Make a U through Utah

A full moon shining on the campsite.

I’m going to attempt to put all of Utah into one post…and it’s not going to do it justice, so go there yourself to see it.

I started in Salt Lake City where my sister flew in to join up for this little loop around the the state. She got an Airbnb to say at for that first night, which meant I got my first hot shower in a week.

Then we made our way south to Zion. I voted to navigate off the interstates as much as possible, which took us to some nice scenic highways that went along rivers like in Washington or Montana, but now surrounding by a much more red and arid landscape.

Zion

One of the many canyon views

I had found a campsite on the east part of the park…which was alright since the main entrance was in the south. From there you had to take a long windy road to get that part. The oddest part being when we had to stop at a tunnel for an indefinite period of time. Afterwards we figured out that this tunnel is so small and narrow that large buses/RVs you can only fit one going through in one direction…so a traffic jam.

And after that tunnel we dropped into the canyon, with the walls towering above us, with rocks that looked like they might be teetering and ready to fall at a moment…or more of seeing the rocks that had fallen.

We took the shuttle to to go to the narrows, and walked the given path. No water filled adventures this time. Then up to the weeping wall—where the water seeps out above and rains down over an alcove tucked inside.

Weeping walls

Finally, we made off towards the the emerald pools. We we started to make our way that way, then we found a rockslide the trailhead didn’t clearly mention. But there was an older couple there, and the gentleman was gungho about crossing it, so after he scouted it out we followed. And everything was good…until we a hit a second landslide…and although this looked equally (un)safe, the chain link fence that completely blocked the other side of the trail was a little more menacing.

And all the while, this trail was supposed to be a loop that makes a U shape following the edge of the canyon—much like the Monterey Bay; so as we were on the Monterey side, all the people the open, Santa Cruz, side of the trail, could see us scampering along any attempts we made.

When we made our way back through the first landslide, it really feels a lot more unstable the 2nd time through, and you start to think “Hmmm, I sure hope that these rocks and dirt sliding down, don’t draw the rocks and dirt I’m standing on down as well…”.

We did safely make it, and after a lunch break looped around the other side and checked it out…

Campside game of Quarkle—Hillary won…

Bryce Canyon

Yah…we hiked down into that—pretty awesome.

It’s my birthday? Another shuttle ride to Sunset point, where it overlooks a canyon, but instead of being wide and open the earth seems to rise up in these odd shaped columns—all striated with a variety of colors. And then we got to hike down into that canyon on the Queen’s Garden and navajo loop trails, it was pretty cool.

We raced out of there to make it to Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm for lunch, which a fantastic little place off the highway near Boulder, Utah. And then up and outside Goblin Valley State Park for the evening.

Birthday lunch!

Arches

Arches was an interesting one because it was the most traffic ridden of the parks I’d been to, at least to get in. There were two lanes and one entrance and that was it. This was another park with really neat rock formations spread throughout. Arches, but more hoodoos, colorful canyons, a little bit of everything a neat place.

It’s too bad we didn’t have more time, there’s a lot of cool places here, not to mention two other national parks that we barely touched on.

Back up to Salt Lake City and then the journey to the Rockies. (More pictures to come in another post) 

Getting ready to tip it over

The Lackluster Yellowstone and the Terrific Tetons

A lone bison

Yellowstone was disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, the geysers and springs and wildlife were awesome. But the whole park felt tarnished but the number of cars and people and tourists roaming around. If I were to rate a park’s quality as inversely proportional to the number of people walking around with cameras and tripods… then Yellowstone would be at the bottom of the parks’ list.

I get it’s a huge area and you have to drive through it and it was the founding National Park; but even still getting stuck behind cars as they stop in the middle of the road for a bison or two (granted sometimes the bison were stopped in the middle of the road…).

