Grand Staircase 2014-2016

After completing a flight test in February in Yuma, Chris drove back to Phoenix for his flight home and had the rest of the day off before catching his flight early the next morning, so he spent the afternoon and evening in Sedona.  Chris also had two month-long flight tests in Yuma, the first in June 2014 and second in January and February 2015.  The bonus on each of these trips was that there was a long weekend during each of these month long periods, so he had a chance to drive to Utah and visit some parks on the Grand Staircase.  Sedona, Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Grand Canyon ... where to go for each of these long weekends?  Chris also visited Sedona again in May 2015, this time with Tami.  Chris repeated a lot of the February 2015 trip again in August 2016, but hiked all new routes and went to different places in each park.

Sedona - Feb 2014, Zion & Cedar Breaks - June 2014, Lots of parks - Feb 2015, Sedona - May 2015, Lots of parks - August 2016



February 2014 - Sedona

These photos are from all over Sedona.  The sunset photos were taken from Schuerman Mountain, and the night time exposures were taken from the saddle viewpoint halfway up to the airport.
                                               



  



June 2014 - Zion National Park - Kolob Arch / Mt Carmel Road / Zion Canyon & Cedar Breaks National Monument
In June, I finished work at the flight-line and drove north after work, heading for Zion National Park.  I stopped for a few hours in Las Vegas that evening, and then made it as far as a hotel in Mesquite, Nevada, which is about an hour and half from Zion.  I woke up and immediately drove to the Kolob Canyons visitor center (B), with the intention to hike to Kolob Arch.  Kolob Canyons is to the west and separated from the main section of Zion National Park.  The hike out to Kolob Arch is 7 miles one-way, and while the 14 mile round-trip hike can be done in one day, I wanted to break it up into two days.   There are a bunch of campsites along the trail, next to La Verkin Creek. I made reservations for one of them, and then drove north 30 minutes to Cedar City (C) to buy some food for the overnight trip.  I returned to Kolob Canyons (D) and hiked 5.5 miles to my campsite that evening.  I set up my tent, had dinner, and spent sunset walking along and through La Verkin Creek in my flip-flops to cool off.

The next morning, I pulled out my day-pack from my main pack, left the campsite set up, and hiked the last 1.5 miles to Kolob Arch.  I spent a couple hours exploring and taking photos from different angles, and then returned the 1.5 miles back to my campsite.  After putting my tent away and eating a quick snack, I hiked 5.5 miles back to my rental car.  I arrived back to my car just after noon.

                       

I drove north to Cedar City, had lunch, and then drove up into the mountains above Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument (E). Cedar Breaks is at the very top of the Grand Staircase, up at 10,000 feet.  It can best be described as small version of Bryce Canyon, but it has much more vertical relief in relation to its total area.

                       


Cedar Breaks National Monument - main overlook

After spending some time at several viewpoints, I headed east and down off the top of the plateau, then south to Mt Carmel Junction (F), and finally back west into the main section of Zion National Park along the Mt Carmel road.  The views are always incredible in this section of the park, and I took lots of photos, before heading down into the main canyon through the tunnel.  

         

I had dinner in Springdale (G) right outside the park entrance, at Pizza & Noodles, a restaurant our family found many years ago and have always tried to visit whenever we are in Zion. The view while eating on the front porch of Pizza & Noodles is almost as good as the food. I had planned to hike the West Rim Trail from Lava Point all the way down to the Grotto the following day, but the overnight hike to Kolob Arch had given me enough blisters that I cancelled the West Rim hike plans.  I spent the night at a hotel in Hurricane and the next day in Las Vegas instead.

The blisters had done me in, and that was it for the Grand Staircase on this trip.  I thought with a little more planning and a lot of driving, I could see much more on my next flight test to Yuma. I got my chance in February 2015, over President's Day weekend, to make a longer driving trip to a bunch of parks.



February 2015
- lots of parks in southern Utah and the Grand Canyon

Zion National Park (B)
- night photos in Zion Canyon
- camp in car - Friday night
- Angels Landing hike, GoPro video of climb and descent
- Mt Carmel Road

Bryce Canyon National Park (C)
- Inspiration Point
- Sunset Point for sunset (!)
- Bryce Canyon Inn - Saturday night

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument (D - E - F)
- through Kodachrome Basin
- Grosvenor Arch (D)
- Escalante River Canyon Head Of The Rocks Overlook and drive across the canyon (E)
- across "The Hogback" into Boulder, UT
- Burr Trail Road from Boulder, UT to Long Canyon (F) to ...

