Yosemite National Park, California

September 2, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 616.7 (last 3 days)
Miles hiked: 9.2

The last few days have been tiring. First, Szilvia decided to split off and go separate ways. We stayed near Reno a few days ago and on the way there she was talking about how she originally wanted to go to the Burning Man festival and on the way to San Diego she sat next to a guy who was going and said he had an extra ticket. Since we happened to arrive in Reno while the festival was ongoing, she decided to message the guy who had an extra ticket and go to that instead of continuing the road trip (the festival is about a week long). It was nice having someone to share the gas cost with, but I’m also glad to be alone again.

Since the route we were taking was designed around some of the things Szilvia wanted to see, I no longer had a reason to stick to it. I really didn’t want to go to Vegas (again), the Grand Canyon (again), Phoenix, or back to San Diego to drop her off. Granted, since she announced her decision that morning, I didn’t really have time to think of something else to do and I drove as if nothing had changed and went down to Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t as I had imagined it’d be (being able to just show up and go to the beach). The road I was on was high above the water and the one place I pulled off at wanted $10 for parking and I’m too cheap for that. I managed to get a couple pics of the lake and that was about it.

The day was essentially a complete flop. I kept on driving until I got to a town called Sonora on the West side of Yosemite National Park. I stopped there because that was the closest town to the park that was more than just two buildings on the mountainside; plus it had a Walmart, where I camped at. The only thing I’m happy about was I got to drive through two National Forests: Toiyabe and Stanislaus.

I went to Yosemite yesterday, to check things out and try to get a feel for the park. On a map, Sonora looks a lot closer than it actually is to the park. It took me about two hours to drive into Yosemite that morning; Yosemite is deep in the mountains and the road in was quite winding.

After getting a park map and looking at it for a bit, I decided to head into Yosemite Valley, as that’s where most of the well known stuff appears (Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, JMT trailhead). The park is quite large (over 40 miles across, not sure how tall) and most of it is all wilderness. It was possibly ten o’clock by the time I got into the valley and parked. I immediately headed to the visitor center to get postcards and a park token as my souvenirs.

Once I was squared away, I thought it’d be fun to hike up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Since I already had a parking spot and the trail didn’t look like it was that far from me on the map, I thought I’d try to walk over to it. A good hour or more went by while I just crisscrossed around the valley area trying to match the map up with the roads and landmarks and none of it was making sense. Even when I thought I had it right, I’d see a sign for something that should have been nowhere near where I was. Being a typical guy, I’m far too stubborn to just go and ask for help, so instead I gave up and just got in my car and figured I’d drive there.

Turns out, the first direction I was walking was the right way, but there’s a sign for Yosemite Falls and it completely threw me off because Yosemite Falls should have been North of where I was. Anywho, after driving around the loop in the van, the parking area in front of the Four Mile Trail was packed and I couldn’t even stop there. It was close to 11:30 by this point and I was just irritated at how much time was being wasted. I left the valley and drove Tioga Road across the North end of the park instead. At one point, I picked up a backpacker who was hitching and she told me she just came from Kings Canyon (where I wanted to go to next) and there’s so much smoke in the area that it’s impossible to really enjoy anything. I guess there’s a fire there (not sure if it’s a controlled burn or not) and she was complaining about difficulty breathing in the area and could barely see anything around her. Today I heard it was actually the Sequoia National Park that had the fire, so I don’t know which is true (the parks border each other, so it’s all the same area). Regardless, it kind of rules out those two parks being my next stops.

I didn’t find Tioga Road very interesting, probably because I was still irritated about not getting to hike, so yesterday was mostly a flop as well. After that, I left the park. It turns out the Four Mile Trail was closed yesterday, so even if I got to it, I still wouldn’t have been able to hike it.

And now we finally get to today. It was another long drive into the park, but I arrived at the Four Mile Trail a little after 9am and started hiking around 9:20. Frankly, that trail is a beast to climb up. From the valley floor, you have to climb up 3,200 ft over the course of 4.6 miles to reach a final elevation of 7,214 ft. The entire trail is up. No up and then down; no up, flat for a bit, then up some more; it’s just up, up, and more up. Around 2.6 or 2.7 miles in, there was a locked gate across the trail saying the trail was closed until 1pm on Sep 1 (yesterday) because crews where spraying some chemical due to risk of people catching the plague. And yes, you read that right – the plague. Talk about a motivational booster to make you wanna keep on hiking! By the way, if I die anytime soon because of the plague, blame Yosemite. Anywho, I called the park rangers to make sure it was alright to go ahead and they said they forgot to open the gate, but the area was for sure open for hiking so I continued on. It took me almost exactly two hours from when I started to reach Glacier Point at the top. From there, you get a really good view of the entire valley and a great view of Half Dome.

