State #41 Utah and the First of the Mighty Five

Utah has kind of been like South Dakota for us, in the sense that we liked it more than we thought we were going to. I think it’s due again to the various changes in scenery, topography, etc. It is also home to what’s called “The Mighty Five.” The Mighty Five is made up of five national parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each park has it’s own flavor. Even though Utah has a lot of rocks, mountains, and other spectacular geology, you can tell when you’re in a different park. The cool thing about these parks is that you can hike until you’re hearts content or you can simply drive through and see majestic canyons and other amazing scenery. So no matter you’re ability or desire, you can experience all of these in, at least, some form.

Zion and Arches were on our list from the beginning and then I heard about the Mighty Five and started looking into which parks those comprised. I had never even heard mention of Capitol Reef in my life but it happens to be the second largest park in Utah and yet one of the least visited. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop in Utah was at our Comfort Inn in Hurricane. I was so nervous about this hotel. Trev said he found us a deal at only $50 a night. Yikes. However, my fears were unfounded. The staff was helpful and the place was really new and very clean!!! YAY!!!! I wish all our hotels could be that cheap and clean!

In our blissful mood, due to Trev’s awesome find, we laid down for a good night’s sleep. Well, that was until 9:32pm. A BLARING fire alarm went off. Then, about five minutes later, it went off again. We did not have to evacuate but we later found out that a guy on the second floor charred whatever he was cooking in the microwave so bad that his room filled with smoke and permeated the whole floor. Thankfully, no one was injured and after we finally got settled back down, we were able to sleep…some.

Hurricane is about 30 miles from Zion. You can stay right outside of the park in the town of Springdale but it was way cheaper for us in Hurricane. As much traveling as we do, 30 minutes was no big deal.

Zion runs a shuttle service from March to October. At first, I was not excited about riding a shuttle but it was fine. The parking is so limited it would have been stressful to have to find a parking spot and then figure out what to do if the lot is full. The shuttles ran very frequently and we hardly had to wait at all. I have read other stories about having to wait like an hour and a half for a shuttle during the summer. If at all possible, a beautiful winter or spring day is the way to go. You might even see some wild turkeys.

Our first stop was to the visitor center to grab Junior Ranger books and talk to a ranger about hiking the Narrows. It was pretty cold and the ranger said we needed to wear wet gear because the water was so cold. He really seemed to be discouraging us to go. Not sure if it was the cold, the younger age of the boys, or what but he made it sound like a big hassle. Wet gear was going to cost us about $50/person to rent. We decided to wait and think about it.

With Junior Ranger books in hand we headed to the shuttle and rode out to the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava and work our way back. It is amazing to be in the canyon and look up and see these towering walls of rock. It’s awe inspiring and humbling all at the same time.

We barely starting walking and the boys saw the river. I didn’t think we would ever get them back on the trail. But that’s okay. They were having fun.

The Riverside Walk, which I mistakeningly called a hike, was a pretty easy stroll. The boys say that anything paved is not a hike. Remember that for later in this post. Really, remember that. For now, just stroll along with us.

The Riverside Walk ends at the start of the Narrows. So we got to see the Narrows at least. Everyone was wearing their cold weather wet gear (think waders and waterproof socks and boots). The boys dipped their hands in the water and said it was very cold. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. The gorge with thousand foot tall walls and at times is only 20-30 feet wide. In order to go any further you have to hike the Virgin River upstream. The weather and river flow determines whether or not you can even hike the Narrows. We were expecting with the recent snowmelt that the Narrows would be closed but not today. Maybe we will try it tomorrow when we have the whole day to hike.

Instead we turned around and found a nice spot to stop for a little picnic. We were able to walk right by a mule deer on the way back.

A little bummed about missing out on the Narrows, we decided to tackle a strenuous hike to chase our blues away. I had heard about the views from Angels Landing, over 1400 feet above Zion Canyon, being well worth the difficult and scary hike. Almost the last mile follows a narrow ridge with steep drop-offs. In some places there are chains for safety but only in spots.

