This trip is about exploring the Colorado Plateau and its many manifestations through Arizona and Utah. Mainly, we’ve planned this trip to marvel at the sandstone formations, layers balanced one on another, shaped by the forces of deposition and erosion. We also find ways to balance time—between baby, play, and work. It’s Daphney’s first long sightseeing road trip, and my laptop is with me so I can remain relatively caught up. Then, there’s the balance between camping and rooming. We had left some of the arrangements to last-minute grabs, and by trip’s end, we will have had four nights in motels and four in tents—the latter being more memorable, of course. And, Daphney will have had reached her tenth night camping in wilderness.
We arrive in the late afternoon on Thursday and set up at the entrance for picture in front of the sign. The timing is perfect. As we pull away, gusts of wind rip open the sky. The floodgates suddenly burst, drenching everything with torrential rain. The ranger says that this storm is but a sliver on radar, and it should be brief. Once we arrive at the campsite, Yan and I quickly set up when the rain lets up. Then, we head to town to shower and have dinner.
The next morning, we wake up to clear skies. We drive to town for breakfast. The place lacks changing tables, so Daphney has to balance on a concrete ledge for this diaper change. After this big meal, we pack up and wait in the shuttle bus line to go up canyon. The line reminds me of Disneyland; the crowds are crazy. At the last stop, we hike to the Temple of Sinawava, and it’s here that we decide to take Daphney’s fifth month picture. Every hiker that passes by stops to smile at her. After getting some good shots, we quickly head back and catch a shuttle back to our car.
The road to the Grand Canyon is beautiful, and the section between Jacobs Lake and Demotte is the most beautiful of all, with young stands of aspen aglow, backlit as the sun casts long rays across the hilltop. The road then brings us to the edge of a conifer forest interspersed with golden quaking aspens. After the entrance station, the North Rim Campground comes into view. We quickly set up our tent, as daylight hours are soon ending. The goal is to get to the Grand Canyon Lodge before sunset. From what I’ve read, views from the lodge porch are spectacular.
Parking and heading into the Grand Canyon Lodge, through the large picture windows, we see the canyon for the first time on this trip. The views had been hidden by forest cover, but now, we stand on the north rim. We easily find seats on the porch and take in the sunset before having dinner in the grand dining room.
My alarm goes off early Saturday morning. It’s time to head to Point Imperial. We arrive before sunrise and make hot drinks. The car thermometer reads 27 degrees F, and the warm tumblers feel good. The first rays of dawn lights up the pointed peak of Mt. Hayden. Then, the whole canyon turns from magenta to a warm rose-gold. Sunrise happened very quickly, and the sky is now blue as we wander back to our campsite, first stopping to admire roadside fall foliage.
Packing up from our campsite, we hurry back to Jacobs Lake and turn east. There isn’t much time to stop in at Vermilion Cliffs. Yan pulls out her well-preserved red and black sweater and dresses up Daphney—daughter wearing Mommy’s sweater. We get a quick picture from a roadside turnout.
The reservation to tour Upper Antelope Canyon is for 2:00 pm. We arrive early after lunch in town. Because we didn’t book the photographer’s tour, the general tour has a lot of regulations: no tripods, no camera bag, no baby carriers. I’m happy the clerk clarified that a front baby carrier is OK. They tour organizers go through roll call and ask us to get into the van. With crowds of tourists, we are herded into the small canyon entrance. Surprisingly, the tour is pretty well organized, but as advertised, this was not geared for photographers.
After a short break, we then drive to nearby Horseshoe Bend for sunset. Approaching the edge, I realize that my fear of heights is quite severe—seemingly worse than many people standing on the rim. I crawl and slither until I find a good place to shoot pictures. Yan and Daphney wait safely a few yards behind. The sky is crystal clear, but I’d rather have some cloud cover to add interest and perhaps color.
There is plenty of time this Sunday morning. We stop by several viewpoints of Lake Powell and enjoy lunch by the marina at Antelope Point.
