Friday, August 22, 2014

Travel Bug: Utah Edition, Part 1

Don't mind me while I reminisce back to two weeks ago, when my boyfriend and I flew out to the Land of Oz. ...At least that's what Las Vegas was to me--much to look at, much to take in (and yet no gambling, drinking, strippers...or stripping).
We managed to be walking past the Bellagio right before a
fountain performance. Chicago for the win!
How cool is this?! A preview of the second half of our trip.
We spent about five or so hours walking the strip to shake out our legs between our flight and the three-hour drive ahead of us. After an early dinner in downtown Las Vegas, we hit the road for Springdale, UT, where we would be spending the next three nights. I had found a quaint B&B through Trip Advisor, and even though we got in after the staffed hours, we were still given a warm greeting to our Walt Whitman suite. Each room was named after a famous writer, and the rooms were decorated for the time period in which they lived.

Up bright and early the next morning, we awoke to dreary skies-- we had brought the rain with us from Virginia! I swear, every Utahan we met made mention, "Ah, I see you planned your visit during the only time it has rained here this year. We need it though!" So with that, we headed to breakfast at a local cafe (the wife of the B&B owner had her hands full with a young baby, so, presumably, they worked with the cafe to provide their guests with breakfast vouchers instead of cooking).
Me to the bf: "I don't want to alarm you, but
there's a bear behind you..."
After fueling up, we made our way into Zion National Park. Although we were unable to do most of the more alluring hikes for experienced hikers due to expected flash flooding, we did some trailblazing of our own.

First up: free-form rock climbing:
Just kidding!
But in all seriousness, we pulled our oh-so-awesome uber-compact Nissan off to the side of the road when we saw a pretty cool mountainside that we wanted to hike bound up. About an eighth of a mile up, I pointed to a rock outcrop and turning back to the trailing bf, stated, "I'm climbing that!"
See that tall rock structure in the top right corner?
I wasn't entirely serious, but it also didn't seem too terribly far away. (Now is probably a good time to mention that a. it was further away than it looked, and b. keep in mind that it was raining...and started raining harder.) Next thing you know...
I actually did reach that tree...!
The hike down turned out to be more treacherous than we anticipated since the rain picked up, leading to some heavy streams forming along the sandstone mountains. Caution: slippery when wet! I slipped once, catching myself with my hand just barely missing a cactus.

Once back to the car, we played cat and mouse with the weather all day. Luckily, it cleared up enough for a short period of time, during which we decided to do one of the shorter, more novice hikes to the Emerald Pools. Given that this trail was not in danger of flash flooding, it was pretty packed with hikers--mostly families and elders--which unfortunately slowed the pace. The views were phenomenal, so it was still a great experience. Being from the East Coast, there's so much novelty to take in!
I let the bf take the real pictures because I'm just
 so nice
 his camera is light-years better than mine.
And of course, leave it to the rain gods to clear up the skies after we showered up for dinner, getting our hopes up for some dry, epic hiking the following day.
On the way to dinner-- so beautiful!
Our evening backdrop.
We were having such a good time taking in the now-shining mountains that we took probably 2 hours to eat dinner. We found this great tex-mex place we enjoyed so much that we ended up going back there the next night. Our server(s) must have thought we were crazy (or lazy), because we sat around with a mostly finished bowl of chips and guac-- seriously there were maybe 5 chips left-- for an good 45 minutes before we decided to place our meal order. It was just such a different pace for the two of us who are normally go-go-go. I truly enjoyed the company I was with.

And that wasn't the end of the evening. Throughout dinner, we kept checking the ever-changing forecast for the following day. We would look once and it would say 40% chance of rain. Then upon next glance 20%. At one point it said 0%, to which I started rejoicing, and we headed over to the Zion Adventure Company to inquire about hikes for the next day.

