to setting up the stove to boil water for coffee and breakfast in the freezing morning, but got to get it going while I was packing the tent.  It was a comfortable night and having a great sleeping bag makes all of the difference in the cold weather (I have a 10 degree F down sleeping bag).  Luckily, I packed the hand warmers from Costco that put in my jacket packet to warm up my hands because touching cold camping poles in the freezing weather is not pleasant.  Reached the Sunrise point around 7 am and finished breakfast/coffee in the car before started going to the rim for taking the pictures.  With the limited sun light (before the sun rise), the whole area looked like canyon and a bunch of boulders, as the sun started to peep, the whole area started show features of "hoodoos" and "amphitheater" and every few minutes the total scenery was changing with more and more features visible with different colors.  The sunrise view of the Bryce surely worth visiting in the morning and clearly better than the view at the sunset.  From the parking lot, start going towards the north on the rim for the better view of the "amphitheater" and the landscape, closer to the Navajo loop trail starting point seems to have a better view.  After soaking the sunrise view of the Bryce and shooting a quite a number of pictures, planned to hike a few trails and leave Bryce by 2 pm.  I got the recommendation from the Ruby Campground receptionist to do the Navajo and Peek-A-Boo trails in Bryce, so parked my car at the Sunset parking area and after having another cup coffee, started on the Navajo loop around 9am.  Please carry at least 2 liters of water per person because in addition to the sun, the reflection from the red hot rocks makes it more thirsty and tiring.  Starting off as a downhill hike with limited sunlight and at the bottom there are a lot trees with beautiful towering views of the red rocks or "hoodoos".  Red rocks with the bluest skies makes the whole place amazing.  While sitting and enjoying the view from the bottom, met a couple of guys from Quebec and started talking about Utah hikes as well as the travel in India.  It's a interesting conversation that these guys feel so comfortable traveling in India, they don't want to go anywhere for the vacation and end up going back to India again in February.  

At the Bottom of Navajo Trail
At the bottom, you can either continue on the Navajo loop or take a detour to combine the Peek-A-Boo loop which I decided to hike.  This hike has a number of uphill climbs but the view from this trail is unbelievable and I started to wonder whether the palaces in the movies like "Lord of the Rings" have been inspired by the landscapes in Bryce.  The "hoodoos" and "amphitheater" views and the bluest background let you feel like that you are in a different world.  This trail is shared by horses and so be careful not to step on the horse poop.  Started talking to a Canadian couple while waiting for the restroom and started to hike with them the whole hike discussing about the couple's travel experience and the guy's hiking adventures in Nepal.  They are planning to hike Machu Pichu in April and they wanted more information where to go and what to do, how to choose the trekking companies, etc.  When the discussion started on the Peru, the discussion continued on their family, their children, how they get together with the family, etc.  This nice retired couple is from Canmore and traveling in their RV around Utah and Arizona with the lady's elderly mom.  After talking to him about his experience trekking Annapurna Circuit, I started to think about trekking Annapurna Circuit too.

Peek-A-Boo Trail
View from Peek-A-Boo Trail

It didn't take too much time to trek the Peek-A-Boo loop, it was 1115 am when I completed the loop and since there was more time left to enjoy the park, continued with the couple on the Queens Garden trail because it's one of the best trails in the park.  In deed, it is one of the best trails but I would have enjoyed it more by coming down because the views were good looking down.  After hiking about 7 or more miles, reached the around noon and decided not to spend any more time in Bryce so that I could do one of the hikes that I wanted to do in Zion but couldn't fit in my schedule.  So started rushing towards the Zion NP and didn't bother to stop to take picture on the way to the visitor center even though the scenery is so beautiful.  To goal was to hike the Angels Landing hike which is one of the scariest hikes if time permits on that day and wanted to make sure that I had time.  After parking the car in the visitor center, getting water, maps and boarded the shuttle to the Weeping Rock, it was 315pm.

Hurry to Angles Landing

Last Part of Angles Landing Trail
Angels Landing is one of the hikes very highly recommended by one of my friends as a "Must Do" hikes in Zion and while I was planning my trip, I got torn between doing this hike vs. Narrows and decided to do Narrows.  Because I was able to get out of Bryce early because (like a crazy) I started my Bryce hikes much earlier during the day than expected, I could get to the Zion to have the possibility of hiking AL later part of the day.  The total length of the trek is 5 miles (roundtrip) with more difficulty level and I started at the trail head around 345pm thinking that I could get to the top before the dark.  The thrilling part of the hike what I was told is that a short distance needs to be hiked in the steep edge holding chain on one side where the other side is a steep drop of 1000 ft.  It was my fault of not doing the research before the trip, because what I thought of short thrilling hike was about half mile climbing on a steep edge.  If you are afraid of heights, please don't try this hike.  

