Hey there, thanks so much for making your way to my blog and taking a moment out of your day to read this! My goal with all my writings, is that they wouldn't just be meaningless rambles about things that you honestly don't care about, but instead full of helpful info for scouting for your next trip or great info that you can take about photography and gear!
This year has started off pretty great so far, I've been fortunate enough to have gotten out to a few really cool destinations. If you follow me on Instagram, you've likely already seen some photos from the trips, but my hopes here are that I can give you a little more info about where I went that will hopefully encourage you to visit these places for yourself sometime. So enough with the rambling, ha ha, here we go...
FIRST STOP... VEGAS!
So in all honesty, I think Las Vegas is a really cool city. Lots of beautiful lights and sounds, but I go there for a much different reason than most, I go there because it's a great location to fly into if you're looking at exploring south western Utah! I flew into Vegas and then grabbed a Lyft, and hopped over to Escape Campervans, to pick up a sweet van I had rented to cruise the desert in.
After picking up the van, I had a few hours to kill before my two buddies, Seth and Sam, flew in. Another great thing about Vegas is all the amazing places to visit that are within only an hour or so from downtown. One of my favorite places to go is the Valley of Fire, located just north east of Vegas. Of course before hitting the road, I had to pull off for a delicious burger at In and Out burger (soooo good!!) Then off I went!
I only had a couple hours there, so I made sure to do my research beforehand and what sights I wanted to see while I was there, and also figured out where I wanted to photograph sunset from. Unfortunately I spent too much time at my first location which turned out to also be my last location ha. Oh well, it was a really cool spot and it was nice just enjoying the view, especially because the park was pretty empty and so it was very peaceful and quiet. This spot is right at the trail head for Rainbow Vista. Definitely a spot worth checking out!
Finally it was time to pick up those slow pokes who were finally arriving! I hit the road back to Vegas. I had one little issue with picking the wrong road at the airport though. Not knowing the airport that well, I was trying to navigate around trying to find the correct terminal, when I finally come to the right entrance, I found that my van was too tall, and with all the lanes being too short, I scrambled to figure out where to go before creating a traffic jam. I saw a little side road and took it, unfortunately this led me into a long taxi line, and then I got yelled at by a cop on a bicycle for being in that lane, ughh. I did finally make it through, picked up my friends and we were on our way! Our next stop would be Zion National Park, and more specificly, Angels landing for sunrise the following morning. We didn't worry too much about it being 11pm when we left Vegas with a 4 or so hour drive ahead of us to Zion... oh well, we could sleep when the trip was over!
Early the following morning we pulled into Springdale, found a spot to park the Van and quickly went to sleep. What felt like only minutes later our alarms went off (we each set an alarm on our phones to make sure we didn't oversleep), it was now 5 in the morning and we were pretty tired. We ignored that and quickly put our boots on, layered up (it was just below freezing), grabbed our packs, cameras and snacks, and hit the trail in the dark of the way too early morning. We had 2.5 miles to the top of what's known to be a pretty steep and exposed trail, with more switchbacks than any other trail I've ever hiked before. About half way up we were finally passed the switchbacks and were actually onto some flat ground, at least for a little bit. But we were approaching what many feel is the hardest (mostly mentally) part of the trail. For most of the remainder of the trail, you hike along a steep clifside, narrow knife edges and then up the spine of this massive mountain, all while only having the comfort of holding onto a fixed chain guiding you to the top.
It took us some time (not a place you want to rush at all), but we finally made it to the top, and all that we had heard about how amazing the view was did not disappoint!
After enjoying sunrise, we turned around and starting making our way back to the camper van, of course still enjoying the incredible sights on the way down.
We left Zion, enjoying the incredible views as we headed south East towards our next stop, Buckskin Gulch. We arrived later than we were hoping to, but there are so many amazing sights to see along the way that we couldn't help but stop here and there to sight see and take photos.
For a little side note, I usually put a ton of time into putting together an itinerary for trips like this, trying to make sure every single bit of time is utilized to its max! That said, I view that more as a guide for our trip, and not something that we have to stick to 100%, there will always be things that come up and the schedule is always being pushed around, because ultimately, the journey itself so often is just as much fun as the destination. So I try to not be too anxious about getting to that next spot, and instead just focus on enjoying each moment as it happens.
Alright, back to the trip. So we made it to the trail head at Wire pass, heading into Buckskin Gulch. And honestly from the parking lot, nothing around us looked that great. We hadn't really seen anything too special on the dirt road to the parking lot, and there were nothing but rolling hills around us. But I had seen photos of this place and new there was something special ahead of us, so we started our hike. We were getting a later start than we had hoped for, as we entered the canyon, the sun was already had a pretty low angle, only giving us a few hours of daylight. So we moved quickly.
