This year, on our second annual March trip to the Southwest we passed through Vegas and near Reno but didn’t play the slots. Instead we spent a lot of time playing in the slots – as well as in the washes and narrows. Roger’s inner kid came out exploring the slot canyons, scrambling up and down in nature’s jungle gym.
Our first stop was Capitol Reef NP and it was cool and WINDY. We found some protection from the wind hiking the Grand Wash Trail which had high canyon walls that were beautiful and offered us some shelter. We drove the Notom/Burr loop road that afternoon. I was actually thankful for the wind because we would not have done this drive had it been a nice day. The ever changing landscape was delightful and we scouted out camping and hiking for a future trip.
The next morning greeted us with cold, wind, and snow on the ground but it warmed enough for us to enjoy hiking the Capitol Gorge and Hickman Bridge trails.
|Capitol Reef NP|
Next destination was the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We did the popular Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons. Roger LOVED Peek-a-boo, which was a good thing because he got to do it twice. I was intimidated by the 10 foot climb into Peek-a-boo and waited below while Roger scrambled up into the slot and shouted back to me how much I was missing! Thanks for that! I later found a trail leading to an entrance from the top and Roger joined me in exploring Peek-a-boo from the “wrong way”. Which ever way you enter, Peek-a-boo is really cool with twists and turns and arches overhead.
We also did nearby Spooky, the narrowest of the slots we explored on the trip. To get through it we frequently had to turn sideways and it was still a squeeze. I would not recommend getting breast implants if you plan on doing Spooky! Both slots are well named. Peek-a-boo is fun and playful while Spooky is dark and claustrophobic.
Taking roads less traveled we hiked Cottonwood Narrows and Lick Wash in Grand Staircase-Escalante. (Check at park or BLM visitor centers for road conditions on any that aren’t paved.) We had Cottonwood Narrows to ourselves and shared Lick Wash with a couple and their dog. Unlike most of the washes and narrows we hiked, Lick Wash had some big old pine trees and chirping birds. It also had a stream that required frequent hopping to avoid wet feet - until the water disappeared into the earth about a mile down the wash. Roger enjoyed the hopping and breaking ice along the stream edge in the cooler spots.
We had been to Bryce NP on a couple previous trips but stopped there again because: #1- It is really cool and #2 – we wanted to see the hoodoos in snow. We arrived on a beautiful weekend day. So did many, many others. The crowds were a bit of a culture shock after the solitude of Grand Staircase-Escalante. The nice thing, though, is that at a special place like Bryce almost everyone has a smile on their face.
Next up was a stop at the BLM visitor center in Kanab to enter the lottery for permits to hike “The Wave”. It wasn’t peak tourist season yet but at the visitor center it sure looked like it with the long line waiting to enter the lottery. Despite the poor odds I entered and waited with the rest of the crowd for the drawing of the lucky few. Everyone politely clapped as the first name was called. The ranger joked that we might not have clapped if we had known the winner had a party of five. Only 10 people get permits so half were already gone. Two more names were called and the lottery was over. We did not win. Next time I’ll try the online lottery. At least I won’t have to travel over 1000 miles to be unlucky.
We headed to Lake Powell so we could put our kayak in the water after traveling over 1000 miles with it. We stopped at the Big Water BLM Visitor Center to ask them for hiking recommendations near Lake Powell. On duty was Merle H. Graffam and he had NO interest in hiking trails. This Visitor Center was essentially a little dinosaur museum, highlighted with replicas of dinosaur skulls that had been found in the area. Mr. Graffam was VERY knowledgeable about dinosaurs and actually discovered a new dinosaur 2 miles north of Big Water in 1999. The dinosaur was named after him – Nothronychus graffami. You don’t always get what you want but sometimes you get something better. (We did do the easy Wahweap hoodoos hike north of Big Water and enjoyed that.)
It felt like summertime when we arrived at Wahweap Bay at Lake Powell. It was about 80 degrees with little to no wind and was great for kayaking. We did a nice paddle in the vicinity of Lone Rock but kayaking to Antelope Canyon and then hiking the slot was even better. The colors and shapes of Antelope slot are very beautiful. (Tours starting about 3 miles east of Page are available that take people down into what is considered the most spectacular part of Antelope Canyon.) As we paddled to the slot entrance, we encountered a couple power boats and several people in rental kayaks and SUP’s, but overall the outing was pretty peaceful.
We decided to do one more slot, Wire Pass, before
starting the return leg of our trip. Wire Pass has the same trailhead as “The
Wave”. We were in the parking lot when a women approached and asked if we had
permits to “The Wave”. Before we could answer she joked, “I’ll give you $1000
for your permits”. At least I think she was joking! She and her daughter were
from Seattle and a couple other people came over from Spokane so Washington
State was well represented in the parking lot.
The Wire Pass hike started in a wash and narrowed into a short but fun slot. It ended at a wide junction with Buckskin Gulch so we followed that down canyon a ways. Buckskin Gulch is quite impressive with really, really high walls that narrowed into a slot. Most memorable though was the stink. There was a generous supply of bighorn sheep poop, fresh enough for an odor to linger in the narrow sections of the canyon. We didn’t see any live sheep but there is a petroglyph panel with several bighorn at the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.
I like Joshua Trees and was happy that we came across a couple concentrations of them. First was the Joshua Tree Forest west of St. George. It felt more like a garden to me but Joshua Trees are certainly worthy of the hype. Increasing our viewing pleasure, at the weirdly named Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness in Nevada some of the trees were blooming. My computer tells me that Wee Thump means "ancient ones" in the Paiute language so the name does fit after all.
|Joshua Tree near St. George, Utah|
|Dwarfed by a cactus|
We drove through Death Valley and it was quite a contrast to last year when we were there for the super bloom. This year there were no flowers even though California has had a lot of precipitation. Apparently the flowers are really fussy and must have perfect – for them – rain, temperature and wind conditions.
As we headed north of Death Valley the wind returned and we were unable to kayak on Mono Lake as planned. Silver lining was that Roger did find a good bakery, the Great Basin Bakery and Deli, in Bishop.
We did kayak on a drizzly day on the Ahjumawi Lava Springs lakes in northern California. Birds are the biggest reason to stop here. Big flocks of snow geese put on a show for us, lifting off and landing in unison. White pelican, northern shovelers, and western grebe were also favorites.
Our route home took us near Lava Beds Nat’l Monument
so we spent a couple hours there, enough time to decide we would like to spend
more time there. Lava caves and bats are the big attraction. I’m not sure I
want to hang with the bats too much but Roger is all batty about the idea. Lava Beds National Monument has above ground appeal as well, including a wall of petroglyphs.
|Mt. Lassen from Ahumawi Lava Springs State Park|
|Small section of a long line of petroglyphs at Lava Beds Nat'l Monument|
Looking back at our time in the southwest, we're thinking there may be a third annual trip there next March.