The boys decided they would hike…I mean…walk (remember?) the West Rim Trail with me up Walter’s Wiggles to Scout Lookout and then they would leave me to finish out the scary heights part alone. Mason read the sign that ten people had died on trail since 2004. He walked over hugged and told me he loved me. Wow, talk about encouragement. It was kind of like – well, it’s been nice knowing you, mom. Ha!

Walter’s Wiggles is a bunch of switchbacks straight up the mountain. Don’t let the cutesy name fool you. I think, The Devil, would be a better fitting name. They were so hard. Boys made it like a couple of champs. Tucker talked nonstop the whole way up. I was too busy gasping for air to talk back to him.

The hike…I mean strenuous walk…according to the boys was, in my opinion, the hardest part. The last mile was so much fun. I loved it. However, not everyone on the trail agreed. There were numerous people who got scared and turned around which made it scary at times because they try getting back quickly across places where there is barely enough room for one person let alone two. There was a group of young ladies that decided to quit the hike and that was nerve-wrecking trying to let them pass by. I, personally, thought that was scarier than the hike.

The pictures below are of the Big Bend (Shuttle Stop #8) from the trail.

I was at a section that had a chain to hold onto and there was no one remotely close to me so I took a short video (its the same one we posted on Instagram at nohurrycains). I don’t have lots of pictures because I wanted to be safe and needed my hands free.

I made it though.

Going back was tougher because you have to look down to make sure you don’t step off the ridge. I met one young guy on his way back down and he was white as a ghost. I don’t mean pale like me. I mean scared white. Me and the guy behind me were worried he was going to pass out. Poor fella.

I was feeling great. The hike was exhilarating. Definitely at the top of my list. Now, I just needed to hike back down and find the fam. (I had prayed that my hips wouldn’t lock up on me like they do and they didn’t; however, my knee was toast and I was in pain for about a week afterwards. As Trev likes to say – the old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be).

Trev and the boys had been playing around on the trail waiting on me. The boys found a hole in the wall and were surprising hikers as they walked by. You know Dad was in charge. Mean old mom wouldn’t have allowed that. Anyways, we were done for the day. We headed back to the hotel for supper and for my knee some RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. At my age, this is an important acronym to know.

The next day we headed back to the park to hike the Upper Emerald Pools hike. (Some hikes were closed due to maintenance and repairs).

Rocks, dirt, and water. I mean, what else does a kid need anyway?

I was going pretty slow on the Pool Trail so the boys went ahead of me and hiked the Grotto Trail to the Lodge. I made it to the shuttle stop and met them there. They had finished their ranger programs and got their badges. By then it was time for a picnic lunch.

We ignored Google and took the scenic route out of the park through the East Entrance. If you get a chance I recommend going out that way. It was an amazing drive.

We were able to go through the tunnel. This tunnel was cool because it wasn’t lit. There were several spots where a “window” was made in the tunnel to allow some light. The light spot in the bottom picture is from one of those windows. That’s not the light end of the tunnel. It was very freaky.

Plus, we were able to squeeze in one more hike. I got my hikes confused and told the boys the Canyon Overlook Trail was an easy paved family friendly flat hike/walk. I was wrong. It had numerous steep drop-offs which the boys did not enjoy and my knee was hating the incline.

But we made the best of it and the canyon view at the end was worth it. And, yes, I am wearing the same clothes as the day before. No need to judge. 🙂

The boys soon forgave me when we came across these big horn sheep, which I spotted first. (It’s a big deal who spots the animals first). Usually, Trevor is the Eagle Eyes Champ, however, I was the winner in Zion. Big mom points. We pulled over to get a better view and the sheep met us on the road.

No one was ready to leave Zion but we still had four more national parks to go to plus our other stops. But it would Be ReallY niCE if we could stay.

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