“As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”
? Jack Kerouac, On the Road
After spending a few days back with my family in Santa Barbara, I started making my way back to Colorado. On Thursday I drove after work to Vegas for the night , and stayed and worked from there the next day. After my work duties were complete, I started the drive to Zion.
I knew that getting a camping spot in Zion was tough, and before I even left I knew it was a long shot – but I wanted to risk it. I hoped that maybe I would get there early enough to at least do a short hike, but unfortunately the sun was already starting to set by the time I got to the park. The huge canyon walls, shadow the park in darkness several hours before the sun actually sets. As I expected, all of the campgrounds in the park were full, and I had no idea what my camping options would be outside of the park.
I walked around briefly in Zion, and then hopped back in my car to make my way toward Bryce Canyon and hopefully find some BLM land to camp on along the way. Unfortunately, a ranger I talked to didn’t think there really was any BLM land to camp on along the way, and after consulting the map, it looked like the majority of the land along the road was private or National Forest (which doesn’t allow open camping). I had no choice but to drive.
The drive was insanely beautiful heading east out of Zion– the sun was low and golden. I stopped to take some photos along the way of a herd of Bison, was almost attacked by a rooster, and then had to buckle and camp at a KOA campground, as I was worried I had no other option (and it turned out it was good I did, because there ended up being no other options). The tent camping sites were right next to the horse pasture, and it reeked strongly of horse poop when the wind blew in the right direction – but all of the horses came over to visit me as I set up my tent, which I loved, and their companionship totally made up for the horse poop stink. I wished I had peppermints for them.
The night was extremely windy, and I slept fairly horribly.
I wanted to get to Bryce Canyon at sunrise, as I had read the sunlight on the canyon was best in the morning. I had my tent packed up, my teeth brushed, and was on the road again at 6am just as the sun was starting to creep toward the horizon. The morning light was perfectly golden and everything it touched was incredibly picturesque – I had to pull over a couple of times to get some photos.
It was my first time to Bryce Canyon, and of course, my first view of it in the morning light left me totally in awe. There aren’t even words for it –it’s a landscape unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t have the scale or grandeur of the Grand Canyon, but instead is so unique and unreal that it inspired complete curiosity. I have learned that viewing a canyon from above really only tells a small story – you have to venture down into a canyon to truly know it. Time to get back the red dusty trail (the red dusty trails never disappoint).
I was surprised at how cold it was – coming from Zion where it was over 100 degrees, Bryce that morning was barely 40. Being that it’s up at almost 9,000 feet, it generally stays much cooler up there. I bundled up and hiked down from Sunset Point on the Navajo Loop Trail, with the true scale of the canyon really becoming apparent as soon as I headed below the rim. It wasn’t long before I hit the infamous “Wall Street” an impressive series of switchbacks running between high canyon walls that drop you quickly down toward the canyon floor.
I quickly realized that my knee, which I had hurt backpacking in Yosemite the weekend before had not healed at all. It only hurt when I went downhill – and this was definitely downhill, and it definitely hurt. Luckily, once I started climbing again the pain eased. Never have I been so eager to go back uphill.
The hike was so beautiful, and left me wishing I had more time to explore. I passed by Two Bridges, and continued on to the Queens Garden Trail to see some of the most impressive hoodoos in the park.
There were so few people hiking in the canyon, that it was truly peaceful – but as soon as I started the climb up to Sunrise Point to complete the loop the hoards appeared. Tour busses dumping the masses off so they could walk 50 feet to get a photo at the canyon rim, and then herding them all back for their next stop. I was so glad I got to the park as early as I did, because I have little tolerance for crowds – and I can imagine this park becomes ridiculously overpopulated in the height of the day.
After finishing the trail, I drove the main park road all the way to the end at Rainbow Point. I admired the view for a bit, and then headed back to the car to boil some water with my Jetboil for some Yerba Mate to give me some fuel for the drive back home to Colorado. It was 9:30 AM by this time and I still had 575 miles to go.
