Zion National Park

Day 10 Soundtrack:

Morning - Vaudevillian, Salty Dog

Late Morning - The Beatles, White Album

Evening - The National, Boxer

When we do this trip again (because we plan on it.... maybe in the spring though) we will give ourselves more time to get to the Grand Canyon.

In order to stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the GC, you need to book your trip well in advance. We were lucky, and due to the time of year, we were able to get a cabin with only two months notice. But if you were going peak-season, you'd need to book 6-12 months ahead of time.

Our trip-planning process was looser than most - we booked our stay at GC for January 10th, giving ourselves 12 days to drive down and make some stops along the way. Other than our first stay at Starved Rock State Park (because the friendly border patrol guards want to know you're not just gallivanting around the States with no itinerary), we didn't book a single thing the whole trip - we would spend each day of driving looking online or phoning parks to make sure we could stay there for the night. If we couldn't get a hold of them, we just showed up, and hoped for the best (this only backfired on us once... stay tuned for another blog post).

Canyon Overlook Trail Zion National Park
Zion National Park

The only problem with this plan was that we quickly ran out of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We could have spent all 12 days at any one park!  (Except maybe that night in Brush CO - no offense, Brush)

And so it was that we had 48 hours to get from Escalante UT to The Grand Canyon AZ, with about a billion things still on our list. No surprises - there were things we didn't get to do, and places we didn't stay long enough. This is where the "when we do this trip again" comes in...

En route to GC we were within a stone's throw of Zion National Park, so we decided to take a slight detour and spend a few hours there (not nearly long enough!) before continuing to Page AZ where we would spend the night.

Zion Canyon
Scenic Drive Zion Canyon

With only a few hours in one of the most well-known and beautiful parks in the US... what to do? You ask a ranger, and follow their suggestions.

First we drove the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (normally a shuttle-bus-only road in peak-season, the SD was open to personal vehicles for the winter). We were able to take our time, stopping at the scenic views and lookouts along the way, and finally ended at Temple of Sinawava where we took in the waterfall view while snacking on smoked oysters and trail mix. I half expected to see a pterodactyl come sweeping down from the cliff tops, or a tyrannosaurus come barreling through the trees. There was something especially prehistoric and grandiose about this place. If there is another Jurassic Park movie in the future - they should film it here (but don't, you'd ruin it).

Canyon Overlook Trail
Checking out the view
Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion Canyon

After driving back up many switchbacks, and barreling through the Mt. Carmel tunnel, we parked and hiked up the Canyon Overlook Trail which, SURPRISE, overlooks the canyon. It was a slightly treacherous hike up, with spotty sections of ice, loose rocks and steep drop-offs, but we made it to the top and were thrilled that we did (Thanks ranger!) The view was astounding - red cliffs stretching out into the distance as far as the eye could see. And though there were spots with railings for the folks with height-related fears, there were lots of perching opportunities for those without. But please, don't fall!

 
The Edge
 

Wecontinued on to Page AZ where we quickly lost cellphone reception (thank you, all of Northern Arizona, for your terrible cell reception) and wandered around for a bit looking for an appropriate place to camp for the night. In our wandering, we discovered that you can easily get McDonalds WiFi from the parking lot, and returned to the parking lot on 3 separate occasions that evening after finding that the sites we looked for no longer existed (or maybe never did?), were closed, or were merely a patch of dirt at the side of the highway.

We finally found a nearby RV and tent park that accepted late arrivals, and set up camp.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park
Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion National Park

 

 

Billboards, Corn and Cattle Piss

Day 1 Soundtrack:

Morning - Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin
Afternoon - Elton John, Greatest Hits

Evening - Pink Floyd, Meddle

 

Day 2 Soundtrack:

Morning - Chad VanGaalen, Soft Airplane

Afternoon - The Travelling Wilburys, Volume 1 + 3

Evening - Spiritualized, Acoustic Mainline

Late Night (to get us through the dark expanses of nothing but corn fields) - David Bowie, Hunky Dory

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

If I were to sum up the first two days of our trip, it would be "Billboards, Corn, and Cattle Piss" - we've seen (and smelt) an abundance of each, after 20 hours crossing the Central States.

We left Hamilton at 9am on Friday and by 7pm we had made it through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois to a small state park called Starved Rock. We pulled in from the I-80 in the dark, and haphazardly cooked some beans over the camp stove. We lost some beans when the stove fell over from the wind, but otherwise had an uneventful evening in the park with all of two other campers.

Cooking breakfast. 

Cooking breakfast. 

Yesterday was equally uneventful - though we made a pit stop in Iowa City so I could see AKAR Gallery in person (their online shop is known worldwide for their excellent selection of ceramics, and many of my favourite artists are represented there). After our quick stop we were back on the road, and decided to haul ass all the way to Colorado so today we could take it easy and enjoy some time in Denver while the sun was still up.

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

Our New Year's Eve plans were thus:

 

1. Stop for Instant Fresh Onion Soup at a rest stop just outside of Omaha NE while the sun sets.

2. Pull into the parking lot at Bush Municipal Park and get cozy. They had electricity (so we could plug our little heater in), and the park was free.

Bush CO Municipal Park

Bush CO Municipal Park

IHOP breakfast.  

IHOP breakfast.  

As a reward for finding a free place to crash, we had New Year's Day breakfast at the I-76 IHOP on our way to Denver.

We're now at (what appears to be) the hippest coffee shop in Denver CO "Thump Coffee" - where the exposed brick, industrial steel and raw wood furniture, excess of succulents and cacti, and bottled milk in the fridge are reminders of hipster cafes in the Hammer. The trends span far and wide, it appears. Great service, delicious tea, and a nice view of the Denver bustle.

We've got a couple hours of driving before we make it to our first "real" stop - the Rocky Mountain National Park where we will enjoy sub zero temperatures in our tent, very little public interaction, and lots of mountains. I'm stoked.

 

I hope you are all having a wonderful New Years.

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 

E.