Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gorgeous Gorges Trip, Day 7

Spring Break Day 7
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Arches National Park

This morning, we were up long before the sun in preparation for our adventures. We had been warned multiple times that Arches National Park gets very busy and there is limited parking for the most popular attractions, so we wanted to make sure we got a head start. It was still totally dark outside as we drove through Arches National Park, and I had no idea what we were driving through as we drove generally uphill and through the whole park. Thankfully Curtis had been here before and had a vague memory of where to go. We followed the signs to Delicate Arch and parked in the lot. There were several other people with our same idea, but there was still plenty of space. We bundled up and set out with our flashlights, off to see the sun rise at the arch!

It's 1.5 miles to reach the arch. For the first half of the trail, the path is grated and well maintained, and after that it turns into a slick rock, which is still fine to walk on, you just have to know to follow the cairns. The trail generally heads uphill and gets steeper when you come to the slick rock part. By this point of the trip, my legs were crying every time we came to a steep section. The trail goes up, up, up, then goes on this ridge around a large section of rock, and once you come to the other side, you have the perfect view of the Delicate Arch.

We stayed for a while and watched as the sun came up. Once again, we felt like the snow capped mountains in the background made the whole picture come together. It may be true what the couple at the Cassidy Arch said, that the Delicate Arch is overrated, but even so we're glad we took the time to see it. It's such an iconic American image, it's just something we had to do!

There were quite a few people there watching, everyone watching in silence. Curtis told me that when he went in the summer during the day, people would line up and get their picture underneath the arch. But everyone was respectful of the area this morning - probably because there were mostly photographers in the group watching.

The funny thing is, even though we saw several sunrises over this trip, we never actually stayed long enough to see the sun. Our patience for these things only lasts 15-20 minutes before we're ready to go on to the next thing. This morning, that worked in our favor because it meant we got a head start on our hiking for the day while everyone else still sat and waited for the sun. 

As we walked back, many, many, MANY people were headed in the opposite direction. The parking lot wasn't quite full when we left, but it would be soon if people kept pouring in like this. On the Arches national park website, it says that this lot is filled every morning by 9. They also say that if the lot is full, go somewhere else and don't stay and wait for someone to leave because that will back up traffic. So if you're planning a trip here, definitely take our advice and come before sunrise!

Our next hike for the day was the Devil's Garden loop trail. The trail by itself is 6 miles, but there are many spur trails along it that take you to different arches off of the trail, and if you were to take all of those the trail would add up to be almost 8 miles. There were many more parking spaces at this trailhead, but supposedly it too can easily fill up. There were only 5 other cars there when we arrived.

We used this handy book called "Hiking from Here to Wow," loaned to us by Holly & Paul. We enjoyed using it throughout the trip, as it described 90 different trails both in and out of the national parks. We liked the description it used for the beginning of the trail to the Devil's Garden loop trail. It refers to it as a "highway" as everyone who comes here plans to go as far as the Landscape Arch, which is ¾ of a mile in. The trail is well used, yet as soon as you pass the popular arch, it becomes a "real hike" because it's much quieter and more of an adventure. 

The Landscape Arch! This is the longest arch in the park. It is also slowly falling apart - in 1991, a 180-ton piece fell, and since then people have not been allowed to stand under it. I have to admit, we may have stood there a bit longer than we normally would with our GoPro recording, hoping we might catch something else happening.

Spoiler alert, nothing happened that day, and we do not have any video footage that will go viral anytime soon. ;) We finally gave in and began the loop trail, starting clockwise once again. The next section of trail was described as "primitive" by the national park's description, and said that "It is not for people with a fear of heights." You really don't see that phrase used often at national parks, so I almost started to worry...but after a description like that, we ended up quite disappointed.

Partitian Arch

As I said before, there are many spur trails that lead to different arches. We picked a few of them to go down...but honestly, there comes a point where you've really seen enough arches for a day. 

The most exciting part of the "primitive trail" was at this one point where we had to walk along a thin ridge and the wind was blowing mercilessly. I was pretty sure I was going to blow away every time I lifted a foot! As terrifying as it was, it may have been the highlight of the park for us. Sad, but true...the primitive trail was lacking and never especially difficult. However, maybe if we had began the entire vacation with this hike, it could have been like a practice hike for the other "primitive trails" we would take. You also have to worry that people might take this trail and decide that primitive trails are easy, and find themselves someday on one that really isn't and they wouldn't be prepared for that. Just a fair warning I guess!

