Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Days 18, 19, and 20 - Arches National Park and Mount Timpanogos Hike

We made it into Arches National Park on a clear, gloriously sunny day. Unfortunately it was a bit too sunny for me. I have a hard time with too much direct sunlight. It tires me, nauseates me, and gives me a headache; as opposed to Oscar who danced around the hotel room after our super sunny day at the Polynesian Cultural Center while I zonked out on the bed. This day was much harder for me than that one due to the extremely minimal amount of shade we had at the park. Zion National Park was actually about 10 degrees warmer and just as clear, but I didn't have much of a problem since our hikes there included much more shade thanks to the trees and the towering canyons. I loved how beautiful the Arches were, but I found myself unable to take all the small hikes I'd planned due to the excessive sun.

The picture on the left was the first view we had from the road after entering the park. The pic on the right and the pics below are the sights we saw at the first main overlook.

We liked this structure below (balanced rock) that looks like a ball being balanced on a pedestal.

But of course, the main thing I wanted to see was Delicate Arch - the iconic symbol of Utah found on many license plates. It was a difficult hike due to the sun and some incline, but it was fabulous!

The little arch on the left can be seen just before arriving at the main Delicate Arch lookout. Apparently there's a shorter hike to a further viewpoint, but we didn't bother taking it. We enjoyed getting up close and personal with it, and so did many other people. It was actually quite difficult to get pictures since people kept wanting to walk underneath the arch. I did too, but posing for a picture underneath it is fairly pointless. In order to get the full arch, you have to stand so far back that whoever is standing underneath it just looks like a stick with clothes. I didn't like any of the pictures we got with me near or underneath the arch.

I had to get down on my back to get a picture of this arch above. It still looked awful. But Oscar was able to get the full thing with his panorama feature. Oscar was able to hike up to Skyline arch below, but by that time I was too worn out from the sun to even walk .2 miles.

These pics were from some of the non-arch lookouts we saw along the way.

Sandstone arch was nifty, but I wasn't thrilled about getting sand in my shoes.

And below are a few more arches we drove by on our way out.
We drove up to stay a night with Oscar's friends Jay and Mindy in Price, Utah, and then spent a night with our friends the Huffakers in Orem, UT before hiking Mt Timpanogos early the next morning.

When I was 18 and about 210 pounds, my ward had an activity of climbing Mt Timpanogos for those of us without plans for Labor Day. My brother had hiked the Timpanogos caves for a Young Men's activity, and I thought that 3 mile trail was the hike they had in mind. Little did I know the monster hike we were in for (about 16 miles round trip with a 7000 ft elevation gain). I was in no way prepared for climbing the entire mountain then. I was used to incline due to living and walking all over the University of Utah campus, but I was slipping a lot in my tennis shoes, the sun was strong and gave me a horrible 2nd degree blister burn on my left ear, and I couldn't keep up with everyone else due to my extra weight. Even when I was large I always had a fair amount of stamina, but I felt guilty about slowing everyone down and needing to stop often to catch my breath. I ended up insisting that everyone else go on without me and told them I'd meet them at Aspen Lake where we would eat our lunch. After lunch I decided not to continue on to the summit because I was extremely cold up in the higher elevations and was told it would only get colder as we climbed higher. The others in my group had known what they were in for and had brought an extra layer of warm clothes in their packs. I could handle hiking alone a half hour behind my group, but I knew I couldn't finish a hike in shorts and a tee shirt when I was already shivering and shaking from the cold. I went back down the mountain, and since my weight didn't make it any more difficult for me to climb down as it had to climb up, I finished well ahead of everyone else and had to wait over 2 hours in the ranger station. I remember spending that time feeling awful about my weight and wishing I'd been able to finish the trail. I vowed that I would one day.

