A Detour

The first rule of blogging is: Don’t apologize for not blogging.

Well, I’m sorry, but I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a while. I have a good excuse, at least. I just got back from almost two weeks of roaming the American Southwest.

From March 25th through April 4th, I drove around Utah and Arizona with four friends (and a fifth once he got time off from work). We rented a minivan in Las Vegas and pitched our tents in and around National Parks. Sometimes we even had running water.

I promise I’ll get back to the normal swing of things soon with the final installment of Maple Syrup on the Baessler Estate, an update on the mead (good) and an update on the bees (not so good). In the meantime, though, please indulge me and check out the highlights from my super cool trip.

We landed in Las Vegas around noon. We stayed in the city long enough to rent a minivan, eat some tacos, and buy $300 worth of essentials at Walmart. We tried to see the Hoover Dam but were turned away at the security checkpoint for reasons that were never revealed. Then we took off northeast for our campsite in Zion National Park.

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We woke up to the Virgin River and considerably more cold than we’d expected. The temperature in Las Vegas had been heavenly, especially compared to mid-March in New England. The weather in Zion was more familiar. My feet went numb in my sleeping bag. And since we were deep in a canyon, the time between the sun lighting the sky and warming the ground was the span of a couple hours.

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Our route was more or less a loop ending back at Las Vegas, and we wanted to save Zion for the end, so we got back on the road and kept heading east to Bryce Canyon. At the gate we were told we’d be sure to find a campsite, since it was the campground’s very first day open. We quickly found out why – there was a lot of snow still on the ground.

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We found a nice, snowless site and pitched our tents. Then we took a hike down into the canyon.

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We had a lovely hike and cooked a lovely dinner of pasta and sausages. We went to bed, and I experienced the coldest night of my life. My sleeping bag  wasn’t nearly warm enough, and even wearing two layers of everything, I shivered more than slept.

We woke the next morning to snow on the tents. Three of us, it turned out, were not equipped for the weather. We made for the nearest town and bought extra sleeping bags from a weathered direct descendant of Ebenezer Bryce.

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We got back on the road and made our way to Capitol Reef National Park. The campground here is in a place called Fruita, an oasis of fruit trees planted long ago by Mormons. Come in high summer, apparently, and eat all the fruit you can pick. Come in March and see the apricots in bloom.

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This was my favorite place to stay, and I’d gladly come back here. We drove and hiked through the reef and ate some exceptional pie. Night was bitterly cold, but with my extra sleeping bag I slept like a baby.

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Next we set off east for Arches. We’d been taking our sweet time to get there because of the Moab Easter Jeep Safari. Every Easter weekend Moab, the city just outside Arches, becomes the Mecca of off-road jeep enthusiasts. It might have been fun to see, but less fun to find room to pitch our tents, so we timed it so that we spent Easter morning eating pie with the Mormons in Capitol Reef. Easter afternoon was spent driving toward Moab, counting the jeeps passing in the opposite direction. Each one meant another possible free campsite.

Campgrounds around national parks have a maddening first-come-first-served policy that leaves planning very up in the air. We drove through a series of campgrounds along a stretch of the Colorado River in search of an unclaimed spot. We came very close to sharing a site with an aggressively friendly family who swore that getting yourself grandfathered in was the only realistic way to go. Would they have murdered us? Or tried to convert us? Maybe they would have just shared their hot dogs. We’ll never know, since we decided to try our luck upriver, and against all odds found a free site.

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The campground was owned by the Bureau of Land Management, a popular purveyor of campsites in the area. There was no running water, but we had a full seven gallon jug. There was an unfortunate smelling toilet.

We were right on the Colorado River, though, with a hard-to-beat view of the sunrise on the rocks each morning. And it cost $15 a night.

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We stayed here for three nights – it was nice not to have to pack the tents up each morning, finally. For a while we had a home, toilet smell and all.

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The next morning we hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park. The arches were impressive, but the real stars are the fins, enormous slats of rock rearing up out of the ground. We ate our lunch on top of one.

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We woke the next morning to cold, hard rain. I thought the desert was supposed to be dry. All plans of hiking and campfires drowned, we ventured into Moab for tacos and a well-deserved shower at the aquatic center. The town was blessedly jeep-free, though Ben overheard two friends in the bathroom complaining that the jeep guys had stolen all the town’s girls. Did the girls ride off on the jeeps? Or were only their hearts taken back to Las Vegas and Colorado Springs? We may never know.