Capitol Reef National Park (G - H)
- switchbacks down into Waterpocket Fold (G)
- north along Waterpocket Fold to Notom (H)

Then north and east to Hanksville, UT (I) and south to ...

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (J)
- Colorado River viewpoint high above the river across from Hite - sunset on Sunday evening
- across the Colorado River and southeast to ...

Natural Bridges National Monument (K)
- night photos of stars looking through Owachomo Bridge
- camp in campground in tent - Sunday night
- morning photos of all 3 bridges - Sipapu, Kachina, Owachomo

Then south to Moki Dugway on Utah state route 261.  GoPro video of descent.

Valley Of The Gods (L)
- GoPro aerial video from my BlueWing flying wing, two flights

Goosenecks State Park (M)
- entrenched meanders of the San Juan River

To Mexican Hat, then past Monument Valley
- took the famous photo along the road entering Monument Valley driving south, continuing on to ...

Grand Canyon National Park (N - O)
- East Rim - Watchtower (N)
- Grandview Point
- West Rim - Hopi Point - sunset on Monday evening (O)


Google Maps Route

Monday was the President's Day holiday, so I had a three day weekend, and decided to take advantage of it.  The small rental car I started with on this trip had a check engine light, so they gave me another car.  The second car had a tire that kept getting low, so they finally gave me a Chevy Captiva small SUV, for the same price, paid for by my company. It was perfect for this weekend trip made from Friday after work through Monday evening. Here goes…

I finished work in Yuma at 3:30 PM, and headed north towards Zion. I made into Zion at around 10:30 PM, and found a note at the ranger station – all national parks were free for the long President’s Day weekend. I was prepared to buy a new national park pass, as my old one had expired, but I lucked out and visited all these national parks for free.  This time of the year, the Zion Canyon shuttle is not running, so you can drive your car into the canyon. It was pitch black, but I took some night photos of stars with the canyon walls and rock formations as outlines below the stars.  I still needed a place to sleep, so first I checked at the campground for room to camp, but it was full.  Then I checked at the Zion Lodge, but because it was Valentine’s Day weekend, the cheapest room was $200.  I heard my SUV with the air mattress calling.  So I drove to an empty parking lot near the head of the canyon, re-arranged all my gear ( I had my camping equipment ) and went to sleep around midnight. I slept well, got up at 8 AM, and drove mile to the Angel’s Landing trailhead. I was one of the first cars in the parking lot.   I asked a few people if the trail was clear of ice, and everyone said it was in great shape.  I climbed Angels Landing a few years ago, but this time I had my GoPro camera on my head to capture the whole climb and descent.  I made it to the top, 1400 ft above the valley floor, pretty quickly.  There were more and more people arriving and climbing, and the top was becoming full.  As someone said to me, it was the perfect storm for February – the temps were in the 70’s, there was no ice at all on the trail, it was a 3-day weekend, and it was Valentine’s Day.   It became packed with people, and the climb down took a while longer; the chains are one-way and you have to alternate up/down though most sections.  The photos below and the GoPro video show lots of people coming up as I was descending.    I made it back to the parking lot, 5 miles round trip and 1400 ft vertical one-way, in about 4.5 hours.  The roads were packed also, so it seems a lot of people took advantage of the free park entry and long weekend. Cars are not allowed into the canyon from March 1 through November 1, so this was one of the last weekends before the shuttle would be running.   After driving around for just a short while and taking some more photos, I headed out of the park and up through the tunnel going east on the Mt Carmel road.

                                                       

I made it to Bryce Canyon about an hour before sunset, and went to Inspiration Point, and then watched sunset from Sunset Point.  See what I did there?  Pretty cool, huh?  I spent Saturday night at a hotel in Bryce Canyon City.

