Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Life Elevated Part 2 - Hoodoos & Basins

Trip to Zion & Coral Pink Sand Dunes (Life Elevated Part 1) were almost over and I headed north-east on 89 towards Bryce. Just after entering Scenic Byway 12, I was stopping every 1/4 mile for scenic lookouts and taking pictures. I just could not resist some of those views of Red Canyon/Dixie forest.

Jaw dropping drive !!

After countless stops for photos, I finally made it to Bryce at 1:30 pm.

Goal was to do Navajo-Queens garden loop. I started on Navajo trailhead near Sunset point and was blown away by picture opportunities at every step. I did not want to rush so decided to just do Navajo round trip hike today and do the Queens garden round trip tomorrow. What a spectacular place !!!.

At first I was blown away by the scenes of Amphitheater from the Sunset point but what really gave me a kick was going down into those hoodoos.

And looking up at the hoodoos from Wall St section of the trail was equally splendid.

I wrapped up the hike with a short run along the Rim Trail just hitting all the view points. It felt great just looking at the spectacles as they unfolded at every turn. It was almost sunset time and I had forgotten my camera in the car. Exhausted by day's adventures I exited the park and checked in to Ruby's Inn for the night. My plans for next day included hiking Queen's garden, Kodachrome basin, Grosvenor Arch and then driving all the way to Circle D Motel at Escalante to crash for the night.

But I woke up in the morning to snow,rain and ridiculously cold weather that threw my plans out of the window. After eating breakfast, I checked out of Ruby's plus inn and headed to Bryce to hike Queens garden. When I stepped out of Sunrise point parking lot it was snowing pretty bad and there was absolutely no visibility. Plus it was ridiculously cold even though I was wearing 4 layers. Didn't want to hike in these conditions. Just decided to drive down towards Escalante and see what I can do along the way. Driving down on highway 12 from Bryce Canyon city to Escalante was quite challenging in that snowy conditions. I'm really glad I rented the 4WD.

As I approached Kodachrome basin state park entrance near Cannonville , it was still snowing bad. Stopped at the visitor center which was closed. Totally bummed and resumed to drive towards Escalante. There was no snow in the town of Escalante and it wasn't that cold either. Reached Circle D Motel by 12:30 pm. The motel manager there was very courteous and allowed me early check-in. Put on my running gear and went for a run. Ran about 7 miles up and down highway 12 including few laps at Escalante High school track. This made my day. I was impressed with myself in turning a lousy day into an awesome one :) .

Thats a gorgeous track overlooking the mountain. 
Woke up early next morning hoping to explore Kodachrome Basin State Park , Willies Creek slot canyon and Grosvenor Arch. Reached the park around 9:00 am . It was super foggy and there was hardly any visibility. Ranger told me fog usually disappear by 10 am and he was right. Wandered around the park and then started the Panaroma Trail hike around 10 am. It was breathtaking hike. I was simply blown away by the cylindrical rock formations. Snow covers on these formations made it even more picturesque.

Foggy in the morning

Ballerina Spire

This spot is rightly named Hat shop :)
Took my time and reached Panaroma point which was the best part of the whole hike. 
Doesn't it look like Niagara falls in the background ?

As I exited the park, I noticed ranger was missing and it was bit scary imagining I was the lone soul wandering in the park for past few hours.Upon exiting the park, I turned left to visit Grosvenor Arch but the road was so muddy and wet that my 4x4 tires got jammed few times in the mud. It was almost 1 pm and didnt want to risk 23 mile round trip drive in that road conditions. I felt I had some unfinished business at Bryce so drove back to the park. The roads and rim trail was super icy and Queen's garden hike didn't seem like a good idea. Just visited all the view points for pictures and drove back to Circle-D.

There are lot of options around Escalante for next 2 days. But no idea how the muddy road conditions are going to be. I think its the logical point to stop here and blog rest of adventures in another post. 

Life Elevated Part 3 - Center of the Universe

Monday, December 29, 2014

Life Elevated Part 1 - Zion National Park

I had couple of weeks of "Use it or Loose it" vacation days from work and was wondering where to go. One of my colleagues at work quickly filled my empty mind with this grand idea of road tripping in Utah. Within days he poured in tons of  advice and guide books and I was also picking brains from Trip Advisor experts. Everything fell in place and my vacation started with a quick trip to Los Angeles visiting my awesome friends. I had a blast playing with their new born baby and was deeply touched by their unconditional affection towards me. After parting good-byes I flew into Las Vegas where I rented my 4WD and picked up two weeks worth of food supplies at local Whole foods store. Spent the night at a motel outside of the strip and woke up early and was raring to head out on this solo adventure. 

Courtesy Google Images
Made a quick stop at Hoover dam and was shocked to see the lowest water levels I'd seen in the area. 