I guess what it really is, the whole place felt like a tourist trap. You have bison and extremophiles and geysers, but the feeling of the park wasn’t that people were there to enjoy it, but that people were there because it’s the place where you’re supposed to go. Kind of like the Mystery Spot or Disneyland. It really wasn’t what I was looking for at the time . My last day there I did find a little spot that would be safe to run on, moderately trafficked, but a good little trail to Fairy Waterfall.

Nice view of some spring water.

Now the Tetons are connected right to the the south entrance of Yellowstone, which I didn’t quite realize, until driving out of one park and into the other. But there it was. On a recommendation from a friend, I got up early and did the Cascade Canyon hike. I started off at the ranger station on a ranger led hike to Moose Lake…where it lived up to its name with a moose wallowing around the riparian area. I continued on that hike around Jenny’s Lake, as we’re walking down, a group was coming up—”There’s a moose on the trail.” ok a moose, just saw one, sweet. — “No. Turn around and get off the trail, the moose is ON the trail” Quickly scurried up the trail and lo and behold a moose just cruising up this single track trail.

Trail Moose…Moose Trail?

 

After that adventure I was up the canyon. It started off pretty ok; single track, steep switchbacks, some shrubs and trees; but before I knew it I was hiking along a river in the middle of the canyon. You could see some of the smaller glacier/snow fed streams with lush foliage growing on the mountainside. It was amazing—my words and pictures can’t describe how beautiful it was to hike up this area.

 

Moose filled Moose Lake
Old Faithful…yep it shot some water up in the air on schedule.
View up the canyon
The Tetons
Couple of bull mooses…meeses…moose

 

Meeting People on the Trails Part 2

After Glacier, I made way to Bozeman, where I used the time to catch up with some things. Also, I got my first run in since getting lost in Spokane. It was nice, but even Bozeman is at 6000ft or so, and I definitely felt the elevation.

A 20ft walk from my campsite

After a night there I went down to the Cherry Creek campground, which may be the best site I’ve stayed at all trip. It was a real campground (well had a vault toilet and no water, but defined sites). Driving in, I managed to just snag the last site there. I got in pretty late, so quickly set up the car to sleep in. I explored Yellowstone the next day, but more on that next time). I got back to my site around 4pm—carefully saved with a water bottle and chair—and was about to take some time for myself when the fellow next to my site came over and asked if he could set up his solar panels near my site. Of course that’s not a bother at all, and he set them up on the edge of the site. I set up my much smaller panel and we got to chatting about the wattage and the trip.

Attempted my solar set up while driving…it didn’t work.

While talking, his family ventured out of their RV and introduced themselves—Gregory and Evelyn and then Kat, Joseph, Melody, Genevieve, and Thomas. It felt very much like the von Traps introducing themselves and was adorable. They wandered off to their own adventures until Greg came back over; “We’re going to grill some burgers, if you want to join us?” I wavered in my response, awkwardly declining, being vegetarian for the last 5 years. “Oh we were vegan for a few months, let me see if I have any veggie patties” A few more pages of my book went by, “We have some, come join us”. How could I say no?

By the time the grill was fired up and I joined them with some salad greens and a couple of avocados freshly picked from Costco up in Bozeman.

It was a great couple of hours with these French Canadians, they were on the road for a couple of months traveling from outside of Alberta. Homeschooling the kids on their travels. I had some veggie patties, grilled veggies, 7 grain wild rice—they even served up some ice cream in an in cream cone. But food aside the better part was the wonderful company and conversation at the campground.

Meeting people On the Trails (Part 1)

Random Canadian found on the trails

The trek from Portland to Salt Lake City was a lonely one… 2500 miles, 11 days without anyone I know. It’s a pretty long stretch. Fortunately, there were 4 different national parks separating them, and plenty of new terrain.

After hiking up Mr. Rainier, and getting over to Glacier National Park, I quickly realized how crowded these National Parks can get. It seems like each park gets a rush of hundreds if not thousands of visitors each day. I expected as much from Yellowstone, but it has blown me away: the lines of cars waiting to get in, the packed parking lots, the number of people on a trail at 7000+ feet 2-3 miles up a trail head. And the variety of people out there—locals enjoying the park in their backyard, people roadtripping around, adventurers traveling from all over the world—it’s awesome how many people are out there enjoying the parks.

