I’ve lived in Utah for almost seven years and, until this past April, had never visited any of the state’s national parks. So, Ben and I changed that over the course of two weekends by visiting both Zion (not “Zion’s” or “Zions.” Locals will roll their eyes at you if you say either.) and Arches.
We drove down from Provo with my sister’s family to visit my Grandma in St. George, and while there, we made a quick visit to Snow Canyon State Park:
Ben and I left my Grandma’s the next morning and headed to Zion. We parked, took the shuttle into the park, and then took another shuttle that drops you at the Angel’s Landing trail. It’s a beautiful hike up, with some fairly steep switchbacks towards the middle.
Once you get up fairly high, the “scary” chain part starts at Scout Lookout:
Let me just say that I am actually quite afraid of heights and was pretty nervous about doing this hike because of the 1,000-ft drop on either side of the fin. But for some reason, I felt little to no fear as Ben and I bounced past people and scrambled up the narrow cliff; Ben prided himself in not using the chain at all. We made great time on the way up, despite the large crowds.
We spent about 20–30 mins at the top, eating and talking to other hikers. For some reason, I had endless energy, so I led the way in us quickly scrambling and then running almost the entire 2.5 miles back. The last quarter-mile or so was especially hot in the afternoon sun, but the trail was so downhill-sloped that it was almost easier to run it, anyway.
As our bus stop came into view at the end of the trail, we saw a shuttle pull up and so gave it one final push to make it on in time. We sat down (not wise immediately after a 2.5-mile jog), and the bus started to make the trip back to the park’s main entrance. The shuttle started filling up over the next few stops, so Ben and I stood up to let others sit. Ben moved toward one of the doors and held onto the nearby railing, and I was a little further behind him. As the bus slowed to our stop (the final stop), I saw Ben ever so slowly reach down for his backpack on the ground; but he wasn’t moving to let the others off.
“Uhh, are you gonna get off?” I asked, a little confused at why he was moving at a comically slow pace. The shuttle doors then opened, Ben slouched all the way to the ground, rolled onto his back, slid down the shuttle steps, and fell onto the pavement below, hitting his head. I ran down the steps and screamed something about calling 9-1-1. I grabbed him and pulled his head up, yelling his name. About ten seconds later, he came to, thoroughly dazed and confused, with no idea what had happened or how he got to lying on the pavement.
A medical team from the park showed up a few minutes later and started giving him some tests and asking questions for probably about 30 minutes. For some reason, they didn’t want him to get up and move, even though we were still completely exposed in the afternoon, blazing-hot sun.
After the initial round of tests, they asked him to stand up so they could test him again. But about 15 seconds in to those tests, he started bouncing his knee trying to fight off something, couldn’t, and then told them he had to sit down again. I suggested we move into the shade, and after about 10 minutes there, he was almost totally recovered.
We ate plenty of food and water during the hike, and Ben’s glucose levels were fine, so we were pretty sure it was just overheating and overexertion combined with sitting down on the bus right away.
The whole post-shuttle escapade lasted about an hour, and the medical staff cleared him while also suggesting it would be wise to stop somewhere on the way home to get him checked out. We opted for a huge Cafe Rio meal and a long nap in the car instead.
FINDING A CAMPSITE
The next weekend, we planned an overnight stay in Moab with Ben’s friend Stetson, his brother Zach, and Zach’s girlfriend, Jess. Ben and I drove down on our own and planned on meeting the rest there (Zach and Jess live in Idaho, and they picked up Stetson in SLC on their way down). We arrived much earlier than the other carpool, so we went into town and picked up a few things before starting to look for a place to camp for the night.
We first headed west from Moab and stopped at the first campsite we came to; there appeared to be one spot open there, but we thought we could probably find a better spot a little further in that wasn’t so close to the road. This was, after all, the very first place we stopped at, so we were bound to find more spots.
We continued driving west, stopping at a few sites, but they were all full. We headed back toward Moab and then headed east, closer to Arches, to keep looking for more camp sites. It started to get dark, and as we discovered that every single camp site was full, I remembered that it was the last weekend of National Parks Week (free admission to all National Parks). We hit a limit, and after about a solid two hours of driving and stopping, we decided to head back west and hope by some miracle the first site we found was still open.
It was still unoccupied, but after talking to the neighboring campers, they told us it had already been paid for. They hadn’t seen the people or their things all evening, so after we chatted for a bit and explained our situation (and they realized we weren’t serial killers), they told us to just pitch our tent close to their site since they’d be sleeping in their car, anyway. We were soooo relieved and grateful.
We set up our tent and got a fire going, and Ben drove out to get reception and let the others know where the site was (they were still several hours away) while I cooked a very late dinner.
The wind woke us up several times in the night, but we never heard the rest of our group arrive. The next morning, however, we found them with their sleeping bags and pads about 100 feet from our tent. Still don’t know how we missed them.
THE “HIKE” TO ELEPHANT BUTTE
Stetson is a hiking-, climbing-, canyoneering-, badass-, National Parks-master. This hike, and actually whole trip, was his idea, so he led the way to Elephant Butte—a “hike” that isn’t marked or mentioned much and the highest point in Arches National Park.
First of all, Arches is wild. I’d never seen anything quite like it. We blasted “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” on our drive through the park, and we made our way up a canyon-like area with a tall fin to the right.
Stetson realized after we’d hiked to the end (or beginning?) of the fin that we were on the wrong side of it. So, instead of hiking back and making our way to the correct side, he decided we should just climb the fin instead (?!). Climbing is a beautiful combination of everything I hate/fear, so this was right up my alley!!
I didn’t snap any pics of the other, trickier ascents because I was too busy shaking and crying and trying not to die. Yes, we had a harness and I am a total wuss when it comes to climbing, but it was definitely scary.
Our hurdles were hardly over, though:
After straddling a few slot canyons, we scrambled up the last face to make it to Elephant Butte.
After eating some ginormous sandwiches and Milano cookies (a tradition for Ben, Zach, and Stetson to eat at the peak of a mountain) and signing our names in the book, we headed back (a different way).
The last hurdle was a rappel, which I had also never done before. The scariest part was going out to the launch point (? I have no idea what to call it) because the wind was so strong and loud that I could barely hear any of the directions Stetson was giving me. There was a lot of sign language and screaming involved, but once I got strapped in and felt like I kind of knew what I was doing, the rappel was actually pretty fun.
Overall, it was a really fun day. It wouldn’t have been as fun without each of the people in our group and for their patience and skill (Stetson is seriously a pro). I’m glad I married someone who is much more adventurous than I am and makes me/helps me do hard things. Hoping we can check Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef off of our list this coming year!
Stetson Clark saysJanuary 16, 2017 at 3:04 am
Great post Nat. That was a good trip!