A June 2000 trip
to Utah by lcampbell
Quote: This journal covers our short roadtrip to southcentral and southwest Utah. We visited Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park.
I always advise that folks read about Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics before heading into the wilderness – you know, "Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures." One special consideration in the desert involves NOT leaving the footprints. There is something called a cryptobiotic crust that covers some areas of the desert that cannot survive being walked on. It is a living crust made of cyanobacteria, lichen, algae, and fungi, which serves as a covering that protects against erosion, and absorbs moisture and nutrients for plant growth. This crust is very important to many plants and animals, so it is best to stay on the trails to avoid inadvertently stepping on this crust.
Attraction | "Zion National Park – Hike to Angels Landing"
Since I am definitely NOT a morning person, my husband had to drag me out of the tent at an unreal hour. We wanted to miss the crowds and the heat by catching the very first shuttle bus to leave the Visitor Center. There are no cars allowed into the main part of Zion, so there is a very efficient shuttle system that leaves the Visitor Center every 30 minutes. I managed to be conscious for the 6:30am shuttle, but not before begging to stop in Springdale (town on boundary of Zion National Park) for coffee – please, please, please!
The hike up Angels Landing starts out fairly tame – maybe ½ mile of flat trail. Then the trail heads up a series of switchbacks called "Walter’s Wiggles." After the switchbacks, there is a narrow slot with high walls looming up on each side. A couple more switchbacks, and then comes the final stretch. The last part of this hike is not for those who are afraid of heights – it involves hiking across a narrow ridge with HUGE dropoffs (2000 feet) on one or both sides. There are no railings but there is an occasional chain to hold on to.
The summit of Angels Landing also has the huge dropoffs, but the flat area at the top is large enough so that you can sit a comfortable distance away from the edge (I thought it was a good distance, but maybe others would have a different opinion). My husband and I were one of the first ones to the top (we had passed a couple people farther back on their way out) and at the time we had it to ourselves. So we stuck around enjoying the view of the valley and watching the birds float on the wind, diving and dipping and looking like they were having a blast.
When other folks started showing up, we headed back down the trail. We passed a ton of people coming up, so we were glad that we had gotten an early start. The hike was 5 miles round trip with 1488 feel of elevation gain and loss. Definitely bring lots of water – it is hot and dry and dehydration is dangerous. Plus, Angels Landing is a scary place to have to be rescued off of!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 11, 2002
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, Utah 84767
I usually find these "free areas" by driving down various FS or BLM roads and looking for spots where you can tell people have camped before (no vegetation where they park and usually a rock fire ring –sometimes they even leave firewood!). Sometimes sites are grouped together, and sometimes they are solitary. BLM camping spots are trickier to find than FS, as BLM land is not signed very well. If you can get a good map, you may be able to pinpoint BLM areas more easily, but sometimes there is not road access to the land. Once on this trip I stopped to ask a gas station owner how to access a certain piece of BLM property – and he angrily informed me that there is NO access except through his land and he doesn’t care if it’s public land, NO ONE is getting there through his land! Traditionally, only local folks have used BLM land for grazing, etc. Now many others know about it and want to use it, and some local people don’t like that. They feel protective and invaded, and who can blame them. Possession is 90% of the law, right?
Here are some spots that we found to camp on this road trip. There are many many more that we didn’t find, so maybe you can discover something even better than we did. See the map in the photo section for a better idea of location.
Outside Capital Reef National Park: On Highway 24 near Caineville, we knew from our map that there was a large piece of BLM land on the north side of the road. We could not find an access road, but after driving for a while, we saw tire tracks heading north into the desert toward Factory Butte. We put our truck in 4WD and headed in, not knowing what we would find (and hoping that we were actually on BLM land). After a short drive following the existing tire tracks, we found a denuded area where there were extensive ORV (Off Road Vehicle) tracks and some fire rings. We knew that ORVs were allowed on BLM land, so we knew we were in a spot where it was OK to camp.
