National Parks of Utah and Arizona

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

Our plan was to make it through Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in one week. In order to do that we alternated drive days with one full day at each park. Each park was about 4 hours from the next so we’d have plenty of time, theoretically, to pack up in the morning and get to the next campground before dark.

We drove into Arches National Park late in the day. We had wanted to arrive before sunset in order to set up our tent when we could still see the scorpions. I had read too many online warnings about scorpions, and other deadly desert animals, and had convinced myself that we would be camping in the thick of scorpion territory. As it turned out, I was completely wrong (thank goodness).

View from our tent

View from our tent

We rolled in with twenty minutes until sunset, but mostly that was because of how slowly we had driven the 20 miles into our fabulous campground, right in the heart of the park. The views were like nothing I had ever seen before. I’ve never been to the desert, but Arches is something spectacular unto itself. Towering red rocks and pillars jut up out of flat sand and looked down on us like giants.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Our site was amazing, with a name like “Devil’s Garden Campground” we expected something epic – and were not disappointed. Little rock clumps dotted the whole campground, I saw a guy and his dog doing yoga on top of one such clump, about 40 feet above the ground. Armed with my black light I thoroughly scoured the area for scorpions and found none, although a fire ant did manage to climb all the way up to my neck and bit me.

We dropped Pebbles off at a kennel the next morning, dogs were not allowed on any of the cool trails, and set off to look at some arches. Our first hike was towards Delicate Arch and was approximately 3 miles. The views were amazing and at one point we were hiking up a sheer rock mound that had been dented from all the foot traffic. Brian bravely made it all the way under the arch, I being terrified of heights, remained a safe distance away on the clearly marked trail. Although, I did get some cool pictures of him standing underneath the arch. I was glad for all my layers as it was 80 degrees in the sun but only a brisk 58 in the shade.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Our next hike led us on a groomed trail past Landscape Arch and towards Double O Arch. After passing Landscape Arch the trail basically ends. I guess the park figured that most of the visitors would stop at the most visited arch and didn’t feel the need to pave the next 2 miles. Or perhaps it was that no paving could be done as we were literally scrambling over rocks and jumping down ledges. There is no way Pebbles could have done this hike. But it was epic. As we kept getting further and further along Brian and I started calculating the time of day and how long it would take us to get back. About two hours into our hike we were getting worried we’d have to turn around so as not to scramble and jump in the dark. We finally made it. I don’t think the arch itself was particularly worth the trip but the awesomeness of the trail was super fun. We ran into two guys covered in film equipment, they were shooting footage for an exercise company. The footage was to be used as a background for people on ellipticals and treadmills. To think, we could have just gone to the gym instead of driving all the way to Utah.

Canyon Dog

Canyon Dog

On Tuesday we picked Pebbles up from the kennel on our way to the Grand Canyon. The drive only took us about 5 hours, including several stops at overlooks on the way in. After settling in to our campsite (which was far less cool than the one in Arches) we zonked out. You know all those movies that mock the Grand Canyon, with lines like “ok, we’re here, now what?” Well, I call BS. There is so much to do. We opted to leave Pebbles at another kennel (poor pup) as dogs are not allowed on any of the trails except the Rim Trail. Brian and I packed as much water as we could, several snacks and pb&j sandwiches, and hit up the Bright Angel Trail. This is the trail that the donkeys use, but there was minimal amounts of poop and we didn’t pass any tours during the 5.5 hours we were on the trail. We opted for this trail because it was a gentle decline/incline and was nice and wide. There were also clearly designated rest stops with “toilets”.

While munching on our snacks at the 3 mile rest stop we saw two California Condors circling above us. For those of you who are not bird enthusiasts, the California Condor is an endangered species and their wingspan can reach up to ten feet – awesome! We also met a group of hikers who were on their way back up to the top after sleeping over at the bottom of the canyon the night before. One of them had hiked all the way from the top of the North Rim to the bottom, met up with his buddies, and was climbing back up the South Rim. Yikes! Brian thinks we should put this on our “to do” list….

Hydration

Hydration

Still no sign of scorpions. Or spiders, snakes, bears, or coyotes. Only a few mule deer and a mama moose with a calf and some super obnoxious ravens that thought they were roosters. While walking through the campground the next morning the ravens were making such an awful noise I could hear a little girl yelling from inside an RV “Stop! Stop! Go away!” So cute.