Just chilling under Double O Arch

The loop trail is split into 3 sections - the part from the trailhead to the Landscape Arch, then from Landscape to the Double O Arch, then the last part which is a longer way back to the Landscape from Double O. That section is also referred to as primitive, and we found it even less so than the part we had just been on. The last mile or so of this trail was just sandy, which was probably the biggest disappointment of all!

When we made it back to the "highway" portion of the trail, it was definitely much more popular, and the parking lot was nearly full. However, we were excited when we looked at the time and realized that it was only 11, and we had already hiked 11 miles that day! Sure, we had started by 6:30 and they had been 11 easy miles, but it was still a new record for us. We began heading back out of the park, stopping at a few scenic areas along the way.

Ghillie poses with the La Sal Mountains

There's another long trail in the park called the Fiery Furnace trail, and we would have loved to do that except it's highly suggested/required to have a guide take you through it. Park rangers give tours, however they don't start the tours until the end of April. We could have gone through another tourist company in Moab, but we didn't want to pay an arm and a leg to do that. Besides, it was another 9 miles to add to our already 11. If we ever come back, we would plan ahead for something like that though!

Balanced Rock

Turret Arch

We made our last stop at the Windows and walked around a bit there. We were starting to feel arched-out for the day though. It was nice to drive through the park in the daylight though so that I could see what it looked like! :)

After leaving Arches, we took one of the suggestions from the couple we met in Capitol Reef and drove to the trailhead for Corona Arch. When heading South on highway 191, go right on 279 and drive down the road for 11 miles to find the trailhead on your right. As we drove down the road, we enjoyed seeing many people rock climbing on the cliffs along the road. It was only a Thursday, but the area was still packed with people doing all sorts of exciting outdoor activities. 

Anyway - we took the trail to Corona Arch. It's only 3 miles round trip, and once you get passed the switchbacks at the very beginning, the trail stays mostly flat along slick rock the whole way there. There was one brief section using chains to help get up the rock face, but with spots carved out of the rock to place your feet, it was barely a challenge. We even saw a dog scamper down...it was so cute. :)

Bowtie Arch

It's actually a 2 for 1 hike - at the end, you can see both the Bowtie Arch and Corona Arch. Even though we had already seen so many arches, these were different and exciting to us, and totally worth the hike!

The Corona Arch!
The Corona Arch was HUGE! Its nickname is "Little Rainbow Bridge" (Rainbow Bridge is the largest natural bridge in the world!) and we can see why. If you click on the picture and expand it, you can see tiny people standing on the top. They were actually there repelling off of the top!

Bowtie Arch up close

Standing underneath the Corona Arch
We stayed for a little while and enjoyed the view, and watched people repel from the top. After this, we had hiked a total of 14 miles, and it was about 2 in the afternoon when we made it back to the Jeep. We decided to call that good for the day, and just grab a couple letterboxes on our way back to the hotel.

The Colorado River

Petroglyphs on the rock face along the road.

Okay, so we did end up hiking one more mile for a letterbox by the Colorado River. After that, we cleaned up and relaxed before going to dinner. I found this sushi place in town that has Happy Hour from 5-6 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays - when a special menu of sushi is half price!! We went to Sabaku Sushi and really enjoyed the sushi there. After that, we walked around "downtown Moab" for a bit and got ice cream and cupcakes at Crystal's Cakes and Cones. After that, we called it a night and went to bed early.

Day 7 Wrap Up: Hiked 15 miles, found 4 letterboxes
Highlight: Corona Arch

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gorgeous Gorges Trip, Day 6

Spring Break Day 6
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Torrey to Moab, UT
Capitol Reef and Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon

Breakfast isn't always a big deal for us (unless we're talking about breakfast for dinner!) but on this trip it was. We made our own granola and brought that along for easy breakfasts. We used yogurt from hotels to mix with the granola, and the Red Sands Inn just happened to have peaches that I thought paired well. Yum!

We began today's adventure by driving back to Capitol Reef for one last hike, and to treat ourselves to some pie! The sky was overcast today and it was cool outside, but thankfully it never rained on us.

The Gifford House

There was pie this morning!

We treated ourselves to a peach and a mixed berry pie to go. 

We stopped across the street from the Gifford House to look at the giant cottonwood trees. This is what Curtis remembered the most from the last time he visited here. I personally really liked the fruit trees with the pretty white leaves though!

While we were there, this turkey gang got all up close and personal to us. We were concerned that they would find a way to steal the pie...

Our last stop in Capitol Reef was to hike the 1.7 miles to Hickman Bridge. The trail gained about 300 feet, but it really wasn't too difficult and we'd recommend it if you're looking for a shorter, easier hike with a cool destination.

