Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gorgeous Gorges Trip, Day 4

Spring Break, Day 4!
Monday, March 16, 2015
Bryce Canyon National Park and Calf Creek Falls

We started our morning off right with our own hotel room oatmeal for breakfast! We brought along our electric kettle, oatmeal, sugar, and walnuts, all which added up to a delicious and filling pre-hike breakfast! With that, we were off at 6:30, heading back to Bryce. On the way there, we saw our first wildlife of the trip, in the form of deer crossing the road.

We first stopped at the snowshoe rental place, but when they didn't open it when they said they would, we decided to go watch the sunrise and come back. We went to Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon, set up the GoPro, and tried to keep each other warm in the 20 degree weather. Thankfully, the sunrise was worth it! :)

We went back to the rental place (which still wasn't opened - thankfully we knew to go to a nearby hotel and ask them to open it for us!) and picked out our snow shoes. It wasn't too hard, especially since they only had two sizes: small and large. They claim that the shoes are one size fits all, yet for some reason the small were too big for me, and the large were too small for Curtis...Oh well, we were excited to have them and hoped we'd be able to try them out!

Back in Bryce once again, this time we parked in the Sunset View lot and began our hike down the Navajo Trail. Just one switchback into the canyon, it became clear that hiking would not be easy, and the snowshoes would not be much help, at least at this point. The beginning had very thick mud covering the majority of the trail. The easiest section to walk on was right along the edge of the switchback, and with ice in some parts it was just a little scary. We tied our snowshoes to our backpacks at this point and carried them down this trail.

You can't beat the view though! With the sun just making it over the mountains in the distance, we got to enjoy the canyon in a whole different light than the day before. 

Even with walking sticks, I was feeling very anxious about walking in the ice and mud, and using excuses like stopping to take pictures to avoid walking. Curtis decided this would be a good time to pull out my brand new crampons. I hadn't ever heard of or used these before and was cautious at first, but quickly grew to love them as the day went on. If you don't know what they are, crampons are basically made of chains and rubber - you put them around the bottom of your shoes, and they help you walk through ice, snow, and mud. They became my new BFF's for today - what a great find, for being in the clearance section at REI! :)

The Navajo Trail also proved our point that the switchbacks in National Parks are steeper than mountains in Tucson. Having to hike it down into the canyon through the mud and ice was probably one of the most difficult parts of the hike today. After we reached the bottom of the canyon, there wasn't much mud, and the ground became a bit more covered in snow.

We took the Navajo Trail to the Peek-a-Boo loop trail and started on the loop going left (clockwise). The trail had lots of ups and downs, steep and flat sections, but for a long time we were the only ones out here and it was wonderful. The hoodoos look even better when you're hiking through them than they do when you're looking at them from the top of the canyon.

For the first part of the loop, there was more snow than before, but it had been walked on so much that there wasn't a real need for snowshoes. However, my crampons continued to work their magic, and I felt totally comfortable walking on whatever was on the trail. :)

Finally, we came to a North-facing section where the snow was much less packed down than before, and decided it was the best time to try out the snow shoes. After Curtis struggled to fit his feet in, and I made mine as tight as they could be, we trudged on - one slow and deliberate step at a time. :)

No, our auto-timer picture is not perfect. There is no way you can easily get from point A to point B in these shoes in 10 seconds. :) It was Curtis' second time using them, and only my first, but I'd say we did a fine job, even though the condition of the snow wasn't ideal. It was just fun to have the experience, and not have to carry them for a while!

We stopped for a snack break when we came to the end of the "snowier" section. We removed the snowshoes and enjoyed cookie bars in the sunshine. 

Not wearing snowshoes also allowed for some better photos using auto-timer. :)

After this, there was only one other section of trail that was snow covered, but we opted to not put on the snowshoes again and just continued on to the Navajo trail. Snowshoes were fun to use, but probably not as necessary today as they would have been earlier in the winter, or right after a fresh snowfall.

Instead of going back up the Sunset trail, we went a little further to the Queen's Garden trail to get out of the canyon. It seemed much easier and less muddy than the Navajo Trail, but it's hard to compare with it being different times of day. We hiked up to the top, then along the rim from Sunrise to Sunset points.

After leaving the Peek-a-Boo Trail, we started seeing lots of people all around, not many with the intention of hiking any further than the end of the Navajo trail. Some were more prepared for the trail conditions than others. Some, specifically the ones that asked Curtis for help, didn't seem to know what they were doing at the bottom of the canyon. 

The most interesting encounter I had was when this older foreign woman came over and was motioning things to me. She pointed at me, and then at her friend holding her camera, then held her arms out. "Picture?" I asked, and she nodded excitedly. I was about to walk over, but then she reached for my hiking poles, taking them, then posed with them while her friend took a few pictures. First there was a "Look, I'm hiking with poles!" picture, with both on the ground and her with a big grin and looking like she was doing a challenging hike, then there was the "Victory Pose," with her holding them in the air like she had reached the end of a long hike and was standing on top of Mt. Everest or something. Then she returned my poles to me. That was weird. :)

When we made it back to our Jeep, we felt content with all we had seen and experienced in Bryce Canyon. The Fairyland Loop would have been another option, but the road to that trailhead was closed so we decided to pass on that. We returned the snowshoes and went back to the hotel for lunch.

There was another hike that was recommended to us by our friends Paul & Holly. It was a 6 mile round trip hike in a canyon along Calf Creek, leading to a waterfall, Lower Calf Creek Falls. We still had plenty of daylight left and knew that we would be very busy with driving and hiking the next day, so we decided to go out and do this hike, even though it meant driving an extra 2 hours for the day.

The hike itself was quite easy, with little to no elevation gain - the trail really just went into the canyon and followed it all the way back. It wasn't anything super exciting, but still gorgeous and different than places we would normally get to hike at home. And the end had a great reward!

We had both seen pictures of Calf Creek Falls and thought we knew what to expect, but the falls were so much bigger and more beautiful than any picture had made them out to be! The canyon walls around them arched in around the falls, yet there was a strong wind that we could only imagine was coming from the heavy flow of water itself. The rock face behind the falls glimmered with many different colors. It was just amazing - and even better, we were the only ones there, and got to enjoy it on our own!

Here you can see how big these falls are - see how small we look in comparison?! This is one of my favorite photos from our trip, and the location was our favorite ending to a hike out of all the hikes we did. It was incredible - such an easy hike for such a great reward!

As we were leaving, some other people showed up, so we knew we were there right at the right time. The entire hike only took us 2 hours and 15 minutes. We left feeling happy - the hour long drive back was worth it. :)

One last look at the canyon where Calf Creek flows.

On the way back, we stopped a few scenic overlooks. We learned from the informational boards that this land in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was the last to be mapped in the lower 48 states. One of the snow capped mountain ranges in the distance is called the Henry Mountains, and they were the last mountains to be named. They also have a free range of buffalo in them. Oh, how Curtis longed to hike those. I can only imagine the views from the top, with the national parks and monuments surrounding them!

The next scenic overlook had a "badland" look to it.

Day 4 Wrap Up: Drove 130 miles, hiked 13 miles (7 in Bryce, 6 in Calf Creek), found 2 letterboxes.
Highlight: Kissing under the waterfall. :)

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