Saturday, April 27:
We woke up on BLM land in Utah and drove 40 minutes to the eastern entrance of Zion National Park. This entrance is quite far from the visitor center and the main hiking trails, but the drive through this section of the park is stunning. Winding roads through the salmon-colored rock formations, the 1-mile long tunnel through Mount Carmel, and then seemingly endless switchbacks to descent make for one of the best roads we’ve driven on inside a National Park. After consulting with park rangers about the best hikes in the park, we hopped onto the park’s shuttle bus system (the only way to reach the main hiking trails) and traveled to the emerald pools trail which leads to three separate streams and pools that cascade through the mountains. The upper pool was the most remarkable, as the pool is fed by a thin waterfall from hundreds of feet in the air. The beauty of Zion continued to grow the more time we spent here. The soaring red canyon walls cradle a verdant landscape of trees, grasses, and flowers along the Virgin River, which carved the canyon over the millennia. We extended the emerald pool hike by a couple of miles by walking along the river to another bus stop which we took to the Narrows trail. This trail follows along the river into the narrowest portion of the canyon. A popular and accessible hike, the trail still afforded us many amazing views of the canyon and the obese squirrels (don’t feed the wildlife, people)! After a relatively relaxed first day, we left the park and returned to the BLM land East of the park for the night.

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Sunday, April 28:
Our plan for the day was to tackle one of Zion’s most iconic and challenging trials: Angel’s Landing. Unfortunately, access to Angel’s Landing is available only by a lottery system and we were not lucky enough to get a permit for the day. However, the permitted section of this hike only grants access to the final 0.6 miles to Angel’s Landing, and the hike to Scout Lookout is available to all. This trail gets steep very quickly, with several different sections of tight steep switchbacks. One section of trail takes you through the gap between two canyons and is home to several endangered owls and condors. Reaching Scout Lookout gave breathtaking views of the canyon from 1100 feet above the canyon floor and offered an entirely different perspective on the size of the park. We spent some time exploring further along the West Rim Trail (which extends for 13+ miles into the backcountry) before turning around and making our descent. We took a break from the gorgeous park and exited the park to go to the adjacent town of Springdale for the promise of a hot shower, offered by an outfitting company just outside the park gates. We were also able to wash our laundry in town, and spent our downtime walking around, eating ice cream, and enjoying the day. With clean bodies and clean clothing, we drove through the park one final time and started the drive towards Bryce Canyon.

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Monday, April 29:
We reached Bryce Canyon before noon and took the customary trip to the visitor center to plan how we wanted to spend our time at the park. Upon learning that Bryce Canyon is home to some of the darkest night skies in the country, and with clear skies and a late moonrise forecasted, we decided we wanted to stick around for that. The park’s campground operates on a first-come first-served basis and we found a spot without problem (the first time we have paid for camping in 3 weeks!). We then walked to the canyon and hiked portions of the Queen’s Garden and Peek-a-boo Loop trails. This place is truly an alien landscape. The park is home to the world’s highest concentration of “hoodoos,” which are what the Native Americans called the narrow rocky pillars that seem to emerge from the canyon walls wherever you look. Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon were all formed by erosion, but the cumulative effect on the rocks has been profoundly different. Knowing we’d be out late stargazing, and with another sunrise hike planned for tomorrow, we returned to the van for an evening of relaxation (and a quick trip back to the canyon to watch the sunset). The number of stars visible tonight was the most we had seen so far on the trip, though the milky way galaxy was not visible. Our binoculars were able to reveal hundreds more stars that were not visible to the naked eye.

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Tuesday, April 30:
We woke up at 04:30 to temperatures in the low 40’s, to tackle the 7.9 mile Fairyland Loop Trail. Our goal was to get deep into the canyon before sunrise, so we could enjoy the spectacle of the early sun rays hitting the hoodoos. Starting this early gives you complete privacy on the trail. Hiking alone in the quiet glow of the pre-dawn light is surreal, especially when surrounded by the towering hoodoos. We reached a perfect lookout point before sunrise and set up our stove to make our oatmeal breakfast. Watching the line of sunlight slowly creep deeper and deeper into the canyon as the sun rose was spectacular, and the incredible variety of colors in the rock were beautifully illuminated throughout the park. Warmed by our breakfast and the sun’s rays, we continued our hike through one of the most incredible sections of the park. We were able to walk along a ridge line just above hoodoos early in their formation, while looking out across another seemingly endless valley of them. After climbing back out of the canyon, the final 2.5 miles of the hike were along the rim trail, which was pretty anticlimactic, especially because we were sore and tired. The sunrise hike was still amazing. We drove for a few hours out of the park towards Salt Lake City, before stopping on some BLM land and taking the rest of the afternoon to relax.

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Wednesday, May 1:
With many busy days of hiking and nature sightseeing, we decided that it would be good to make the 4-hour drive to Salt Lake City for a day or two of city living. We had a few targeted goals, like finding some WiFi for Elisha to work on her thesis, some shopping at REI, and picking up a few items from Amazon that we had shipped to a Whole Foods. Our first stop was a nice café for cappuccinos, pastries, and WiFi. After a couple of hours there we went for an early dinner to beat the crowds at Red Iguana, one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the city. The restaurant, renowned for its variety of mole sauces, did not disappoint! We got a free sample platter of their moles and spent nearly 20 minutes debating which ones were best. We both ate enmoladas (similar to an enchilada) smothered in our favorite moles. After dinner, we parked the van on the street in front of the beautiful Utah State Capitol Building where there are no restrictions on overnight parking. We took a nice long walk through the city and the central hub of Mormon religious and administrative buildings. The plazas and buildings were all beautiful with some really fascinating architecture. Our night on the streets outside of the capitol building was a bit noisy, but its hard to argue with free overnight parking in a city!

