Sunday, January 9, 2022

Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon

 Hello Fellow Travelers and Adventurers!

We took off for out west the week before Christmas, on a vividly colored, red rock-laden, hilly, and hiking-filled trip. 

Neither of us had been to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, or the Grand Canyon before, so this is where we chose.

We started in Zion, which was gorgeous. 

I was struck by the towering, craggy, sky-high rocks in the most brilliant of reds and burnt oranges, a landscape very different from what I'm used to back in New England (forests and evergreen enshrouded mountains). Equally as beautiful. Just different.

We began hiking the first day around 7am, and man was I thankful for the coat and outdoor pants Maxx had gifted me with. I would have been FREEZING and miserable without them. The morning was silent and frigid. I could see my breath in the air, my hands were numb. However, I was cold but ok, able to take it. With the layer of gear Maxx had given me, that was what saved me and made it alright.

We hiked up steep, red rocks, staring out at landscapes of more craggy red rocks, sprinkled atop with bright white snow like powdered sugar, and a smattering of evergreen trees across the scenery. Super pretty, the mixture of colors.

The following photos are from this hike and our time in general in Zion National Park.

There's Maxx on the left in the tan jacket, to give context to the size of these rocks.

Check out that view off the ledge!

When walking through this area, there was a sign that asked people to please be quiet because of the Mexican Spotted Owl, which is endangered and gets easily disturbed by noise, which interferes with their ability to communicate and thus, mate and find food effectively.

Maxx and I were frustrated and dismayed to see and hear numerous people doing exactly the opposite in this area. Talking SUPER loud, to nearly a volume of shouting, and some people even screaming simply because they wanted to hear their voices echo.

I found this angering. An example of entitled people doing what they want in the moment (me, me, me), and not caring at all about the feelings or wellbeing of others it might be impacting or affecting.

That aside, the hike through this area was beautiful and fantastic. Numerous times, when hiking up steep inclines, we needed to strap the crampons to the bottom of our boots that Maxx had gotten for us, which were incredibly helpful since many parts of the path were super icy.

Do you see the dark, snaking line of the highway, winding through the above photo? Another image to give you an idea of the size of these rocks.

Look at that twisty, turny, steep climb up!!

Once we reached what seemed like the summit, there was a sign for a trail down (or actually, up!) which you could venture further, called Angel's Landing. 

The following photo below is exactly as steep as it looks, a near-vertical climb up a rockface, into which heavy iron chains have been nailed which you can grab onto.

Tons of people were doing the hike, though signs did say "do not attempt this in high winds, or when snow or ice is present." Maxx excitedly gestured to the trail and said, "let's go!" So, though hesitant and anxious, I followed. Beginning the near-vertical climb, gripping with all my might onto the heavy, thick, freezing cold iron chains, my legs were shaking and I felt light-headed as I looked over my shoulder, down off the edge of the cliff. Exactly where I'd tumble if somehow I tripped or slipped and fell back. To my death.

I did the first little portion of the hike before calling out to Maxx, "I'm not doing it. I can't. You go ahead though."

"What!?" He was shocked. 98% of the time in our relationships, I am the daredevil, the risk-taker, the one urging him to do something bold. He tends to be the more risk-averse, the one who is calculated and careful, the logical and rational one who falls back on safety. 

During this moment, though, we swapped roles.

He went ahead while I waited behind, milling around, enjoying the views, taking photos, and trying not to get super anxious the longer and longer he was gone.

Maxx, of course, was fine and returned to the area where I was maybe an hour later. He loved the Angel's Landing hike, said the views were fantastic and the hike was a great physical experience, a test of his fitness.

The above photos were taken while I waited for Maxx and tried not to panic. Three guys asked me to take photos of them, so I did and then asked if they'd please take one of me. 

While they did so, I asked if they'd done the Angel's Landing hike? "No way," they said. "Seemed way too scary, too risky." I told them, laughing, that my boyfriend had done it, and had been gone for quite some time. 

"He'll be fine," they assured me, probably sensing my nerves haha.

We took these photos together after his return from the Angel's Landing hike :-) while just milling around and taking in the incredible views.

See Maxx on the trail, a teenie figure in the huge, vast landscape? 

Another image that shows you how huge everything around us was.

These were the views of the rocks, roadside. So vast, so gigantic.

Now, onto Bryce Canyon!! 

We stayed at this Airbnb for two nights and both absolutely loved it. I cannot recommend it enough. Super affordable and reasonably priced for what it's like there. For comparison's sake, we stayed at a hotel in the Grand Canyon area that cost 5x as much for one night, and we both agreed, it didn't even come close to measuring up to this cabin near Bryce Canyon.

These are a few shots below of the inside of the cabin, though like all photos, they, of course, do not really give the viewer a full idea of the place. You'd need to experience it in person to get a true, fully embodied sense of it.

Note: Maxx doesn't love the below photos since he was on his phone, a rare occurrence during this trip, so he didn't want the pictures to give the wrong impression. 

We decided to keep phones away as much as possible during the trip, other than for directions or a rare review read of a restaurant. We both find the way everyone is constantly on and reaching for their cell phones nowadays deeply concerning and sad, so we try not to fall prey to this behavior ourselves and are often pretty mindful of it.