That one day ended up being July 27th, 2012, almost a full 12 years later. I knew I was definitely in good enough shape to finish the hike this time, and I made sure to wear long pants and bring a jacket so I'd be prepared for the higher elevations. I looked it up and found there were two trails to the summit - the Timpooneke trail and the Aspen Grove trail. The Timpooneke trail is a bit longer than the other one and the reviews said it was the more scenic trail, so we opted for that. As we got started, though, I realized it was definitely not the one I'd taken the first time. I have a pretty good visual memory, and I didn't see any of the features I'd remembered from the first time. I was sure of it once I realized we'd have to take a side trail to make it to Aspen Lake, which we did end up doing on the return trip. The first time I'd come, the lake was simply a part of the hike, no side trail necessary. At first this made me sad since I felt like I never really did finish what I'd started 12 years earlier, but as it's the longer trail, I'm sure I could have finished the other one as well.

Our first stop took us to the saddle with looks out over Utah lake and the Provo valley (top right). From there it's 1/2 mile and 700 ft elevation up to the summit, a little white shelter that gives some protection from the crazy wind.

And our lovely views from the top.
There were two young guys at the summit who'd come in great shape for the hike (they practically flew up and down the mountain), but not prepared for the cold temperatures at the top. Oscar was kind enough to share his coat with them, which they used as a blanket while we rested and took a few pictures. As Oscar gets cold very easily (he wears a coat indoors and turns the heat on well before I would), I thought this was very sweet of him.
One the way down, we took the side trail to the lake. The trip there included sliding on a bunch of snow and rocks, but the way from the lake back to the main trail was a luscious valley of wildflowers.

And since I am the queen of waterfalls, we took a quick side trail to Scout Falls just before we finished up. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Day 17 - Bryce Canyon and driving to Moab

Because I had seen Bryce Canyon before, I didn't originally make it a priority to see it again on this trip. But when we realized it would be impossible for us to drive to Arches and do everything we wanted to do there all in one day, we planned 2 days for our trip there and  figured we might as well stop off at Bryce Canyon along the way. I'm glad we did! Visiting again after 20 years was certainly a different experience from a brief visit with my family when I was 10 years old and not nearly as adventurous or appreciative of the beauty of nature as I am now.

We passed a pretty red rock area along the way, but didn't linger too long since we had lots to see and a 5 hour drive ahead of us.
You can certainly hike in Bryce Canyon, but you can already see a ton from the many driving lookouts, so we didn't think it would be worth our time to plan on doing any hiking.

The first driving viewpoints in Bryce Canyon are those which overlook the Bryce Amphitheater - Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Points. During busy times of day in the summer, you are not allowed to park at any of the first three viewpoints and can only access the area through shuttle bus. The other viewpoints can only be accessed by car. We decided to do those first and work our way backwards. Here we are at Rainbow and Yovimpa Points.

Below are Agua, Ponderosa, and Black Birch Canyons.
And Bryce Canyon's own arch - Natural Bridge.

Up until now we'd had gloriously sunny skies, but by the time we made it to Bryce Point, you could tell a serious storm was on its way. We were especially happy not to have hiked that day since the rain did come and it came hard. It was the kind of storm that causes flash flooding. Those poor people down in the amphitheater...

I liked the lighter red rock of Bryce Point.

Since the storm was coming, less people were coming into the park by the time we got back to the big three lookouts. They removed the barricades blocking cars from entering, so we were able to drive into Sunset Point before the storm hit. You can see the ominous clouds in the picture I'm in below. We got a couple of pictures and then bolted back to the car in the pouring rain. We managed to time our trip perfectly and make the correct choice about how to see the park and not to take the shuttle bus. I felt so bad for people huddled at the shuttle stops waiting for the the bus to pick them up.

I have to admit the next part of our drive was a bit hard on me. After our difficult sleeping arrangements in Zion National Park, I was dying to visit our families and be in a house with air conditioning. The drive north to Salt Lake would have been considerably shorter than the drive east to Moab, and I found myself wishing we were headed north where I could relax and rest after our "always on the go" vacationing. Plus it was July 24th, which is a Utah holiday, and for whatever reason Moab wasn't having any fireworks that evening. It's one of the few times in my life I've ever longed to relax rather than continue adventuring. 

Fortunately there were several pretty viewpoints along our drive.
And finally we arrived at our KOA in Moab. I wasn't looking forward to another night of hot camping, but fortunately the evening temperatures in Moab were a good deal lower than they were in Zion.