Outside Zion National Park: This was given to me by a Park Ranger friend who works at Zion, otherwise I never would have found it! It is called Mosquito Flats, and is west of Zion on Highway 9, between mile markers 23 and 24 on the south side of the road.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 11, 2002
Attraction | "Backpacking in Box Death Hollow"
After a brief stop to look at some petroglyphs in Capitol Reef, we headed toward the town of Escalante. Shortly after leaving Capitol Reef, we entered the Dixie National Forest. Dixie NF is an island of cool green in the middle of redrock desert. It was refreshing and surprising to see a forest where I hadn’t expected it. When we reached the town of Escalante, we stopped in the Ranger Station for a backpacking permit and then headed out immediately. Box Death Hollow is about 10 miles north of Escalante on a dirt road. We were the only ones at the trailhead parking area – a good sign. After loading our packs, we headed up the trail.
The trail sort of fizzled out before it even started, but not so much that we couldn’t follow it. It basically meandered along the creek, crossing the creek often. Sometimes we could jump the creek and sometimes we just stepped in. We had gotten a late start, so it was really HOT. Good thing we had the canyon to ourselves…. when we got too hot and found a deep spot in the creek, we just dropped our packs and skinny dipped to cool off.
After a few hours, we found a nice flat shady spot to set up camp. We still hadn’t seen any other people. Dinner was delicious and peaceful, and afterward we scrambled up some nearby rocks for a better view of our home for the night. What a beautiful canyon – I am so grateful to our new friend for recommending it!
The next morning we hiked out to the trailhead in cool of the morning, again without seeing another soul. We were headed on to our next adventure… Bryce Canyon National Park.
Dixie National Forest
Panguitch and Hatch, Utah
We first traveled around to various viewpoints at Bryce Canyon. We did this as long as we could, until we couldn’t wait any longer – we had to get down into that canyon! We grabbed a map, randomly picked a trail (I don’t even know the name, but you will easily be able to find a great hoodoo area to hike in by looking down from a viewpoint), and started hiking. We descended from the mesa onto a winding trail that wove in and around the orange hoodoos. The amazing thing to me, was that as we approached the bottom of the canyon, we found huge ponderosa pines growing among the rock formations. How strange to find such big ponderosas in the desert – an amazing sight to see, for sure. When we reached the bottom, we checked the map to make a loop hike. We found a way to do it, and headed along the bottom of the canyon for a while. It was definitely greener on the valley bottom. It was wide and flat, and shaded by the rock and trees. So we had our lunch on the bottom in the cool shade. Then the hard part, heading back up. Of course, it was easier to take our minds off of our stuggling lungs and legs since we headed directly into the hoodoos again. On this stretch of trail, we also saw little windows or arches in the rock. When we got to the top, I was sorry our hike was over. I wanted to head back down, but it was time to head out and find a campsite for the night. I will sleep dreaming of hoodoos.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce, UT 84717
Personal vehicles are only allowed on Highway 9 in the park. From the Visitor Center on Highway 9 near the town of Springdale, there is a 6.5 mile road that heads north into the actual Zion Canyon (Highway 9 goes through a side canyon). Due to the congestion and pollution caused by over 3 million visitors per year, Zion instituted a shuttle bus system. The shuttle buses are the only motorized vehicles allowed to drive into Zion Canyon. I have used shuttle systems at other National Parks, and none of them does it as well as Zion. The shuttle leaves every 30 minutes, and starts very early and runs late. It does a loop through the town of Springdale to pick people up, so they don’t have to fight for a parking spot at the Visitor Center. Our driver gave a funny and interesting presentation on the ride – and pointed out landmarks such as The Great White Throne, The Watchman, Angels Landing, and Weeping Rock.
The Visitor Center has displays, a movie about the park, and a small shop that sells books and postcards. You can talk to a ranger or volunteer at the Visitor Center and get information, or you can go to a free Ranger program or guided hike. We are always impressed with Ranger programs. We wanted to do a long hike, so we talked to a ranger about two possibilities – Angels Landing and The Narrows. You can read about the hike up Angels Landing in a separate entry. The Narrows sounded interesting too – a hike through a narrow slot canyon where you have to hike in the river. Two short hikes that people seemed to be doing were to Weeping Rock (0.5 miles round trip to where a dripping springs has made a "hanging garden") and to Lower Emerald Pools (1 mile round trip to a waterfall). Both are on flat trails and great for beginners.
A few final facts: the Entrance Fee is $20 per vehicle (the pass is good for 7 days). Or you can get a National Parks Pass for $50 which is good at all National Parks for one year. This is a great idea if you are going to 3 or more parks like we did. There are campgrounds in Zion or Springdale, and Zion Lodge in the park is open year round.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, Utah 84767
Port Angeles, Washington