Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gorgeous Gorges Trip, Day 2

Spring Break day 2!
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Zion National Park

The best part about waking up is a little bit of Curtis in my cup!
We love that Arizona had this great idea of not messing with our lives by implementing Daylight Savings Time. However, since Utah plays by the rules, we had to adjust just for this vacation. We had agreed beforehand that it would be most beneficial to wake up early every morning, so that we could make the most out of the daylight that we had. That being said, we were thankful for sunrises around 7:30. :)

There's this thing on the AZ/UT border called The Wave. It's located in the Vermillion Cliffs wilderness, and is about a 6 mile hike to get to. If you've never seen it, Google it. It is only about an acre, but it looks unreal. It is on BLM land, and instead of opening it up for anyone to go visit anytime, they decided to make it very exclusive. Only 20 people are allowed to visit each day, and who gets to go is determined by 2 different ways. The first way is to play the online lottery 4 months in advance. You submit an application for 3 different days, then wait for them to choose 10 people for each day at the end of that month. We've tried it once, and didn't win. The other way is to show up in the Ranger Station in Kanab, UT the day before you want to go, they have you fill out an application then use a Bingo game to choose the last 10 people. 

We decided to give the lottery a try, so we applied and waited for an hour. There were 63 people playing that day, and sadly we were not one of the 10 winners. However, we heard that the fastest road to get to the trailhead was washed out and we would have had to backtrack a ways to even make it there, so we decided it was all for the best. Maybe another day, but for now, we were ready to visit Zion National Park!

We visited Zion last year (post here), but didn't leave much time to explore or hike. It was the only Utah National Park I had been to at this point. I love the drive between Kanab and Zion, especially as you near the park. I don't remember being as blown away last year as I was this year - the huge, sheer canyon walls are so big and grand, I started getting goose bumps as we got closer!

One unfortunate thing about going to Zion this day was that not only was it a Saturday over a Spring Break week, there was also a half marathon in the area that morning. This meant that there were a lot of people! However, it's a good thing we got there by 10, because it wasn't nearly as crowded as it would be later!

Our main goal was to hike Angel's Landing. It's probably one of the most popular hikes in the park, so yes, in a way we chose to be around all these people, but there's a reason it's so popular and we would have felt like we really missed out if we didn't do it! We were just thankful to get a parking spot that morning. Zion has a shuttle service that runs through the park throughout the summer, and was actually going to be starting the very next day, but they honestly could have benefited from starting it today. Yikes!

Finally, on to what we planned this entire vacation for: Hiking! The hike to Angel's Landing is only 5 miles long, but it is definitely strenuous and technically challenging. We started noticing about a half mile in that the switchbacks were much steeper than most we would find in the mountains of Southern AZ. However, we managed to make it up the first leg all in one stretch. We've been training a long time for this!

After switchbacking up the first side, the trail went around to the back side of the mountain where we came to what they call Walter's Wiggles. 

Now THAT'S what you call switchbacking! And wow, it was also very steep! Again, we pushed through and made it all in one stretch. It was insane, and I definitely felt it later!

I knew going into this that the trail was steep and used chains for parts of it. After reaching a trail junction with another trail that goes the opposite way, we had to use chains for a small bit to get up a steep section. I really wasn't nervous, but people around us were and it took a while to wait for them to either go up or down. Waiting is the hardest part - that's when you have to stop and think about what you're about to do!

Well, we made it up the chains, and I felt relief and excitement - exactly how I'd feel if we were at the end of the trail. Because I actually THOUGHT that we had already reached the end. "Where should we sit down and have lunch?" I asked Curtis. 

"Don't you want to go to the end?" he asked.

"Wait...this isn't it?"

Curtis pointed to where the trail continues...up a extremely steep and narrow section, to a peak MUCH higher than where we were.

The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw this was: "Is there any way I can take a picture to make it LOOK like I was there without having to do this?" 

