Road Trip 2011: Zion and Grand Canyon

As I think over the past few days it's hard to believe all that I've seen and accomplished. Justin and I left Denver last week and enjoyed the beautiful drive south to Utah. The mountains, deserts, and sometimes barren views were fascinating. It was hard to finally close my eyes for a nap while Justin drove because I didn't want to miss any of the scenery.

Zion National Park was even more grand than the photos I had seen. We arrived later than we would have liked, so we set up the tent, made a quick veggie stir fry over our camp stove before going to bed. Our friend Jason drove up from Las Vegas to hike with us the following day and arrived late. The next morning, we enjoyed some hearty oatmeal with peanut butter and banana, and set off to hike. 

Zion National Park

For some reason, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I was imagining a long hike that wasn't too steep. Wrong! I struggled to get up the steep switchbacks. My walking poles helped, and my pack wasn't unbearably heavy, but I was hot and tired. I struggled. It seemed like every quarter mile I had to stop in the shade, rest, and drink water. Justin and Jason were so patient with me and never made me feel like a burden, even though I knew I was holding them back a bit.  

Vibrant flowers at the top of Zion

Finally we made it to the top. It was the hardest hike I had ever done, but I was proud to have accomplished it. Jason hiked back down so that he could return to work the next day, and Justin and I set up camp at the top. The backcountry of Zion is beautiful. We came across few other hikers that high up, so most of the time it felt like us and the wilderness. Our site had an incredible view of the canyon -- very well earned!

Dusty Shoes

The dinner we made that evening was simple and delicious: whole grain pasta, cheddar cheese, sauteed onion, and salt and pepper. It tasted so good to our carb- and salt-hungry bodies. It was very easy to make, too. We sauteed one sliced onion in a pot over the backpacking stove. Then we set those aside and boiled about 2 cups of pasta. When it was done, we drained the water, and added about half a cup or less of sharp cheddar, stirring until it was all melted. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper, and you have yourself a gourmet camping meal.

Our gourmet camping meal of pasta, cheddar, and onions.

We enjoyed a not-too-strenuous hike the following day with more good food. Breakfast was oatmeal with walnuts and raisins. Lunch was particularly tasty: pita bread with sardines, sun-dried tomato, and parmesan cheese. Dinner was rice with beans. The following morning we woke at 4:00 am to pack up and hike out. We wanted to get a head start on the day and leave plenty of time to drive to Grand Canyon. Justin wrote a perfect description of that hike in his journal:

There is something beatiful and awe-inspiring about hiking before the sun rises. Initially, the only sound is the crunch of your feet as you live in the small bubble of the light from a headlamp. Slowly, the horizon begins to brighten and dark shapes in the Canyon begin to emerge. A quiet beauty flows from these giant land forms as they appear from the void. As the sun creeps over the canyon walls, colors intensify and the air begins to warm. You hike with a purpose, as it seems that you just gained a headstart on the rest of the world.

Down in the little town at the base of the park, we treated ourselves to ice cream as a reward for hiking 14 hours in the past three days. We set off for Grand Canyon -- the next big adventure!

The top of the Grand Canyon is like a small village. There is a grocery store, bank, post office, ranger station,'s way more than I ever expected. There are shuttles that bring tourists to different attractions and views. It does not feel overdone, since you are still able to appreciate the natural beauty all around you, but I was definitely surprised (and pleased) that there was a grocery store!

After a good night's sleep on sleeping pads, we again woke up early to begin the descent down into the Grand Canyon. Justin insisted on carrying everything since I had had such a difficult hike in Zion, and that was fine with me. I had me and my walking poles. Since we were just staying for one night at the bottom, and since we didn't even need a tent because it was so hot, his pack was bearable.

Grand Canyon

We took a breakfast break halfway down and enjoyed granola, banana, and nuts. After refilling our water bottles, we finished off the hike to the bottom. The first 8 1/2 miles were great. The air was still cool, and we felt strong. When we hit the Colorado river and began the last mile to camp, the sun started to bear down on us. It was hot. Really hot. We rested frequently in the shade in that last mile and drank plenty of water. When we arrived at camp we were thrilled to see a cool stream running through, which we scrambled to get in.

Grand Canyon

Since we had eaten breakfast so early on the hike, we were ready for lunch by 10:00 am. Peanut butter and jam with apples -- not too exciting, but certainly welcome. There was a canteen where we hung out in the cool of the big ceiling fans and sipped lemonade while we read our books. It's over 110 degrees at the bottom of the Canyon. The rock walls trap in the heat and then radiate it out. Literally, I felt tired taking 10 steps. I longed for nightfall so I could start the hike out of that oven. I just didn't want to be hot anymore!

Three o'clock in the morning rolled around and I was awoken by Justin's headlamp shining at me. I was eager to get up, and we kept up a great pace to the halfway point. We had breakfast there and strategized our plan for the second half.

The total hike is 9 1/2 miles, with an elevation change of around 5,000 feet (that's almost a mile!). Most of the elevation gain is in the second half. The second part of the trail is divided up into three 1 1/2 mile segments, with water and a bit of shade at each station. I likened it to swimming laps: just have to get through the first lap, then you rest, then the second, then you rest, and so on. With that mentality, we set off to conquer it. It was hard, really hard, but I was more prepared than I had been in the Zion hike. We were covered in sweat, dust, and sunblock, but our spirits remained high.

The gourmet dinner I made after our grand hike: mushroom and
cheddar fritatta, coconut pancakes, sweet potatoes, and tortillas.
 Planning this meal helped me get to the top, since I was looking forward to making it!

As we plowed through the last 1 1/2 mile "lap" we started to see kids. That's a good sign! Means we're almost done. Then in the last half mile, Justin saw someone with a coffee cup. "You know you're close when you see a guy holding a McCafe cup," he said.

When we arrived at the top, I nearly cried. I couldn't believe it! I had accomplished the Grand Canyon! The emotions of completing such an epic hike also parelleled my goal of starting a bakery. When I arrive home from our road trip there will be no formal job awaiting me. I will begin researching, learning, baking, selling, and hoping that God will grant me success with this dream. I learned a lot of lessons from hiking the Grand Canyon, such as endurance, perserverance, and faith. I am both excited and apprehensive to pursue my bakery dreams, and the Grand Canyon acted as a catalyst to help me on my way.

Victorious at the top of the Grand Canyon!

Right now we are in California going from San Diego to Lake Tahoe. I'll be sure to share our adventures here. San Francisco food: here I come!


tsippor said…
What an epic story! Congratulations on your successful hike.