The Navajo Nation is more expansive that we had realized. While on the Antelope Canyon tour, I ask one of the guides how far the Nation extends, and she said: “Starting at that pole and going all the way to New Mexico.”
Crossing into and out of Utah as we skirt the states’ borders, we pull into the parking lot of The View Hotel. The campground is nearby, and the host asks me to pick our own site. I find one of the best one, sitting along the far ledge overlooking Monument Valley. After setting up, we learn a lot about the Navajo people and nation. Afterwards, we enjoy sunset views from the hotel’s restaurant. Once the stars emerge, the hotel features an outdoor showing of The Searchers—a 1956 John Wayne movie shot in this valley.
We sleep pretty well except for the rustling of the large tent next door. The Japanese tourists, all four of them dressed in Minions pajamas, had decided to move their tent. Hours earlier, they had arrived after dark, and I think they were setting up their Walmart Ozark Trail tent for the first time. It wasn’t just the crinkling of new tent fabric, but it was also the commotion of the Minions moving their kitchen sink into their eight-person tent.
I am up before sunrise. The monstrous tent blocks some of our view, so I hike out over to the next ledge to get better pictures. Back at the tent, Daphney awakes. As with most mornings, she is really happy. We have a quick breakfast and take the dirt road into the valley. The drive is beautiful and gives us a different view of the buttes.
Our next leg takes us into Utah and onto Moab after a quick stop at Goosenecks State Park.
Moab is bustling with activity, and we quickly check in to our room. Arches is just a few miles north, and we join the stream of cars going through the entrance station. We debate about what to do next; the hike to Delicate Arch seems too strenuous based on the description in the park newspaper. We go anyways. The hike is exposed, and I quickly overheat. The warning signs about bringing enough water are correct. At the end, the trail emerges from winding up a rock cliff and spits us out to a spectacular viewpoint. There’s a large crowd. We discover that there is a line for photo ops. I send Yan and Daphney into the line while I set up. Soon, it’s our turn. My remote fails, and I ask a bystander to click the shutter release. As sunset time nears, the crowd self-polices. Delicate Arch is now off limits, and anyone going near it is booed. Everyone awaits that magical moment of last light.
Staying at Delicate Arch until after astronomical twilight is out of the question, since hiking down in the dark would be very difficult. There were a few serious photographers hiking up to take star pictures though. Instead, we choose to visit the Windows region. At the parking lot, we find more cars than expected, and we notice people light-painting rock faces. I take some shots at Turret Arch. But one of the most spectacular views is a ten-minute hike in—at Double Arch. Peering through both arches, I can see the bright Milky Way stretch across the sky. This view would make one of my favorite photographs from this trip.
For the second day at Arches, we explore the Devil’s Garden area. We take a morning hike to Landscape Arch. Unfortunately, the trail up to the arch was closed years ago, after a party witnessed a large section crumble to the floor.
From there, we take a short trip to Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands. The views from Dead Horse Point pales in comparison with Horseshoe Bend, but it is still impressive. The visitors’ center gives me good ideas for sunset views, and from the pictures, I decided to get shots from Green River Overlook. First, we explore parts of the Island in the Sky District, including the short hike to Mesa Arch. The view from here at sunset is nothing like those iconic sunrise shots. But from the overlook, as the haze glows orange, an otherworldly mood descends. It is eerily beautiful.
As we approach the next national park, we are wondering why this place was named as such—why capitol, and why reef. The day before, we had looked at TripAdvisor, and there were many comments about this park being a surprising discovery, a gem of a national park. Many wished they had budgeted more time here.
Along the road, we pull into Hickman Bridge trailhead, secure the baby carrier, and head off up the trail. We meet only a few other hikers on the trail—much different than at Arches and Zion. We revel in the solitude. The bridge itself is impressive. Digging into my camera bag, I realize that the wide angle lens is back in the car. The best I can do is getting a section of the arch.
