Road Trip

Road Trip

Mr. Fool’s parents came to visit from Pennsylvania and wanted to get a taste of the Old West. So we took them on a whirlwind four-night, five-day road trip that hit almost every major park in the southwest. But before jetting away from our beloved SoCal, we took them on their first-ever tandem paragliding flights. Click here to see that adventure!

At the top of Marshall Peak, ready to tandem paraglide.

Road Trip Day 1: Death Valley & Las Vegas

On the first day of our road trip, we headed north to Death Valley. We drove the 190 though the park, stopping at overlooks and walking though the Mesquite Flat sand dunes and the Harmony Borax Works old camp. The conditions were so rough when we were there, we couldn’t imagine laboring in the heat during the 1880s.

The Harmony Borax Works

From there, it was on to Las Vegas. We walked the Strip and Miracle Mile, ate dinner, and zoomed off to our final destination of the day: the little town of Hurricane, Utah.

Picture time at a gas station outside Death Valley.
Viva Las Vegas!

Road Trip Day 2: Taking in Zion

We started the day with a hike up Angels Landing. Since we started during the cool of the morning, we made the trek up in around 1.5 hours. (Having done this hike a half dozen times, Mr. Fool was adamant about getting an early start. Otherwise, you risk roasting for an hour in direct sunlight.)

We did not hike the ridge to the tip, instead turning around at the section just before the chains.

Resting at the top of the first set of switchbacks. Angels Landing.
Resting at the top of Angels Landing before heading back down.
The dreaded switchbacks

After finishing Angels Landing, we drove though the park and then up the 89 to Bryce Canyon National Park.

We arrived with plenty of daylight left, so we drove all the way out to the end to watch the sunset, stopping at lookouts along the way.

Looking down at the hoodoo formations in Bryce Canyon, National Park.
A lone straggler walking up the pathway before sunset.

Then it was back to our hotel for dinner and a much-needed rest.

Road Trip Day 3: Grand-Staircase Escalante & Canyonlands

We drove along highway 12 into the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and did a little backcountry drive to a lesser-known hike to Zebra Slot Canyon. The hike was a little over 5 miles roundtrip on mostly-flat ground. We reached the canyon after an hour under direct sun. The cool canyon walls provided a nice respite.

Parents resting in the cool canyon shade before our hike back though the desert.

The drive through Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument is an especially pretty one, as is the rest of the drive up the 24 towards Canyonlands.

An overlook in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Around 5pm, we reached Canyonlands National Park and made our way out to the main lookout at the tip. Canyonlands is the biggest National Park in Utah and covers 527 square miles. The canyon was formed over the years by the Colorado and Green river, both of which combine in the center of the park.

Parents enjoying the view at Canyonlands National Park.
Ms. Fool found a spot for contemplation.

Once the sun started going down, we got back in the car and continued driving to Moab for the night.

Road Trip Day 4: Arches National Park

Having been to Arches before, we Fools wanted to beat the heat and the summer crowds. So in the morning we booked it to the trailhead for Delicate Arch.

The hike isn’t bad: roughly 3 miles and 480 feet of elevation gain. Delicate Arch sits 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. It is the largest freestanding arch in the park.

Hard to see, but Mr. Fool’s parents are under the arch waving.

After hiking to Delicate Arch, we got back in the car and drove around to a few of the other areas inside the park.

Parade of Elephants in Arches National Park. The main elephant is in the center of the photograph.
Mr. Fool’s dad supporting the North Window arch.

Once we had our fill of Arches, we drove down the 163 though Monument Valley and then headed up the 98 towards Page, Arizona. Our destination: Horseshoe Bend, another amazing feature along the Colorado River.

Monument Valley
View from the top of Horseshoe Bend.

Road Trip Day 5: Grand Canyon

The final day of our trip, we stopped at the mother of all canyons: the Grand Canyon. Our first stop in the park was Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower.

Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower.

Then we dropped the car at Grand Canyon Village and walked the rim.

Mr. Fool’s parents taking in the full view of the Grand Canyon.

After several hours of oohing and ahhing, we drove back to L.A.

Our trip covered roughly 2,000 miles. We were so glad to share some of the best parts of our corner of the country with our family!