This swing was on our cabin porch. And check out the views!! From the window by our bed and from the porch. The below three photos. God, I loved this.

We spent the first evening in the cabin, reading for a couple of hours, playing card games, basking in the warmth of the heater, and going to bed early. 

It was grand. Cozy. Romantic. And lots of fun.

Then, the next morning, we headed to Bryce Canyon for some hiking, which is all of the below photos. 

We started around 7:30am, and man, oh, man was it freezing. Even colder than the previous morning when we started hiking in Zion. Within a couple of hours, though, it warmed up.

Maxx, checking out the map before we head off on our hike down into and through the canyon.

How gorgeous is this? And how unique? I was awe-struck by the colors, the memorable and totally cool shapes of the rocks. It was awesome. Totally loved it. One of the most beautiful and memorable landscapes I've ever seen.

And, of course, to see it in a photo does not truly convey it, nor does it come close to giving it justice. You must stand there and see it with your own eyes, walk through it yourself, and experience it to really get a full sense of how incredible it all is.

Heading down into the canyon for the start of our hike...

This ended up being the most beautiful hike, in terms of scenery, that I've ever done.

Check out the size of those rocks in comparison to Maxx!

We both agreed, we absolutely LOVED it with the snow.

That tiny figure in black is me. All of the landscape was just so vast, so huge.

Nearing the end of our awe-inspiring, quiet, fantastically gorgeous hike through Bryce Canyon.

Looking for falcons, since they are said to reside and breed in these rocks, though we didn't see any.

This is a bristle cone tree. It's close to 3,000 years old. How insane and amazing is that? 3,000 years. The wind is what helps form it.

And now, onto the last leg of our trip, the grand finale, as in, The Grand Canyon!!

I have to say, it wasn't what I pictured. 

I imagined flat, rocky ground, and then a sharp, steep canyon cut into the center of it that dropped thousands of feet. I didn't picture all these layers and graduations in the rock. With that said, it was still vast, colorful, beautiful, unique, and amazing.

The following photos were taken on our first afternoon there. 

Maxx and I stopped at every outlook point, to take in all the different facets and views of the canyon. At some of them, we spent 20-30 minutes, just sitting on a rock and staring out, taking in the view. Minimal camera and cell phone usage was a part of it. More so, it was just taking it in with our own eyes. 

The photo just below was the start of our big hike, one of the more awesome moments of our trip. 

We headed into the canyon, starting at the top cliff and hiking down into it. The hike down was 5 miles. It took about 3/3.5 hours. We paused for a snack, to use the bathroom, for me to pick up numerous pieces of litter, and as we passed quite close to a deer, to our awe. 

Seeing the deer was way cool. We were walking and all of a sudden, right next to us, maybe 10 feet away, a deer with huge ears put its head up from out of the brush where it had been eating and looked straight at us. We both gasped a bit. So neat. 

Check out those vivid, incredible colors!!

These photos were taken way down in the canyon, at the 5-mil mark, the furthest we got in. We decided to turn around, a bit worried about time, and head back up and out of the canyon, even though we were a bit torn (Maxx contemplated/sort of wished to keep going further down).

When we decided to head back up and out of the canyon, I turned to him and, eyes wide, proposed excitedly, "I have an idea. How about we try and make it back up and out of the canyon, the 5-miles the other way, uphill, in 3 hours flat? 2.5 hours would be totally badass, but 3 hours would still be great, going uphill! Want to?"

He agreed, so, glancing at my watch, we took off at a steady clip.

Aside from pausing once to use the bathroom, we were in motion the entire way up. 

I glanced at my watch when we were nearing the top and, to my shock, saw that if we made it in five minutes, we would have done the return hike uphill in just two hours!!! 

I called out to Maxx and told him this. We started pushing even faster. And yes, we made it in two hours flat.

This was super thrilling. We both felt victorious, euphoric.

Then, we headed to El Tovar, which is an incredibly famous lodge/old hotel in the area for lunch, where we had delicious cheeseburgers and finished the meal with a slice of chocolate cranberry cake, which was SO good.

In the photo above, see the narrow, snaking line (it's a river) through the center of the photo, down in the depths of the canyon? Peer more closely at the photo. Part of the line (aka, the river) has a lot of dark green around it, as well as bunches of bright yellow. These bunches of bright yellow are trees. That is where we hiked down to. From the very top edge of the canyon, down along the river, and to the area where those yellow trees are, in the photo above!! So awesome.

Victorious!!! See the tiny dot of Maxx standing on the canyon edge? That was once we'd finished, climbing back up and out :-D

It was such an awesome trip. Both Maxx and I agreed, it was way better than we both thought it would be. The adventure and week very much exceeded our expectations. I highly recommend this experience of heading out west and visiting these national parks. The scenery is unlike anything you've ever seen or can imagine. The colors. The vastness. How huge it all is. Just, wow.

We finished off the trip with a superb dinner at Valentine (Maxx's choice) in Phoenix. This was a really fun night.

All in all, a very grand adventure, we both agree.

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