Last time I wrote an update on our travels we were having some amazing adventures in Utah and this blog post will complete our tour of the Southwest. I didn’t expect that we would spend so much time in this Utah, but there are just so many amazing things to see and do!
After the lovely solitude of our hikes in Escalante, we made our way to the much more popular and busy Bryce Canyon. This is a spectacular place and the incredible rock structures and hoodoos were even more amazing in person than in the many photos I’ve seen. We enjoyed a sunset and sunrise overlooking the canyon and hiked the Navajo Trail and Queens Garden Loop. It was a spectacular experience to hike through the hoodoos and realize how huge they really are. In the spirit of being honest in this blog, I will say that for us, this was not a relaxed stroll in the park. On this hike Steve and I (after drinking large amounts of coffee that we brewed at the picnic tables near the trailhead) both had to pee really badly. There were many signs saying not to walk off the trail as well as tons of people and wide open spaces. Not ideal circumstances for a quick pee in the woods. This meant we had to hold it in until we reached the end of the trail, causing the hike to be quite rushed and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the scenery was magnificent and hiking down into the canyon is certainly an experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Bryce Canyon.
As expected, there were a lot of people at Bryce. Tour bus after tour bus came by and unloaded hundreds of visitors. I am so glad that we found some wonderful dispersed campsites in a forest just minutes from the park entrance. The sites were spaced out and very peaceful, surrounded by tall pine trees, which we really appreciated. We set up a hammock, made a roaring fire, and enjoyed an evening of cooking, reading, blog writing, and photo editing.
The next day we stopped by the Bryce Canyon Lodge which is a really charming and rustic spot that is definitely worth checking out. We browsed the amazing crafts and products we didn’t want to spend money on and relaxed on the couches by the fireplace.
We then drove all the way to the highest point of the park and stopped at the many beautiful viewpoints along the way. It was incredibly cool to see dark green pine trees sprinkled among the pointy orange hoodoos and lingering patches of pure white snow. My favorite spot was the natural bridge!
Tuba City, AZ
I’m sure we could have stayed at Bryce for weeks, but the west coast was beckoning us so we moved on. Just another place to return to some day! Our next stop was to visit an old friend of mine from high school and her husband who live in Tuba City, AZ. We spent a really wonderful couple of days in this small town on Navajo land. They both teach on the reservation and it was amazing to get an insight into life in this area and learn about the region. They told us stories about different celebrations and traditions and gave us a picture of what life is like on the reservation. They cooked us some incredible meals and we were able to catch up on washing dishes and laundry and also got to hang out with some awesome cats!
We also got the chance to explore some incredible ruins and canyon areas with amazing rock structures and stunning views. Thankfully our friends had a 4WD truck and knowledge of the area! I don’t think we would have found these hidden gems on our own or even been able to drive the bumpy, dirt roads to get to them! It was really fantastic to be alone in this beautiful areas with deep canyons, multicolored hoodoos, and striated rock structures of all shapes and sizes. There is really something to be said for getting off the beaten path and exploring local treasures! I won’t go into the details of the specific places we visited, as I’d love to help keep these spots pristine and untouched, but feel free to send me a direct message if you want some more information.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
After a wonderful few days in Tuba City, we drove to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The dunes lived up to their name and were a brilliant shade of coral pink. The wind was strong and blew sand in our eyes, noses, and mouths which was frustrating. However, the wind also blew away footprints and left the dunes looking smooth and untouched. We wandered around the dunes and climbed a few of them, avoiding the dune buggies that were for some (dangerous) reason allowed to zip around in the same area as walkers.
Zion National Park
We then made our way to Zion National Park. We have been to this amazing park before, but wanted to hit a few spots that we missed the first time around. We entered the park on a Friday afternoon, aiming to check out the visitor center and plan our hikes. When we got there, the parking lot was completely full and tons of cars were circling looking for spots. The park was so crowded! We decided we didn’t want to wait, or take the shuttle from Springdale, so we headed to Kanarra Creek to hike the lesser known slot canyon to Kanarraville Falls.