Oh, and Half Dome… grrr! I talked to the park rangers yesterday about hiking it and apparently it’s by permit only and to get a permit, there’s a lottery. It costs $4.50 to apply for the lottery online, and then IF you get selected it’s another $8 per person for the permit. Oh, and you have to apply two days before you want to hike it. You’d think I’d look this stuff up before I go to parks, but I don’t. I honestly just show up and figure it out when I get there. So, needless to say, I was a little disappointed.

The hike down the Four Mile Trail was easy, since gravity did most of the work, but it was still tiring on the feet. I was happy to finally get a good hike in, but I was so thrown off from the past couple days that I left Yosemite and drove pretty far, not intending on going back tomorrow. Only now did I realize that I didn’t even hike any portion of the John Muir Trail, which I wanted to do while there. Mainly because he’s the reason we have National Parks, but also because he’s from Portage, Wisconsin – a town I once lived in long ago. Oh, and I drove through the Sierra National Forest on my way out of Yosemite today, so that was fun.

I’m not too sure what I’m doing or where I’m going next. I’m debating on going back to Wisconsin to make some changes to the van and pick up some of the things I left there, but if I do that, then I wanna take Route 66 for most of the drive back. At the same time, there’s a job I inquired about in Utah when I was still there to work for a company that builds tiny houses – which I think would be awesome, as both a learning experience and because tiny houses rock. I’m not sure if the job is still available, but I can hope. I have other ideas, but those are the ones I’m leaning towards. There’s a good chance I’ll (try to) do both. I’ve also thought about taking 18 months off from doing any travel and going to UTI. I have no intentions of ever being a mechanic or working in the automotive industry in any way, but I am interested in the extensive knowledge they can offer. I’ve torn apart and rebuilt small engines, but never a car engine.

So many choices. I wish I could do it all at the same time, as well as intern or work as an apprentice for six months as both a plumber and an electrician. I only know the basics about plumbing (PEX, copper pipe, and PVC assembly), but I’d like to learn more. Same with electrical; I know basic household electrical things (breaker install, wiring, amp limits, outlet/switch install, etc), but I’d like to learn more about the National Electrical Code (NEC) without having to read some boring book.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

August 31, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 226.5
Miles hiked: ~10.2

Today I almost fought a bear. Ok, not really, but I did finally get to see one. And not only did I get to see a bear, but I almost ran directly into his big, fat butt.

So I guess I should start by saying we drove over to Lassen Volcanic National Park today, if you didn’t guess that from the title already. It just so happens you pass through the Lassen National Forest to get there, so it was a double win. We started off with a simple, 1.8 mile loop hike around Manzanita Lake. This trail was about as well marked as the visitor center at the Redwoods yesterday. Assuming that by “well marked” you mean not at all marked, but we still found our way… eventually.

From there we headed over to Kings Creek to check out the falls, only to discover the overlook trail for the falls was closed and we had to take a different route. We weren’t able to get close enough to get good pictures of the falls, but the view was nice in the area and gave us a decent 1.4 mile, one way, hike. On the way out, the trail intersects with the 1.7 mile Sifford Lake Trail and we decided to hike that one as well. About a mile into the trail we came to a clearing. On the right, you could see blue ridges of the mountains in the background, filled with a massive lake. On the left, there was a large, rocky area blocking the view of the trail as it wrapped around to the left. I tried getting a picture of the mountains in the background with the lake, but my shot was blocked with too many trees in the way. As I turned back to face the trail, I immediately stopped and grabbed Szilvia and told her not to move. Right on the trail, literally 20 feet in front of us, stood what I’m guessing to be at least a 300 pound black bear. He was looking in our direction, decided we weren’t of much interest, and went about his business of being a bear. Meanwhile, we slowly backed out of the area since he was right on the trail and it would have been impossible to continue hiking without getting closer to the bear. Even though it was a black bear and luckily not a grizzly, I wasn’t gonna take any chances of making it mad, especially since I left my bear spray back in the van.

