Zion! (Or.. the first time we went real camping)

Given that our first attempt at camping failed so miserably ( I’ll probably blog about that some other time, so I won’t forget the sheer ridiculousness of that trip ) we decided it was absolutely necessary to book another camping trip ASAP. Never mind that we didn’t have equipment, had never camped on our own, and didn’t really know the first thing about how to camp. Nevertheless, we booked a site, bought a tent – thank God for REI membership discounts – packed our car, and pretty much decided to wing it.

Day 0.5

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We arrived in Vegas around 11:30pm, and headed straight for Oyster Bar, which unexpectedly was somewhat off-strip. Despite what seemed like a short line, we still waited a good 30-40 minutes before we were seated by a harried looking host, who seemed also to be both the sous chef and the busboy. While we were waiting, I headed over to the Irish pub next door in search for a couple drinks to while away the time. They had a sorry selection of scotch, unfortunately, so my request for Belvenie landed me with a glass of Jameson Gold instead.

The oysters at Oyster Bar were literally the biggest, fleshiest oysters I’d ever seen, although they were not the tastiest by far. The disappointment that the restaurant’s namesake did not impress was fortunately mitigated by the tastiness of the gumbo, and watching the chef work his magic ( and attempting to guess which individual pot corresponded to our order ) was quite entertaining as well.

Day 1

The original plan was to get up at the crack of dawn and check out as early as humanly possible, so that we could make it to Zion with the most amount of time to explore. That didn’t happen though, as dinner had taken until almost 1am. At 9am, Brian blearily shut off the alarm, and declared that the dreaded hour of Getting Out Of Bed was upon us. We packed our stuff, grabbed a coffee from the free continental breakfast provided by the motel ( of which, coffee was pretty much the only thing we could consume), and finally headed for Zion!

Neither of us realized that the 15N passes Arizona on the way to Utah, so imagine our surprise when we saw the Welcome To Arizona sign. I was convinced we had taken a wrong turn somewhere, except that the only instruction for getting to our campsite was to ‘Take the 15N’, so there would have been no turns to miss. Finally, Brian pulled up a map on his phone, and we determined that we were both idiots. Thank goodness for technology.

2.5 hours ( and one very urgent bathroom trip to the conveniently located outhouse behind a pet-sitter’s ranch, where we would most definitely have been trespassing had the owner not been so understanding and shotgun-less) later, we finally pulled into the quaint little plot of pebbles that was to be our home for the next night.

River Walk

Our first stop was the River Walk, which came highly recommended by Brian’s coworker Jeremy. I didn’t expect there to be such a healthy rush of water, given that I had thought Utah was mostly a barren wasteland of desert.

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On the path, we saw a group of people taking photos of something on the ground, and suddenly realized that we were seeing a snake in the wild for the first time ever! Image

Angels Landing

Since the River Walk was more of a stroll than a hike, and we didn’t have a permit to hike the Narrows, we decided to move onto the next attraction. Brian recalled that the shuttle’s announcer/driver had enticingly depicted the perilous climb that was Angels Landing, which, unbeknownst to us, is the hike that everyone goes to Zion for. We immediately decided to abandon the rest of our plans for the day so we could tackle Angels Landing before sundown ( as it was already 4pm then ).

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The Angels Landing hike ascends 1500ft in the span of 2.5 miles and yields a number of breathtaking views across the valley. I may have been too winded by the steep climbs to enjoy much of the scenery, but Brian ooh-ed and aah-ed continously over the exotic composition of the sandstone walls we passed.

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After what seemed like an eternity of switchbacks and stairs, we finally came to – just kidding, we hadn’t nearly gotten to the top. What once were steps turned into literal climbing, as we grappled with the chains that would secure us against falling off a particularly thin ledge, or slipping against a steep slope.

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This picture doesn’t quite portray the impressiveness of the final ascent, but it does depict the point at which I finally chickened out. Less than half a mile from our final destination, we reached a point where there was a steep drop off on both sides of our only foothold, and no chain to cling to in order to step from one boulder to the next. I wish I had taken a picture of it ( since you can’t see it from the picture above ), but looking anywhere but straight made me feel dizzy and unbalanced.. and when you’re a 1,000ft plummet from the valley floor, unbalanced is the last thing you want to be.

So, defeated, we made our way back down the mountain (extremely slowly, due to my crippling fear of heights – we had to let a group of 50+ year olds pass ). But it’s okay, because we saw a deer!

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Emerald Pools

Determined not to let my failure at Angels Landing deter me from enjoying the last hour we had before sundown, I suggested taking the 1 mile hike from the trailhead down to Emerald Pools.

Compared to Angels Landing, the trail leading to the Emerald Pools was a walk in the park. After about 0.75 miles, the trail split into Lower and Middle/Upper Pools, and in the interest of time (it was 7:30pm) we took the much shorter Lower Pools trail.

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It had recently rained, I think, so there was a small waterfall that looked like it was draining from the Middle / Upper pools. The result was something that looked exactly like Weeping Rock ( although we didn’t realize this until we actually visited Weeping Rock.. more on this later ). The trail continued behind the little waterfall – which resulted in not a complete drenching, but a good amount of squealing on my part – and past what I could only assume was the Emerald Pool, being that it was a small pool, and very green.