Canyoneering Keyhole – Zion National Park

Canyoneering Keyhole – Zion National Park

Tackling A Classic Beginner Canyon: Keyhole Canyon

For our last adventure in Zion, we ran Keyhole Canyon. It was a little hard to get motivated after running The Subway and Pine Creek, respectively, the previous 2 days. Fortunately, Keyhole is arguably the easiest, shortest canyon in the park. So we didn’t feel like committing to doing it would be a mistake we would regret for long.

After picking up our permit, we drove to the start/end location for the canyon. (The path is a loop!) We put on our damp wetsuits and geared up. Because the canyon is short, and its rappels top out at around 20 feet, we packed super light, bringing a 40-foot rope and 60 feet of webbing.

We hiked along the road a few minutes and then turned and worked our way up the wash to the drop-in location.  It was 9:45 – a late start for us – and a chilly 54 degrees. But with so little gear, we were able to make quick progress and keep warm in the process.

The approach.
Keyhole had a few tree jambs to rappel from.
Ms. Fool depending into the darkness.
Dark enough that we needed headlamps.

The Most And Least Enjoyable Parts Of Keyhole Canyon

The water in Keyhole was terrible. A few of the potholes were ripe…really ripe. Standing in a pool, Ms. Fool said she felt like her skin would take ages to lose the stench of urine and decomposing plant matter.

Keyhole has some really scenic parts. The slot walls are very pretty, with multi-colored bands of stone and narrow passages. Larger people may struggle in some of the most narrow passages, which require lots of leaning and good footwork to make it through.

A man-made tunnel for drainage was part of the exit hike.

The last few pools were full of tadpoles in various stages of metamorphosis into frogs. We took some time to watch them swim around and exited just shy of 2 hours after we started. And, best of all, our car was right there waiting for us.

Checkout the video we slapped together for Keyhole – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

Keyhole is an easy introductory canyon with some water, short rappels, and narrow passages. Just remember that “easy” does not mean accidents will not happen. People have died and broken bones in this canyon many times, and larger or claustrophobic canyoneers could may struggle in the narrow spaces. We never ran into other groups when we ran it. However, we have heard it can get quite crowded, which takes away from the experience.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.

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Canyoneering Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Canyoneering Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Heading To Pine Creek

The day after we ran The Subway, we dropped into Pine Creek, another iconic Zion National Park canyon.

We finished The Subway after the Visitor Center was closed, so we had to wait until the next morning to grab our Pine Creek permit. That was fine by us. We did not mind sleeping in a little to recover from the previous 10-mile day.

At 9 am, we parked our car at the entry point for Pine Creek, snagging the last open parking space. (Sweet!) But the next step was putting on our still damp wetsuits in the nippy morning air. (Not sweet. At all.)

The Fun Begins

Shivering slightly, we began the short downhill scramble to the first rappel.

Walking to the first rappel.

Pine Creek is a beautiful canyon with lots of narrow, high walls and pools of water. No other groups were in front or behind us, so we took plenty of time to admire the canyon.

About to get wet.

The 3rd rappel is called The Cathedral, and it’s one of the most beautiful rappels I have ever done. No pictures I captured on my GoPro do it justice. You can’t quite see what lies below the start of the rappel. Once you are safely hooked into the anchor and begin the descent, you’re quickly surrounded by soaring multi-colored walls. The small shafts of light from above bounce around as you rappel into a pool of water. It’s very dark and very cold, but the visuals are worth it.

GoPro footage does not do the cathedral ceiling justice. Its really amazing to see in person.
Working our way though the canyon.
Ms. Fool rappeling on the second to last rappel.

We decided to finish the canyon on an alternate (read non-standard) rappel. We dropped past more towering canyon walls into another pool.

The beta recommended a down climb to finish the canyon, but after judging the drop, we set up a cairn anchor instead.

The alternate rappel that drops you inside a large open area.

Once safely out of the canyon, we cleaned up in one of the large pools before entering the long boulder field that separated us from the road back to our car.

A Tricky Trek

The hike is very tricky: no real trails, lots of guessing, and seemingly endless scrambling up, down, and around boulders. There’s plenty of potential for a twisted ankle.

When you’re physically and mentally exhausted, it’s best to take it slow, which we definitely did. We stopped beside a picturesque pool of water for a much-needed leisurely lunch break.

