day six; arches national park and island in the sky district of canyonlands national park.
waking at the crack of dawn we hit the road under a star filled utah sky. racing our way through the empty roads of arches national park trying to beat the sunrise. we pull into a near empty parking lot as the first rays of the day begin to illuminate the bright orange sandstone; beautiful in any light, but especially so in the golden morning shine.
grab our packs. quickly look at a trail map. go go go, up the rocky plateau after a mile and a half the view opens up and below us lay an amazing labyrinth of smooth sandstone curves and monolithic arches. in the distance we spot what we were looking for, the delicate arch. we head towards the famous landmark and are quickly able to take some photographs and talk with the three other people who made the early morning trek, we all sat in morning glow admiring what the elements had created.
by time we were heading from our first stop to explore the rest of the park there were hoards of people coming up the trail from a now full parking lot, a few even questioned to us "how much further" and "how close are we" less than one hundred feet from where they had started.
with the mid day sun beating down on us we head to the second entrance of canyonlands national park, the island in the sky district. while this park is filled with breathtaking arches, domes and overlooks, we were on a mission to find what they call the "false kiva". a kiva is a subterranean stone circle used by ancient puebloans for religious rituals. our destination is called the false kiva as it is not underground, but instead tucked in a cave within the canyon wall.
the false kiva is not located on the park map and there are no signs or plaques indicating where or what it is, but if you know about it and ask a park ranger they are obliged to give you pointers on how to find it.
we started on our way by hopping over a wooden barrier and began to follow the lightly beaten path down into the canyon. while parts of the trail had been blazed much of the second half was rambling over loose boulders and rocks, the only indication that we were headed in the right direction were the cairns placed along the way by explorers past. as we approached the wall i knew we were getting closer, but i still couldn't believe that someone had found this place years ago. as you look up from the canyon floor it is nearly impossible to tell that there is a cave above you, let alone the stone structure that we were seeking.
we basked in the solitude of our find. spending a considerable amount of time taking in the sweeping view of the canyon below perfectly framed by the cave we were sitting in. reading the register inside the false kiva it is obvious that many have been here before, but we still had this feeling of discovery. within a national park that sees half a million visitors a year, we were alone.
day five; capital reef national park and needles district of canyonlands national park.
capitol reef was another park that we initially had no intentions in visiting but, much like how we were drawn to zion, we saw a sign headed in that direction.
we were shocked to see that several of the sights and trails were closed to due fallen rocks and trees, but we were not going to let that stop us from seeing what the park had to offer. we spent the next few hours viewing petrogylphs left behind on the canyon walls, climbing the rock layers surrounding hickman's natural bridge like it was our own private jungle gym and then taking in some scenic views of cathedral valley.
we ran into another defiant group of travelers on the closed trail who suggested on our way out we take the scenic highway ninety five. and we were off!
the four hour drive along various canyons and over the san juan river led us to the needles entrance into canyonlands national park, where we took advantage of the few hours of daylight we had left by hiking around pothole point and watching the sun set at the grand view overlook. with no plan in mind, except one trail in particular we wanted to be sure to do the next day, we drove an hour out of the park where we found a rest area to get some sleep.
day four; zion national park and bryce canyon national park.
as we've mentioned before, when we travel we prefer having no plan at all. this trip was initially going to be a trek up to to northern california but we soon felt the desire to explore more of the southwest. the red rocks were calling our name.
we made return visits to a few parks in arizona, but utah was was what we really wanted to explore. when we got back into austin i called my grandmother to tell her about the parks we recently visited and also discuss my urge to make my way up to the northeast to visit family. “you fly, you fly by the seat of your pants!” she said to me. i laughed at the truth in her words. other than a date that we wanted to be home by and a general area we wanted to wander through, most of this trip was decided while we were on the road.
zion national park was not in our minds while driving across the arizona/utah border, but as soon as we saw a sign that read “zion national park…….40miles” we found ourselves headed that direction. it was a good last minute decision to say the least! shortly after entering the park we were greeted by long horned sheep stepping along the horizontal fissures of the checkerboard mesa.
we made our way through the massive park and embarked on a few of the hiking trails including upper emerald pool. as the park began to overcrowd in the weekend sun we found solitude walking along the virgin river, offering both a place to cool off and sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
the road out of zion led us to original destination for the day, bryce canyon.
we spent the evening hours exploring the rim of the canyon overlooking the endless sea of hoodoos before retiring to our tent in the dixie national forest.
day two; petrified forest national park, walnut canyon national monument and the grand canyon.
the grand canyon is much like stepping into a painting. the contrast between the soft colors and the rugged terrain makes it feel almost unreal. the birds swooping down into the canyon and along the canyon walls prove that it is very much alive and changing all the time.
this was our third visit to the grand canyon and still we take so much from the experience. what we love most about visiting this dreamy place is that you can easily find a quiet place away from other tourists and there is always a new trail to walk or canyon wall to climb; each offering a new perspective of the canyon more beautiful than the last.
one of the most inspiring days of our lives was our first visit to the grand canyon, so not only do we take in the constant newness of the scenery (like an elk walking right past us in the woods - yes, this happened!), but it is also a place where we can reflect on the amazing journey we have been on thus far.
"a few things in this beautiful old world are too big to talk about, one can only weep before so supreme a spectacle of glory and of majesty." margaret gehrke, an early visitor to the grand canyon; 1915.