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It was a bit disturbing to realize that the green probably came from algae growths in the stagnant water, but when coupled with the abundantly lush foliage, the overall effect was luckily more ‘forest paradise’ than ‘clorox required’.

The continuation of the Emerald Pool trail lead back to Zion Lodge, where we made a short stop at the Lodge’s gift shop to browse through the selection of Native American Handmade Crafts, before boarding the shuttle back to our campsite. If you’re curious, the gift shop’s prices are fairly exorbitant, and I managed to not buy anything.

We trekked into our campsite just as the sky was beginning to darken, and hastened at once to raising our tent and starting a fire. Brian took to handling the lighter fluid while I wrestled with the tent poles, and surprisingly, we managed to set everything up before the last ray of sunshine withdrew from the sky. Image

Dinner for the lazy and unexperienced campers – two cans of chili, heated and consumed in their original packaging. I am to this day, still slightly bitter that we didn’t have marshmallows.

After we had no more use for the fire, we realized that neither of us had any idea how to put a fire out. Thank God for cellphone reception – we ended up asking the Almighty Google, which told us exactly what we already knew: to use water. We doused the flames and retreated into the tent, where we had laid out our sleeping bags on top of impromptu mattress pads (improvised using the yoga mat and yoga blanket we found in my car).

Camping Pro Tip: Buy mattress pads.
Camping Pro Tip #2: Don’t use one sleeping bag as a mattress cover and the other as the blanket. Especially if one of the sleeping parties is prone to stealing said blanket.

All in all, it was a very cold and sleepless night.

Day 3

We woke up well after most of the other campsites had packed up and gone, which was still pretty early by most people’s books. As we were tearing down our site, we realized that the only campers left were the ones with small children. There was no shame to be had though – we were far too tired from lack of sleep for that.

After a quick breakfast of our homemade Lara Bars and Coconut Brownies, we checked out of our campsite and headed for the Human History Museum ( I have no idea what it’s actually called ). Our plan for the day was to check out Weeping Rock, and then head over towards Bryce Canyon to see the Great Arch.

Weeping Rock

The trail for Weeping Rock isn’t really a trail – its a 0.5mile walk to an observation area, where you can look at essentially the same thing as the Emerald Pool, but surrounded by more people. When we realized this, we quickly dug out our map to scour the options – we had 3 hours to burn and wanted more of a hike, rather than a stroll, as our last jaunt in Zion.

Hidden Canyon

So we settled on Hidden Canyon, which shares a trailhead with Weeping Rock. Ambiguous markings on the map seemed to indicate the possible existence of a trail leading back towards Zion Lodge, so we decided to go exploring. The first portion of the trail was fairly strenuous, although having done Angels Landing first, we were not so easily impressed.

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When we reached the end of the marked trail, we were disappointed to find no indication that there existed any trails leading anywhere but back the way we came. We were preparing to turn back, when we noticed a sign indicating that though the marked trail ended where we stood, there was an area we could continue on to, provided we were comfortable with scrambling over rocks. Scrambling-Over-Rocks may well have been Brian’s Native American name, so onward we went!

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As we progressed along the path, we found clusters of small homages to the grand rock formations around us. Brian began adding to the ones we passed.

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The picture above was taken to commemorate how much we felt like hobbits as we climbed toward an unknown destination, with only the faded peak of something vaguely Mordor-esque (minus the black cloud of doom) to guide us forward. I vowed to download the Lord of the Rings soundtrack for our upcoming Sequoia trip so I would never be unprepared for this situation again.

The actually hidden portion of Hidden Canyon is probably the best hike I’ve ever been on. Not because it was particularly difficult – the trail was mostly flat save the few times we had to climb 10-15ft walls of rocks and dirt to find the continuation of the trail – but because it led to scenery that was so serene and uninterrupted, I felt as if I was seeing Zion as it was meant to be seen, by a ray of sun or shadow flitting through the leaves.

Don’t get me wrong, the path was well trodden, and we encountered quite a few groups of explorers. However, as we progressed, the encounters became less and less frequent, and all sound faded away until it was only our muted breaths or voices, the soft crunching of leaves underfoot, and the whisper of wind that accompanied us.

We finally turned back just past what we nicknamed Pride Rock – a potato chip rock reminiscent of San Diego’s famous hiking destination, which jutted out above a rocky ascent and provided a kingly view into the canyon below. There was plenty more to discover, but as we had an 8 hour drive before us, we reluctantly turned to begin the trek home.

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Bonus picture of both of us, to prove that Brian didn’t spend the whole weekend asking random strangers to take pictures of him posing.

Vegas (Again)

Since Vegas is conveniently situated just off the long road home, we decided to stop at Bacchanal Buffet for dinner. About 30 minutes outside of the city, we passed through a construction zone, and by the unluckiest of stars, we drove over debris that knocked my skid plate loose (for about the 8 millionth time). The luckiest of stars then reminded me that my dad had insisted I put a multi-tool in my car years ago, in the event that I ran into a situation just like this one. Had I not been with Brian, the multi-tool would most likely have been useless (or I would have been stuck on the shoulder for a very long time, trying to figure out exactly what to do with the damned thing), but Brian being who he is, managed to get the skid plate secured in 15 minutes, putting us back on our way and just slightly behind schedule.

After a weekend of eating only energy bars, dried fruit, and chili, and after the momentary scare that we wouldn’t make it into Vegas, let alone all the way home… Dinner never tasted so good.

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