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There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

Our last day in Zion, I added up our hiking mileage for the day and realized that the kids had hiked 6.6 miles. This realization of the kids’ capabilities and a new mantra to savor life (losing someone will do that to you) got our wheels turning. It was time for us to finally backpack Coyote Gulch. We’d read a blog post a few years ago about a family that took their 4 and 7-year-old and had felt inspired, but at the time our kids weren’t quite ready. Now that they could hike 6.6 miles in a day and not act like they were dying, they were ready. We planned the trip for over our Spring Break and set about being as practical as we could when you’re undertaking something so crazy. As our trip approached, the forecast was giving us a little bit of a scare and we decided to move our trip up by a day to hopefully avoid death by flash flood or paying to tow our car out of a mud pit. We were still a little nervous, but we just kept praying that if this was  monumentally stupid idea we’d realize it. The trip started out with a drive through a blizzard (gotta love spring break). What should have been a 45 minute part of our drive ended up being a teeth clenching 90 minutes. We spent the night in Grand Junction and since we weren’t getting any horrible premonitions, woke up early the next morning and drove five hours to the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center to get our permit and poop bags (yes, poop bags). After that, we drove 36 miles on Hole in the Rock Road (a dirt road, this will be important later) to our starting spot: Chimney Rock.

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Now, I should mention that the blog post that initially inspired us, also introduced to a “shortcut” that would shave off a few miles. The shortcut involved starting from Chimney Rock, navigating to Hurricane Wash, “dropping” into it, and arriving at the confluence. This would involve orienteering (reading topo maps and using a compass), but Noel is a former Scout Master so that wasn’t a worry. It all sounded easy enough. Well, lets just say it wasn’t as direct as we’d hoped. We spent a lot of time zig-zagging around hoodoos to get to our waypoints and when we arrived at the ravine that was supposed to “drop” us into the wash we had to reroute several times to avoid giant pot holes or perilously steep descents. Miraculously, everyone made it down without incident and after a few more miles, we arrived at a lovely alcove that we made our home for the next two days. According to my GPS watch, we did just over 5 miles. It probably would have been easier to hike a few extra miles, but it was an adventure.

Waterfall

The next day we left our heavy packs at camp to explore the gulch. We saw waterfalls, a natural bridge, and two natural arches. There was something new and beautiful around each corner. We ran into a couple of other groups, but for the most part were on our own. It was completely gorgeous and the kids had a lot of fun climbing and playing in the water. We spent one last night at our beautiful campsite – a sandy oasis where you could walk around barefoot. (Soapbox side note:  Grand Staircase Escalante’s monument status is currently on the chopping block. Utah’s state legislature and congressional delegation are working hard to convince the Trump administration to have its area reduced by 70-80% to open up space for coal mining. If you live in Utah and don’t think places like this should be a strip mine, please contact your representatives to tell them not to be so short sighted. #standwithgrandstaircase)

Navigating Puddles

It got really windy that night and both Noel and I kept having nightmares that the wind was actually pouring rain and that we were going to be trapped in the canyon for a few days. When we woke up, we were relived to find it actually hadn’t rained, but the clouds were looking ominous. We ate and packed quickly and then headed on our way. It began to rain lightly as we hiked and we urged the kids along, practically dragging them at some points. There was some crying that happened, but we figured a little crying was better than being stranded somewhere (or worse . . .) We’d thought climbing out of the ravine would be easier than getting into it, but it was just as  convoluted and we had to be extra careful since everything was wet. They call it slick rock for a reason. Everyone was so relieved when we made it to the car.

Dirty Car

The 36 mile drive out was both a little scary (for me) and a little fun (for Noel) as portions of the dirt road had turned into a mud bog. We were really glad we had the Subaru. (We were also really glad that the non-four-wheel-drive car that was full of single people trying to “float” across the muddy sections by driving across them at top speed did not rear-end us.) That night we camped in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where we took showers and ate food that wasn’t freeze dried.

Tent

That night it snowed. All night. BUT, we were warm, snug, and dry in our tent. We all slept like the dead. In the morning we had a warm breakfast at the comfort of our covered picnic table and at around 9am it stopped snowing making it possible to pack everything up without getting drenched. We were staying in Grand Junction that night, but made stops at the Sunglow Motel in Bicknell (for unusual pies) and Capitol Reef (for a final red rock fix).