Hickman Bridge is huge! The only way I could get a picture of the whole thing is by using panorama mode. It was such a cool feeling walking around and under it.

However, this type of geological feature has given me a new question. On vacation, we saw many natural bridges, windows, and arches like this, and what I want to know is how do they decide what to call each individual one? Why is it "Cassidy's Arch" and "Hickman's Bridge"? Hmmm...

The view looking through the bridge

Looking the opposite way from the other side of the bridge

After a quick hike back to the Jeep, we said goodbye to Capitol Reef and headed East on highway 24, stopping a few times for letterboxes. After leaving the national park, the scenery really isn't quite as interesting as it was before, but on a positive note the drive went faster because we weren't constantly going up or downhill!

One last picture of the beautiful snow capped Henry Mountains

There's not a whole lot to see between Capitol Reef and Moab, but we had decided to set aside a good portion of our day to hike in some slot canyons that were a little ways off the road. When driving on highway 24, we followed the signs to Goblin Valley State Park until just before entering the park and paying the fee. Instead, we took a different road to Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon. This was also recommended to us by Paul, Holly, & Mitch. There's another slot canyon called Bell Canyon, and we had the option of hiking through the entirety of both canyons on an 8 mile loop. Having nothing else to do that day other than drive, we went for the 8 mile loop!

We just love hiking through slot canyons! We saw our first one last year on spring break, which was Buckskin Gulch on the AZ/UT border. Of course there's a little bit of concern when it's very cloudy, as being in a slot canyon would be very dangerous in the event of a thunderstorm, but thankfully that wasn't an issue today. 

We started by hiking through Bell Canyon, hiking the loop trail clockwise, and that is the way we recommend doing it. The first half mile of the trail takes you from the car park to the beginning of the loop trail, and that section is mostly easy aside from one drop off which you must climb up. Don't let that stop you, because the views are worth it!

The slot canyon began not too far from the beginning of the loop. The canyon walls got higher and higher, and the canyon grew more and more narrow. It felt so cool to be walking through!

The trail itself is mostly easy, with a few technically challenging parts. We came across a couple large puddles that we had to make our way across. (Maybe it really isn't that difficult and I'm just pathetic? I'm not sure.) But when you're walking on the trail, it stays relatively flat making it a fun hike.

Curtis had all sorts of fun with the GoPro. That is going to be one awesome video once we get it edited, let me tell you! ;)

My awesome husband.

This puddle was a bit more difficult to get around - the water was deeper here and there weren't rocks to help. Don't worry, we have a 2 minute video of me struggling to get across. Thanks Curtis! :p

This is what I mean when I say "technically challenging".  After a while you get used to it and it becomes quite fun.

Bell Canyon went on for about 1.6 miles, then we had to take the ATV road to get to Little Wild Horse canyon. This part of the trail was just less than 2 miles as well. We had been warned that it was difficult to follow, but didn't find that to be the case. There seemed to be a lot of people going the opposite way that we did, and we were okay with that - when we were hiking through the canyons, we always had them all to ourself! 

The trail went up and over a hill and descended into Little Wild Horse canyon. We stopped there for a quick snack. The canyon was less impressive from this side, and we were anxious to hike through and find why it seemed to be more popular than Bell Canyon.

This time, instead of having to climb up challenging sections, we only had to jump down them, which was much easier. There also weren't any large puddles in this canyon. 

We decided that we liked the red canyon walls of Buckskin Gulch better. However, being able to see it all on an 8 mile loop trail was easier than hiking through all 40 miles of Buckskin... :)

For a while, we were unsure of why Little Wild Horse was so popular. The canyons just weren't as narrow as Bell Canyon. But finally, with about a mile left of the slot canyon, it finally met our expectations of what a slot canyon should be! We decided that the last mile was probably the coolest, so if you want to visit an awesome slot canyon but don't have a lot of time, just go a ways into Little Wild Horse and you won't be disappointed!

Our favorite section - this stretched on for a while!

One last drop off

We finished the whole loop in less than 4 hours, then rewarded ourselves with the peach pie. The entire peach pie. Yum. We then continued our drive to Moab, driving 24 to interstate 70,  70 East toward Colorado, and then 191 South to Moab. We found that the stretch of highway between the interstate and Moab was the busiest we had seen since...well... Phoenix traffic last Friday at noon. 

We found our hotel and grabbed dinner at the Denny's next door. We went to bed early so that we could be up long before sunrise for the next day's adventure!

Day 6 Wrap Up: Drove 200 miles, hiked 10 miles, got 3 letterboxes.
Highlights: PIE... and the slot canyons!