Zion National Park – All the Details

As promised, here are some more details and pictures from our stay in Zion. If you like you can jump to the details on Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, the two shorter hikes Emerald Pools and Watchman, our first back country camping on the West Rim, and some other random camping tidbits.

Angel’s Landing is one of the most famous hikes that we have come across so far on our trip, and we found the reputation to be well deserved. Backpacker magazine calls it a classic and National Geographic Adventure lists it in their top 10 best walk up summits. We knew it would be crowded so we woke up early on Saturday so we could be on the shuttle and up to the trail before 8 am. Continue reading Zion National Park – All the Details

Zion National Park

After hauling ass to get down to warmer weather, we arrived at Zion National Park on Friday, April 11th, and stayed for 5 nights, including one backcountry camping night.

Our Zion Spots
Zion National Park – Simplified Canyon Map

Here are the highlights. Gory details and more photos to come soon.

  1. Hiked Angel’s Landing, a ~5 mile, very strenuous hike. The last half mile to the overlook is a scramble up a rock ledge with long, steep, drop-offs on either side and chains to hold.
  2. Hiked / waded up The Narrows, a section of the Virgin River where you follow the path of the river up the canyon. The water was only about 40 degrees, and much of the hike is spent actually in the water.
  3. Hiked short trails to Emerald Pools and the Watchmen viewpoint, both of these took about an hour and a half and were very nice for our easy days.
  4. Hiked ~6 miles up on to the West Rim for one night of back country camping and then hiked back down in the morning.
  5. Camped 4 nights at South Campground. Watchman camping is only by reservation.
  6. Spent time between hikes in Springdale, at two coffee shops, catching up on emails and blog posts, to some extent. I recommend Deep Creek, they have a great rooftop patio, solid coffee, and very nice staff.

Here’s some of the best moments:

At the Narrows, a large part of the hike up the canyon was in the water, sometimes across slippery stones.
Ogre shower in the Narrows.
The most strenuous part of the Angel’s Landing hike
Along the path to the Emerald Pools
On the trail to the West Rim. I think we might have too much gear! Our stuff isn’t heavy but it is bulky. Looking forward to warmer weather.



Bryce Canyon National Park

Here’s Adam just inside Bryce Canyon.
In Bryce Canyon
Can you see me? I’m here about halfway down the canyon, where some of the vegetation is starting to come in a little thicker.

After leaving Capitol Reef, we drove the 3 hours down Route 12 to Bryce Canyon National Park last Friday morning. After arriving and setting up, we decided to tackle the Fairyland Trail, a ~7.5 mile loop that starts at the canyon rim, dips own along the bottom of the canyon, and then climbs back out. Like our other hikes in Utah, the terrain and plants changed along the way, with more plants at the bottom of the canyons and sparse pines along the top.

Continue reading Bryce Canyon National Park

Capitol Reef National Park


This park is named Capitol Reef because it has a formation that apparently looks like the Capitol, and it seemed like a reef to early explorers trying to cross the desert. If you take the long way from Canyonlands to Bryce, you go right through it. It is clearly a less traveled park among the Mighty 5 of Utah. Admission is only $10, and there were a number of available campsites when we rolled in around lunchtime. Of course, this may have been because we were unseasonably early, and temperatures were only in the 50s- low 60s during the day, and dropped to the 30s overnight. The campground sits in a valley and we were subject to gale force winds. After a pretty brutal stretch of busy days at Arches and Canyonlands, we decided to take it easy and only did two little hikes up to overlooks of a few small miles each.

The park is based around the historic village of Fruita, which must be named after the plethora of fruit orchards. The town was a big fruit producer before it became a national park, and many of the buildings are still preserved and the orchards still produce fruit. Adam was a bit disappointed that there was no fruit to pick at this point, since apparently during the summer they let people in for an all-you-can-eat fruit smorgasbord.

This park definitely had the most incomprehensible geological features. Despite reading most of the available explanations in the park literature, I still have no idea how exactly this rock formation happened:

I am hoping Adam will go all XKCD What If on us here with a bonus blog post, but we haven’t sat still long enough for anything that sophisticated.


Adam and I really enjoyed the park, but the gale force winds blowing through the campsite made life in a tent really difficult, so we decided to head for Bryce after just one night here. This was a park we would love to revisit sometime with less wind and maybe a little more summer.

Here are some more pictures from our hikes:

Here’s Adam in front of the rock formation that gave the park its Capitol name.


Hickman’s Bridge. It’s a little hard to tell in this photo but I’m just in front of an arch.


At an overlook on the Hickman Bridge Trail.



Arches National Park and a “Day in the Life”

Quick warning: What was going to be a post about Arches turned into a long post more about how we are spending our time so far on the trip. If you don’t care about that, just scroll through the pictures, and you’ll get the idea.

Slickrock Campground
Here’s Adam making us dinner at camp, where you can just see the roof of the campsite immediately behind us.

After Canyonlands, we drove the ~90 miles out of the park and up to Moab, UT, home of Arches national park. On the way into town, we passed a ton of Jeeps, and eventually realized we’d caught the tail end of Jeep safari, where jeep owners all meet up to off road in the desert around Moab. In desperate need of our first trip shower, we hit up the Slickrock RV and Campground. While it did have availability, nice people, cold (weak) beer, and hot showers, it was also quite tightly packed, so we planned to pack up camp first thing.