We packed up and headed to Zion National Park. I was excited about this one because there was actually a pretty decent trail we could do that was dog friendly – so Pebbles was done with kennels. We made a pit stop for some groceries and stumbled upon a brewery.

Home

Home

This was the least attractive of the campgrounds and our neighbors butted right up against us. We fell asleep listening to the girls next to us polishing off a bottle of wine and bemoaning their man problems.

The next morning we took it slow, all of us were starting to feel a bit sore from alternating hiking with long car days. A feast of scrambled eggs with veggies and just-add-water coffee packets and we were good to go. The trail was long and flat and there were plenty of other dogs for Pebbles to socialize with. We had gotten lucky with the weather so far on the trip; days had been high 60s and, though the nights were in the 30s, we kept warm enough with our doggie snuggled inside our sleeping bags. This day though, the high was 85 and we were sweating in the direct sunlight (yes mom, we put on sunscreen).

 

After the 4 mile trek we had lunch and then hopped in the car to do the scenic drive. The drive was about 12 miles roundtrip and I’m glad we did the parks in the order we did because Zion is at the bottom of the canyon. So our perspective from being at the top of the Grand Canyon was now flipped. The drive took us past some serious beautiful scenery. The Aspen trees were just now starting to turn yellow/gold and they contrasted perfectly with the smooth, meandering stream and the towering sides of the canyon walls.

Tired her right out

Tired her right out

The next day, Saturday, we drove out of Zion and into Bryce Canyon, which was only about 2 hours away. We didn’t plan any real stops in Bryce, just at various viewpoints, and I’m glad we didn’t. We arrived after the tourism season and what was clearly a bustling town a month earlier looked much like a ghost town. Complete with tumbleweeds and creaking signs. But we weren’t there for all that, we wanted to see the hoodoos. Hoodoos are natural stone pillars that almost look like people, in fact the Native Americans believe that they were people who once inhabited the area but were cursed and frozen into stone.

The first viewpoint was the best, in my opinion and if we didn’t have the dog waiting for us in the car we would have explored a bit down into the awesome maze of stone on one of the many trails. As it was, I’m glad we didn’t because not ten minutes later the temperature had dropped twenty degrees and it was hailing. The wind was rushing around us as we clutched our raincoats and dashed out at each viewpoint, Brian braving the cold long enough to get some good pictures. The road that leads into Bryce is 20ish miles, but it doesn’t go anywhere and you are forced to just turn around and come back the same way. At the start of the road, elevation is something normal like 4000 feet but at the last overlook it is over 9000 feet.

As our truck climbed into the gray sky we could hear the hail pelting the car, the hoodoos looked sinister now, daring us to go further. As the truck pulled to one side from the force of the wind I noticed we were surrounded by fire damaged trees. The scene was so eery I was sure we had just entered a horror film. The trees had not burned completely, they stood dead and black on both sides of the road. We kept climbing higher and higher as we watched the thermometer drop lower and lower. The brochure said it would take 2.5-3 hours to complete the 40 mile round trip drive but we did it 1.5, mostly because we weren’t outside the vehicle for more than 2 minutes – it was freezing!

Awesome trail

Awesome trail

I would love to go back to Bryce in the summer, just to do some of the hikes at the first overlook. We kept driving and made it to Richfield Utah to spend the night. Don’t go to Richfield Utah. It clearly makes its money off of proximity to cool things. The town was a bit odd, the main street was a huge strip mall with big chain name stores all lined up – I think we saw 3 non-chain stores in the whole town. But I did manage to give Pebbles a bath in the hotel shower and boy did she need it! The water turned reddish brown from all the dirt that came off of her.

The rain held off until that night, we put what we could inside the truck but the rest of our gear got soaked in the bed of the truck. We were done with camping so it didn’t matter. And when I say it rained, I mean it poured so thick that driving back towards Colorado through Utah I couldn’t even see that there were mountains on either side of us until the rain stopped the next day. We made it back to Denver with 3500 miles on the truck, one clean dog, and two very happy people (us, not hitchhikers).

One thought on “National Parks of Utah and Arizona

  1. How wonderful for you all. Your feet touched the same earth that ours were on in 2013. Great memories, eh? I am finishing up a pen/ink drawing of the Virgin River in Zion, have finished drawings of north rim of the grand and Bryce. Are you going up into Rocky Mt. Nat’l park (my favorite). I have lots of drawings of trails we’ve hiked there.

    Enjoy the wild west dear ones and “stay warm”.
    love,
    deb

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