This was a really neat hike along a river, but there were many river crossings and the water was seriously COLD this time of year. My feet quickly went numb in my water shoes and it was like walking with huge ice blocks instead of feet, hoping that each step was steady enough for me not to trip and twist my ankle. The slot canyon itself was pretty awesome with beautiful, high, twisting walls. Unfortunately, the canyon is filled with the river of freezing cold water with only a few scattered rocks for relief, so my feet kept getting colder and number. The famous spot in the canyon is a log fashioned into a ladder next to a waterfall of rushing water. I have seen slot canyons and I have seen waterfalls, but this was my first time seeing a waterfall in a slot canyon! This was a truly unique spot! After getting our fill of the beautiful scene and taking some photos, we rushed back to the warmth of the car and dry socks. If you ever do this hike in spring, I highly suggest you wear wetsuit socks or tall waterproof rubber boot to protect your feet from the bitter cold waters.
I suddenly realized that it was the night of the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower so we made our way to the famous bridge in Zion that overlooks the Virgin River and the Watchman. Steve spent the night taking photos and chatting with other night photographers while I sat in a camp chair bundled in blankets watching the meteor shower. It wasn’t the most spectacular one I’ve seen, but being in the incredible darkness of Zion surrounded by sheer rock cliffs and the rushing river below was quite magical! I saw around 40 meteors in a couple hours before heading back to the van for a few hours is of sleep. Check out Steve’s amazing shot of the Milky Way (and one Lyrid meteor) over the Watchman:
Valley of Fire State Park
After the beautiful Zion National Park, we continued driving toward the west coast, making a brief stop in Nevada. We stopped for the day at Valley of Fire State Park. This is a beautiful area full of dazzling red rocks and wondrous geological formations. It’s a lovely gem in the middle of a pretty uninteresting and bland stretch of desert in southern Nevada. We did the very quick hike to Elephant Rock, which as you may have guessed, looks like an elephant!
We then drove over to the Fire Wave. The previous week, we tried and failed two times to get permits to hike The Wave near Kanab, UT. We entered the lottery with around 100 other people for only 10 spots, and were not successful. As a consolation prize, we decided to hike the Fire Wave instead. It was a very hot hike, in fact there were signs telling us not to hike due to the heat! However, it was a pretty short hike for us and we carried plenty of water and dressed properly (covered with lightweight, long-sleeve shirts and hats). The hike had some lovely wildflowers and gigantic red rocks that offered a tiny bit of shade, but not much.
Eventually we reached the Fire Wave itself. Much less impressive than The Wave, this spot still was quite beautiful. Layer upon layer of all shades of pink, red, and brown rock make up this striped geological wonder. We stopped for a bit to drink water, take some photos, and enjoy the peaceful moment with only a handful of other hikers. We even saw a few big horned sheep off in the distance!
After the hike to the Fire Wave, we drove the incredible winding roads through the Valley of Fire. The roads may actually be my favorite part of this park. They feel like a rollercoaster of ups-and-downs and sharp curves, surrounded by beautiful rocks of many colors and full of holes like swiss cheese. We sought out a specific spot that I had seen on one of my favorite Instagram accounts (@ryanresatka) and were not disappointed by the view!
That evening, we decided to stay in the historic town of Boulder City because it offered the cheapest motel near Las Vegas and we needed to freshen up after the sweaty and sandy desert hikes. This ended up being an unexpectedly cute town with a coastal feel and a surprisingly vibrant evening atmosphere. This was where people lived who were building the Hoover Dam and they tried to build a town despite harsh conditions in the desert. There were a lot of statues and historic monuments scattered throughout the town. We went to a nice brewery called Boulder Dam Brewing Co. and tasted their delicious unfiltered beers while enjoying live music and some really pleasant desert temperatures. We ended up staying at a pretty shabby motel, but a bed is a bed, right?
The next morning we considered a tour of the Hoover Dam, but the prices were a bit too steep for our taste so we continued driving. That night we used https://freecampsites.net/ to help locate a free campsite on some BLM land in the Mojave desert. We ended up at an incredible little dispersed campsite right off of the road, and found ourselves to be the only ones there. There were beautiful views of mountain layers in the distance, a fire pit, and a lovely rock pile providing us a fun little playground and a bit of shade before the sun went down. We enjoyed a stellar sunset full of puffy pink clouds. It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to pay a lot of money for an incredible camping experience. That is, as long as you don’t mind peeing in the wild and possibly pooping in a hole.
As amazing as the desert has been for us, we have recently been craving the sea breezes and have been feeling the pull of the wild Pacific Ocean. I know there is so much that we missed in the Southwest and there are a million reasons to come back, but for now we are in San Diego and will slowly work our way north along the coast into the PNW and eventually the Canadian Rockies. Let me know if you live along our route or plan on traveling there in the coming months! As always, your travel and hiking recommendations are amazing – so keep them coming! (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram: @carrieoutdoors)