Thursday, May 1
Sorry for the delay from the Part 1 report. Was sad to leave Zion today, especially the magic ride through the East End, but looked forward to returning to Bryce after the epic 2012 trip. Hit some road construction delays on 89 and also got behind a school bus going through one of those little towns, but nothing major.
As much as I would have loved to stop in Red Canyon again this time, I was rushed on time from staying an extra night in Zion so I booked it straight to Bryce. It was really cold this morning, so I bundled in layers, gathered my GoPro and tripod and hit the Navajo/Queens Garden trail about 10 a.m. As far as lighting and crowds, this was perfect timing in the beginning, but the crowds thickened as the morning wore on.
This trail is simply astonishing. The landscape is so surreal that it cannot be expressed in words, photos or videos. The shapes and colors of the hoodoos are of another world - as I wrote in a magazine article about my 2012 road trip across America, it's as if the world's greatest artists spent a lifetime sculpting each rock by hand, and the colors as the sun rises are incredible. I took my time shooting video and still photos, and made it to the start of the ascent up to Wall Street and Sunset Point, but a rockslide closed the trail so I shed my outer layers and started a run back from where I came back to Sunrise Point via the Queens Garden Trail.
Got back to the lodge to charge my phone while I lingered at the rim, but the old outlets in the lobby of the lodge broke the prongs on my phone charger. The young man at the desk told me that the Ruby's general store likely sold Apple phone chargers, so I ventured there and was indeed in luck. Frightened by what the cost might be at this overpriced shop, I was pleasantly surprised to pay only $15 for a package that included a charger for the car.
I contemplated going back to Bryce after this, but decided to move onward. It was at this moment that I realized that I am a Zion more than a Bryce fan. It's just personal preference, though I acknowledge that both times I visited Bryce I was sleep-deprived and probably not in the right state of mind. The massive road construction project right outside the Ruby's complex didn't help any - adding to the cold, sterile feel I get outside Bryce, as compared to the warmth and comfort of Springdale. Again, Bryce is stunning, and something everyone should see at least once, but I feel Zion's greenery and the massive canyon walls that always surround you is more my style.
So I moved on to one of the top hiking priorities for this trip - Willis Slot Canyon. Got to the visitors center, though, and learned of the hilly, sandy dirt road that takes you to the trailhead. The guy in the visitor center was awesome, and I went back and forth with him on whether I should risk it with my rental car. I finally made the choice to go, but, on the first mile or so, you snake up this really steep grade, and my Chevy rental car started spinning its wheels going up that steep grade so I gingerly rolled back down in reverse and got out of there, feeling fortunate to not be stuck. The guy in the visitor center said that if you do get stuck out on that road, the local tow guy won't come out and get you if you're in a rental so it's real risky. I was really bummed, but thought, 'OK, I'll see my slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon later in the trip.'
Since I had traveled the most stunning part of Highway 12 in the morning during the 2012 trip, I had planned to do this section in late afternoon to see the contrast, so after checking in to the Prospector Inn in Escalante around dinner time, I headed out in the evening with a couple beers in my cooler and my GoPro ready for action. For some reason I wasn't as blown away this time as I was in 2012, but the next day realized why - the morning light is really much more spectacular.
Still, I whipped out a good book, a beer and kicked back at the overlook on that high plateau that looks down on the most spectacular part of Highway 12. Those in the know are probably aware of what I'm referring to - that section that drops down as it twists and turns with those stunning white domes smack in front of you. A young man pulled up in his camper, got out, and said to me, "Man, can you imagine what the first explorers of this place must have thought when they first saw this?" The scenery here is simply breathtaking, and you could see forever on this cool, clear evening.
Made it back to the Prospector and hit the sack.