In the early afternoon, after we were all clean and full of good food, the clouds broke and the sun came out. We drove half an hour south to Canyonlands National Park. It was cold, beautiful, and mostly empty. It felt like Arches’ less popular but more interesting younger sister.

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The next morning we aired out the tents (there’d been a couple breaches to the rain) and packed up.

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We popped into Arches one last time and hiked to the main attraction: Delicate Arch. It’s bigger than I realized. It was also packed. The road to the other access point was flooded, so everyone from babies to grandmas was climbing the narrow trail to see it.

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It snowed on us on our way back down, because the weather hadn’t been strange enough.

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Finished with Arches, we beelined back to Zion. The trip that took days meandering through the parks took five hours on the highway.

We pitched our tents in our trusty campground from the first night of our trip. The next morning we set out to hike Angels Landing. We rode a shuttle up through the valley (no cars allowed) and climbed up this series of switchbacks.

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Then we climbed up another series of switchbacks.

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We reached this overlook and had a very nice lunch. Then we started the actual Angels Landing portion of the hike, which involves scrambling along a narrow path while holding onto chains, like the ones in the bottom right of this picture.

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I don’t have a single photo from this hike, because I spent the whole thing scared out of my mind. However this picture, taken from Pinterest, expresses what’s going on pretty well.

I hated this hike. I’m glad that I did it, but I was much too scared to enjoy it while I was there. The problem was the sheer number of people. There were people everywhere. And the way up was also the way down. Whenever we passed someone going in the opposite direction, we had to figure out how to let them pass. We had to do it for 30 college students. And an entire Boy Scout troop. And a family that had for some reason brought their two toddlers. And we had to do it for the lines of people behind them.

Had it been a straight shot to the top, I might have been fine. But all that jostling and waiting and staring into the abyss got to me. I made it to the top, but I was in something of a state.

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The views were beautiful, as I’ve had confirmed by the pictures everyone else took as I clung to the rocks beneath me.

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The next day’s hike was much more suited to my tastes and closer to the ground. The Narrows is a path that follows the Virgin River as it cuts through the rock at the head of the valley. (Why’s it called the Virgin River, asked the cool grandpa next to me on the shuttle? Because no one’s ever seen its bottom. I laughed more than his grandkids).

I was afraid for my camera and left it behind, but this picture from Caltech Blogs should give you a good idea:

In the summer you can apparently splash up the river with no problem, but in March the water is both high and frigid. We rented ourselves some stylish outfits to keep us warm and dry. The waders are dry pants – mostly impermeable fabric to keep the water out. The shoes are permeable but lined with neoprene socks – essentially wet suits for your feet.

We thought we’d have to tough it out through the cold, but the gear worked so well. The water, when I thought to put my hand it in, was like ice. When I wasn’t testing it, though, I could never have guessed that it wasn’t warm. Thank you, neoprene!

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The next day we moved on to our final stop, the Grand Canyon. We met up here with Phil, who hadn’t been able to get enough time off from work to do the whole trip. We pitched our tents and watched the sun set over the canyon.

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The next morning we set out to hike down into the canyon. We had ambitions to get all the way to the bottom and back, but we were told by a ranger that a hike like that was the work of at least two days. Not wanting to be added to the list of people who get themselves killed in the canyon every year, we chose a more manageable (but still intense) route. We started out at the rim and came all the way down to a campsite at the foot of the sheer walls.

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The campground was shockingly green. We stopped for lunch here and refueled on water.

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We went another mile and a half along the flat floor of the canyon to see the Colorado River. I couldn’t stop thinking about how god-awful the heat must be in the summer. In early spring the temperature was in the sixties and the cacti were blooming.

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We saw the river, then had to whip around and go back the way we’d come to get out of the canyon before sunset. We made it, but gosh it was grueling.

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The next day we were due to fly out. We all had In-N-Out Burger for the first time – no one was impressed. We took a tour of the Hoover Dam – it was pretty cool. And we explored the Las Vegas strip – it was horrible. I lost $3 to the slots in Caesar’s Palace and never need to go back. We flew out of Las Vegas at midnight and by noon the next day were welcomed back to Providence by six inches of snow.

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And that was our trip! Thanks for indulging me. Come back soon to keep up with my less exciting projects and home life.

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