National Parks Road Trip- Summer 2017

Hello all,

I was really fortunate to be able to spend the past week-and-a-half hiking and camping in several beautiful national parks in the western U.S. with my dad and my younger brother. I firmly believe that people can learn just as much from studying nature as from studying books, and this trip was no exception. It was also a good way to literally and figuratively get my feet back on the ground in the beautiful U.S.A.

Quick Facts:
  • Trip objective: Visit maternal grandparents in Utah and paternal grandparents in Arizona. Visit as many national parks and hiking spots as possible in between.
  • Sites Visited: Deseret Peak, Zion National Park (Angel's Landing), Bryce Canyon, Peekaboo & Spooky Slot Canyons, Calf Creek, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon
  • Trip duration: 9 days
  • National parks visited: 9
  • Miles hiked: approximately 60
  • Miles driven: approximately 3200
  • Nights spent tent camping: 3
  • Longest hike: 17 miles
  • Flat tires changed in the middle of the desert: 1
  • Cheapest gas price encountered: $2.15/ gallon in Kingman, Arizona
  • Longest traffic delay due to road work: 40 minutes
  • Number of destinations reached by following hand-drawn map on paper napkin: 1
  • Number of memories made: countless

Day 1: Drive from home in California to Tooele, Utah
Over the salt flats and through the desert, to grandmother's house we go! We stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada for some excellent Mexican food (and by this I mean burritos- not going to start the conversation about whether or not burritos are actually Mexican, haha).

We caught an awesome small-town outdoor concert in the evening, which consisted of a bunch of middle-aged men in cowboy hats singing rednecky country music. Gotta love it.

Day 2: Deseret Peak
My maternal grandma joined us for this 8-mile high-altitude trek in which we frequently encountered snow blocking the path. Every time we were about to turn back, another group came up the trail and pointed the way.

Beautiful single-track trail through the aspen trees

We had some interesting moments scrambling on hands and knees through the snow, but it was definitely worth it.

We conquered the snow and the altitude slowly but surely and finally ascended to the summit! The view from the 11,000-ft peak was absolutely incredible, nearly comparable to Half Dome at Yosemite (my favorite hike of all time).

Side note: "Deseret" is not a typo for "desert", as some people assume. It's a term that appears in the Book of Mormon meaning "honeybee" and is used in the names of some LDS organizations and sites.

Day 3:  Zion National Park- Angel's Landing

Okay, given that our legs were pretty dead from hiking the day before, this was probably actually the most difficult hike for me during the trip. The weather was hot, somewhere around 97 F/ 36 C, and the hike started right off with ascending switchbacks. At some point, I actually remember stopping where I stood and saying "I don't know about this." This was pretty much the point where I realized that hiking with my talented marathon-runner/triathlete dad and my high school cross-country runner brother meant that I was going to feel very out of shape very quickly in trying to keep up with them. I try, I really do... but freshman year of university isn't the most convenient time for working on fitness (cough cough "freshman 15" cough cough) and running just isn't really my thing. Maybe one day it will be, but today is not that day. So anyway, after consuming a ridiculous amount of water and testing the patience of my family, we finally made it past the first section.

From there, the path got interesting. Climbing over rocks and narrow paths near the cliff edge, we gripped metal chains fastened to the rocks as a makeshift handrail. When we reached Angel's Landing, I could see why it was named that way. The glorious view of the red rocks laid out below was definitely awe-inspiring.

We drove to a campsite for the night, pitched our tent, and fell sound asleep.

Camping Day 1

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park, Peekaboo & Spooky Slot Canyons

Bryce Canyon was one of my favorite stops on the trip. The unique rock formations filled the canyon, and the further we descended, the more intricate and interesting they got.

Our next stop was the most "off the beaten path" of any of our destinations. Reaching these two canyons in Escalante, Utah involved driving down a dirt road for about 26 miles, then turning onto a smaller dirt road and driving for another mile or two into the desert. We were also following a hand-drawn map on a paper napkin given to us by one of my uncles, which worked surprisingly well.

Peekaboo and Spooky are two slot canyons, narrow cutouts in the rock where a stream's path gradually eroded a crevice in the rock. This meant that the path was both technical and narrow, and at times we had to remove our backpacks and shimmy sideways through the slots. For these reasons, it was one of the most fun hikes I've done.

These paths give new meaning to the word "claustrophobia"

Yes, we climbed up this hole

Once again, we pitched our tent for the night. This time, we camped at Calf Creek in this beautiful little spot.

Camping Day 2
Day 4: Calf Creek State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park

We got an early start and hiked from our campsite to a beautiful waterfall using the Calf Creek Lower Falls trail.

The striped rocks and petroglyphs made this a beautiful hike. The waterfall pool was cold, but that didn't stop us from jumping in!

We continued on with a quick stop in Capitol Reef. We hiked out to a rock arch and back. The scenery here was pretty similar to previous hikes, so by this point we were looking for something a little bit more unique.

Flags flying for the 4th

We kept driving for a bit until we reached Canyonlands National Park. We didn't really do serious hiking here since we had already done two hikes in one day.

We found this really passive-aggressive sign in one of the bathrooms, which made me laugh.

 We mostly wandered around for the sunset views from the top of the canyon. 

We pitched our tent for camping Day 3 and finished the evening by watching the Independence Day fireworks show in the city of Moab, Utah.

Day 5: Arches National Park and drive to Arizona (through Monument Valley National Park)

Arches was a unique park, full of (you guessed it!) rock arches. We started with Delicate Arch in the morning, then used the Primitive Trail to visit the rest of the main ones in the afternoon.

We then buckled up for the long drive to Snowflake, Arizona. Miles of desert, through the Navajo reservation and endless road construction, but we made it!

We passed through Monument Valley National Park. Hiking was restricted because of the high temperatures, so we just enjoyed the view and the Navajo handicrafts.

Beautiful Monument Valley

Day 6: Willow Springs Reservoir and visiting grandparents

By this time, we were starting to get a little bit tired of one national park after the other, so we slowed down a bit to spent time with the paternal grandparents. We walked around at Willow Springs, but an unexpected lightning storm cut short our swim.

I was also able to attend a session at the Snowflake, Arizona LDS temple, which was wonderful. Each temple has some decorations that reflect the surrounding area, and I really loved the Native American pottery and artwork inside.

Day 7: Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Parks

For some reason, I was under the impression previous to this trip that the Petrified Forest was an actual forest. I soon learned that instead it was a desert where a forest had once stood. Mineral deposits had been absorbed into the decaying wood, making it as hard as stone and preserving it with beautiful colors and crystals. While this was not necessarily my favorite park, at least now I know what it is.

We hiked to a house made of petrified wood bricks.

We then passed through the Painted Desert on our drive toward the Grand Canyon.

Day 8: Grand Canyon

I could (and probably will) write a separate post entirely on the experience of hiking the Grand Canyon, but I'll just say for now that it was an experience to remember. We did 17 miles, down the South Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel trail in roughly 8 hours. The first 12 miles or so were smooth sailing, but the last 5, getting back up out of the canyon in the afternoon heat, were pretty rough to say the least. However, the beautiful scenery and the sense of accomplishment made this an incredible experience. 

A victorious finish
Day 9: Drive back to California

An uneventful day. We enjoyed the free hotel breakfast, complained about our aching legs, took turns at the wheel, and made the long haul back home from Kingman, AZ. 

All in all, this was a lovely bonding opportunity and a great adventure. I feel so blessed to have had this bonding time with my family!

Until next time, coming to you from wholesome Folsom CA,


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