Saturday, June 30, 2012

Visiting the Canyons

Last week Jeremy and I made the trip out west to visit some of the national parks: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. We had a great time and hiked over 41 miles and with over 8000 feet of elevation change. Click HERE to see all the pictures.

We started our trip by flying in and out of Vegas. The first night we stayed at Treasure Island, eh. However, the last night of our vacation we stayed at the Paris hotel. It was awesome. Our room had the most amazing view of the strip to the left and the Bellagio fountains to the right. The pool was also very nice and the hotel was just clean and surprisingly quiet, you know, by Vegas standards.

Zion National Park

The first three days we spent at Zion National Park. I vaguely remembered the park since I had been there 17 years ago (wow, I am old now). We stayed at the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens. It's a pretty nice place with some quirky nuances but the view of the landscape and its proximity to the park totally make up for it. (The park entrance is a 5 minute walk from the hotel).

The first afternoon we hiked to Angels Landing. It is 5 miles round trip and 1488 feet in elevation change. Fortunately for us, having just come from sea level, the first half of the hike is up, the second part down. Unfortunately this would be pretty much the only large hike that we would do this way, since both Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon are down first. In fact they make a point of telling you "Down is optional, up is mandatory."

Anyway, Angels Landing. Highly recommend this hike in Zion. The last 1.4 miles are very steep with quick dropoffs on each side. The view from the top is not to be missed.

That night we stopped by the outfitters and rented ourselves a pair of canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a trekking pole. (Well we had our own poles but they were included in the rental cost, so might as well use the crappy ones for the adventure we were about to undertake).

The next day we got up and did a hike through The Narrows. The Narrows hike follows the Virgin River at the far end of the park. As we were hiking I vaguely recalled hiking through that area 17 years ago with my mom and my dad. This time we did 7 miles round trip. I highly highly recommend this hike and even more I recommend hiking early. We were all finished up by 2pm which was great because the park was really heating up. It was the perfect time for us to return our boots and hit up Cafe Soleil for a turkey, bacon, avocado wrap. Oh yea!

Finally we finished up our stay in Zion with a hike to the Double Arch Alcove in Kolob Canyon off the Taylor Creek Trail. A nice 5.4 mile hike with only minimal elevation change.
Also while we were there we managed to eat some other great food at the Pizza and Noodle Company and Parallel 88. We also bought this awesome piece of pottery from one of the cute shops in town.

Bryce Canyon

I remember visiting Bryce Canyon when I was little, so I was very eager to go back. We spent two full days at Bryce Canyon and I would say that is plenty. It's a really cool canyon, and definitely worth stopping by, however most of the trails are very similar so there isn't much variety. Plus, there are a total of 5 restaurants within the 30 mile radius and they are all... um... well, you can probably figure it out. While we were there we did a 1/2 day mule ride throughout the whole canyon, as well as two hikes, one 5 miles and one 3. The three mile hike is written up as "voted the best 3 mile hike in the world." I think that's a bit much, but it was very cool.

Antelope Canyon

On our drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon we stopped at Antelope Canyon. I had totally forgot this was out that way until my Mom recommended we stop there, and I am so glad that we did! We started by taking a tour of the Upper Canyon. Both the upper and lower canyons you have to do by tour since they are on Navajo land. The Upper Canyon is by far the most crowded.
I think because the shafts of light come into the canyon much better, though after visiting them both, I can't say that I have a favorite. We did the canyon tour with "Antelope Canyon Tours" and it was pretty good. Our guide was Deborah and she was good at keeping us organized and keeping other people out of our shot while we tried to take our pictures. However, the whole thing is VERY rushed. They hurry you around each corner very quickly, giving you only about 2-3 minutes at each stop to take pictures. So have your camera attached to your tripod and be ready!

After taking the tour of the Upper Canyon we headed to the Lower Canyon. You can find a little bit about the Lower Canyon online, but here's the scoop. It's $26/pp to get in and if you have a DSLR and a tripod they will give you a photo pass and let you go in by yourself for up to 2 hours. However, if you don't, or if only one person in your party has one, then you can all go on the "tour." Our "tour" guide was really cool, basically he just walked through with us and let me take about a billion pictures. It was soooo much more relaxed than in the Upper Canyon. I highly recommend checking out the Lower Canyon if you are in the area. The only time that it is closed is when there is flash flooding potential because a group of people didn't heed the warnings a few years back and they all died from the floods. So, you know, probably good to stay out of the canyon if they tell you its not safe.

The Grand Canyon

I saved the Grand Canyon for the last major stop on our trip. Jeremy had never been to any of these places, so I knew he'd be most impressed with this one. Who wouldn't! We spent a total of 3 days here and hiked every day. Our first hike was the hardest, the Bright Angel Trail. In the side picture you can see the small cluster of trees known as Indian Garden. This is 4.5 miles and 3100 feet down from the rim. You can camp here if you have a permit, but we didn't do that this trip. It is also another 5 miles from the bottom, we also didn't do that this trip. While this is one of the longer hikes to the bottom, it is the one, and only one, that has water and rest stations (every 1.5 miles). We started at 8am and were finished around 1:30. It was HOT, but awesome.

The other two trails we did were Hermits Rest/Trail (4.5 miles round trip), and South Kaibab Trail to Ohh Ahh Point (1.8 miles round trip). After that last short hike my feet were done being in hiking shoes and my belly wanted a nice normal breakfast (read: bacon and eggs). After getting a late start on the first trail, the last two days we decided to get up to see sunrise (5am) and then start hiking, so we were done very early, but it kept us out of the heat, which was nice. We also treated ourselves to a nice dinner at El Tovar (reservations necessary).

Hoover Dam

I said the Grand Canyon was our last stop, but we did make a short morning trip on our last day to the Hoover Dam. Do you know it is one of the very few government projects that has actually paid itself off! Yep, the power generated from the hydroelectric generators and sold to California, Nevada and Utah has actually paid off the full cost of building the Hoover Dam and is now sold at cost to those states. In fact, power generation was not even on the table when they decided to build the dam, that was for flood control and later irrigation. The power plant was included specifically as a way to pay for the project. Who would have thought at some point in our history the Federal Government actually thought "we need to have a way to pay for this."

Anyway, I digress. We got there right when the visitor center opened so we could get tickets for the early Dam tour. They took us into the center (yep center) of the Hoover Dam and even into one of the access tunnels so we could look out. Pretty interesting looking out of the center of the dam. To the side is a picture of me holding my camera out of the little window shooting back up to the top of the dam. They originally made these access tunnels so they could monitor the concerete as it settled and over time.

Well that was it, our quick 10 day tour around Nevada, Utah and Arizona. I hope you found this story useful, or at least a bit interesting.

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