Apgar Lookout

In Glacier National Park, the fire cut off the Going to the Sun Road, and coming up on the West side I had to make due,with the trails on that side. The longest trail out there was the Apgar Lookout, out and back, so I went with that.

The trailhead was down a gravel, bumpy, lane and half, which made me question if I was on the actual road to get out there or I was going to end up in a den of grizzlies. I was on the right track, so I got geared up, recently bear spray on hand, and on the trail.  

This was a real pretty trail through an area that burned in the last 15 years, so lots of new growth pines and smaller shrubs. Going up the trail I met a really nice family from Iowa, visiting to go to a wedding but also paired it was a couple of days in the park. I got to talk about my trip with and was able to slow down on trail some. They were super cordial and wished me luck on my journey, which was really fantastic.

The next day, I set out to hunt for glaciers…they are the namesake of the park after all. On an impulse and out of convenience I took the Highland trail, which was supposed to be ok and not really recommended by the ranger at the visitor center and 7 miles out you could see Grinnell Glacier. So I set off on the trail, it was a light descent at first, then all of a sudden you were on this granite cliffside with a rope on the inside of the trail to give you something to hold on to. Then you were working your way overlooking the road, but also deep valleys and distant peaks, which was a beauty to behold.

The winding highline trail

This is where navigating single track trails is wonderful; you get to say hi to people and chat with them for a little bit as hike up the trail with them.

With that methodology in mind a ended up meeting up with Staci(spelling?), a self described, grumpy old man from Canada with kids around my age. He was itching to see a grizzly and was determined to hike until he saw one. He also greeted every person we came across with a “How you doing?” and maybe grumpy isn’t the right term, rather a blunt, and straightforward gentleman, who doesn’t care what other people think about what other people think about what he says. I learned all about his opinion of his kids and how his son drives him crazy, and what an idiot the son sounds like and why do girls fall for him, can’t they see through him

Anyhow…

It was great to hike a couple of miles with him, not just because he would force me to stop to enjoy the beauty of it all—the hillsides were like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with all sorts of colors draped on the adjacent cliffsides

Then with snow speckled on above it, these overlook hikes were pretty incredible.

Oh yah and we found a grizzly!

Getting Lost in the Trailk AKA Alltrails App Review

So I’ll start with I’m not going to fault AllTrails for this, I didn’t use it well, and that’s my own fault.

AllTrails

AllTrails is a website/app that people upload trails into. It’s great for me going into places I don’t know to find popular places where people run. And when you use the app, you can view the where you are on the trail and where you need to go, and all that fun stuff. It’s free to find trails, but if you pay for the pro version you can then download a variety of maps for the trails or area when you don’t have service. I went for this, in part because I impulsively put my finger on the home button of my phone and got it, but it actually seemed useful too.

What pops up when you search in AllTrails

I use it for finding trails, making sure I’m on the right trail, and then recording my distance like a GPS watch for when I’m just doing my own thing.

Anyhow, it’s useful app, and does what I need it to. Back to the travels. I stayed outside of Spokane on some BLM land, which was a really nice prairie land. And I would have run here, except the slightly irrational fear, that much of the land around here is open hunting land, and I know it’s probably a rare event but accidents happen. So I popped on AllTrails and found the most popular, “moderate” hike to do.

Off to the Iller Creek Conservation Area!

There was one car in the parking lot, and another car pulled up as I was there—a really cool guy from Utah who was mountain biking up there, who gave me some recommendations and then hesitantly told me how to approach the trail, holding back because it has ~1500 elevation change from going up and over the “hill” and then back, and he was skeptical of my running. 

I keep this in mind and take off up the trail, the 1in gravel fire road quickly gave way to soft single track, all uphill. The trails at the first point began to intersect and figure eight with each other, I tried to follow the most recent bike treads, since I”m a real tracker, and I figure Utah man would have gone the big loop I was planning. 