                             

On Sunday, I drove east past Kodachrome Basin to Grosvenor’s Arch, then back to the main road, stopping at Powell Point, and continuing east to Boulder, UT.  After leaving the town of Escalante and passing Hole-In-The-Rock Road, the road descends and crosses the Escalante River canyon on the way to Boulder.  This whole section has incredible scenery, and the northeast end of the Escalante River canyon road entering into Boulder is unique.  This section of road is called "The Hogback"; the road is on the spine of the ridge with two lanes that makes a few curves at the end with no guardrails and nothing to either side of the road.  Boulder is where the Burr Trail Road starts, eventually reaching Capitol Reef.   That is a very cool road also, with some seriously nice views and an excellent drive through a narrow canyon called Long Canyon, before emptying out onto the plateau just to the west of Capitol Reef.  The road then drops into Capitol Reef, descending a very steep set of switchbacks down to the Waterpocket Fold.  I went north along the Fold, then east, heading for Hanksville, then south again to Glen Canyon. I watched sunset from a viewpoint high above the Colorado River across from Hite.


Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Grosvenor Arch

                                                                 


Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Escalante River Canyon - Head Of The Rocks Overlook


Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Escalante River Canyon - Calf Creek Overlook

Then I drove to Natural Bridges, and set up my tent in the dark around 7:30.  After I was set up, I drove to the third bridge in the monument, Owachomo Bridge, where I hiked down to the bridge and spent about and hour and half taking night photos of the stars through the bridge from all angles. I was very neat to be sitting under the bridge in the total dark, all by myself with nothing but the bright stars above.  Natural Bridges is listed as the darkest place in the continental United States, perfect for star-gazing. The moon did not rise until well into the morning, so the stars were very bright that evening and there was no light pollution.   Finally I made it back to my tent, and into my supposed -20 deg sleeping bag.  It is a new bag, and I had not tested that temperature rating yet; I don’t think it is actually -20, as I got a little cold.  The outside temp dropped into the low 20’s, so it was a bit nippy.  I got up on Monday morning, broke camp, and drove around to all the bridge viewpoints for some morning photos.  I did not hike down to any more bridges on this trip, but I did hike down to all three bridges that last time I visited in 2012.

                   


Natural Bridges National Monument, Kachina Bridge Overlook  - bridge at lower right

I then headed south to the Moki Dugway, descended those switchbacks while recording with my GoPro attached to the top of the car, and drove through Valley Of The Gods. I had never done Valley Of The Gods before – it is similar but less spectacular than Monument Valley, but it is free and the road is in much better condition.  I flew one of my planes twice, getting some fantastic aerial video both times.  After finishing Valley Of The Gods, I drove to Goosenecks State Park on the San Juan River for a quick visit of the entrenched meanders, then past Mexican Hat and towards Monument Valley.  I had never approached Monument Valley from the north before, but I now have that famous photo looking along the road while driving south to Monument Valley.

             


Valley Of The Gods


Goosenecks State Park

I kept driving and had originally planned to head straight back to Yuma at this point, going through Flagstaff and Phoenix.  However, I saw that I still had time to reach the Grand Canyon before sunset, so I broke off at Cameron and headed for the East Rim at Watchtower. I ended up having more time on the South Rim than I figured, so I stopped at Watchtower and Grandview Point, before finally getting to the West Rim drive at Hopi Point for sunset.  I took a few night time exposures of the South Rim Village after sunset.

                                     


Grand Canyon National Park, Grandview Point Overlook

So now I was at the South Rim on Monday evening, and had to be back in Yuma for work on Tuesday morning.  I drove and drove, and finally made it to Yuma at about 1:30 AM.  I got a few hours sleep, and was at the flight-line at 6 AM.  Thanks goodness I was at work – now I could rest.


May 2015 - Sedona

I had flight test for almost three months in April, May, and June 2015, and Tami flew out to join me for two weeks in the middle of the trip.  She flew into San Diego, where I met her and we spent the first weekend. She came back to Yuma with me, then we went to Phoenix and Sedona for the second weekend, before going back to Yuma again.  Finally we drove to Las Vegas for the third weekend and then Tami flew home from there, while I returned to Yuma for several more weeks of work.  We rented an ATV for one afternoon in Sedona, and had fun on the northwest side of town on a couple off-road tracks, before driving up and down Schnebly Hill Road.  On our first trip to Sedona in 2009, we took our personal Acura MDX up Schnebly Hill Road, but would not do that now.  The road seems to be a lot rougher than it used to be.  The map to the right shows our route for the 4 hours we had the ATV, taken from a Google Tracks .kmz recording done on my phone.  Here is a YouTube video link to the last portion of our off-roading adventure; down Schnebly Hill Road.

