Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
We spent our last morning in Park City at my parent’s house enjoying breakfast and finishing last minute items that would be difficult to complete on the road. Our “to-do list” had dwindled down to a few last items from our once Goliath sized multiple page list when we started this massive undertaking. Unfortunately, as many of you know, a “to-do list” is like the grass in the backyard; the more you cut it down the better it looks but if you miss a cutting it tends to get out of control. A constant battle but it seems Rachelle and I have the list a bit under control, for the time being. As we leave my parents we take the scenic route through Midway, opposed to the strip mall feel Heber City is quickly adopting. For me the drive through Midway in route to Provo Canyon has always been a time where my brain feels free. I assimilate this route with the start of a trip or adventure with this one surely being the greatest. For some reason the old farm road from Midway to the mouth of Provo Canyon makes me smile every time I venture on its’ bumpy roads crossing railroad tracks. That small section of asphalt with Deer Creek Reservoir and Mount Timpanogos starring me square in the eyes brings a warmth to my heart and mind. Sadly, it may be sometime before I travel this road again but presently I have my sights set on the pavement ahead.
Our first destination was one we previously left without feeling enough satisfaction, Escalante National Monument. We arrived late and as our eyes grew heavy we parked the Rambler on the side of Highway 12 near “Hole in The Rock Road.”. The beauty of the Rambler is she will sleep anywhere, Rachelle and I on the other hand prefer level ground with a little privacy. Early the next morning we met our friend Dave Spinowitz who happened to be in the area and started down the “Hole in The Rock” washboard 40 mile dirt road to intersect with “40 mile ridge road” and eventually Coyote Gulch trailhead. Nothing like 40 miles of bumpy washed out dirt roads to test the integrity of your workmanship. As we slowly moved down the road I waited in suspense for something to break loose or shelf to fall down. Surely our amateur van building skills were going to be exposed by this stupid bumpy road to nowhere in the Utah desert. Arriving at the turnoff to Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Gulch I couldn’t take the pain any longer and decided to park the Rambler where we planned to sleep for the night. We jumped in Dave’s Jeep to complete the final few miles to Coyote Gulch trailhead which seemed to fly by much quicker than in the van. By the time we arrived at the trailhead it was approximately 12:30pm, which could be the worst time to commence a hike in the desert, but with excited souls we began our 2 hour hike on the mesa towards Chimney Rock and Hurricane Wash to the start of Coyote Gulch. After several re-evaluations from the group of our course we were relieved to enter the slot canyon and escape the midday sun. The canyon walls grew larger and more impressive as we came to the pinnacle of the hike standing on the river floor under the Jacob Hamlin Arch.
The canyon walls rose hundreds of feet above our small little heads which took us meandering thousands of feet around just to cover a hundred feet, as the crow flies. With only a couple hours of sunlight left the smart decision would be to start ascending back out of the canyon to the parking lot, however the desire to see a natural bridge about an hour down canyon outweighed the “smart decision.” In any event, even with this slight detour, we made it back to the exit a couple hours later and started the 5.0 climb out with only a few nerves shown by Dave on the exit. Once back at the car, Dave checked his Strava to find out we covered over 16 miles, not bad for a midday hike.
The next morning, the final day of May 2015, our trio made our way to the famous Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Gulch slot canyons. A short time into Spooky we ran into a family led by their 3 small children who were quickly making time through the narrow canyon. The children seemed to have a frightened look on their face as the three of us could not be having more fun. By this time the canyon was so narrow your chest and back began to scrap along the canyon walls which brought a sense of excitement. In a small alcove we let the children pass along with their mother who looked equally as frightened as the children. Still trying to assess the situation we realized the father of this family was overly robust, barely squeezing through the narrow canyon. After the father passed Dave, Rachelle, and I stood in amazement as this 275 lb man slowly pushed his way through canyon walls that felt tight to my 170 lb frame. I’ll never forget the wife’s exclaimation “this is the worst experience ever” and her husband’s response of “no honey this is fun, I’m having fun.” Well if that is fun my days of having fun are numbered. As we got back to the camp we said our farewell to Dave, packed up, and made our way to Bryce Canyon to catch sunset.