Since it was already after lunch, we rode our trusty mountain bikes into town to hit up the grocery store, made lunch, and then cycled out on a great bike path to Arches to check out the Visitor’s Center and see if there was anything worth biking into. It turns out there was not, since the first entry way into the park is a 10-mile climb over thousands of feet, but we got some good advice and made a plan for Monday morning.

First thing Monday, after quickly packing up camp and grabbing coffee, we drove into the park to hit the hike out to Delicate Arch. The parking lot there is currently under construction so we were advised to get there very early. We rolled up just before 7 and made it out to Delicate Arch just after sunrise. This arch is apparently the most photographed arch in the park, making this likely one of the worst photos of the arch on the internet:

Delicate Arch
Here we are at Delicate Arch


Continue reading Arches National Park and a “Day in the Life”

Canyonlands National Park – Our First “Real” Stop

Awwww, our first trip selfie. I swear the view here behind our huge heads is spectacular.

Hello everyone! Happy Easter! Still following, I see? Thanks!

Also, thanks for your patience so far as we are off to a fast start in terms of miles covered but a slow start in terms of blog posts. Since last Tuesday, we camped overnight in National Grasslands and National Forests in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Oddly, there was no internet or power in those places, so the PC and the blog were left neglected. After almost 1,900 miles over 5 days, we arrived in Utah on Good Friday to hit up our first national park of the trip. It did not disappoint.

Here are the three zones of the park. They’re seperated by the Colorado and Green Rivers, and to travel between the areas typically requires leaving the park and driving 2-6 hours. We only experienced The Needles (so far.)

Just driving into the park is pretty amazing, as we cruised through about 30 miles of grasslands surrounded by towering red cliffs.

We arrived around noon and were lucky to score the last campsite in the Squaw Flats area of the Needles. All the campsites here are first-come first-served, but they do have pit toilets and potable water nearby. I am far enough into the trip that this is a BIG WIN. 

After a quick lunch, we filled up our daypacks and camel backs to try the 7.5 mile hike through Big Spring and Squaw Canyon. (Here is the official park map if you want to see the real deal or check my facts.)

canyonlands adam hike
Here goes Adam again. Sometimes those go-go-gadget legs are hard to keep up with.
canyonlands leslie view
And here I am taking a break and enjoying the view.

The hike was great, we went up and down two canyons, and saw close ups of plant life from the tops and bottoms of the rocks. There was a lot of scrambling up and down sandstone rocks.

The whole thing took us about 3.5 hours, and got us back to camp in time for us to make a quick trip to the store for some frostly, celebratory, unfortunately-only-3.2%-Utah-Budweisers.


Here is my other favorite shot from Day 1, taken from the rocks behind our campsite. This is the view, facing east, that turned bright red with the sunset every night. I assure you my photography does not do it full justice.

canyonlands campsitr
The view from Squaw Flats Campsite #7. Not bad at all.

We’re currently in Arches National Park, so more to come before too long.


Day 1 and 2 – Chicago to Arkansas

And, we are off to an exciting start! On Monday, Adam and I packed our lives into the car and headed down to Searcy, Arkansas. I am very lucky that my in-laws have offered up some space to store all our stuff, and that I have a sister and brother-in-law at Booth with some free time who were willing to help us load!

Key Day 1 Stats:

Uhaulin' Away
Here we are in Boomland, a questionable gas station and firework warehouse combo, where Adam is not-so-secretly wondering how many fireworks it would take to launch the UHaul off the ground
  • 1 guest bed left in a Chicago dumpster
  • 2 states covered, Illinois and Arkansas (The corner of Missouri doesn’t count)
  • 3 hours spent loading the Uhaul in Chicago, thanks to Sarah and Mike (It took 5 to unload the next day!)
  • 8.2 mpg average for 620 miles. No where to go but up!
  • 11 hours total travel time

On Tuesday, we spent most of the day figuring how to get all our crap back off the U-haul and up to the closet and attic upstairs. We only lost one additional piece of furniture, the Target armoire, which unfortunately got dysentery and died shortly after we crossed the Mississippi.

We aren’t quite finished packing up the Mazda, but we seem to have a much better ratio of stuff to available space.

With luck, we’ll be camping in the Black Kettle National Grassland in Oklahoma tomorrow evening, and headed towards the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico by Thursday. These should be interesting places to see, but I am really excited about our first expected Utah destination, which is Canyonlands National Park.

The First Draft Plan

Hello! I’m Leslie and this is my first blog post ever. My husband Adam and I recently left our jobs, packed up our apartment in the city, and are leaving Chicago this Monday, March 30th. Naturally, many of our friends and family have asked where we are going. While we don’t have a true “plan” in place yet, I have a few ideas for our rough location over the next few months and it looks something like this:

US Map with Rough Draft Roadtrip Plan
US Map with Rough Draft Roadtrip Plan

Go ahead… judge the artwork. I will do my best to improve on that from here on out.

We are planning to hit up a bunch of national and state parks and visit some friends in San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Not pictured above is our planned flight back to DC for a late June wedding and then a 3-day Amtrack ride back across the country.

I’m collecting recommendations for any of these areas and have already heard about a place for the best breakfast burritos in San Diego, hot springs just north of Yosemite, a whole spreadsheet of ideas for the Pacific Northwest, and a handful of great blogs from other travelers. I can’t wait to plan out a more detailed itinerary that hits as many of these spots as possible.

We’ll be back in Chicago by the middle of August for my sister-in-law-to-be’s wedding and then head out to the east coast at the end of August for a cousin’s wedding. After that… it’s really, really all up in the air! So, what should be sure to see? Let me know in the comments or via email. And check back soon for more updates from the road!