For Part I of The American Southwest, see my previous post.
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Vancouver–>Las Vegas–>Zion National Park –>Coral Pink Sand Dunes –>Dixie National Forest –> Bryce Canyon National Park –> Escalante Petrified Forest National Monument –> Capitol Reef National Park –> Shonto Trading Post –> Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park –>Page, AZ (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend) –> Grand Canyon National Park –> Las Vegas–> Home
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…From Zion we drove down to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and spent a sweaty hour scrambling around the dunes that were indeed a coral pink, and then headed north until we hit Highway 12, a road that cuts through one of the most epic and changing landscapes I’ve ever seen. Through the strange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the sometimes-white sometimes-red cliffs, and onwards through an endless desert with ranches scattered here and there among the emptiness. We reached Escalante Petrified Forest State Park at sunset, just in time to set up our tents on the shore of a little lake, knock back a satisfying meal of cheesy-beans and bacon, play a few card games, make a few last hoodoo and butte jokes, and sleep.
The next morning we hiked the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a park that includes over a million acres of protected land. The drive from our campsite to the trailhead was, according to the local ranger, “a million times more beautiful than the rest of the drive” (Everyone seemed to claim that their section of Highway 12 was the most beautiful. Quite frankly it was ALL excessive and gorgeous. Utah is the Elizabeth Taylor of the American States). The trail to the falls was sandy, busy and – you guessed it – darned beautiful. There is a pamphlet at the trailhead that you can take with you that points out the ancient granaries, pictographs and native species along the way. We ran a gauntlet of a thousand falling caterpillars before arriving at the waterfall where we hunched over our picnic lunches as far from the falling caterpillars as we could.
We continued driving in the afternoon and through the evening, from the heat of Escalante up and over the mountain. Piles of snow appeared, the trees were skeletal and silver, and the fields were spotted with soft brown mule-deer. The desert felt like a distant dream in this Narnia of endless winter. The air was cold and dry.
And over the mountain and down again and into another alien desert scape. We arrived at Capitol Reef National Park at dusk under a full moon. The park campsite was full so we slept by the side of the road in a little makeshift camp tucked into the red cliffs. In the morning we drove back into the park and wandered Fruita, a charming little village where Mormon settlers planted acres of fruit trees that now belong to the National Park. In the summer tourists can come and pick the fruit for a small donation that helps pay for the upkeep of the old village and orchards. Instead we ate pie and cinnamon buns for breakfast at the old homestead-turned-cafe-and-giftshop, pet some horses, and then in the heat of the afternoon we hiked the Grand Wash Trail, a flood-wash through an ever-narrowing canyon. It ruled.
As our time left dwindled we had to hurry past places where we would have loved to linger. Part of the route from Capitol Reef to Monument Valley included a seriously steep and winding gravel road with no barriers between our car and the thousand foot drop down the side of the mountain. I almost threw up my Tex-Mex breakfast.
The rest of the trip was a blur of canyon jokes (funnier with each repetition, obvs) and tourists dressed up like cowboys and forests of selfie-sticks and so many potato chips. From Monument Valley we drove to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend and then onto some enormous show-off canyon you’ve probably heard of. I won’t say too much about these places because you’ve probably all seen ten thousand photos of them in your instagram feed. We loved them for their kitchy americana vibes and their hordes of fanny-packed and grinning tourists. And frankly, they were epic. Some places are touristy-as-fuck for a reason, amiright?
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When I got home I was horrified to find out that 80% of my photographs were dark, grainy, vignetted and unsalvageable (I mainly shoot film, you can read more about my ongoing love/hate relationship with analog here). But I guess the trip was still kinda worth it.
*(Grand Canyon photos by Melissa Nicholson. Sock steez 100% mine)