Then, we stop by and see some petroglyph art. These are in the high cliffs above the Fremont River. Further along the river, we stop into the visitors’ center. One of the rangers explains the name: capitol for the dome reminisce of legislature buildings, and reef for the configuration. Capitol Reef would become one of our favorite national parks. The scenic drive brings us to the old Fruita district. We enjoy locally-made old-fashioned ice cream from the Gifford House and pick apples from the historic orchard. Further along the drive, we catch glimpses of the last rays of sun peeking between storm clouds.
Daphney is especially happy this evening. The baby apple from the Fruita orchard gives her endless joy. She loves her new toy. Because of the excitement, we find it hard to put her to sleep.
Highway 12 is a highlight to drive. It’s mostly overcast with areas of fog, and we skirt in and out of rainstorms. More impressive swaths of turning aspens carpet the hillsides. Although we are in a hurry to get to Bryce Canyon, we take time to take it all in—the cold breeze, misty air, vibrant colors, damp earth, and the smell of a forest after a night of rain. The road through Grand Staircase-Escalante rides a ridgeback with steep drop-offs on both sides.
I anxiously pull into Bryce Canyon because we have to find a first-come-first-served campsite. The ranger had said that they fill up every single day. It’s now about 3:00 pm, and surprisingly, there are many spots available. We pitch our tent, and as if on cue, a massive rainstorm hits. The visitors’ center is packed with people trying to get out of the rain. The park video teaches us about the different layers and geography of the Colorado Plateau as well as the balance between buildup and erosion. Bryce is at the top layer.
After a brief stop in town, we drive all the way to Rainbow Point while visiting various points. Just as we pull out of Bryce Point behind a few lightning strikes, the Park Service closes the road. Natural Bridge is beautiful. As we approach Sunset Point, rain lets up and allows us to do our planned hike along the Navajo Loop Trail. The first few steps in the clockwise direction bring us down into a cartoonish landscape, where people are miniaturized amidst hoodoos. The trail is less muddy than we expected. We round the bottom of the loop and climb back up along a section known as Wall Street, making it back in time for sunset. A beautiful rainbow greets us the moment we crest the rim, bringing smiles to both Yan and Daphney.
Tonight, Daphney enjoys her first campfire. Even though it’s cold and wet out, she marvels at the flickering flames. This night, however, does not go well. It’s around 2:30 am. She’s hungry and had tried to wake us up. Now, she’s frustrated and can’t be calmed. Yan and I are sure that the entire campground is awake, listening to a screaming baby. We take her to the car, close the doors, calm her down, and finally get her to feed. Then, all is well. We head back to the tent. The stars are out. Everything is still.
This morning marks Daphney’s completion of ten camping nights. We feel so blessed that she is generally cooperative. We hope she learns to love the outdoors. From here, we pack up and head home.
In Panguitch, I notice a sign—Highway 15 to the right, Cedar Breaks to the left. Having planned to speed home, I turn to Yan and discuss taking a scenic detour. We’re just about there, so why not? We wind through forest and come up to a viewpoint. The amphitheater from Chessman Ridge Overlook is impressive, smaller than Bryce Canyon though much steeper. Our favorite place turns out to be the lovely visitors’ center with its cozy fireplace. The large picture window opens to views of cliffs and hoodoos. Why cedar, and why breaks? The ranger explains that cedar is a misnomer, as the early settlers mistook the juniper trees as cedars. To me, they look like cedar trees as well. Breaks apparently refers to the edge of usable land.
Descending from this national monument, we find ourselves in Cedar City. After lunch, we jump onto the highway. Yan takes over for part of the drive.
Soon, we find ourselves back home. It was an amazing nine days and eight nights—four in tents and four in hotels. Balancing work and family time is challenging, but we learned a lot about, not only about how the whole Colorado Plateau was formed and eroded, but more importantly, about how to juggle the demands of work and life. These skills should be come handy in the days and years to come.