The Hike

View from Angeles Landing
The first two miles of the hike was steep uphill but not difficult that I could make it to the top within 45 minutes and as soon as reach the last 0.5 mile section where there's a sign stating the warning as well as the death toll in that hike, I came to a sudden stop.  I didn't expect the hike in the ledge for 0.5 mile but the death toll in that hike was not that bad because on an average only 1 person died every 3 years…;-)  So decided to get to the top to reach the Angels Landing but not to reach the angels by falling down from the top.  Just before starting on this section, met four guys who also attempting the hike and told them to keep an eye on me and if I went missing, asked them to call the rescue service…;-)  I just wanted to make sure that I was climbing that part.  The look and warnings made the hike more dangerous than it is, and the NP put the chains in most of the way for support where in other places it is safe as long as you are careful…no fooling around in that part of the hike.  It's thrilling to climb to the top and view from there was really amazing at the sun set time.  Even at the top, there's not much flat surface to relax and mostly sitting on the ledge but the guys whom I hike with walked further on the ledge to other end (another 20-40ft), and I did not want push my luck further.  So I decided relax on the top to have my snacks and drinks, and enjoy the beautify views from there.  Overall, it took me only about 90 minutes to get to the top which is not bad and after relaxing there for 15-20 minutes started the hike down which I thought would be difficult but not at all trouble (may be getting over confident).  Made sure that I was not getting over confident and careless with my footings and reminded my self about this every now & then, and reached bottom of the ledge part fairly quickly.  After relaxing and enjoying what I had done, started to hike down around 6pm and because the trail is well paved, getting down was not difficult or slow even with limited light.  

View from Angeles Landing


Zion Camping Site
Got the shuttle from the Weeping Rock shuttle stop around 715pm to the visitor center to pick up my car and after that drove down the ranger office to pickup my camping site permit.  As usual, I set up the stove to boil the water to make the Indian dinner while I was setting up the tent and without forgetting I stacked the tent nicely.  I planned to wake up late the next day to get to the town to take shower before heading out to the Narrows, which is a hike, mostly in the knee deep water and in some place the water may be as deep as chest deep, between the canyons and in a narrow area.  Within 30 minutes after getting into the camp to sleep, the wind started to blow very hard and even though I stacked the camp I was worried that it might not stand the wind.  SO got out of the camp and started looking for some rocks to place on the edges of the tent, after putting the rocks the noise and movements that the tent was making reduced.  The weather in Zion was very pleasant and there's no need for sleeping bag at all, the camping ground was clean and nice.

Day Six

As soon as I woke up in the morning, while boiling the water for coffee and breakfast, I started putting bigger rocks on the tent and building rock wall around the tent so that it could withstand a heavy wind when I am away hiking some where.  After securing the tent and having breakfast, went to Springdale to have shower and enquire about canyoneering.  The same shop that was taking canyoneering adventure trips was also providing the shower for $5 where I charged my camera battery while taking care of shower/shave (don't want to get screwed in the airport for having beard).  When enquired about the canyoneering trip in the narrows, I was quoted the price of $250 for the private trip for half a day and there's no group trips arranged.  I decided not to spend the money on the canyoneering with excuse of coming back again to Zion to do the canyoneering with my kids, left to the visitor center.  


At the visitor enquired about the flood situation and dangers to look for, if any, in the Narrows with the rangers, and got the advise that at this time of the year nothing to worry about because the water level is low (also there is flash flood danger).  After getting the water, packing enough snacks and lunch in a water proof bag, headed towards the Temple of Sinawa shuttle stop in the park shuttle to hike in the Narrows.  Initial section of the trail was flat and well  paved, also handicap accessible for about half a mile and after which you have get in the water to enjoy the Narrows.  Walking in the water takes time and also looking for shallow areas to walk is slow and tricky.  On the route to the Narrows entrance, I picked up a long stick to use for balance as well as for support (that I highly recommend).  A number of people who were hiking the Narrows must have rented water proof (special) shoes and water proof pants, and some of the people didn't want to wet their shoes..walking bare foot in the water (that I don't recommend doing) but I decided to just with my hiking boots in the Narrows.  It was pretty comfortable and I didn't find any thing difficult or uncomfortable walking in my hiking boots, also at this time of the year (October), the water was not very cold.  So depending on how much you want to spent and what makes you comfortable, you can dress up for this hike and I think that hike pole/water proof shoes/pants can be rented in the visitor center (or they may advise you where you can get them).
 Hiking in the Narrows was a different experience that you've steep walls on either side and the walls different formations or shapes that are carved out by the river.  After about a quarter of a mile, the crowd thinned down and a very few people hike very deep into the Narrows.  The hike is peaceful and amazing because you are surrounded with the sudden sharp turns of the canyon walls and no or limited sunlight because of the tall steep canyon walls.  The scenery in the Narrows changes so frequently with the changes in the surrounding canyons as well as splashing water around you.  Decided to have lunch after hiking about 3 or more miles, found a huge log in the sunlight to share with another couple to rest.  I started the conversation with the couple, whom I was sharing the huge log to rest when having lunch, to find out that they also from Washington state.  As we started to talk more, to our surprise, we found that my daughter and their daughter go to the same high school and they are classmates, and we live just a quarter of a mile apart.  Could not believe how small the world is..;-)  I decided to continue my hike in Narrows for another half a mile to a point called "Wall Street" before returning and the couple decided to turn back.  