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Thursday, May 2:
After visiting the very extensive and super interesting museum in the Capitol building, we planned a day trip West to see the Salt Lake itself and the Bonneville Salt Flats. This early in the year the lake is still very cold and renting boats wasn’t very appealing. Luckily there is a decent museum and visitor center with lots of great information on the history and formation of the Salt Lake. Shortly after leaving the Salt Lake, heading towards the salt flats, our engine temperature gauge spiked and flashed a high temp warning at us. The problem we thought we fixed two weeks ago has returned, a devastating turn of events after we were finally confident that the issue was resolved. We drove 15 minutes to a local repair shop, but they couldn’t determine the issue. We decided to (carefully) drive another 20 minutes to a nearby Dodge dealership to have manufacturer-trained people to look at and repair our car/home. They figured that the problem was likely a malfunctioning coolant pump, but they wouldn’t be able to get the replacement part until tomorrow and couldn’t star the repair till Monday. In the meantime, they suggested bleeding the coolant system of any residual air (which we had attempted previously). Not wanting to commit to a weekend parked outside of the dealership we decided to drive back towards Salt Lake City. If we are going to waste an entire weekend waiting for van repairs, let’s at least do it in a walkable city and not a car-dependent suburb. Well, after driving 15 minutes and having the engine temp spiking again we stopped to bleed the air as suggested. Getting back on the road, it was quickly apparent that the situation was now worse than ever! Elisha grabbed the fire extinguisher as a safety precaution, and we pulled onto some gravel beside a highway on-ramp to wait for the engine to cool down. We called the dealership to let them know we’d be coming back and committed to repairs on Monday. Despite our hopes, it looks like we’ll be spending the next 4 days in Tooele, Utah. Luckily, the dealership was very understanding of our unique situation living with our cat in the van, and they let us stay the weekend in their parking lot. At least there were nice views of the surrounding mountains, and we had a Walmart and Panda Express nearby for our bathroom breaks...

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Friday, May 3:
Day 1 in Tooele. We tried renting a car to give us some freedom to explore the area, but there’s nothing available until tomorrow. So... We are stuck. We were able to do our groceries at the Walmart next door. But after a walk up and down the main road (practically a highway, not very pedestrian friendly) and checking out a few of the shops, we went back to the van for some forced rest and relaxation. We played board games, read books, watched TV, and watched a movie before finally calling it a night, excited for tomorrow where we could take a car out of this town.

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Saturday, May 4:
Day 2 in Tooele and we have a rental car! Wanting to accomplish something productive, we drove 1.5 hours to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats. Most famous as the site of several land speed records, the salt flats comprise an area that is 12 miles by 4 miles of nearly perfectly flat, hard packed salt. Once the bed of an ancient lake, this area is now a surreal landscape of seemingly endless salt. We of course had to take a few tastes from the ground and can confirm that it is in fact salt. It was fascinating to experience but there isn’t a whole lot to do. There was still plenty of time left in the day (and we really didn’t want to go back to that damn parking lot) so we took the rental car into Salt Lake City to handle the Amazon pickup and REI shopping that were on our original itinerary. Still not ready to go back to Tooele, we visited a local science museum which was having a special Star Wars themed event to celebrate the holiday (May the Fourth be with you). The museum was full of fun interactive exhibits and displays, generally meant for children, that we had a BLAST playing with. The place was absolutely packed with families and costumed characters.

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Sunday, May 5:
Day 3 in Tooele... We had to get the rental car back before noon, so we loaded it up with laundry to drive to a nearby laundromat. Not timing our return and laundry time well, we had to walk the mile back to the van with two full clean bags of laundry right when wet snow fell from the sky, only to return to a gray parking lot. We are SO SICK of being in Tooele!!! At night, a strong storm kept us awake. We were parked between two large trees that were waving their branches eerily against our roof and side. Not wanting the van to become a tree sandwich, we started the engine for the first time in 3 days to slowly and carefully drive to a parking spot closer to the building, which caught most of the wind for us.

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Monday, May 6:
Day 4 in Tooele, please let this be the last one......!!! We handed in the keys to the van at 8am so the crew could get the repairs started as soon as possible. While they worked, we waited in the dark waiting area, using the WiFi and testing out all the different coffee flavors they had on the machine. Elisha got some good thesis work in, and David enjoyed playing some video games. After 5 hours, we heard the best news ever: Eddie was fixed! We paid the steep price of $1159 and could finally get the F out of this town! Not 20 minutes later, exactly where the problems started on Friday, the “fix engine” light came on. This was a new symptom... So, we called the dodge dealer and turned back around. They told us this was because we have an outstanding safety recall pertaining to the transmission shift cable, which they didn’t have the parts for and would cost 2-4 weeks to acquire. They convinced us it’d be safe to drive, and we were able to schedule a repair in Denver, CO in a few weeks. After this 4-day unexpected delay, we were finally able to continue our way! First stop, the real-life replica of the Disney Pixar’s “Up” house. We settled for the night on BLM land between Salt Lake City and Capitol Reef National Park.

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This featured blog entry was written by 1DAE7 from the blog Traveling with EDdie.
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By 1DAE7

Posted Tue, May 14, 2024 | USA | Comments