Glaciers, Sandstone & Slings

Summer Vacation 2015 – Montana, Utah and Arizona

 

An entire month off of work. We need to take full advantage of this and plan an epic road trip. Cue the purchase of one times Lonely Planet Utah National Parks guidebook, insert half a dozen post-it tabs and print off that sweet, sweet excel sheet travel schedule. Organized and itching to hit the road, we set off down the highway for our first destination – Glacier National Park in the gorgeous state of Montana.

travel map
The Long Drive
utah close up
Exploring Utah and (a bit of) Arizona

Glacier National Park

The drive across the border into Montana from Alberta is one of familiarity, yet also of great contrast. The vistas, plains and just overall scope of Montana seems, well, BIGGER. The rolling hills and wide open spaces were seemingly unveiled as soon as we crossed that mythical line on our map. Jotted down some centuries ago, it really did seem like we had entered a whole new place.

Arriving at Glacier National Park we took the car on the steep climb up Going-To-The-Sun road. Now, we are not usually ones to recommend a sightseeing trip from your car. We like to get out and get our feet muddy. But the stunning views and numerous lookout spots along the way make this a must-do for any park visitor.

 


 

Mostly a hiking destination for us, we went to the summit of Mt Brown as it was recommended as a premiere look out point. We were not disappointed as the panoramic picture above tries to do it justice.

After our descent, we pulled some river chilled beers from the waters right next to our campsite and made our first ever (but definitely not our last) philly cheesesteak pies over the campfire. An amazing start to our trip!

 

Moab, Arches National Park & Dead Horse Point

I don’t know how exactly to describe what it is like to drive to Moab if you’ve never been before. For us, as Canadians, it was honestly other-worldly. Experiencing firsthand the perpetually photoed vistas of this sand-stoned state was breathtaking. Castles of red and orange lined the road as we came in and, to my surprise, a mountain landscape cut into the horizon.

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Moab is the outdoor bum’s paradise. I mean this in the absolute best possible way as we loved the freedom to camp at the huge array of designated public lands and KOA camp sites, much of the time for free! The whole state for that matter has really nailed it when it comes to not monetizing the outdoors.

Finding such a site, we stayed for just as long as was needed to register and drove off to Arches National Park. The drive into the park itself is a steady climb up, past the visitors attendee booth, and over a final lip which opens up and unveils this Mars-like terrain in dramatic fashion.

 

Superbly impressed by our first taste of Moab, we dived into our other planned activities for the area; river rafting and mountain biking. The Colorado river is tame right next door to Moab and is a great spot to start off if you’re new to rafting or kayaking. Also, Jon Bon Jovi totally shot a kick ass music video on the mesa (centred in picture below). He was not supposed to use pyrotechnics or start a fire. He did.

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 Blaze of Glory!

Now, Utah is famous for slickrock. It is a whole new way to experience mountain biking and (even if you are not that death defying) you can certainly watch some insane people toying with gravity’s pull. We kindly asked, “where is a good beginner spot?” to our friendly bike rental lady and sought out Dead Horse Point State Park. The biking here ranged from easy to intermediate and we easily spent the entire day learning just how good Utah biking is.

 

FUN FACT: Dead Horse Point is named after the natural coral that is created by the elevated mesa (flat tabletop-like rock). Legend says, horses would reach the tops of these cliffs and become isolated and stare at the Colorado river below as they died of thirst.
This has been a Dave & Meg super happy fun fact.

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the truly amazing things about Utah we were not expecting was how diverse the parks are. From the arches and mesas of Moab, we arrived to the hoodos and spires of Bryce Canyon. And so much green!

We met up with a nice woman from the American National Parks Service and did a hike of Fairyland Loop. Highly recommended as it avoids the huge crowds and takes you down into the valley and back up to a great vantage point.

 

Also, you have to see the pictures that our new friend tried to take of us jumping. They turned out unbelievably well. Enjoy.

 

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Canyonlands National Park

Great valley hike, although it was 1000 degrees. After we saw the mesa arch which was literally crawling with people. Please do not climb signs mean nothing apparently.

 

Canyonlands was also home to the Chesler Park Loop. A day hike that takes you right through some of the coolest hoodos and a slot canyon. We got to experience some flash flooding and watch a waterway form before our eyes, which is a humbling and a slightly unnerving experience. We could hear it collecting and build up speed in the rocks as we took refuge in a small dug out in the rock cliffs just off the trail. We had no idea what we were hearing at first but quickly saw what all the noise was about. Once the water poured its way out onto the sand and down its natural channel we were stopped in our tracks.

Could we go on? There was now a rushing river before us, directly across the path…

The following is a reenactment of events.

Disclaimer: all characters appearing in this work are non-fictional and therefore you should be amazed. Any semblance to persons living or maybe even writing this are purely non-coincidental. 

“I’m so disappointed. I wish we could go on,” Megan pined.
“Not today riverrrrrrrrr!!!!,” Dave bellowed as he ripped his tank top to shreds, letting them float gently to the sandy ground. “Grab hold, baby.”
Meg grasped Dave’s tree trunk leg and koala-beared with all her might.
“Deep breath,” instructed Dave as he terminatored into the water until his whole body had been mechanically walked into the merciless waves.
Moments passed. Minutes seemed like hours to the mystified onlookers. Then – the top of a head maybe? Yes! The flowing brown hair of Dave emerged from the surge as he continued to walk to the opposite shore.
“Thank you, Dave. You are so brave and manly and courageous,” Meg said adoringly, “now we can continue our hike to the slot canyon.”
“You are welcome. And yes, I am all of those things.”

