It was an early start to our National Parks road trip, with alarms going off at 4:15am, though I didn’t roll out of bed until 4:30.
After putting the finishing touches on packing up the car and getting enough coffee to wire an elephant, Will and I were off to Chris’. Here, we had to play Tetris and find a way to get all of his stuff into the car combined with ours. Somehow, we did it.
By 5:30am we were on the road, headed for cooler weather and eyes dead set on nature and national parks.
I wanted to get out early so we’d avoid Phoenix rush hour. What I forgot about was Flagstaff rush hour.
Ooops again. This wasn’t that bad as it gave us a chance to roll down the windows and soak in some fresh mountain air we’re so lacking down in the valley.
A quick stop for more caffeine and grapes – GRAPES! – and we were back on the road.
It was smooth sailing to Horseshoe Bend, a place neither of my road trip comrades had been.
Sitting right off the highway, this iconic feature of the Colorado River was packed and remember, it’s Friday at 11:30 am. We hopped out of the car and “suffered” through the half mile walk to the cliff’s edge.
Then, photo time!
Once we had taken enough pictures to fill up a photo album, we piled back into the car and began our second leg of the journey. The destination? Zion National Park where we’d be camping for two nights.
After an uneventful next couple hours, we arrived in Zion. At every curve in the road, Chris and Will’s jaws dropped ever lower.
We stopped right before tunnel to check out the Canyon Overlook hike, a short two-mile stroll with a beautiful view. I’d never been up there before so this was a great introduction to Zion for the gents plus it gave me a chance to check it off the list.
In no time we were through the tunnel, down the switchbacks you saw above, and at our campsite. The only downside to Zion campsites are the lack of trees which limit your hammock usage. Besides that, we had a great spot right by the bathrooms and running water.
Earlier in the day I had convinced Will and Chris to join me on Angels Landing for sunset and star photos. This was something I really wanted to do and they happily obliged….though I know they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.
And none of us told our parents what we were doing – an indicative sign of the risk of this. (But hey, look at us, we’re alive!!)
Anyways, after a great dinner of burgers we got back into the car and drove over to Zion Lodge to begin the hike.
Side note: We almost walked away with my car running, so after amending that small issue, we were on the trail and headed towards Angels Landing.
We weren’t in a huge rush but we cruised up the switchbacks. Legs burning. Lungs heaving. We were exhausted. And then The Wiggles arrived which are a series of tight switchbacks which get you to the spine of Angels Landing. Again we cruised right up it, catching our breath at the top before we headed for the chains.
It’s hard to describe Angels Landing to someone who hasn’t been there. All I kept saying was, “It’s not that bad.” It’s not the best description but I honestly don’t think it’s a place where, if you’re careful, you will get hurt.
We were extra careful this trip.
Once at the top we settled in, shot some pictures, and relaxed as one by one, the stars came out to play.
We all thought the way down would be terrifying – well they did. I’ve done this now three times and I knew if we took it slow, we’d be golden.
We took it slow alright. Scooting down the half-mile spine took us 30 minutes or so but we reached it in one piece. As Will said, not being able to see anything but what was in our headlamps view helped our concentration and made for a pretty smooth decent.
The rest of the hike down was uneventful and we finally got to the car around 1 am. Once at the campsite, and after eating anything and everything in sight, we quickly passed out. In all, we had been up for over 21 hours and needed a good night sleep.
I awoke at nine only because I needed to use the bathroom. Everything else was perfect. I slept without my rainfly which kept the temperature in the tent perfect.
But the day had to get going at some point.
Today’s goal was the Observation Point and The Narrows.
Even though we got a much later start on the day than we had hoped (though, to be fair, none of us were mad about this), it all worked out.
After wolfing down breakfast burritos, we packed up and headed to the Visitor Center to catch a bus into the park. The only problem, everyone else was doing the same. We had a 30-minute wait for the bus ride that would also take about 30 minutes.
It wasn’t too shabby, though the day was turning out to be warmer than we had expected and the hike to Observation Point, we’d soon learn, was no walk in the park. (Actually, one of the hardest I’ve done…partially thanks to the side effects of Angels Landing the night before.)
The first mile of Observation Point was a leg burner. We didn’t think we’d make it as we were hiking in the sun and dripping with sweat. We even talked about turning around after two miles to instead lay in the water at the Narrows.
Luckily, we stuck it out because the views at the top were spectacular.
Once at the top (elevation 6,521), the cooler temperatures and small breeze made for a wonderful place to chill out, take photos, and mow down our food. And oh boy did we do the latter two.
But back to the hike real fast. This was very strenuous. At eight miles round trip, start early and make this the focal point of your day. Maybe toss in some Narrows action afterwards to cool down but nothing too intense. The first set of switchbacks are a killer. Don’t give up. You’ll get a quick reprieve into a canyon where you’ll get some shade and a chance to catch your breath.
After that though, it’s two miles up with another half mile on the rim which is flat.
Fast forwarding ahead, once we had scampered down in something like 70 minutes or thereabout, we headed right to The Narrows to cool off.
It was much needed and offered us a chance to walk with no goals or anything.
By approximately 7:30pm, we headed back to the campground, utterly exhausted, and again looking to eat anything and everything.
We made spaghetti with cut up hot dog bits – a true camping food if I should say so myself – and chowed down on chips and queso. After 40,000 steps and 6,000+ calories burned, it was delicious and immensely needed.
At 6:30 the next morning we were up and at it: breaking camp, making more food (because who doesn’t like food), and again playing Tetris with all our things. Around 8:30 am we were on the road, headed towards our final destination, Bryce Canyon National Park.
Once there, we drove to the highest point in the park, Rainbow Point, which sits over 9,000 feet. After getting in our fair share of photos and convincing a group of similar-aged millennials to shotgun their beers, we drove down towards the more touristy part of the park.
We perused the Sunset and Sunrise Points (a half mile walk between the two spots) before our lack of “winter” wear forced us back to the cars and thus began the beginning of the end of our weekend road trip.
The return trip went swimmingly until we reached the final downhill into Phoenix where traffic reached a standstill and then proceeded to crawl until Anthem. It wasn’t so bad. We jammed out to Taylor Swift among other artists and watched a nice sunset.
In all, this couldn’t have been a better weekend exploring nature with great friends. These trips, the ones that don’t seem like they’d register as world class outings, are the ones that I’ll remember for my entire life.
Not flashy. Not expensive. Just guys piling into a car, sleeping under the stars, and sharing laughs and memories for a lifetime.