I was honestly pretty excited about finally seeing a bear, especially that close. Of all the parks I’ve been to so far, not once have I even seen a bear from a distance and here I am standing 20 feet away from one. If I hadn’t have tried taking a photo of the mountains in the background, we would have literally stood face to face with that bear, as he was impossible to see in that rocky area since the trail followed it around to the left. We would have come around that left corner on the trail and I can’t even imagine what the outcome would have been, because I’m sure that bear would have been just as startled as we were.

After that we hiked a short, one mile, round-trip, hike to Cold Boiling Lake which is indicated on the map as being a geothermal area, but it looked like a regular lake to us. Wasn’t even boiling. The pictures honestly aren’t even worth posting.

We stopped at Lake Helen for a couple minutes to get pictures.

Then we hiked the 2.6 mile, round-trip, trail to Bumpass Hell – a geothermal area that almost has a mini-Yellowstone feeling; mostly because of the sulfur smell and hot steam coming up out of the ground.

On the way out we stopped at Emerald Lake and got more pictures.

That was pretty much it for the park. We did a good deal of hiking and I was definitely wore out for the day. We drove Southeast and stopped just outside of Reno, Nevada for the night. On the way, we saw a cool tree with a bunch of shoes hanging from it.

Tomorrow we’re gonna head to Lake Tahoe.

Redwood National Park, California

August 29, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 427.8 (+224.3 yesterday)
Miles hiked: ~3

Today was a lot of driving. About eight hours worth, maybe more. We even drove up to Redding from San Francisco last night so that we wouldn’t have as long of a drive to do today in order to get to the Redwoods, but it was still quite the drive there and back. In Redding, we camped out in a Camping World RV Sales parking lot and, frankly, that’s one awesome business. Not only do they gladly let you park in their parking lot overnight, but they had two electrical hookups on the side of the building that were completely FREE to use. Electricity can be expensive, especially to power an entire RV for a night, and I’m amazed that Camping World (at least the one in Redding) just gives it away for free to help out travelers.

As I was saying, the drive to the Redwoods took awhile and was largely due to Highway 299 that runs between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 in Northern California. The road is about 120 miles long and I swear is 90% made up of sharp turns, causing you to slow down to 20-35 mph in most cases; a few turns you only have to drop to 45 mph. The fun part is not only are there a lot of turns that are sharp, but many of them aren’t marked with a speed limit sign warning you of the recommended maximum speed. It’s kind of a “hope you get it right” situation. Oh, did I mention that if you where to accidentally go off the road because you didn’t slow down enough that you’d probably go careening off a cliff or down a mountain? Because yeah, there’s also no guard rails for most of the road; it’s just road and the long drop to where there is no road. Highway 299 easily makes it onto my list of the craziest roads I’ve ever driven, but the drive itself is quite beautiful… when you have the time to look up from focusing on all the turns.

Eventually we made it over to Highway 101 and up into the Redwoods area. It was honestly a pain to find a park visitor center to get a map, as the location and indicators for the visitor center we eventually found defy all means of logic (we pretty much had no cellphone reception, so looking things up wasn’t easy). For anyone wondering, the good visitor center is actually back on the coast of Highway 101, when the road starts to turn to the right and lead you away from the coast. Right there, where the road begins to turn, there’s a sign that says “Redwood State and National Parks Information”. You can’t see the building from the road and there’s no sign indicating it’s an actual visitor center or even that it’s on NPS land, but it is. All I know is that whoever is the idiot in charge of making the signs for that park needs to be fired. “Information” is not the same thing as “Visitor Center” and throw a damn National Park Service logo on it. There’s other places in the park where the signs don’t make much sense or aren’t that helpful, but the visitor center one really bothered me.

I think most people have seen how massive a Redwood tree is and since I’ve been there before, I didn’t take a lot of pictures. Without anything else in the pictures to give perception to the trees’ enormity, the pictures mostly look like run-of-the-mill trees. The big trees are about 16 feet wide or more and there’s plenty of “smaller” trees that are around six feet wide. The big trees are so old that they’ve been here since before the days of Columbus sailing the ocean blue.