Lunchtime.
Hiking out as the sun starts to set.

The Most Irritating Part Of The Day

You end at one of the many overlooks along the side of the main road, well below where you started. Walking back to your car isn’t practical. So I made myself as presentable as I could, and hitched a ride back to our car with some friendly sightseers.

Pine Creek beta estimates canyoneers will spend 2-6 hours navigating the canyon. We spent a little over 7 hours, including the time it took to exit.

Check out the video of our trip though Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

Pine Creek should be on any canyoneer’s bucket list. It is a beautiful canyon well worth seeing. Plan on spending some extra time admiring it as you work your way through.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.
Canyoneering The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

Canyoneering The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

A Long Weekend In Zion

Ms. Fool and I decided to take a long weekend to run some classic Zion National Park canyons. First up was The Subway via Russell Gulch. We packed up all of our gear, picked up a friend at LAX, then headed north, arriving in Zion at around 1 pm.  After retrieving our canyoneering permits from the wilderness permit desk, we decided to make the most of the daylight by hiking Angels Landing.

Angels Landing is an iconic Zion hike. With a trail roughly 2.4 miles long, the peak rises 1,488 feet above the valley floor and tops out at an altitude of 5,790 feet.

In the cool weather, we made quick progress on the switchbacks to the top. Both Ms. Fool and I gave completed the hike, but our friend had not. So while she accompanied him along the remaining ridgeline,  I dozed at a lookout point.

Finishing up the switchback section of Angels Landing.
View from the top of Angels Landing of Zion National Park below.

Entering The Subway

If you’ve looked up pictures of Zion, you’ve probably seen pictures of The Subway. The canyon looks remarkably like a subway tunnel. It’s so popular that it requires an advance lottery to see it during peak tourist season. While the lower portion can be done as a rappel-free day hike, it’s much more fun and scenic to descend from the top. It’s also more exhausting: the canyon is rated 3B III (3B IV with the Russell Gulch approach) and takes 5-12 hours to complete the 9.5 mile trek.

We woke up at 5:30 am and left our little hotel room in the town Hurricane, stopping for some coffee along the way. Our reserved shuttle picked us up and dropped us at the start of the hike. By 7:45, we were on the move.

Unloading the car to catch the shuttle for our drop-off point to run The Subway.
The sun took its time rising as we hiked.

The hike in was not too bad – mostly flat or downhill. We watched the sun chase away the shadows.

With three 100-foot rappels, the Russell Gulch approach is nice way to enter the canyon – especially since all the rappels in The Subway are less than 30 feet. We changed into wetsuits at the first 100 foot rappel, expecting to land in water at the bottom. However, once down, I was able to lock off and swing to the side, completely avoiding the water. I was pleased with myself. In long canyons, it’s nice to stay warm and dry for as long as possible.

Expecting to end up in the water, we changed into our wetsuits.

But by the time we reached the third 100-foot rappel, we were wishing we had gone in the water. We were so hot, sweat was dripping out our wetsuits sleeves, and our socks and shoes were sweat-soaked.

The last rappel in Russell Gulch.

We took a short breather just before reaching the official start of The Subway.

Reaching The Tunnel

We hiked and swam for several hours, enjoying the cool fall weather and foliage.

Hiking though some steep wall sections of the canyon.
Swimming though the fallen leaves was extra fun.

After around 5 hours, we finally reached the section The Subway is known for. We took a snack and photo break while we drank in the view. Little did we know what lay ahead.

The fallen log. We’re getting close.
Really pretty view upstream.
The Subway! The iconic section did not disappoint.
Enjoying a quick rest and snack before moving on.

The Struggle Was Real

The exit hike proved to be brutal. Slippy water and stones mixed with sandy dry areas and uneven terrain and heavy wet backpacks made it slow going. By the time we reached the exit climb, a zigzag of switchbacks filled with loose rocks, we were exhausted. It was at that point we regretted hiking Angels Landing the day before.

Almost finished ascending the final leg of the hike out.

Bats flew overhead as we finally made it to the car at 7:15 pm, 11 hours and 30 min after we started.

Check out our video for The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

It was awesome to do such an iconic canyon, but I don’t think I ever need to do it again. I really prefer longer rappels and less hiking.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.

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