PictographDuring the trip, we kept laughing about how if you just listed the facts of our trip it would probably sound like a really miserable time, but the truth was we were having a blast. Even though we were nervous about the weather, there was a part of us that didn’t want to leave Coyote Gulch. We just wanted to stay there forever exploring its beauty and being out of range of cell service.  There’s a Scandinavian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I think it’s a great saying, perfect with just two additions: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, bad gear, and bad attitudes.

For more pictures and Noel’s thoughts, check out his gallery here.

Healing in the Desert

Healing in the Desert

I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Noel got three days of bereavement leave when his mom passed and we knew that we needed to use some of that time to decompress before heading back to regular life. Fortunately, Glenna’s funeral services were in close proximity to one of our favorite healing balms: red rock canyons. The day after her funeral, we crashed my brother’s singles ward (that will make you feel old) and then explored Kolob Canyon with my family. (You can see the edge of it from the Kanarraville cemetery where Glenna is buried.) The kids had a blast running around with their cousin, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. We climbed rocks, jumped over streams, and played in the sand. After our hike, we said goodbye to all of them and headed back to our hotel. That night it got really windy and icy. We were glad to be snug and warm at the Marriott.

The next day, after the roads had thawed a bit, we headed into Zion. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about red sandstone that warms my soul. (I touch on it in the beginning of this post, but it’s only a toe-dip into my feelings on the subject.) As we hiked all over the park (Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and The Narrows), I felt myself recharging and coming back to life. (Side note: It’s been 9 1/2 years since our amazing and memorable trip through the Narrows. So much reminiscing. ♥). We finished the trip with delicious BBQ with Spencer (my brother) who is going to school at SUU in Cedar City and his fiancé Sarah. The next day we packed up our car (it was also Ellen’s birthday) and headed home. It was a short trip, but between the closure found at the funeral and the soul revitalization offered by wandering in the desert, we felt ready to face life again.

Desert Oasis

Desert Oasis

A part of my heart will always belong to red rock country. Technically, I grew up in Brigham City, UT – a town most people have only driven past and where the school year can’t start until after the county fair. While the town and community obviously helped mold me into who I am, my soul will always claim the muddy waters of the Green River, the sagebrush strewn trails of the Wasatch front, and the red hoodoos of Southern Utah. A desert girl at heart, whenever my feet are on red dirt, I’m home.

I have always been fascinated by things that are green since they are rare to my natural habitat, but I remain fiercely loyal to the land I was raised on, loving anything that is dusty red. To borrow Edward Abbey’s words, “If we had water here this country would not be what it is. It would be like Ohio, wet and humid and hydrological, all covered with cabbage farms and golf courses. Instead of this lovely barren desert we would have only another blooming garden state, like New Jersey. And where then would people go when they wanted to see something besides people?”

***

Generally, when we get homesick for sandstone we head to Red Rocks, but at some point the hole in our heart gets too big and we have to have the real thing. We didn’t make any plans for Spring Break this year. We were just going to hang out at home and I’d take the kids to do some cool local stuff, but when I talked to one of the other preschool moms and she mentioned their plans to go to Moab I became painfully aware that the emptiness inside of me had grown so big it was dangerously close to swallowing me up. Our souls were in dire need of the comforting warmth of desert heat. In what may have been our first spontaneous act as a couple, we obsessively began planning a last minute, extended weekend trip to South Eastern Utah. We were giddy with excitement.

When Noel woke up in the middle of the night shivering uncontrollably, only hours before our planned departure, both our hearts sank and one or both of us may have even cried. After sufficient moping, napping, and general consumption of bland foods we regrouped the following afternoon. Noel was feeling significantly better after some uninvited purging (food poisoning?) and the car was already packed, so we decided to resume the trip one day late. Little did we know that a huge Jeep Safari was going to kick-off that weekend and our first and second choices of campsites were already full. Luckily, I’d read about a lesser known campground on my friend Valerie’s travel blog and the folks at Pack Creek Campground were able to squeeze us into half a group site. It was not ideal as it felt like all the jeeps, trucks, and RVs were closing in on us, but we were glad to have something. Every morning the jeeps would file out in lines and we’d head off to wander the desert on our own two feet, even the little people, quenching a thirst only a desert can.