After walking around in the woods for a bit, we headed further North to Route 169 where there’s a tree you can drive your car through. Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in. You can drive your car through a frickin’ tree! I saw the signs for it when I first went to the Redwoods back in 2009, but somehow we missed it. I wasn’t able to drive the van through it, as ol’ Henrietta just has too big of a caboose to fit. The opening is seven feet wide and over nine feet tall, but it tapers in at the top and the extended roof on the van would have hit the sides. Instead, we just walked through it.

Then began the long drive back to Redding so that tomorrow we’ll be close to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Let me tell you, if you think driving Highway 299 with all the curves would be fun in the daytime, it’s more than double the fun driving it at night in a large van, especially with all the turns that don’t have a speed limit posted. Even before I got on the road I wasn’t looking forward to it; and once on it, I was only looking forward to the end of the 120 miles. The one thing that was pretty nice was the moon. I have never seen a brighter and more full moon than the moon on the drive back. It was humungous (that’s what she said).

Oh, and Highway 299 drives through the Six Rivers and the Shasta-Trinity National Forests. So other than one more National Park visited, I am also able to cross off two National Forests. Pretty successful day, if you ask me.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

August 22, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 300+
Miles hiked: ~1

Today was mostly consumed with driving from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park and then from there to Los Angeles. Joshua Tree is not really a park I was interested in hiking in, as it’s all desert and it was quite hot out. We drove through the park and stopped at a couple of places to get pics, but that was basically it. We were gonna try to catch the sunset there, but we got there crazy early and didn’t feel like wasting five hours just sitting around waiting so we pushed on to Los Angeles instead. Anywho, here are pictures. I don’t feel like writing a lot about this day.

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

August 3, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 78.4
Miles hiked: ~12

Today was wet. I spent the majority of the day walking through the Virgin River in the Zion Narrows. It’s a 10 mile “hike” down the river, round-trip. To get to the hike, there’s another two mile, round-trip, walk along the river you have to do. I’m honestly not sure how far I went, but I’m confident I made it close to the very end. It’s a very busy hike, in the beginning, and I hiked until I was alone. Then I kept hiking. I spent five and a half hours hiking in the water, only stopping for brief moments to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.

The water is fairly shallow for most of the way and averages at most two feet high. The deepest section came up to my belly button, which is probably around 40″ or so. I walked pretty slow through that section as the water increasingly got higher and the coldness crept up my body.

I don’t feel like writing a lot today. Instead, here’s 40 pictures for your enjoyment.

Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah

August 1, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 78.3
Miles hiked: 8.0

Due to the possibility of flash floods in the Narrows at Zion, I used today to hike up to the 6,508 ft Observation Point. Although it was a tiring climb and it’s over 700 ft higher than Angels Landing, I don’t feel it was as rewarding (read: “challenging”). It does have nice views at the top and there’s a really beautiful canyon you get to walk through just before the halfway point. There’s also a significantly less amount of people on the trail compared to Angels Landing.

The trail starts out similarly to Angels Landing, hiking up a set of long, steep switchbacks that are part of the East Rim Trail. Roughly half way up the switchbacks, there’s a side trail for The Hidden Canyon, but it’s closed this year for construction. There’s a lot of beautiful views as you hike up, but unfortunately there’s not a good spot to look back down and see all the switchbacks.

Shortly after the switchbacks, there’s a gorgeous canyon you get to walk through. This is probably my favorite part of the entire trail.

The rest of the climb up follows a walkway built around the edge of the cliffs. It’s nonstop up and there are several more switchbacks along the way.

Eventually you’ll reach the top and follow a dirt path for about 10 minutes to walk out to Observation Point. From there, you can look down directly at Angels Landing and can see the people over there if you focus enough.

As I said earlier, I don’t feel it was as rewarding of a climb as Angels Landing. It was definitely a challenge and has great views, but Angels Landing has an added level of risk that just makes it more worthwhile.

I’ve hiked almost all the trails in the Zion Canyon area that are listed on the park map. There are three small trails I haven’t done and the 10 mile Narrows. I still have 18 days before I need to be in San Diego, so I’m not exactly in a rush.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

July 31, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 93.7
Miles hiked: 5.4

Last night was another warm night. It stayed over 95° in the van until at least 2am, the last time I checked the thermometer. When I woke up at 6:30 this morning, it had dropped down to a “brisk” 89°. It’s gonna be such a relief when I get to California and out of this desert heat.