As we finally got into the canyon, it was pretty small, and also incredible! I had never hiked in a slot canyon like this before. The only other canyon I'd ever been in before was the Narrows in Zion, but they are much bigger. This slot canyon was narrow and had all of the beautiful sweeping walls I'd seen so many photos of.
After hiking a little ways through these tight slots, we noticed really quick when we came into Buckskin Gulch, because it got huge really quick!
You can see my buddy sam, as he paused in the canyon trying to take it all in. Both the size of the canyon and the incredible color of the bouncing light off the walls was something truly special! We wandered around a little more before heading back with the light slowly dimming. Once we got back to the van, we found a spot to park it for the night and enjoy camp! We decided that night that we were going to cook some tacos in the kitchenette in the back of the van and enjoy a bonfire under a totally dark, but starry sky!
This photo shows the pretty sweet set up we had in the van from Escape Campervan, there's a coleman stove, a little sink, a fridge, and a place for cutting and putting things together. Also did you notice that sweet car top tent?
Below the three of us are enjoying a nice fire, along with some local Utah beer! The fire was pretty nice though, this night ended up getting pretty cold, down into the mid teens. Even at this point it was already in the upper 20's, so this fire definitely helped keep us warm.
Once we ran out of wood though, we couldn't handle the cold very long ha! So I quickly took a couple long exposures of the van and then quickly got into my warm sleeping bag. It's nights like these that I'm so thankful for my warm, high quality North Face sleeping bag.
I'm not going to lie, it was still a cold night. We woke up a couple hours before sunrise to have time to drive to our next little hike to shoot sunrise. When I started the van, I realized that all the interior of the glass had a solid layer of ice that had frozen from the moister of us sleeping inside. It took a solid 10 minutes with the defrost on high before I could leave... Did I mention it got pretty cold?
Our next location wasn't too far away, it was right off the freeway fortunately. We were heading to a little spot called Toadstool hoodos. When we got there we still had about an hour before sunrise, so we grabbed our packs, and the most important thing at that hour, my super bright headlamp and started off down the trail. We got to the hoodos as it was starting to get light out and starting exploring around the alien like landscape. The colors, the textures and the shapes were unreal, especially as the sun came up over the horizon lighting it up. It truly was a beautiful landscape unlike anything else I've ever seen!
We wandered around here, really in awe for a couple hours. Finally Sam and I were getting pretty hungry so we decided to hike back to the van and start making breakfast as Seth finished up taking photos. About 45 minutes later as we were starting to wonder about why Seth was taking so long, in the distance we suddenly saw him using his tripod as a crutch, and barely getting by at that! We both laughed and went about our business... just kidding! We quickly dropped what we were doing and rushed to help him. Seth is a very tough guy, and so to see him in such obvious pain was tough to witness. We carried him back to the van and he continued to tell us that he had fell into a hole as he was hiking around, a hole that wasn't there when he took a step, but had revealed itself as his leg fell into it, after which he fell forward pulling and twisting at his knee. We got him in the van and then drove into Page, Arizona which was only about 30 minutes away. We ended up wasting a couple hours at a Doctors office ( I say wasted because they literally did nothing for him, besides wrap it up with bandage and send us on our way, of course after charging him $100 for something we could have done ourselves with $5 bandage from any pharmacy), and then went to grab some lunch.
Seth was not about to let this ruin his or our trip though (like I said, he's a tough dude), so we continued on with our plans to go hike to a slot canyon near Horseshoe bend that we had been told about. We went to a random (and very sketchy) trailer that I was told I had to buy a permit from for this hike, but after waiting for 20 minutes, knocking on the door and calling the number on the door, no one ever came around, so we went on anyways. Soon we found the spot to pull over, and parked. We then helped Seth get situated, and made our way into the canyon. This canyon was pretty cool, and fortunately we got to this canyon a little earlier in the day so the light was better.
Here's a photo of Sam jumping into the canyon.
Just taking a stroll. We had been told that going to the west from the entry was too technical, so we should go east. Well that was just like telling a kid to not open a drawer in the kitchen because there is candy in there he can't have, you know exactly what that kid is going to do when you leave the kitchen. So we went west, and we are so glad we did!
The slot canyon go narrower and steeper the further we went in.
Here's where we are crossing back underneath the freeway as we head west.
Our first "technical" obstacle, obviously not a big deal, but was a big tougher for Seth, remember he's limping along right now in some pretty serious pain.
We got into some really cool, wavy sections like this.
I've seen so many photos over the years of slot canyons, but until you go into one yourself, photos really can't do them justice. But I did all I could to capture them and hopefully show them to you as best I can.