I turned back after reaching the "Wall Street" (there're no markers or sign boards, so I assumed that a certain location is the Wall Street because it matched picture that's in the brochure) to get back to the shuttle and planned to stop in every shuttle stop enjoy the views as well as to take pictures.  Taking pictures and soaking in the views took away about an hour, and after that I returned to the visitor center to pick up my car to drive towards the west of the park in the tunnel to enjoy the views that I missed the previous day coming from Bryce.  

The Drive to the Tunnel

Checks Near Tunnel
The drive to the tunnel and beyond was really great at the evening time with the sightings of mountain goats and deers, and perfect lighting to shot the "Gods Checkers" (huge rock formations look like checker board).  Stopped frequently and took a lot of pictures in this scenic section of the road and amazed with the engineering marvel (the tunnel) that got built in 1930s.  Once it got dark, drove to Springdale to pick up beer and humus from the grocery store for dinner, and returned to campsite and relieved to find that my tent didn't fly away ;-)  Cooked naan to go with the humus and pasta for next day lunch and started packing things to leave to the airport the next day.   Planned to wake up early in the morning to hike up the Observation Point hike before taking off to the airport because a number of people told me about this hike while having conversations in the Narrows hike.  Even the park ranger mentioned that this is one of the best hikes in the park.  So wanted to try to hike to the Observation Point before heading to the airport.  But the it was going to pretty tight schedule because I needed to leave the park before 1130am to reach the airport by 430pm for the 530pm flight.  Started early in the morning (615am) to boil water for coffee and breakfast, to pack up the things to fly out that day and to get ready to start the Observation Point hike by 7am.

The Final Day

Observation Point Hike

Morning at Observation Point
The Observation Point hike is a 8 mile roundtrip strenuous hike and suggested time to do this hike was minimum of 6 hours.  But I have done hikes of same or more difficulty level and same distance in less time, so wanted to try to do this very early in the morning by 7 am.  I took the early morning shuttle at 715 am and reached the trail head at 740 am, while sitting in the bus, I set an alarm in my phone for 930am.  This is the absolute time by which I should return back to trail head whether I reached the top of the Observation Point or not.  I started to run and hike fast all the in the trail and amazed to find some other crazy people started the hike earlier than me ;-)  The hike was steep but nothing compared to the hikes that I had done to train for Rainier.  I was taking very short 30 second breaks to enjoy the view and to take pictures while running up the trail and only at one section the trail goes on the ledge (nothing compared to the ledge at the Angels Landing).  I was able to reach the top by 910am and spent the next 20 minutes to enjoying the view, taking pictures & having snacks.  I could look down the Angels Landing from this point and also whole valley is visible from this point.  While I was running up the trail, there's a deer trail that started to run in front of me and it's funny that I was chasing the deer for a few minutes.  Leaving the Observation Point at 930am and reached the shuttle stop by 1030am.  At that point, I felt pretty good about the timing to reach the airport, because I was able to get back to the car to head out to the Salt Lake City by 1130am as per original plan.

The drive from the visitor center to the Hertz drop-off is about 4 hrs 30 minutes and most of the way the speed limit is 80 mph.  The only minor complaint is that the toll lane signs at Salt Lake city was very confusing, not sure where it starts, what lane is the toll lane.


Observation Point
Overall the trip to Utah National Park was fun and I started with low expectation of how beautiful the rocks can be ;-), but couldn't believe how amazing it is.  It is one of place I don't mind coming back (even though there're a lot of places to be covered in this lifetime ;-) ).