Long Way Home

July 28, 2018

Waking up on the side of the road feels different than waking up in the woods. The sour stench of soggy hiker clothes combined with the petrified sulfuric smell that has been so well preserved in my sleeping bag, sits stagnant in my car. I open the side door and gasp for air. Groggy-eyed I reach for my contact lenses and then slip into the front driver seat in search of a bathroom, as I am pretty sure there’s a $1 million fine for digging a cat hole on the side of the Million Dollar Scenic Byway.

Scenic Byway

Scenic Byway

Cosmo and I decide to meet in Ridgeway, a small town outside of  Uncompaghre National Forest. I grab my phone, choosing Google over Guthooks and realize how quickly I’ve become seduced by the convenience of a coffee shop. We sit outside of Café Ridgeway fueling our bodies and creating a plan for the day. Canyonlands it is!

The scenery changes quickly from the car. As I drive I watch the green trees of Colorado disappear in the red and orange rocks of Utah The temperature has risen from a crisp 50° morning to a hot and dry 95° afternoon.  Inside my cool, air-conditioned car, I can’t feel the heat outside. I am only aware of the antsy and restless feeling in my legs, which are ready to run.

We arrived at the park and dropped one car off just outside Dead Horse State Park to snag a good camp spot. As soon as I stepped outside I could feel the sun, hot and dry against my skin.

We took my car to the Lathrop Trailhead and started our descent down the canyon towards the Colorado River.

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The weather was hot and the trail was revealed, but we were excited to run and felt free without the weight of heavy packs.

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Five miles into the run dark clouds began to blow in over the top of the canyon. At first we weren't concerned, as we could still see blue skies around us and we felt grateful for the much needed shade and cooler wind brought in by these clouds.

By mile six the dark clouds dominated the sky, and upon hearing the loud roar of thunder, I wondered if we should turn around. Flash floods are a real concern during monsoon season in the southwest, and it's especially important to stay aware and careful when in a deep canyon such as this one.

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Just 6.5 miles into the run we reached a wide dirt road and it started to rain. At first the rain was just a drizzle. We were feeling ambitious and wanted to go as far as we could, so we took a few more steps forward. 

It didn't take long for the storm to escalate, and a forceful wind blew us back and slapped our faces with a tornado of sand. It was time to turn around. The wind became extreme and the rain started to pick up. I no longer felt confident that we would have enough time to run up to the top of the canyon. I was worried about flash floods and didn’t feel confident in my canyoneering knowledge, so when I saw a rock cropping that might be provide shelter I suggested that we post up under it.

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From underneath our shelter we watched the rain fall harder.  I felt safe under the rock as I watched and waited for the storm to pass. The loud boom of thunder echoed and shook the canyon as the sound resonated against the rock walls creating an amplifier of sound.

We decided to wait under our rock until the rain stopped and the lightning disappeared. We sat there for about an hour watching the storm, scooting away from drops of falling water, and laughing at our silly situation.

After about an hour the rain began to slow and the canyon became calm. We peaked out from under the cropping and when we saw a small clearing of blue from within the clouds we decided to make our way out.

We reached the car right at sunset.

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Happy to be dry and safe in the car we watched the sunlight dance across the canyon as we drove back to camp. We made it back just in time, and sat on the edge of a cliff to watch the final light of day descend into darkness.

It’s the weekend in a national park and yet somehow this primo camp area is completely empty. We choose the most convenient place to set up a tent and called it a night with food, beer, and a full blood red moon. 

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July 29, 2018

There is something I love about the warmth of the desert air at night and the way the sun wakes you up in the morning by toasting you inside your tent until you pop out like a hot tamale ready to start the day.

We left Canyonlands in the morning and took Highway 24 to Capitol Reef National Park.

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Both Cosmo and I were feeling tired and hot (the temperature stayed at around 95 degrees most of the day) so we looked up a moderately difficult hike to do.

We ran/hiked to Cassidy Arch (named after Butch Cassidy).

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And then ran down the opposite side to connect to a dirt road and Highway 24. Once we hit the highway we stuck our thumbs out and got a hitch pretty quick.

On our way out we stopped at one of the park's many orchards (planted by Mormon settlers from the 1800’s) and enjoyed a fresh apple.

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We then hit the road, connected to Scenic Byway 12 and found a place to camp in Dixie National Forest.

Campsite

Campsite

July 30, 2018

Today we continued along the Scenic Byway 12 and turned at Highway 9 to enter Zion National Park from the eastern side.

Red Rock Canyon along Highway 9

Red Rock Canyon along Highway 9

Red Rock Canyon along Highway 9

Red Rock Canyon along Highway 9

It was a scorching 100 degrees in the park, and our plan was to hike the Narrows and enjoy the cool waters of the Virgin River. When we entered the park I asked the ranger if there was a chance of flash  flooding today, she said “the chance is as high as it was when two gentlemen died so I give it two thumbs down!”

We skipped the Narrows and hiked the popular trail to Observation Point, the top of which provides a scenic overlook of the Zion Valley.

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After the hike we got dinner, drove up a dirt road to find a camp spot and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s vegan Seven Layer Ice Cream to celebrate a month well-traveled!