Hello again all! In an effort to procrastinate on grading this weekend (dear all past, present, and future students who may somehow stumble upon this, yes, everyone procrastinates) I have decided to write about an adventure my darling sister and I took over summer. I never got around to writing due to work (dear students, thanks a lot) and other unforseen complications in life immediately upon my return to California, so now seems like as good a time as any.
As many of you know, Lyd is attending school at Cal and growing up to be a genius who builds robots and may eventual destroy targets built by civil engineers, according to her most commonly told joke. On a Thursday evening last summer, she called and asked “Do you want to go to the desert?” With all the internships, work, classes, stress, etc it was time for an escape plan, and I was more than happy to become the partner in crime in this unplanned adventure. She left that night, and we left the next morning bound for the northeast corner of Utah.
We drove for between ten and twelve hours, I think, and passed through four states and changed timezones once. After the sun set, I lost all track of time and space as we hurdled down pitch black freeways at 90 mph (the speed limit was 80, so we weren’t being so bad). All I know is I listened to every Devil Makes Three song on my ipod (no small feat) before we reached the Moab Tent Camp after midnight. Our last light was just as we passed into Utah, so we had no idea where we were, or what our surroundings looked like, and I know I at least was so tired I didn’t really care. We spent the night in a tipi (not a typo) and imagine my surprise at first dawn when this beautiful site greeted my gritty eyes: scores of tipis scattered across a backdrop of open grassland bordered by gargantuan bluffs of red sandstone. We quickly brushed out teeth and packed our meager belonging back into the Parneli (Lydia’s Prius), eager to get to Arches. It was only a short drive, but we took it slow to enjoy the change overnight from the flatlands of southwestern Utah to the awe-inspiring, and often gravity-defying rock formations of northeastern Utah. We decided to follow a similar attack strategy for Arches as we did for our trip in general: beat it as quickly as possible to the farthest side of the park, scoping out the hikes and available parking, then make our way back slowly back. We drove out to the Devil’s Garden and decided to hike the Devil’s Garden Primitive loop (just over seven miles) which offered views of quite a few arches and lots of cool other rock formations. Lydia and I decided to go badass (or Cali beach girl, depending on your point of view) and do most of the hike barefoot. Once we reached Double O Arch, a, you guessed it, double arch that is more O shaped (boy, the people who named these things are really original) we took off over the sliderock of the primitive trail (primitive meaning undeveloped and unmarked except by little piles of stone, over long expanses of smooth sandstone). We got lost a bunch of times and found lots of really great little side trails before we made it back to the parking lot.
After finding a place to camp outside of Arches along the bank of the Colorado river, we came back to scope out places to set up the camera for celestial star shots later. We settled on Balanced Rock, then took off to explore other parts of the park in preparation for the next day’s hiking que. After a few little exploratory hikes, we returned at sunset to set up (sans tripod, we opted for some well-shaped rocks and a long, slow shutter. The night was beautiful and clear, with the only light pollution coming from the tiny town of Moab. We were out pretty late, until the wind picked up and we left for fear of airborne sand scratching the lenses. The next day, we knocked out a few more hikes, including a trek to the iconic Delicate Arch.
Then, we climbed back into the Prius and headed to our next destination: The Grand Canyon.
While most folks who visit head to the South rim, we decided, for both scenery and convenience, to go for the North. As we pulled up to the park, we spotted a herd of large animals in the distance, grazing in the meadow. We blew them off as cattle until we got closer and saw cars parked off to the side, and little kids pointing. We pulled over, and upon inspection, came to the conclusion that the creatures were in fact bison, which neither one of us had seen in the wild before, or knew were present in this area. It turned out that they were transplanted here (I forgot why, either by some conservationist with a braintrain slightly off the tracks or for movies) and have now decimated much of the habitat that supported a whole lot of other grazing animals. Arriving at the rim itself, Lydia and I decided to take a quick hike up one side of the rim, as it was late afternoon and we just wanted to walk for a little while after spending too many hours in the car. We made it back to the main lodge before sunset, and managed to catch some beautiful scenery and lightning out over the canyon (as well as watching hundreds of camera flashes go off from the South rim of the canyon as the sun sank into the west). This foreshadowed the torrential rain we received over the trip. Although I’ve spent a lot of time pitching tents, I underestimated the potential of thunder showers in the desert landscape. We decided to sleep in Parneli for the two nights we spent in Arizona, just in case. Upon waking the third morning, we discovered the water had destroyed the campsite, having jumped the banks of the drainage ditch above our camp and sending large rocks, sticks, and gallons of thick mud into our campsite. We discovered a ground squirrel of some sort nearly drowned not far from camp, and spent the morning soaking him in hot water and feeding him pecans before heading back in for a hike. We also managed, somehow, to kill the battery in the Prius and had to scout around camp for soemone who had a vehical that was small enough to squueze in and give us a jump (we were camped in an RV camp, so this was far trickier than might be expected). Lydia finally came back with an older fellow, who was very surprised when she knew how to jump her own car, and a portable car battery. After successfully reincarnating Parneli and letting the guy take our picture (“Now girls, I’m just wondering if I could have your picture before you go. The fellas back home will never believe that two angels asked me to jump their Prius!”), we were off.