I headed back into Zion shortly after waking up. My only goal for today was to hike up to Angels Landing, which stands at 5,790 ft. I did not expect it to be as awesome as it was. Flat out, if you ever go to Zion National Park and aren’t scared of heights, hike up to Angels Landing. It was an awe inspiring view and simply making the climb is worth smiling for. To stand at the top, on the edge, looking straight down over 1,400 ft below really makes ya feel alive. I used to feel that way all the time after climbing Koko Head; complete and utter relaxation, intermixed with joy and the feeling of accomplishment.

The beginning of the trail walks you into the canyon and leads up to a set of long, steep switchbacks. I dare you to try to do them all without stopping for a break (stopping for pictures counts as a break, which is what I did).

After the switchbacks, there’s a small bridge and a short distance of relatively flat ground before you arrive at Walter’s Wiggles (yes, that’s what they’re really called). Walter’s Wiggles is another set of steep switchbacks, but they’re much shorter. They’re named after the park ranger who was responsible for the trail when it was first created almost 90 years ago, if I remember correctly. This is also the last tough section before reaching Scout Lookout, which is where many people stop at after seeing the last section of trail in front of them.

Here’s a cooler picture I found on Google that shows the Wiggles from a different angle.

From Scout Lookout, you can see the last 0.5 miles of trail that leads up to Angels Landing. It looks far more insane in person. Try to look at the pictures closely and focus on the people to gain perspective of its size. And then remember that this is a very narrow ridge and each side has a 1,400 ft drop. This is by far the best part of the trail.

The climb up was slow and crowded. You don’t have many opportunities to pass people, due to the narrow width of the climb. At the same time, people are climbing down the same path you need to climb up, so be patient. The view at the top will be worth the wait.

I didn’t stay at the top very long, as the sky was grey and I didn’t want to get stuck up there in the event it started to rain. I just had a quick snack and headed back down. The climb down is significantly more challenging than the climb up. Other than your footing has changed, you’re looking down the entire way. I tried getting a picture that showed what I mean, but I don’t think it really captured it.

Once you get back to Scout Lookout, the hike down is easy, but has a lot of impact on the knees. I took a lot more pictures on my way down than I did on my way up.

Today was a great day. I’d rank it as one of the top three of the entire trip so far. There’s another hike on the opposite side of the road called Observation Point, which is over 700 ft higher than Angels Landing. I still want to hike into the Narrows, but Observation Point is now on my list to do before I leave here. The Narrows is 10 miles, if you do the entire thing. Not to mention the two miles you have to do to get to the Narrows and back. The visitor center had a sign saying there’s a high risk of flash floods tomorrow, so I’m not sure what I’ll get done.

Zion National Park, Utah (Part 2)

July 30, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 128.5
Miles hiked: 4.85

I spent the day yesterday working a random asphalt job nearby. I have an entirely new outlook towards road construction. It is some hardcore, back-breaking work which my “pampered” lifestyle has not accustomed me to, especially in 100° or more. The people who do that stuff for a living should be paid more. And I don’t mean the employers, I mean the actual laborers. If you ever have a chance to talk to anyone working on a road crew, tell them thanks. We drive on roads and parking lots every day and the amount of work that goes into it is purely amazing.

Today I went back to Zion. I was honestly pretty sore from yesterday and barely hiked at all. I wasn’t that concerned with taking pictures, either; I just wanted to be in the moment.

The first hike I did is called the Watchman Trail, a 2.7 mile hike up to an overlook that gives views of lower Zion Canyon and the Towers of the Virgin. The trail starts out walking along the Virgin River. I don’t think the trail is as popular as others, as there weren’t many people along the way. It was a very tranquil walk along the river. I stopped and sat for awhile on the way back just listening to the water flowing.

On the way up, I caught the sun shimmering over a ridge line. This was one of the only photographs I took today, as it was too beautiful not to share.

At the end of the Watchman Trail, there’s a short loop trail that doesn’t seem to be documented in the park guide. I talked to the ranger at the information center and she wasn’t sure on the exact mileage, but agreed it was at least 0.4 miles. Granted, I walked the whole thing before I knew anything about it. You can’t go anywhere new by walking the path you already know. Oh, and I did think this tree root looked interesting.

