The Grand Adventure (May 11 – June 2)

I’m back! After a month of various traveling – first down to Texas for my boyfriend’s graduation from Air Force basic training, then up to Colorado, then out for three weeks in Utah and California – I’m finally back in Colorado Springs, where I’ll be spending some if not all of the rest of the summer.

While my shin/stress fracture was sadly still acting up, the trip was still a great success. We came, we saw, we climbed. And we napped. There was a lot of High-Quality Hot Desert Afternoon Napping. And we ate probably more than our weight in corn and beans. I’d never been to Utah, Nevada, California, New Mexico, or Arizona before (plus the states I drove through to get to Texas), so it was pretty cool getting to really see this part of the country.

We set off on a bright May morning, out around 8 a.m. We drove straight through to Moab, Utah, where we spent the first couple days. Massive rocks, a deep saturated red, surrounded us; the Colorado river flowed through the parks, wide and muddy. The dust here is infamous for getting on and staying on everything it comes in contact with. The area is best known for mountain biking; unfortunately, we didn’t have ours. We made up for it by hiking around lots of red rocks and arches and canyons under an equally saturated blue sky, usually cloudless. The heat wasn’t crazy, but I got burned on the very first day out, leading to a month of deep tan/molting skin barnacles cycling around and around. In this area we hit up Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as Dead Horse Point State Park. Arches had arches and rocky trails; Canyonlands had awesome (in the literal sense of the word) canyons; and Dead Horse was a canyon so great we later decided to skip the Grand Canyon because the ones we’d already seen were so cool.

Moab at dusk

Dead Horse Point State Park

After a couple days in the Moab area, we continued our trek through Utah and camped in Red Canyon (State Park, I believe), about 15 miles outside of Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce had been our main goal in this area – it’s also where the 100-miler than I had wanted to do was, just two weeks after we were there – but Red Canyon ended up being far more fun. Red Canyon offered gorgeous pink, orange, and yellow rocks, most formed in towering hoodoo formations, as well as miles of trails that wound all through them and into the pink canyons deeper in the park. The trails here were a nice mix of that sweet natural ‘gravel’ that forms in these rocky sorts of areas and good soft dirt. The first run we did here (yes, I did run a couple times) was only about 3 miles, but I had inadvertently chosen an extremely steep, roller-coastery trail. Challenging, especially at about 9000 feet (coming from 6000, and for me, coming from the lofty 800 ft altitude of Michigan!), but extremely fun with absolutely stunning views of the pink canyons and hoodoos. There were a few points along that trail that had us running along totally exposed gravelly ridges, followed by steed gravelly downhills that sent us skating. Towards the end of the run, on one such ridge, the wind really started gusting and we noticed that dark clouds were gathering. That put a bit more spring in our step and we rocketed back down the hill. The fear of being struck by lightning does that to a runner. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me that time.)

Red Canyon!

Dana and Drew leading the way.

Me with rock. I think I was planning on living there.

Red Canyon camp.

After a few days in Red Canyon, we decided it was time to venture into Bryce and see what all the hullabuloo was about. There were massive hoodoo cliffs, although their colors weren’t as saturated as Red Canyon’s – drier and duller. Still a very pretty and interesting area… but we simultaneously decided that we’d rather play in Red, so we just drove through Bryce, stopping at every single overlook to ensure that we weren’t missing something. All in all it took about 45 minutes. ‘Underwhelming’ is a good word to use. Very cool, but Bryce failed to meet my expectations. (But still stop by if you’re in the area, for sure!)

Bryce Canyon National Park. Hoodoos galore!

Since Bryce was over, we looked at a map and thought: Hey, Escalante National Monument is right there. We’d heard it was cool, so we figured we’d drive over there for the day. However, it was farther than we thought: the visitor center was about an hour away, and from there it would be another 45 – 60 miles on washboard dirt roads to get to the slot canyons and cool things. There was no way that poor van could take 90 miles of washboard, so we ended up turning around and heading back to Red anyway. A good run at the end of all that saved the day, though. Plus we had a great campsite there.

After a couple days, we decided it was time to move on to our last Utah destination: Zion National Park. I’d heard only rave reviews of the place, so I was excited. It didn’t disappoint. Even the drive in was gorgeous. (I’ve come to realize that Utah is very, very gorgeous, as a general rule. Driving through there was fantastic, hardly a spot where I wasn’t going, “AHHHH BEAUTY IS ALL AROUND ME.”) The visitor center is basically halfway through the park, which meant that we spent a good while driving through the massive rounded, stratified canyon walls for which Zion is famous. Just a breathtaking place. We set up camp maybe 15, 20 miles outside the park, next to a river.
It’s kind of a shame, but we only really spent a day in Zion – we did the Angel’s Landing hike, which ascends a 1400+ foot rock formation by way of a chain attached to a cliff, basically. It was gusty when we were there, with some clouds potentially threatening rain. My friend Dana and I went about halfway and decided that that was a good spot to stop, while our other trip friend (and Dana’s brother) Drew sped ahead and went all the way. At the time I had no regrets for stopping where I did, and still don’t, but I know that if/when I go back, I’ll be all the way at the top.

Yup. Good place to stop. (Angel’s Landing)

After Zion, we were headed into California by way of Death Valley. All we wanted out of the trip was to Not Break Down In Death Valley.

You can see where this is going.