We spent the next day and half doing literally every hiking trail available in North rim, minus the one into the actual canyon (though we are thinking about a rim to rim hike next summer, depending on work schedules). We discovered a super fun game: “who can get closer to the edge?” which we played throughout the rest of the trip. As someone terrified of heights, I’ve never spent as much time dangling my feet over or leaning over so many precarious drops. In fact, one woman, who came upon my sister taking a photo of me sitting on the edge of a cliff, freaked out. I think she thought Lydia was just photographing the scenery until we started talking to each other, and maybe thought I was about to jump or something. The game afforded some incredible views that we would not have been able to experience if we hadn’t been willing to step up to the edge. We also managed a glimpse of the fables Kaibab Squirrel, or Ghost of the North Rim. These guys are nutty (har har har). They are pure black with a long, snowy white tail; live exclusively on the North Rim; and eat mainly dead animals. Of the four we saw, three were eating roadkill. It was an odd sight to be sure, after so many years experience with their nut-eating cousins.
Our last stop was (supposed to be) Zion. Lydia turned 21 on our travel day, so after finding lodging and taking a quick hike to break in Lydia’s new hiking sandals (hooray Tevas), we decided to try and find something besides Cliff bars, apples, tortillas, and oatmeal to eat (quite literally, this was all we had eaten over our trip). We were lucky to find a diner with “Ho-made Pies” (here’s lookin’ at you, Leo) and a salad bar. We spent the next day stalking big horn sheep and trekking our way through slot canyons in the Narrows. Now, here we really hit our stride as adventurers, at least according to our observers. We were on the second bus into the park (they don’t allow cars in), and found that by the last stop (our hike) we ere the only people on the bus without a walking stick and crazy water boots, only available for rental at the entrance to the park. We knew that they were recommended, however we decided we would be fine. The others on the bus were obviously judging us as city kids, until we got off the bus, threw on hiking sandals, and, in our usual style, mobbed up the river. Keep in mind, most of this hike is in a river. Not alongside, in, and the bottom is not sand but river rock, often cobblestone sized and larger. Open-toed hiking sandals and no sticks left us looking woefully unprepared, but pretty soon we were the only ones around and we slowed down the pace to enjoy looking at and photographing the amazing narrow canyons. We reached Orderville Canyon just in time for it’s golden hour, when the sun shone in and created deep shadows with rust golden light shining through the sandstone walls. We decided to continue upriver, so see what else we could find, and shortly discovered people coming towards us, who turned out to be backpackers who had been camping way back in the canyon. Since we were hiking in the river and there was no actual trail, it was very difficult to judge how far we had come except by time, but after about four hours of hiking and not seeing anyone else we decided to turn around and head south.
Now, when we planned the trip (yes, all 12 hours of planning from inception to departure) we had planned for this to be a week long state and national park hopping hiking adventure. However, when we passed through Vegas on the way from San Diego to Moab, we looked at each other and grinned. I jumped on Groupon and found killer deals on tons of hotels inside casinos. As Lydia’s birthday gift, I booked us a corner suite in the Luxor overlooking the south part of the strip, and after Zion we rolled into the lobby after not having showered in about a week in dirty gym shorts and sports bras. We strolled through, oggling at the abundance of faux pyramids, chest hair, and stiletto heels. We settled in, showered, and changed into clean clothes (I didn’t pack for anything but hiking, so it was swimming shorts and T shirt for me) then departed to find food. I bought Lydia her first fancy drink in a restaurant, people watched, attempted to figure out how to give slot machines our money (unsuccessfully), watched drunk girls on a mechanical bull, were amazed by the volcanic eruption at the mirage, and eventually made our way to Treasure Island, tickets for Cirque du Soleil in hand. The show, of course, was incredible, hilarious, and very acrobatic. I don’t think I could come close to desrbing the performance, so I won’t do injustice by attempting. Let’s just say, I walked away amazed and determined to stretch more. We headed home (it was one AM and still over 90 degrees, yikes!) to our pyramid suite and passed out in record time.
Grudigingly, we dragged ourselves to Parneli the next morning to head back home, dreading the half-day drive far less than returning to work. However, we are excited for the next adventure where the sister act will be traveling abroad to the land of the aurora borealis, Iceland. Stay tuned for more updates, as we will be leaving mid January!
PS: Here are more, very disorganized photos for your viewing pleasure.