After I finished the Watchman Trail, I headed over to the Pa’rus Trail. Both trails are accessible from the visitor center. The trail is actually a bike path that follows the Virgin River up to Canyon Junction, about 1.75 miles away. I only walked the trail one-way and ended up taking the shuttle back. It’s not a very interesting trail and is directly in the sun the entire time. I didn’t take a single picture along the way.

The temperatures in the van have been soaring in this heat. Yesterday when I looked, it was 108° F in there (100° outside); the max temperature in the van has been 112° F. The biggest downside of the increased heat is the fridge consumes more electricity to keep things cool. Since I haven’t been driving a lot lately, the batteries are relying entirely on solar power to charge and the fridge has been using all of that power by itself. At 6am this morning, the batteries were too low to power the inverter any longer and I had to shut it all down to give the batteries a chance to charge back up. Luckily, I don’t keep much in the fridge and was able to throw everything in the cooler. Without the fridge running, the batteries had a completely full charge from the solar panel by noon today when I got done hiking.

I also rigged up my fan to run directly off of DC power so that I can still use it when I shut the inverter off. That fan is my lifeblood at the moment and is the only thing that makes the van remotely bearable to sleep in. I’m gonna monitor the voltage tonight to see how much only running the fan and the lights uses up. Tomorrow night I’m gonna kick the inverter back on with nothing plugged in and test how much power it uses up to determine if it’s worth leaving on or not. Other than the fridge, I only use the AC power to plug in my laptop on occasion. Typically I charge it up while connected to the internet at McD’s or Starbucks, but an outlet isn’t always available.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the first month of living in the van. I’m fairly excited about it, to tell the truth. It’s insanely refreshing to know that “home” is wherever I want it to be.

Zion National Park, Utah (Part 1)

July 28, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven (since last post): 219.0
Miles hiked: 5.8

I took the last couple of days off. I spent one day in Cedar City, uploading my posts for the two previous days, then just relaxing. Another day I drove down to St. George and spent most of the day there. I ended up going to a pawn shop and buying a guitar so that hopefully I can force myself to learn how to play with all this free time I’ve been having in the afternoons. I’ve been buying guitars for 12 years, always telling myself I need to learn, then never actually learning, and eventually selling the guitar or giving it away. I’m hoping this time will be different… we’ll see.

Last night I decided I was gonna hit up Zion in the morning and so that is exactly what I did. Being that Zion is one of the more popular parks in Utah, I knew I needed to get there early to beat the traffic. I woke up shortly after 6:30 this morning and headed directly for the park, which is only about an hour Northeast of St. George. Since I got there before the visitor center even opened, there was plenty of parking available.

Zion is quite different from the other parks I’ve been to so far. In my opinion, they have a much better system in place to manage traffic and congestion. Most of the park you’re not allowed to drive private vehicles on without a special permit, unless it’s after October 25th. Instead, they have a free shuttle service that continuously drives through the park and you just get on and off at whatever stop you want. They say a shuttle comes by almost every 15 minutes, but I never had to wait more than five minutes. What I loved the most was that I didn’t have to fight for parking at each stop and I wasn’t using any gas to get around the park, which means I save money. I wish all the parks had a system like this, especially Yellowstone.

Since I had never been to Zion before and honestly knew almost nothing about it, I decided to take an easy day and focus on simple hikes and exploring the majority of the park to decide where I wanted to spend more time. My first stop was at the Emerald Pools Trails. There’s a Lower Pool, Middle Pool, and an Upper Pool. The Lower Pool has a lightly trickling waterfall that the trail goes behind, which is pretty cool. Altogether, it’s a 2.2 mile, round-trip, hike to see all the pools. On the way down from the pools, I decided to take the mile long Kayenta Trail over to the next shuttle stop and just get picked up from there.

From where the Kayenta Trail ends, you can jump onto the West Rim Trail to connect up with the Angels Landing Trail, a steep, narrow ridge to the summit that is not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. I skipped it for today due to the length of it, but I wanna hike it either tomorrow or the next day, depending on what else I try to cram into the day.

I jumped back on the shuttle and headed up to Weeping Rock. It’s a very short (0.4 mile, round-trip) hike. This is also the location to hike up the East Rim Trail, which has the Hidden Canyon Trail connected to it. I wanted to hike the Hidden Canyon, but apparently it’s closed this year for construction. I know at least part of the trail has a narrow ledge on the side of a cliff that has chains anchored into the cliffside for safety. Sounds awesome, right?! But, alas, I’ll have to come back here a different year to do that one. Most of the pictures I took at Weeping Rock didn’t come out or I didn’t like them.