We found this not far from below the bridge where it looks like at some point a long time ago, a car had fallen off the bridge and between the fall and probably also from getting beaten by flash floods was completely smashed and crammed into this crack. It was so twisted and distorted that I couldn't even begin to figure out what kind of car it might have been. Pretty crazy sight for sure!
After hiking for a mile or so we came to our first real obstacle. The canyon opened up a bunch and then we noticed this tiny hole dropping about 15 feet to a much narrower section of the canyon. This drop was only so sketchy because of this hobbled together ladder held together by rope and straps. I definitely took my time going down this as I was really unsure of how stable it was, and I had no other rope as a back up. This was my only way down if I was to go down (and I really wanted to go down!!). I made it down safe and sound, and then Sam followed. Unfortunately, because of Seths leg, he was not able to join us, but we didn't go to far.
Pretty quick after dropping down the light started making the walls glow like we hadn't seen yet. Sam dropped down to this spot first and as he was walking through, I snapped the photo. But the colors you see here are completely real! And no direct light at all was hitting these walls, and that was the craziest part about it, it was light that was bouncing around from wall to wall from way down the canyon.
At this point we realized we could continue down this canyon for quite some time, but didn't want to leave Seth for too long so Sam dropped his Pacsafe backpack down this drop, followed down and then went for a quick walk around the next corner before deciding we should turn around.
As we went back up this is a different angle of that smashed up car I mentioned before.
We continued to make our way out of the canyon and to the van. We then drove north a couple miles to Horseshoe bend. There were a few clouds in the sky and so we were really hopeful of a good sunset. Fortunately with it being a Monday night, it wasn't too busy and I've heard it can definitely get! It's a quick hike to the lookout, only taking us about 20 minutes, even with our gimpy friend Seth, ha! He was actually doing better at this point, the pain for the most part had settled down, just every once in a while when he would step just wrong it would shoot pain up his leg, but besides that he was doing just great (more or less). Once we got to the edge of the cliff and looked down over the river I was completely without words for about big this place is. As I've said before, pictures just don't do places like this justice. I knew it would be big, but WOW!! This place is beyond pictures, simply a place that needs to be visited!
We ended up getting a pretty awesome sunset. Not a bad way to spend our final evening of the trip.
We left horseshoe pretty happy with being able to see such an amazing place and with witnessing a pretty nice sunset. We decided to finish the night and get some food in town before heading out in search of our campsite for that night with our sunrise location in mind.
Our plan for our final morning was to shoot sunrise at Monument valley. This is another bucket list place for me that I've wanted to see ever since first watching the movie Forest Gump, so many years ago. We drove a couple hours and found a camp site late that night, quickly set up our beds and off to sleep. I woke up way too early again that next morning to another frozen van, waited for it to thaw and hit the road to our morning view. We found a good spot right off the road and then just relaxed and watched the show.
We even found a dinasour! How crazy was that, they don't lie though, these things can't see well at all. Dumb animal kept running out into the middle of the road HAHA!
We were pretty excited about how this trip had gone (besides Seths leg, that sucked)
Our last spot before our long drive back to Vegas was at the visitor center. We had some time to kill so decided to find a good place to park and just hang out, clean up the van and pack our bags, all while taking in this nice view!
I have to mention this van one more time because it really was awesome! In the past I've always traveled and either slept very uncomfortable in a car, or had to find somewhere to pitch a tent, or paid for a hotel. This was my first experience with a camper van, and I have to say, it won't be the last. The ease of being able to just pull up somewhere and just go to sleep, in a safety and convenience of a van was pretty nice. Not to mention this van is hooked up with two large beds, a kitchen including a little fridge, and pretty much everything else you could need to make for a good road trip! I would highly recommend looking into this option on your next trip and definitely check out Escape Campervans. They are all over the US and also just opened up a new branch up in Vancouver, BC.
The drive back was pretty long, but it was nice just taking in the views, so many of which we didn't see from driving so many miles at night. We were making pretty good time and decided to try and catch sunset at Valley of fire again, unfortunately by the time we'd gotten there, they'd already closed down the area we wanted to go to. So we found a couple other spots to stop and then continued on our way back to the airport.
Overall it was such a fantastic trip, although really quick we were able to see a ton! I can't wait to get back down there again, maybe early next year. If you made it down to the end of this blog, I want to give my sincere thanks! That was a lot to read ha! And I really appreciate you spending your time reading about my adventure. I do also hope that you'll be able to take something from it, hopefully a cool place that you'll now be able to visit yourself. Thanks again for stopping by, and please feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have about the trip. Also if you enjoyed this blog, I would kindly ask you to please share it! Thanks so much!