What a terrific true story. Here are some pictures:

 

Kodachrome Basin State Park

This was a random find but are we ever glad we stumbled on this beautiful and clean park. It started with an online campsite booking that was somewhere between Canyonlands and Page, Arizona. It was there that I {Dave} would be accused of booking this spot because of one particular geologic formation…

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For the record, I had no idea that magnificent beast would be greeting us as we drove into our paved campsite. But we certainly had a fantastic view of BDR (I’ll let you figure it out) for the remainder of our stay.

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This would also be the home to the infamous Scootumpah Road incident of 2015. It’s funny now but for some reason Meg was upset that I demolished the Suzuki Monster’s front bumper that day. It now has some slick, bright yellow detailing tape holding it up though. You’re welcome.

Hmm, maybe I’ll put some speed holes in the hood as well…

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We made it to our destination though, trailing bumper and all, and got to see some impressive slot canyons we could hike through. It really was a beautiful state park and maybe not one on most people’s radar. Highly recommended!

Page, Arizona

Famous for three things: horseshoe bend, antelope canyon and expensive motels with bed bugs. That last one being specific to us. Don’t worry though, we washed everything, shoved them into garbage bags and nuked them straight to hell in a 50 degree Celsius car in Zion the next day. All part of the adventure!

The first things on that list were stunning thankfully and I’ve got the pictures to prove it:

 

And now for Antelope Canyon:

 

 

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Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim

Detour time. We hadn’t actually planned to visit the Grand Canyon but Meg said we were way too close not to go. She was right of course, so we did a day trip out to do part of the Kaibab trail on the northern rim. Down we went, sweaty and stepping over donkey dumps – loving every second of it. We also met a super interesting couple from New York City (formerly Toronto) that we ended up hiking with on the way back. Also, grabbing dinner with them to find out about their “travel the world” plan for later that year. Their enthusiasm was contagious. We love meeting people like that, exchanging interesting stories and hearing about their own adventures. We met quite of few people like that on this trip.

 

Zion National Park

This ended up being our final spot destination of the trip for reasons I’ll explain later. For the first couple of days though we got to enjoy to terrific hikes; the Narrows and Observation Point. Observation Point is a great way to avoid crowds which all flock to Angel’s Landing but actually looks over the more popular trail from the top.

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The Narrows is very popular and you can through hike it but only with a permit. Or you can also go to the Subway, a similar type of excursion. We went to the narrows and only hiked as far as we could before the Narrows police stopped us and turned us around.

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Observation Point

Angel’s Landing is the place to go. The crowds will certainly make you think that as you take the park shuttle down the road. For the most part, however, you won’t see much of that trail without some fellow hikers, which is no problem as it is definitely a gorgeous hike. If however, you are looking for something a little less traveled and has even more elevation so you can get an even larger perspective of the valley below, then Observation Point is the hike for you. Meg and I loved our hike and the opportunity to pause and reflect on the gorgeous expansiveness of it all, often just the two of us.

 

 

Canyoneering & “The Incident”

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Meg about to start the descent

Canyoneering was a must-try on our list for Utah. We found a startup guiding company in the small town just outside of Zion National Park and reserved a spot to try our hand at this rappel based sport.

After parking and finishing a hike up to the top of the canyon, we were soon rappelling down into the water off our first anchor. Much of the travel was unroped, and this is where we ran into a bit of trouble. Coming on to a bit of a drop, we needed to inchworm  our way down while pressed into both sides of a tiny rock corridor. Meg was up front for this and began the descent with her arms and legs splayed out between the two walls. Before she could make the transition to pushing both feet against one wall while pressing her back into the other, a pop. She folded onto her right side  and grasped her left shoulder, somehow keeping her feet in place and not falling into the water below. I asked if she was alright and through a grimace told me she was. Continuing down, I didn’t think much of what had happened, figuring a bruise or small muscle tweak would be the worse of it. It was not until after rappelling for another two hours and reaching the truck, returning to Zion and our campsite that Meg really let on the seriousness of the injury.

I was making some delicious Kraft Dinner with cut up hot dog for dinner. I handed Meg the ladle and asked her to stir the hot dogs in the boiling water. I came back with the package of Kraft Dinner and she was choking back tears. “We don’t have to have KD,” I said confused. She still laughs at that. At the time I certainly wasn’t laughing though and found out her shoulder had dislocated but she had managed to put it back in and get herself out of the canyon – unbeknownst to me or the guides. To make a long story short, we packed up everything and the next morning left early for the hospital in Salt Lake City, Meg’s arm wrapped in a t-shirt sling.

The next year was a rough one. She needed surgery but the system took a very long time in giving it to her. In the end it had turned out she had pretty much torn everything you can tear in a shoulder. I won’t go into detail but my five foot three inch wife is one of the toughest people I know.

An unfortunate ending to our trip, Meg still says it was one of the best we’ve ever done and mentions stories from it often. The injury has long since healed and the small dimpled scars on her left shoulder are now just a memento of our wicked adventures in the desert lands of Utah. Every scar has a story and I dedicate this one you’ve just read to my beautiful, strong, resilient wife.


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