Bryce Canyon National Park is such an amazing park and at a manageable size you feel you have experienced its beauty with only a short stay. Upon arrival we made our way down the Navajo Loop into the canyon as the sun was shedding its’ final hour of light onto the park. Sunset is a magical time in Bryce Canyon with the natural colors shining through no longer competing with the harsh desert sun. We completed the hike through Wall Street and back to the canyon’s rim just as the sun retreated behind the western horizon. Now all was silent except for the Asian tourist but that was expected. After parking the Rambler in the BLM land just outside of Bryce Canyon we retired for the night but would be returning early the next morning to watch the sunrise over this brilliant canyon.
The sun peeked over the eastern horizon around 6:05 am casting its’ light across the hoodoo rock formations. Our morning continued with a hike through Queen’s Trail to Peek-A-Boo loop and finally exiting through Navajo Loop about 7 miles later. Satisfied with our time at Bryce Canyon we headed out towards Thunder Mountain Trail just outside the park for an evening ride. As you can imagine we were both tired from the early morning and longer than expected hike through the canyon but nevertheless we were both excited to ride the popular Thunder Mountain trail through the red rock and Hoodoos. At the parking lot there was a Colorado couple on their honeymoon who graciously offered to give us a ride to the trailhead, allowing us to bypass the 7 mile road ride. Upon arrival to the Rambler at dust and without our bike lights, we quickly realized that this kind gesture saved us a lot of potential trouble.
The morning of June 2nd, we left Bryce Canyon area and made our way to Zion National Park in hopes of getting permits to explore the parks fantastic slot canyons. We arrived in Zion around mid day and managed to get permits to explore Pine Creek Canyon that day and Behunin Canyon the following. Pine Creek Canyon can take 2-6 hours to complete so one would think we should get started right away but first we had to make a quick trip to Hurricane, Utah. Why you might ask? Our newly acquired 230cc Yamaha dirt bike refused to start so Hurricane was the closest city to service the bike. Upon dropping the bike off, we made our way back to Zion getting into Pine Creek Canyon around 4pm for a late start. Pine Creek Canyon is a beautiful narrow winding slot canyon with approximately 7 rappels, mostly into deep cold standing water. Rachelle and I were both equipped with full wetsuits but for some reason 56 degree water seems to cut right through the neoprene barrier. We were freezing and with any sliver of sunshine unable to reach through the canyon walls, it seemed impossible to warm our bones. Swim after swim kept our body temps at an all time low even when the beauty of the canyon was at an all time high. Concluding our longest 200 ft swim of the canyon, we emerged from the water shivering and raised our eyes quick enough to see a mother Owl take off in flight down canyon leaving her two babies perched on a log in the middle. This rare sighting brought a little warmth to our souls as we tried to calm our bodies to take it in between violent shivers. These two baby owls were at eye level no further than 10 feet away. The eyes of these two grey fluff balls locked onto us like a radar missile with mom and dad piercingly calling from down the canyon. Immediately I expected a swift airborne attack with talons digging into my dark brown eyes from mom and dad but the ambush luckily never arrived. Needing to push on we completed 4 more rappels to finally escape the canyon and enjoy the last few minutes of sunshine. After a 1.5 hour rock scramble out of the gulch following the canyon, graciously another group gave us a ride back to the Rambler parked on the other side of the tunnel in Zion.
Once back at the Rambler in the small 6 car parking lot in the heart of Zion we were approached by two Canadians who appeared to be posting up for the night with boxers and toothbrush in hand. Interested in our big white Sprinter van we gave them a tour of the rig and sat down to have a beer. Mark and Gallen had driven down from British Colombia to explore canyons for a week in Zion and to our surprise had not left the park in the last 5 days. They had seemed to figure out the Zion Rangers schedules down to a science. Mark and Gallen had been sleeping in their truck at various locations in the park because “why would I drive out of the park when I can sleep at the trailhead,” explained Mark. So naturally they convinced us to sleep the night in the small little car park and join them for the exploration of Spry Canyon in the morning. For some reason Mark was really selling us on Spry Canyon and by this time we had decided we didn’t actually feel like completing the 3.5 mile 2,000 vertical ascent to Behunin Canyon after all. Spry Canyon did not disappoint and we had a great time with our two new Canadian friends as we made our way down the 11 varied rappels, with only one swim, into the Zion Valley. Five hours later we completed Spry Canyon, said farewell to our new friends after exchanging information, and headed back to Hurricane to pick up the motorcycle before store closure. Satisfied with an unclogged carburetor, cleaned fuel tank, and starting dirt bike, we began our evening travels to Kanab, Utah. In Kanab we camped on a frontage road outside of town and figured we would at least attempt to obtain a long shot permit to hike the famous “Wave” in the morning.