I made us take an auto timer picture while I quietly gathered the courage to go on. Come on, I mean, there wouldn't be so many people doing it if it weren't safe, right? How could I come this far and not reach the end, which is less than a half mile away? I finally decided that I could do this, and so we continued. However, I did not take a picture of the trail we were about to hike, just in case I changed my mind so that I could still play my "Make it look like I did this" trick. ;)

And it was oh so worth it! I think hiking with chains might be one of my favorite things, because I actually have something to hold on to! Also, we decided that this was probably easier than both Picacho Peak and Moony Falls. Again, the hardest part was having to stand around and wait for people going down or up. I do tend to take my time when it comes to the steeper parts, so I let others pass, but the important thing is that I made it past my fear of heights for today.

We started the hike at 10:30, and made it to the peak at 11:45 - we were satisfied with that time, and know that if there hadn't been so many people on the chain part, we could've done much better. ;)

We enjoyed sitting on the rock face at the top, eating cookie bars and watching a chipmunk try to steal our food. We didn't stay too long though, just because there were lots of people there, and always more coming. We wanted to find a quiet place to enjoy lunch in the canyon.

There were even more people coming up this time, plus a very chatty group of ladies right behind us. Just a tip, you can't be chatty when on a one-way path, you'll hold up traffic - keep it moving, folks! :)

Where we're headed...

And where we were! See what I mean by steep and narrow? This is not for the weak! However, while the last half mile may have been the steepest, we really weren't physically tired since we had to go so slow. We tend to hike fast on the easy parts, and that causes us to be out of breath the majority of a hike!

We had thought about hiking all the way back down and then hiking to Observation Point, but decided that we had already gained so much elevation, we didn't want to lose it just so that we would have to hike up the same amount on the other side. So instead, we took the trail that intersects with the Angel's Landing trail - the West Rim trail - and went up another mile. Once we started on this trail, we really only saw maybe 3-4 other hiking groups - it was great! We hiked up a ways and then went off the trail a bit for our own private view of the canyon to the North. We stayed here for a while, ate lunch, and took in the view. It was grand!

While sitting there, all I could think was how every other park we would visit had a LOT to live up to. In fact, I almost wanted to forget all our other plans and just stay here for the week. Curtis and I agreed that backpacking along the rim would be amazing, and we wish we had the time for that. Again, maybe another day. :)

After a while of just sitting and enjoying, we went up the trail a bit farther before calling it good. We walked back to the trail that led to the bottom of the canyon, and as we walked we looked up at the trail to Angel's Landing. Oh...my...there was literally a constant stream of people the whole way up! The trail was packed! We learned a very valuable lesson right then: when visiting National Parks, it pays to arrive EARLY!

After that, we speed-hiked down the rest of the trail and back to our Jeep. My only complaint about the trail is that the majority of it is paved - I don't know why, but hiking on dirt/gravel is much easier for me. I'm guessing they have it like that because it's easier to maintain and probably safer in all different weather conditions.

We thought about doing the whole scenic drive, but when we made it to the lot, we were shocked to see how packed it really was. There were cars parked EVERYWHERE, in any spot imaginable, and lined up down the road. However, we didn't have any problem with getting out and driving away - but once we reached the Lodge we saw why. There were park rangers blocking the entrance and making any new visitors turn around. Yet again a good lesson to take away - make sure you arrive EARLY when visiting national parks!

The visitor's center was closed as well due to construction on the parking lot, so we went to the park's museum to get our National Park stamps. We were satisfied with all we had done and seen, so we decided to call it a day (it was around 3 at this point). 

Of course, we still got to enjoy Zion a bit longer through the scenic drive!

We pulled off at one of the scenic view areas and wandered down a trail just for fun. I love the way the colors of the slick rock look.

Curtis scaling the rock face...

To check out this waterfall up there!

We saw signs along the road for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and who could resist the chance to run around in sand dunes? :) We stopped and played here for a half hour! I personally don't see how they could call this "Coral Pink sand," but I suppose compared to White Sands National Monument, it's much closer to pink. ;) The cliffs in the background made it even better!

We drove back to Kanab, cleaned up, and went to a bar & grill for dinner. It was chilly, yet a beautiful evening. We also managed to grab our first letterbox of the trip before calling it a night. 

Day 2 Wrap Up: Hiked 7 miles at Zion, ~.5 at Sand Dunes, found 1 letterbox.
Highlights: Reaching the peak of Angel's Landing, and maybe even better, finding our own quiet spot!

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