I wanted to take some back roads home, and pass through Capitol Reef National Park on the way. I got on 22 North and immediately fell in love with the nothingness. I passed through gorgeous Utah high desert country, sprawling open plains, winding creeks, high plateaus dotting the landscape – and only a handful of small towns. It was one of my favorite drives I’ve ever done.
A couple hours into the drive up ahead in front of me I see a car coming the other direction in the distance and see them swerve out of the way to avoid hitting an animal in the road, and as I got closer I saw it was a yellow lab – with very swollen teats….not only was she in the middle of nowhere, walking on the side of the hot road (by this time it was about 90 degrees) but she clearly had puppies…somewhere. Gosh. I immediately pull over and get out of the car to figure out how to get her. I should know better by now. I should carry a slip dog lead in my car because I tend to find lost dogs and injured animals all too often (and as I type this I now remembered to put it on my shopping list – so it will get done). But at this time I had no leash – just a car completely full with backpacking and camping crap. Before I even approached her, I cleared out my backseat as best I could so I would have somewhere to put her. She was across the road and I sweetly talked to her and called her, she looked and crossed the road but started walking away from me – and there was a huge RV coming toward us in the distance…I needed to get her before she was hit by a car! I called her, and this time she turned around and leaned her head down and started wagging her tail, I crouched down and held out my hand and she started making her way right to me, wagging her tail. She had no collar on, and by the time she got to me the RV was close I had to wrap myself around her to keep her from bolting out into the road and held her as the RV passed. She was friendly, and she had to belong to someone..but who? Luckily she came to my car with little coaxing – she was hot and thirsty and I grabbed a gallon of water and poured it into my hands to give her a drink. Thankfully, she willingly jumped into the backseat. Now to try and find where she belonged.
The last houses I had seen were about 5 miles back, and there were a few farms in the far distance that I could see, but I couldn’t even see the house on the properties. It had easily been 40 miles since the last town. For all I know, too – she could have been dumped by someone…which sadly happens all too often.
I drove up ahead a few miles to two houses set back from the road. No one was home at either, and no sign that dogs lived at either house. Looking ahead there was no sign of civilization. I decided to head back the many miles back to the last houses I saw. I stopped at 2 other houses. No luck – no answer. I was feeling incredibly discouraged – I would have no choice but to take her back to Denver with me…but what about her puppies? I then remembered a house further back that stood out in my mind because I saw it had a big playset in the backyard….this seemed like a family dog, so I decided to skip a couple houses and head there. Something in me thought it might be the right move.
As soon as I got out of the car I saw a fenced dog run – I knocked on the door and they were home. Sure enough she was their dog.
Here is one thing that proves consistently true for every dog I have ever found and returned to it’s home – their owner, for some reason, never seems to be grateful or concerned. I tried to tell them that she was almost hit by a car twice…and their response was that she gets out a lot but she never goes that far. They really didn’t seem to care that their dog was almost killed or seriously injured, or could have died from heat stroke or dehydration. Sigh.
I was relieved that at least she was back to her puppies and home safe, and that I could now get back on my way.
Hours and beautiful miles passed, and I finally reached Capitol Reef National Park. It was getting so late that I really didn’t have much time other than to drive through, and stop at a few of the spots to gawk with the tour bus crowds. The park is striking, and I now have it on my list to explore more deeply when I have more time.
Home was now calling, and I had to keep moving. The rest of the drive back to I-70 had some of the most beautiful high desert scenery I have ever seen…and on the rest of the drive there truly was no civilization. My type of drive. In every direction, endless layers of colored rock landscape folding on itself and jetting high above. The high-desert makes me want to just pull my car over, and get out and walk…and never stop. I feel like I could get lost in the wilderness of Utah forever and be totally fine never coming back. I want to know all of the deserts secrets.
I drove and drove and drove, and eventually by nightfall I was back at home. It’s pretty great how much you can see, what you can do, and how far you can go all in a day…and still get home to eat dinner.