The van we took on the trip, our trusty steed, was a 2004 Honda Odyssey with a fair amount of miles on her. The timing belt had been replaced within the last month. The engine light had been on for several (but then, whose isn’t?). She’d been performing well so far, not a hitch. When we entered Death Valley and saw what it was – a black and grey and tan desperate wasteland, but not flat, oh no! There had to be massive winding mountains in there was well! – we gulped collectively and crossed our fingers. But wouldn’t you know it, we were halfway through the park (“park” is a generous word, how about “hellscape”?), grinding up a long hill, when we noticed the van wasn’t accelerating. It was stuck at about 20 mph. Not only that, but it also started vibrating massively and making terrible grumbling groaning noises. Great. We switched it off and nervously flipped through the manual. The VSA light had come on; none of us knew what that was. (Vehicle Stability Assist, we quickly learned.) But all the manual said was to take it to a dealer.

Well, we couldn’t really do that in the middle of Death Valley, now could we? There was no phone signal, of course, so after asking a passing car just how far it was to the nearest town (too far for comfort), we really had no choice but to press on, take it easy, and switch off the van whenever it got finnicky. Which was pretty frequently.

It was a stressful couple of hours, but we did eventually make it out of there. As soon as we got signal, they called their dad, who immediately said something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, that’s happened before. You just have to disconnect and reconnect the battery.” So along we went, driving through the deserty eastern edge of California, until we finally hit a town with an auto shop to diagnose the problem for real. (Big shout out to Casey’s Automotive in Lone Pine, CA, for not charging us because they couldn’t find the problem!) As I just mentioned, their electronic diagnosis didn’t show anything, so we drove on to Bishop, CA, where we finally set up camp by a river, inexplicably surrounded by middle-aged fishermen. Must have been a hot spot. We spent the rest of the afternoon basically lying on our crash pads in the sun, saying, “I’m glad we didn’t break down in Death Valley” about once every thirty seconds. It was an extremely stressful day to say the least.

Coyote, harbinger of death and despair in Death Valley.

It was stressful.

The next morning, we bought a wrench, disconnected and reconnected the battery, and everything was fine from that point on.

Bishop! Land of the Buttermilks and the Happys and so much more (although those are the only two we climbed at). Also home to Shaat’s Bakery and the best town park in existence. I’ll leave the descripting of Bishop to the pictures. My high point was sending a V4 – a not-quite-slabbish face with a kind of crimpy upwards traverse. I hopped on not seriously, realized I could do it, hopped off and actually looked at it, then send the thing. It was awesome and definitely the most satisfying moment of the trip.

Bishop camp.

They napped while I tried to locate various boulders. Did I mention that crag navigation is my least favorite thing in the world? I was designated Expedition Leader. I wandered around in the sun with a guidebook being frustrated until I decided to nap too. It all worked out in the end.

Drew doing something funky.

Me doing something funky.


Me on the lip of Hero Roof (Buttermilks).

The V4! Hager Face, Buttermilks.

[v4 video]

Bishop was awesome, but we did eventually have to leave. We found ourselves on something of a schedule, since we were meeting David in Monterey (my boyfriend, their brother) for his long weekend for Memorial Day. We were sad to leave Bishop, of course, since it’s a wonderful town with killer climbing, but we were also psyched for some non-desert landscape. We had originally planned to spend a couple days backpacking in Yosemite, but that got cut out because we didn’t know he had a long weekend. We ended up driving through Yosemite, stopping for some pictures and a few little walks, but ultimately we decided to speed on to the coast. Also no regrets with that decision because really, in an area as vast and awesome as Yosemite, one hike will not satisfy you. I definitely plan on returning for a couple weeks to really explore it. (I plan to return to pretty much everywhere we went on this trip. It was kind of an introductory, snapshot tour of Utah and California.)

Driving through California that evening was absolute bliss. We had the windows down, good old country going loud, singing along, the valleys were deep and green and lush and the countryside was that classic California gold. The sun was at just the right angle and the world was magical, basically. Today Is Mine by Jerry Reed fit that drive perfectly. We camped an hour outside of San Francisco and had our first shower of the trip. That was wonderful, to say the least. My hair was so gross that it stayed in its ponytail shape even after I removed the hairtie.

The next day we hit up Muir Woods for some redwoods, then headed into San Francisco. Cool city for sure. We wandered around, ended up getting Chinese food and going to City Lights, where Ginsberg et al were first published. That places just oozes hip. We only spent about five hours there, since we were heading down to camp in Big Sur and it was a bit of a drive.

These lit up at night.

Tiny apartments.

The drive down the coast was glorious. It was sunset. Enough said, I believe. California has the most delicious strawberries, btdubs. They are sweet and fresh and delicious. Also, avocados 10 FOR ONE DOLLAR. What.

Anyway, we spent the next four days in and around Monterey, including the Aquarium, back to San Francisco, and Big Sur. California was chillier than we were expecting.

Big Sur

After we departed, it was on to Joshua Tree, of which I have scant photographic evidence. Basically, it was hot, we climbed some and hiked once, napped in the afternoons, and were ready to be back home.

Highlight of J Tree: this desert tortoise crawled out from under the boulder I was sit-starting, quite surprising but very cool.

Also notable from J Tree: the coyotes in our camp (like, growling right outside our tents) the first night. No pictures of that.

Last camp of the Grand Adventure.

Sunrise, driving out of J Tree on our way home.

We made it back to CO Springs from J tree in one day – that’s over 1,000 miles, kids – and it was actually a pretty good drive. We got back at midnight exactly, chatted with their parents for a while, then crashed. Oh and I showered. Glorious shower!

So that’s it, Grand Adventure May 2013. It’s too bad my camera crapped out, this would have been a much longer and higher photo quality post if it hadn’t. Ah well, c’est la vie.

Sorry this took me so long to get up, I kept procrastinating by being in more mountains.

peace love and ‘venturin!


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