Next stop was Big Bend, shortly up the road. It’s just a bend in the river, but it gives you a view of Angels Landing from the ground level and a couple other formations. I hiked down to the river area and followed an unmarked path for a short while, snapping up a few pictures along the way. I really love the one with the trees.

Then I headed up to the Temple of Sinawava, the last shuttle stop on the Zion Canyon road. There’s a two mile, round-trip, Riverside Walk that, as you may have guessed, follows the river into the canyons. At the end of the walk you have two options: 1) Turn around, or 2) Continue on by walking in the river for the next five miles in what they call The Narrows. When I talked to the lady at the visitor center this morning, she said the water only gets about waist deep, but it’s important to pick the right day to go, as there’s a risk of flash floods any time it rains. This is a hike I want to do for the pictures, but hiking 10 miles today just wasn’t the goal.

My last stop for the day was back towards the front of the park at the Court of the Patriarchs. I missed the stop on the way up. It’s a quick stop with a short hike up to an overlook area to get pictures of “The Patriarchs”, which are three large peaks grouped together.

Now that I have an idea of the park, I know where I want to focus some more time. I definitely want to hike the Angels Landing Trail, as well as three trails accessible at the visitor center area, I’d like to hike the Narrows, and I want to drive the Mount Carmel Highway that connects the Zion Canyon section of the park to the East side and has a 1.1 mile long tunnel in the middle of it. I’ll probably spend three or four days here to do it all.

I’m WAY ahead of schedule and even after I hang out in Zion for a few days, I have almost 20 days before I need to be in San Diego to meet up with Szilvia for the next portion of this adventure. I haven’t decided what to do with that free time yet or where to go.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

July 25, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 31.5
Miles hiked: 9.2+

Today I did Capitol Reef, sticking to Hwy 24 that goes through the entire park. Off of 24, there’s a road that goes down part way through the park but it’s focused more on historical stuff that I’m honestly not that interested in. There’s a blacksmith shop, some old school buildings, the campground, and some other stuff down that way. There’s a couple other spots in the park to check out some Petroglyphs and an old stone building, but again, it just doesn’t interest me. I was there to view the natural beauty created by time, not some crap created by humans.

I started the day early and headed into the Grand Wash Trail before 8am. It’s a 2.2 mile trail, one-way, that follows a dried up river bed through the canyons. The trail is fairly wide almost the entire way, with the exception of an area near the center called The Narrows where it gets significantly more narrow (in case you didn’t guess that by its name). It was a very shaded hike with almost no incline at all.

At the end of the Wash, there’s a parking area and an information sign for the connecting trails. I was only planning on doing the Wash, but after reading that the Cassidy Arch was only 950 feet up and another 3 miles, round-trip, I decided it would be worth it to beat my feet a little longer. The arch is named after the infamous train robber Butch Cassidy, who supposedly had a hideout in the Grand Wash.

There were a couple of people rappelling down into the cavity behind the arch. They said they were rappelling all the way down into the canyon and there were several spots to keep going down, eventually making it back towards the parking lot that I initially hiked to through the Wash. Seemed like a much easier way to get down, if you ask me. I, unfortunately, hiked all the way back down and out like a sucker.

I was pretty tired after hiking the 7.4 miles for both of the trails, but it was only 11am and thought I’d check out at least one more thing so I headed up to the Hickman Natural Bridge. It’s only a 1.8 mile hike, round-trip. I don’t actually know why they decided to call it a natural bridge when it’s just another arch. Either way, I think arches are cool and it was worth the hike. There was an interesting field of black rocks for a good portion of the initial hike. There was also another, unmarked arch early on in the trail. I thought it looked awesome (so awesome, its the featured image at the top of this post).

I ended the day by 2pm, going back to the same place I camped out at last night. There was no cellphone reception anywhere near the park and no towns nearby that have more than a gas station or small restaurant, so I wasn’t able to Internet that afternoon. This also meant no cheeseburgers. I settled for a couple tuna sandwiches and some chips. I didn’t even write, it was just too hot and I didn’t want to do much.