I looped my way around and eventually got down the trail to take me to the far side. Now this is where my “mental compass” utterly failed. I came down the canyon side feeling like I had come down counter clockwise, so when I hit the far parking lot, I thought continue left here. There was a trail that continued that direction, and it started going up as expected. Now this “trail” went up, winding up the hillside, then it slowly began to go more steeply up the hillside, then all the way straight up the hill side. On top of that, it wasn’t as much a trail as much as it was more of a gutted, dried out, water canal—that you couldn’t fit both feet next to each other in. That’s where it started to feel like maybe this wasn’t right, but I figured I’m ¾ of the way to the top, maybe I just took a wrong turn.

Now when the “top” of trail leads to a set of radio towers, that also should have signaled a warning that “Hey, maybe I’m not in the right place”. I get to the top, and glance as a guy disappears running down towards where I came from, which gave me a misguided glimmer of hope…then I finally pulled up AllTrails.

Map of my run, the blue highlights where I was supposed to go, the red is where I went… Maybe the 2700ft elevation change explains why I was so tired?

It turns out I was in that next ridge line over; I had two options: 1) run all the way back (at this point I was about 5 miles out) 2)  looking at the map it seemed there were some roads which worked there way down and then there should be a connector trail back to the trail I had come down on. That seems shorter and quicker, and with the zero ounces of water I had brought, seemed like the best option. 

I start on some nice service roads, then turn down into a private neighborhood, which I began to work my way up. Which then led their way to another service road, because the other hillside I was supposed to be on was below a different set of radio towers. There may have been some obstructions in the road that I had to go around, and after frequent AllTrails checking, and shamefully some walking because it was getting warm, and at some elevation. 

I got back successfully to the parking lot, now that that adventure was over, off to Idaho! 

Finding a Way to Frugal Car Camp

This trip is great because it’s opened up the number of different places which I can go. In prepping for my trip, I had thought of a few different ways to take on this sort of adventure: (from most expensive to least)

  • Hotels ($80+ per night plus travel)
    • Easily the most expensive, you get amenities, your own room, bed, bathroom, etc
  • Airbnbs  ($30-$70+ per night per average)
    • Varied experience, it can be awkward in a rented room sort of situation and shared bathroom, but can also meet neat hosts and and get a breakfast and local insight with it
  • Developed campsites ($25-$45)
    • These are the privately run KOAs, RV sites, and the like. Since I don’t have an RV, and don’t really need electrical and water hookups. Maybe on the higher end it ends up with other recreational access and showers included. A similar one which I may try if the timing is right, is hipcamp.com, a sort of airbnb, but for campsites with a range of amenities.
  • Less Developed Campsites (<$20)
    • A place to set up a tent, water access, and restrooms. Probably a dumpster and place for trash as well.
  • Dispersed Camping (or full couchsurfing, which I haven’t tried yet)
    • Full dry camping, bring in your own water, and pack out your trash. Maybe a vault toilet (a fancy hole in the ground), but no running water.

Planning on being gone for 60+ days, let say I go for close to cheap option ($20/night) then I’m looking at $1200 for the trip. That’s not going to work out for me and unlike camping supplies, that’s lost money, as far as campsites, running water is nice, but I also got a 7 gallon water jug to take care of that.

On the road, you fill up on water whenever you can get.

Then I also came across freecampsites.net, which is a crowd sourced site of free or very cheap places to camp. A lot of these end up being full dispersed camping on federal land, but there are still quite a few listings with BLM or another federal agency that maintain some vault toilets, campfire pits, and parking area.

 

Most of my camping and traveling is finding sites near the National Parks or wherever I might be going, and clicking around until I find a site close enough, but also with some sort of restrooms.

And it’s worked out pretty well, there’s bound to be some hiccups, but you get what you pay for, and that’s part of the adventure.