A Wild Ride Home

The summer has absolutely flown by! Before I knew it, I was finishing up my last shift at work, turning my money bag in, and packing up my car. No more lazy days down at the Colorado River, no more grand hiking trips to plan, no more staring into Earth’s greatest chasm… WAIT, not so fast!!!

I still had a two week road trip home with my best friend TUBS to look forward to.

Itinerary: August 17-31, 2012

August 17: Stay in Phoenix

August 18: Visit Grand Canyon

August 19: Visit Lake Powell

August 20-21: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

August 22: Visit Salt Lake City

August 23-25: Backpack Grand Teton National Park

August 26-29: Visit Yellowstone National Park

August 30: Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills

August 31: Badlands & Drive Home

Grand Canyon National Park

I zipped down to Phoenix right after work where I picked him up at the airport and then crashed at Uncle Steve’s house for the night. The next morning we were off, back to the canyon… I had to show my bro my summer vacation home! We completed a 12 mile round trip hike down to Plateau Point highlighted by a nice hour long monsoon soak. Mud falls sloshed over every cliff side and a raging torrent crossed the river several times. It was a good farewell hike to a place I truly love. And a fun night filled with pizza, Mountain Dew, and vodka ensued.

Lone Rock Beach

The next morning we were off to Page, AZ, home of the Glen Canyon Dam and the beginning of Lake Powell. We took a quick informational tour of the dam, I learned more the second time around, before heading out to swim in the lake. After some searching, a decent place for cliff jumping was found and we dove time and time again into the warm waters of the man-made lake. That night we rolled out our tarps for the first time and slept in the sand. Unfortunately cloud cover obscured what was sure to be a good nights sky.

I swear, Southern Utah is one of the most fascinating places on Earth.

With five national parks, 3 national monuments, 1 national recreation area, and numerous state parks, it is an outdoor paradise. Our first stop of the day was at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Its namesake came from the beautiful pink sand dunes that rose several hundred feet and were spread over several square miles of land. I always think sand dunes are so incredible. It’s like a landscape from some other world. We hiked into the thick of the dunes, trudging up what seemed to be the tallest in the nearby vicinity. From there, we proceeded to “play” in Mother Earth’s over-sized sandbox. Leaping over the edge of a dune and crashing into the soft sand on the other side brought out the inner kid in both of us… well, maybe just me.

TUBS hates sand!

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Zion National Park was next on our list. Driving through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel was a thrill. At its completion in 1930, this was the largest tunnel of its kind.

Check out the view from the overlook:

Zion National Park

Once in Zion, we made the pilgrimage to the top of Angel’s Landing. This was my second time doing so, but the view from the summit was all the better the second time.

Angels Landing Zion National Park

I was proud of TUBS for making the climb- those cables are no easy chore! When we made it back to the canyon floor, we impregnated- I mean cooled off in- the Virgin River! It was a refreshing dip- much needed considering the heat of the day. When we had ate our lunch, we spent the late afternoon hiking upstream into the park’s famous “Narrows”, where the river has carved an incredible slot canyon of sorts.

Narrows in Zion National Park

The next day we made the climb up to a true slot canyon: Echo Canyon. Here we scrambled through a narrow canyon that at times was only 1-2 feet wide. We were forced to swim sections where deep pools had formed.
This was made even more interesting by figuring out clever ways to keep the camera bag afloat.

That afternoon we moved on to Bryce National Park where we were at once re-acquainted with a monsoon rain; we just couldn’t escape it! After a great dinner of brats and sauerkraut we explored the obscure maze of hoodoos and fins. The trail that wound through these strange sandstone formations was seriously eerie at times. We fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain hitting the tent ceiling.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The next morning we were in the car heading North to the Mormon promised land. Outside the great Mormon city, we swam in the Great Salt Lake… or rather floated. It was so salty you couldn’t do much else.

Downtown Salt Lake City had a neighborhood feel to it. Parking was only $1, the streets weren’t crowded in the least, and everyone we encountered was friendly. Everyone except those that prevented us from entering the Temple. “Brother you cannot be here.” I’ll have to ask Romney I guess. We drove late into the night and pulled over somewhere in Idaho, only an hour or so from the Tetons.

Grand Teton National Park

Our three day, two-night backpack into the Grand Tetons began today. We received our permit and a bear canister free of charge from the Visitor Center. Then we shoved our necessities into the packs and set off.
Our route took us up Paintbrush Canyon, a wonderful valley with mountains streaked with granite standing guard on both sides. The first night we camped near Holly Lake. The next morning we proceeded to climb to Paintbrush Divide.