Quick stop at Hoover dam.
I wanted to get to Zion National park asap and driving on empty interstate 15 made it easier. 
"Elevated" is the keyword there
Arrived at the park by 1:30 pm and bought the "America Beautiful National Park annual Pass". I knew this was $80 well spent as I plan to visit few more national parks next spring.
woohoo !! . Goosebumps

Zion Scenic Drive / Emerald's pool
Drove on the beautiful Zion Scenic drive from the visitor center all the way to Temple of Sinawawa. I had two more hours of daylight and quickly switched to running shoes and ran Emerald's pool trail. Lower and Middle pool trails are easiest to run but the altitude kicked my butt. I was in no hurry so took my time to run to middle pool and then hiked up upper Emeralds pool.
Gorgeous scenery but it was too dark/cloudy and not a good day for photographs. As I was coming down I met few more local trail runners who had a sorry look on their face when I told I'm from New Jersey :) . Damn.. Flatlanders never have it easy.Just after sunset temps were dropping below freezing and there were no sign of any tents at campgrounds. I decided to spend the next four nights at Bumbleberry Inn at Springdale which was couple of miles away from West Entrance of the park. 

On the Emeralds pool trail

Observation Point Trail
Next morning I drove to the Weeping Trail parking lot around 8:30 am and I was the only one there. It was not cold but was raining. Park ranger said there might be snow up the mountain. I was in two minds whether or not to do the observation point considering the weather conditions. Within minutes I was joined by another solo hiker and we decided to go for it. I'm super thrilled that we decided to do the hike. Words like Stunning & spectacular doesn't do justice to this hike. As we started hiking it continued to rain. I was impressed how quickly we were gaining elevation. After a mile or so it stopped raining and sun was trying to break through the clouds. We took some amazing pictures at the narrow section of the canyons. Soon the visibility of the main canyon including Angel's landing started to improve and we stopped at will and took ton of pictures. Our timing was perfect as weather and visibility went downhill after that... 
This pic doesn't do justice to the view. Wish weather was better

It started snowing little after the halfway point( after cable mountain spur) and quickly we were climbing up by dragging our feet on couple of inches of snow. scenes of snow heavily falling on the canyon midst thick clouds was unreal. After about 2 hour 30 minutes or so we made it finally to the observation point. It got windy, cold and snow was pounding like crazy. We stopped and snacked for a bit. I'm so sad we couldn't take any pictures up there. After 10-15 minutes we decided to descend down as we were not sure how the weather is going to turn out. After a mile or so we saw three more brave souls hiking the trail. For next two miles it was quite slippery and we were super careful watching each step. By the time we reached half way point snow started to thin out and things were visible again. 
Icy switchbacks

Can you see switchbacks midst snow clutter ?

Winter wonderland after climbing 2100 ft from the parking lot
Thoroughly enjoyed rest of the hike and we saw few more hikers going up. Coming down was lot quicker and we were done in about 1 hour 20 minutes or so. Wrapped up this mind-blowing experience in 4 hours. I was sore, exhausted and slept wondering whether I can survive 2 more weeks of hike-run fest.

Angel's Landing
It was day 3 at Zion and I hiked the Angel's landing. Hike to Scout's lookout did not feel tiresome at all. 

Probably because Observation point was harder. After that I knew it was a tossup of several factors. My comfort level, snow / ice etc... I started going up the chains to make it to the top. After climbing few chains I noticed ice and slush and it was making me ridiculously uncomfortable. I saw one other girl trying to hike with a running sneakers almost slipped.. I listened to my instincts and climbed back. I'll probably do it another time when weather and my courage permits.. 

Farthest tree you see is as far I climbed... Yikes

Overall a great hike and some awesome views from Scout's lookout. I felt Observation point was way better as you go 500 ft higher than AL. Upon returning to the parking lot, I noticed I had little extra time so I hiked the Hidden canyon. It was bit scary at places too.. Felt satisfied and exhausted and returned to hotel by 4 pm.

Zion Narrows ( Bottom up hike )
Day 4 morning I drove to Zion Adventure company to rent the gear to hike the narrows and hooked up with bunch of hikers along the way. We hiked little further than Wall St and returned just before sunset. I cannot describe the experience in words. It truly was a magical hike.. Water temperature was in 50s and air temp around 38 or so. It was perfect and the dry suit didn't let a single drop of water in my body. All I could think about was to return back to this place and do the Top down hike one day..

Magical Narrows..  Can't wait to do Top down hike

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Final morning at Zion I woke up nice and early ate some awesome Crepe wrap at Meme's cafe, Grabbed few food supplies at Sol's market and it was almost time to say good bye to Zion. Started driving east on 9 towards Coral pink Sand dunes park. Took some amazing pictures of Snow covered peaks, Mesa Checkerboard before exiting the park. 

Spectacular drive on highway 9 
Checkerboard Mesa
Coral pink Sand dunes was a neat place for a short visit. Tried running barefoot in the sand but my toes were freezing in 30 seconds. Wandered on the sand for 20-30 minutes and left the park heading north-east towards Bryce.

I ran barefoot for like 30 seconds before my toes started freezing..
Its unbelievable how time flies when you are having so much fun. Bumbleberry Inn was just about ok. I wish they fix up the electrical outlets. They should know tourists these days travel with lot of gadgets which require overnight charging. Bathroom sink is not the place to charge the laptop :( . On the other hand I loved the restaurants around Springdale. Meme's cafe and Cafe Soleil were both outstanding places to eat.

Life Elevated Part 2 - Hoodoos & Basins