The morning of June 4th we sat in the Southern Escalante N.M. Visitor Center in the small town of Kanab with 60 others from many different nations. Why were we all here at 8:30 am you might ask? The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is the site of the infamous “Wave” which has intrigued people from all over the world. The Wave is a sandstone formation of unexplainable natural beauty in the North Coyote Butte wilderness area. To keep the area pristine there is only a maximum of 20 people (including dogs) allowed to visit the site on a daily basis. 10 of the 20 permits are awarded in advance through an online lottery with the other 10 reserved for in person lottery chances. The room was represented by at least 7 nations and a total of 27 groups vying for the coveted 10 spots on the June 5th trip. Rachelle and I were given number 13 as we awaited the spinning of the bingo balls just as you imagine it at a nursing home on bingo night. Now let me preface this by letting you know flash floods and rains were expected the next two days and even with heavy repetitive discouragement from the BLM rangers everyone wanted the permit with the exception of a husband and wife duo. The wife of this group decided to bail concerned with the torrential rains expected leaving her husband to continue with the lottery process. I would even admit we were concerned with the weather forecast but decided to roll the dice and continue. Group after group was chosen until there was only 2 spots left…this was our chance for lucky number 13 to come through in the clutch. Unfortunately our number was not called but the previously explained husband and wife group was called who were once a group of 2 but seconds before the lottery were reduced to a group of 1. So this left 1 spot for the June 5th trip which was just short of what we needed. However the BLM office recently enacted a “plus one” rule allowing the final permit to take an additional person with them if their group was two or more. This was enacted so it would not force someone to hike solo in the wilderness. So here we sat with 60 other people waiting anxiously to get the “O” so you could proclaim “BINGO.” Well our “O” came in the form of lucky number 13! Rachelle and I looked at each other with amazement…we had won, we were going to visit the Wave. At that moment we could not imagine the splendor the following day would bring.
The next morning at sunrise, we parked the Rambler 5 miles from the trailhead and rode the dirt bike the rest of the way. The rangers warning of the upcoming rains and potential closure of the clay based road was enough for us not to risk getting the Rambler stuck. Preparing for the worst, we packed our tent, sleeping bag, and extra food in case the road was deemed impassible by the time we made it back from The Wave, forcing us to spend the night there.
With good planning during the hike we managed to arrive back at the van, pack up the dirt bike, and escape the road just as sheets of water fell down on the Utah desert. Running from the weather, we pushed onward to take in the beauty of Monument Valley in Navajo Nation with a quick hair raising experience in Page, AZ overlooking the restart of the undisturbed Colorado River.
Drawn in by the abundance of water falling 100’s of feet off the steep canyon walls down into the original river cut canyon beside the man-made oversized damn of Glen Canyon Recreational Area, we stopped to get closer. After a brief scramble up an overhanging rock on the canyon edge, Rachelle quickly realized that the feeling of bugs around our faces was actually electricity. Sensing the lack of safety in the air, she immediately descended from the high point to inform a mother whose daughter’s long hair was standing straight out from her head. Nobly we informing the ranger as we departed quicker than we came.
Day 6 in the desert was concluded with a drive through the famous “Monument Valley” in Navajo Nation and a wet night sleeping in the small town of Mexican Hat. Driving through Navajo Nation was a sobering experience, bringing the tribal peoples’ struggle right to the doorstep of the Rambler. Views from the sliding door made us aware of the true difficulty of these peoples lives. We can not recall seeing a grocery store and it seemed the only source of nutrition was the emptiness of gas station food.
Day 7 was spent with a short stop in Goosenecks State Park and a 7 mile hike through the ruins at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument outside Cortez, CO. As we prepared food and supplies for the hike I became emotionally aware of the reality of my situation and the choices that I have made in the past several months. I left my home, family, and career in Park City to hit the road. At this moment the gravity of my decisions were clear and the realization fresh in my mind.
Our final day in the desert we rode 16 miles of “Phil’s World” bike trails in Cortez, CO which was well worth it and highly recommended. After riding we had to make an unexpected trip south to the Best Buy in Farmington, New Mexico because our new camera was no longer working properly. Following the out of the way detour to Farmington we managed to make it by evening to Durango, CO to meet up with our friends Brad and Kristina Fox, previous residents of Park City, who made their driveway available for the Rambler.
The story continues as we enter Durango, Silverton, Telluride and make our trek across Texas in route to Mountain Rest, SC.
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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