Utah 2023: Getting Away, the National Parks Way

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Day 1 (Friday, October 6, 2023)

It’s Friday midday and the trailer is packed, truck ready to go, cat & house sitters on their way to take over Pixl & Nova duty – and we are off! After almost 2 ½ years of no “real” vacation away from any stress and just Kirk and I (plus J.T.), we are finally ready to hit the road again to Get Away for 3 weeks!

We’re returning to Utah, where we’ve gotten lost (or better: away) back in 2021 already and had crossed through on prior trips, but managed to add a few possible destinations we haven’t been to. Possible because other than the first few nights, nothing is planned in detail and definitely not scheduled! This is about getting away from schedules, stress and everything related!

But for today, we have a destination in mind: and as with so many of our trips, the trip itself is (a large part of) the destination! “Der Weg ist das Ziel.”

So where are we headed? Yosemite National Park – and ore specifically: Tioga Pass road (Hwy 120), going all the way across the park & pass, over to the Eastern Sierra side. Given the late winter (the pass didn’t open until late July this year) and damage from the heavy snow, there are no services available over the pass, and the campground is closed. So we have our sights set on a little FCFS (first come first serve) campground outside the park, just before Lee Vining, CA.

After a beautiful drive through Yosemite, over the pass, sunshine views of the Yosemite Valley & El Capitan from the East, we descend into the Eastern Sierra and find ourselves a spot in site #5 at the Lower Lee Vining Campground. Nice setting, even if it gets dark right as we’re getting set up – the days are definitely shorter in October!

Day 2 (Saturday, October 7, 2023)

Today is all about driving … but of course even so we’ll have some highlights to cover! After leaving our campground behind, we head east and then south, as we cross from California into Nevada, briefly back into California before the road turns east once more to take us right back into Nevada, from where on out we head mostly south, towards Las Vegas, NV.

While we would have preferred to route our drive through Death Valley National Park, all roads in the park are still closed, as crews continue to work clearing roads from debris and damages following catastrophic flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm (previously Hurricane) Hilary in mid-August.

In Las Vegas, NV, we have a couple of pit stops to make, to pick up computer and photography items Kirk forgot to pack for the trip and pre-ordered for pick up. Despite the detour costing us about an hour+ or so, we get rewarded with a glimpse of the new Sphere in LV, as we pass by on the freeway (the emoji eyes are looking at us!)

Then it’s onto Arizona (through the Virgin River Gorge) before finally arriving in Utah, our destination state for the weekend. It is dark (make that: pitch black) outside by the time we reach Springdale, UT and the entrance to Zion National Park just beyond. Good thing the Watchman Campground is right inside the park, just beyond the park’s visitor center. And while again – it’s very dark – we ca find & set up in our reserved spot # C19… even if it is a very tight fit!

Day 3 (Sunday, October 8, 2023)

We’re taking it slow today, as this trip is supposed to be relaxing! But by midday I can’t take it anymore and decide to go check out the visitor center and the shuttle service that takes visitors into the canyon (where most of the hikes start from). The line for the shittles however reminds me too much of those at Disneyland – and so I quickly change my plans and instead hike the Watchman Trail, which starts beyond the visitor center and rewards me with great views of the area, including a look down over the campgrounds (trying to spot our Airstream, but it’s hidden behind trees).

Later in the afternoon, Kirk, J.T. I take a walk along the Pa’rus Trail, which meanders along the Virgin River and is the only trail in the park that dogs are allowed on. I’m getting J.T. her B.A.R.K. Ranger badge tomorrow, as she knows – and follows – the rules of the National Parks!

Day 4 (Monday, October 9, 2023)

We might be leaving Zion NP today, but not without me having checked out more trails via the shuttle drive!

Getting up early and joining the line of eager hikers well before 7am, I’m on the 2nd shuttle for the park’s Canyon Scenic Drive. Pretty much a hop on, hop off system, I ride the shuttle all the way to the end: the Temple of Sinawava stop, where I explore a bit of the River Trail (but not all the way to the start of the Narrows, where most people are hiking towards). Soon after I’m boarding the shuttle back to my first hike: Weeping Rock. Shirt but steep, this trail takes me to an overhang where water seeps out of the mountain, creatin a crying/weeping look (and slippery slopes). From here, I board the shuttle again for just 1 stop and get ff at: the Grotto. A trail leads along (but not directly next to) the road down towards the next stop: the Zion Lodge. Time to hop on the bus again and ride another stop: to the Court of the Patriarchs. A couple of observation points provide a great view. Soon enough it is time to board the shuttle one last time and return to the Visitor center. Campground check out time is approaching quickly and I still need to help Kirk & J.T. with getting the trailer ready, truck re-packed and hitched, so we can leave promptly at 11am.

We make our way up the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, including through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (one-way traffic – stopped every 5 minutes to allow even the bigger trailers/motorhomes to travel through safely). On the east side of the park, we pass by a group of mule deer that seems to have adopted (or at least gathered around) a big horn sheep, before checking out Checkerboard Mesa and departing the park soon after, as we continue on towards our next stop: Page, AZ.

While the views from the road are spectacular – regardless of the cliffs from Staircase-Escalante NM or Vermillion Cliffs NM or Glen Canyon NRA – the final view before arriving in Page, AZ is a disappointing one: the low water levels of Lake Powell, behind the Glen canyon Dam. Despite looking better than the prior year after a wet winter, once can easily see where the waterline used to be vs. where it is now.

Just before dinner time we pull into our campsite for the next 2 nights: returning to Page Lake Powell Campground, where we had stayed back in October 2020 already, but this time in a FHU (full hook up) site (#77).

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