So, it turns out the weather forecast was wrong (surprise, surprise), and the rep at the adventure company informs us that no, it is in fact supposed to rain, and flash flooding is likely. With that, our plans to hike The Narrows that day went out the window. After a good fifteen minutes asking for opinions on other possible hikes and a couple hours debating between two, we opted to hike out to Kolob Arch, the second largest free-standing arch, the next day.

Another early morning and a filling breakfast later, we drove out 45 minutes to the northwest entrance to the park and started our hike. Due to the change in elevation, it was quite the brisk morning and took a good hour (and 3 miles) to warm up. Thank goodness we each brought a couple jackets with us for this trip! The hike to the arch was 7-1/2 miles with the first mile and a half declining in elevation to eventually follow along a creek bed. Those first three miles were relatively quick--even with some lulls to take pictures, we knocked them out in an hour. However, the further in we got, the more picturesque the hike became, and while we were keeping up a good clip while we were moving, our photo breaks became longer (and well worth it!).
My pictures do it no justice (the boyfriend's are another story).
The last mile to the arch was a little tricky and not very well marked, but luckily we came across a family of experienced hikers on their way back up the trail, and they had set up little rock "fixtures" to mark the correct route. That last mile had some very hairy sections complete with rock scrambles and creek crossings. We may have missed the cue to cross the creek a few times and had to pave our own way. But alas!
Just in case: "look up."
Hi, my name is Liz and I creepily take pictures
of you taking pictures.
You can see that if you don't know where to look, you might just miss it. Hidden gem! We were lucky that, due to the 45-minute drive out to Kolob, we only shared the trail with a handful of hikers. Having found a log on which to take a break, we sat and ate our 10am lunch (#1) before heading back up the trail.

It was smooth sailing on the way back, with those last couple miles of incline presenting a welcoming challenge. Until it started raining. And by raining, I mean pouring. And by pouring I mean WHY?!?! It just so turned out that it was a spot shower, and we by the time it ended, we had a muddy half-mile in which to dry off a bit. And being that it was Utah, we were each our own personal saunas.

Upon getting back to the car, we took a few minutes to gather ourselves before making the return trip to Springdale. We even stopped at a local grocery store to get some fuel together for the next day, which was definitely THE day to hike The Narrows, a popular slot canyon in Zion National Park.

Flash forward through a shower, a nap, and dinner, we headed back over to Zion Adventure Company, where we rented water shoes, neoprene socks, and hiking sticks. If you ever plan on hiking The Narrows, I strongly encourage you to make the $22 investment into these necessities. While, yes, you could hike the narrows without these, it was infinitely easier and quicker with the right gear. With an early wake-up ahead of us, we called it an early night.

The next morning, the boyfriend and I awoke to darkness at the wee hour of 5(? - 530?). We dressed for the occasion, gathered our gear (and all of our belongings we brought with us: checkout day...) into the car, and drove to a parking spot on the side of the road just inside the park. From there, we took the shuttle (the first of the day) up through the park to the head of The Narrows trail. We may have been some of the first, but we weren't the only ones with the "early bird catches the worm" idea-- the shuttle was decently full!

We hopped off the bus, and away we went. The two of us share in some personality traits, a few being the "need for speed" or lack of dilly-dallying and a desire to accept any hiking challenge. Due to the very wet nature of this hike, I did not bring a camera, which means no pictures for you unfortunately. Once again, I let the real photographer take the pictures. (Note: my boyfriend is not actually a photographer, but he is really good at capturing things on camera. I would say my inability to take decent pictures is due to the lack of a decent camera, but we all know that is only an excuse.)

So I leave you with how we left Springdale and Zion that afternoon:
Just kidding. We left around noon that day-- not the evening-- en route to Park City. But you have to admit the sun setting on the mountains is as alluring as gold. There was so much that we didn't get to do due to the weather, so you better believe we will be back!

Stay tuned for Part 2! Aka I'm tired of typing this, so you surely must be tired of reading this.

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