Grand Teton National Park

At 10,700 feet, the air was chilly and the wind was ferocious. Needless to say, we didn’t linger for too long. Cascade Canyon was even more elegant than the previous one. Two glacial lakes were the highlight. Lake Solitude was the larger, more accessible one, but Mica Lake was the real treasure.

Lake Mica Grand Tetons National Park

Lake Mica was a unique aqua blue. Situated on top of a boulder field that required some tough scrambling, this was simply a gem. We both jumped into the freezing, snow-fed water, entranced by its beautiful color.

Lake Mica Grand Teton National Park

Thank Bear Grylls for calisthenics to warm us up!!! The third day we proceeded down Cascade Canyon following a wonderful stream the entire way (must be where it gets its name from huh??). At the foot of the mountain, the cascade of water poured into Jenny Lake, a huge glacial lake that entertains many of the tourists of the park. The final mile and a half traced the edge of this lake back to our original parking lot. This short backpack was a great trip that I would definitely make again. Hopefully someday I can spend some serious time in this park… it’s definitely one of my faves!!!

Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

Just north of the Tetons is America’s first, and most popular, park: Yellowstone. This park is absolutely ginormous! But have no fear, it is layed out in a manner that even the laziest American can see all the highlights. A frickin’ highway loops through bringing visitors to within 1/4 mile of almost every attraction. Old Faithful and the geysers- 200 yds from the parking lot, Tower Fall- 100 yds, Yellowstone Canyon- 1/8 of a mile. Needless to say, if you don’t want to do much walking but you still want to see the sights, this is the park for you. We spent three days here being mostly your average tourist. We saw Old Faithful and the other geothermal features such as prismatic springs, fumaroles, and other geysers. We also visited Mammoth Hot Springs, swimming in one- well of sorts (it was a mixture of hot water with a cold river). In Lamar Valley we got up close and personal with herds of bison and pronghorn antelope. This huge valley was full of both and we spent a good amount of timing watching the animals roam. We considered a game of “bison chip” toss, but had second thoughts! There were certainly enough of them laying around.

Bison in Yellowstone

On our summit of Mount Washburn, we were surprised first by a herd of bighorn sheep and, a switchback later, a big, burly black bear.

It was a neat experience watching the big guy climb a pine tree and proceed to knock down the cones. For such a big creature, he was really quite graceful; I don’t know how he didn’t crash through the branches to the ground. When he had knocked a sufficient amount down, he climbed down himself and feasted. The whole time, he didn’t give us one glance.

Bighorn Sheep

Our final stop in the park was the “Grand Canyon” of the Yellowstone… a beautiful chasm with vibrant colors and large waterfalls. Not quite as deep as the real “Big Ditch”, the canyon was impressive in its own right and very vibrant with color.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

All in all Yellowstone was a great place, a bit over-hyped in my opinion, but probably the best place in the country outside of Alaska to view wildlife. If I only had time for one though, I would pick the Tetons.

From Yellowstone we headed east. Near the South Dakota state line we pulled over and camped in pretty much somebody’s backyard. In the morning, we were greeted with a beautiful view of Devil’s Tower. An intrusion of igneous rock, Devils Tower sticks out like a sore thumb- literally! Lead, SD was our next stop. The main attraction here; a giant open-pit mine in the center of the town.

Mt. Rushmore

Further south we visited America’s favorite monument: Mount Rushmore. The huge faces of four of the greatest presidents of this country protrude out of the granite mountainside in a glorious way. It was pretty remarkable to see this again as an adult, when I can truly appreciate its greatness. Afterwards we headed to Sylvan Lake for a swim and some pasta salad. From here we were also able to climb Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak is the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.It was a fairly easy climb to the top where a fire lookout provided some great views of the surrounding Black Hills. We camped at Wind Cave that night so we could wake up early for the first tour of the day. Badlands National ParkIt was a good hour-long tour in the depths of the densest cave in the world. Though it contains no stalagmites or stalactites, it makes up for it with its extensive frostwork and boxwork. After our tour we headed into Rapid City for a nice bison burger lunch. It was TUBS’ first time eating bison meat, but he agreed that there isn’t much noticeable difference. From Rapid City we jumped on I-90 and buzzed through Wall Drug and the Badlands. At this point in time we were worn out and decided to just head for home instead of spending another night on the hard ground. We hastily drove through the Badlands before jumping back on the freeway and driving through the night to arrive home around 5AM. The trip was done, and to be honest, we both were a little glad!

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It had been two weeks of non-stop action with over 90 miles of hiking… we were in need of a little rest!

Written by Jake G

I'm a 26 year old who loves to hike, bike, backpack, and explore the outdoors. I'm a Midwesterner who currently resides in sunny Arizona. I hope to inspire others with my adventures and maybe give some advice for your future vacations. Follow me as I travel around the country and...
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