We picked our hotel in Sedona partly for its close proximity to the Elote Cafe, so we could walk home after consuming lots of incredible food and margaritas.  On our very first trip to Sedona, the owner and chef delivered the Elote appetizer, but that has not happened again until this trip on our second night of dining at Elote.  We stayed at the Inn Above Oak Creek; the inn is right on the water at Oak Creek, just down a short distance from the traffic circle that branches off for Schnebly Hill Road.  If you stay in Sedona, you can't go wrong with that place - the people who run it are friendly and it seems like home while you are there.  There are only a dozen rooms; a couple of the views below are right from our balcony.  We kept running into the inn keeper around town (we were not following him) and every time we happily greeted each other by first name.

                 


August 2016 - Lots of parks (again) in southern Utah and Sedona

This trip was very similar to the February 2015 trip, but I hiked totally new paths at all locations, and visited new places that I had never been in each park.

Zion National Park, Utah - Saturday, 20 August 2016
- night photos in Zion Canyon
- camp in car Friday night
- hike out the Narrows and back ~9 miles - GoPro head mount video
- Mt Carmel Road

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah - Saturday, 20 August 2016
-
sunset at Sunset Point

Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Utah - Sunday, 21 August 2016
- camp in car Saturday night at Dry Fork Trailhead
- Dry Fork Slot - Turnigy 2K HD-Cam aerial video
- Dry Fork Slot - GoPro head mount video
- Peek-A-Boo Slot - GoPro head mount video
- Dance Hall Rock
- Hole In The Rock Road - all the way to the end
- Hole in the Rock - Turnigy 2K HD-Cam aerial video
- Drive across the Escalante River Canyon and Hogback - car mount GoPro

Capitol Reef National Park, Glen Canyon National Rec Area, Utah - Sunday, 21 August 2016
-
view from Lion Mountain looking east, with a rainbow over Capital Reef
- dinner on a restaurant patio in Torrey, watching sunset's light across the rocks above Fruita

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah - Monday, 22 August 2016
- camp in car Sunday night
- hike down to Owachomo Bridge Monday morning

Muley Point - view from Cedar Mesa overlooking San Juan River
Moki Dugway - GoPro car mount video
Mexican Hat - Turnigy 2k HD-Cam aerial video
Past Monument Valley to Kayenta and south to ...

Sedona, Arizona - Monday, 22 August 2016
- Schnebly Hill Road - Turnigy 2K HD-Cam aerial video

I headed north after work on Friday and made it to Zion National Park in the late evening. I took some night shots and camped in the park that night.  

     

On Saturday morning, I woke up to find the moon hanging low over the canyon walls, and a mountain goat up the rocks a short distance from the road.

                     

I hiked almost five miles (one-way) up The Narrows along the Virgin River, then turned around and hiked back out. 

               

           

I then drove to Bryce Canyon National Park for sunset at Sunset Point, but there were lots of clouds so the sunset colors were not great. 

           

 

I had decided to hike Peek-A-Boo slot canyon on Sunday, so I drove to Escalante and then about 26 miles down Hole In The Rock Road and camped Saturday evening at the trailhead for Dry Fork.  I was all by myself in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the beautiful open skies and absolute silence.  I got up on Sunday morning and hiked down to Dry Fork, through the Dry Fork slot canyon, back up along the opposite rim, and then down through Peek-A-Boo slot canyon. I should have done Spooky slot canyon while I was there, but missed that, so I will do that on my next trip. 

                                       

   

After returning to the car, I drove 35 miles more southeast to the end of the road, all the way to Hole In The Rock.  I also stopped at Dance Hall Rock.  I had a high clearance 2 wheel drive SUV rental car; it was just barely up the task of making it to the end of the road and back.  I headed north, back to Escalante and then through the Escalante Canyon to Boulder and finally to Torrey. 

                             

 

 

I had dinner in Torrey watching sunset across the rocks of Capitol Reef above Fruita.  I then headed east and south, through Capitol Reef National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the way to Natural Bridges National Monument, where I camped for the night.  There was a thunderstorm in the distance as I reached the viewpoint high above the Colorado River across from Hite, Utah.

   

I got up on Monday, and drove around to the three bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument, hiking down to Owachomo Bridge.

 

I drove south down the Moki Dugway, first driving out to Muley Point for some incredible views of Monument Valley and the San Juan River meanders.  After passing through Mexican Hat, by Monument Valley, and through Kayenta, I drove south to Sedona, where I spent a few hours.  I continued south to Yuma, all the way across Arizona.  I had work the next morning, so I did not stop anywhere else on the way back.