Out West Adventure
NOTE: This trip took place in August of 2015.
I JUST LOVE THE THE F---IN' EAGLES, MAN.
A few years back I was stuck in traffic on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. It was a fairly standard weekday morning, but as I sat in the sea of vehicles at a dead stop on what is normally a posted 45 MPH stretch (or 80 MPH if you’re from Chicago), the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” came up on my Spotify radio station. At that moment, I exhaled deeply. All of my cares and hatred for humanity began to melt away. I put my car in park and let the calming tones of Glenn Frey’s smooth vocals wash over me. I just love the fuckin’ Eagles man.
That was the moment I decided I needed to take a trip out west. To me, the Eagle’s conjure images of dusty roads, old convertibles, long, empty stretches of highway, big starry skies, and having your special lady friend in the passenger seat. I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be great to just jump in a car, drive ‘out west’ and listen to the Eagles the WHOLE TIME?” I delightfully answered myself (out loud), “Hell yeah it would”, and made it a priority to figure out how to make that happen as soon as possible. I had no destination or itinerary in mind at the time, but that wasn’t important.
After some light reading and Google mapping, it became obvious that there was a lot of scenery “out west” and I’d have to narrow my scope a bit in order maximize my vacation days and not break the bank.
It didn’t take long to refine the search. Southern Utah has an extremely high density of national parks, scenery, and wide open roads, so with the time I had available it seemed like the best choice to pack in as much as possible. Since I couldn’t spare many days to make the whole loop from Chicago by car, I decided to fly to Denver, rent a car there and do the road trip from there to Vegas, making stops along the way. Seven hours, four hours, two hours, three hours — and and the Eagles to provide the soundtrack — the driving in between stops would be therapeutic but not overwhelming or tiring. The plan was solid, so Colleen and I hit the road August 20 to see what we could see. Utah did not disappoint.
Below is a sampling of photos from the trip. I took a digital camera (Fuji X-T1) and a medium-format film camera (Mamiya 645AF) along for the ride. Of course I wound up with hundreds and hundreds of photos, but the ones that follow are a good representation of the mood and scale of southern Utah.
Denver, Golden, and Clear Creek Canyon
MOAB, UT AND ARCHES
Our first stop after leaving Denver was Moab, just outside Arches National Park. I tried to wake up early on our first day to catch the sunrise over the mountains. It was breathtaking. We did a mid-afternoon hike out to Delicate Arch, and saw several other landmarks along the way. Pro tip — don’t do a mid-afternoon hike out to Delicate Arch in August. It is a fairly long trip and was cookin’ hot (near 100º). In addition there is very little shade along the way. Don’t misunderstand — you SHOULD do the hike, but go early or late in the day, or if you have to do mid-day, at a different time of the year. Also, be prepared with water and sustenance. A lot of water is an absolute necessity. We witnessed a number of hikers who were woefully unprepared and did not look very “healthy” or “like they were going to make it” on the way in.
BRYCE CANYON AND TROPIC, UT
After a few days in Moab and Arches, we headed to Bryce Canyon outside Tropic, UT and stayed in a cozy little cabin at Bryce Canyon Inn. It rained most of the first day, but cleared up a bit before dusk so we quickly headed to the park to sneak in a short hike before sunset. The weather cooperated for the hike, and just as we finished the clouds and fog began to roll in again, making for some moody photos (it also brought the mule deer out in full force!). The next day the weather was perfect and allowed ample time for an extended tour of the park. We opted for the Peek-a-boo loop, as recommended by our waitress the night before (at the absolutely phenomenal restaurant at Stone Canyon Inn), and it was a great recommendation. The 5.5 mile hike is not terribly long, but when you throw in the 1600ft elevation change on both ends it becomes quite the task for a casual hiker. It pays off throughout however, offering sweeping views down into the canyon from above and opportunities to peer up at the sky through the alien-like rock formations (hoodoos) over the 4-hour trip.
The trails in Bryce were both longer and covered more vertical distance than the ones we chose in Arches, but the cooler weather and comparatively lush landscape (plenty of spruce and fir trees line the trails) made the Bryce hikes much more enjoyable.
ZION AND SPRINGDALE, UT
Zion National Park is almost universally regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the country, so it was fitting that it was our last stop. The most strenuous and dangerous hikes, the most compelling and expansive vistas, and (accidentally) the most luxurious accommodations all combined to make Zion an almost spiritual experience.
After selecting Zion as the final stop on the road trip, I was intent on hiking and making it to the summit of Angel’s Landing (a.k.a. The Temple of Aeolus), which is considered the crown jewel of the park. I read plenty beforehand about the overall difficulty and dangerous drop-offs (and the handful of accidental deaths) involved in the final ascent to the top of the rock, but it wasn’t until I was on a 2-foot wide sandy rock ledge hanging onto and chain and looking 1200ft down on both sides of me that I really took any of it seriously. I wouldn’t say I’m AFRAID of heights, but I’m not exactly a fan and this was really pushing my boundaries. In any case, the payoff at the top was HUGE (see below) and I’m so glad we made it to the end. Thanks to Colleen for the final push, and the extra snacks and water that kept me from passing out on the descent. (NOTE: The way down is no joke, and in my opinion was more daunting than the ascent. It’s more of a “keep yourself from slipping” than “pull yourself up” scenario on the way down, and the fatigue from the first half combined with the sandy, slippery rock face is a challenging combination. It may sound hyperbolic, but believe me, you can’t fuck up or you’re dead.)
The rest of the park was equally beautiful — it’s impossible to take a bad picture, whether you’re shooting an iPhone or carrying around 30 pounds of photo gear. Unfortunately we were only there for a day and a half and couldn’t see many of the other popular sights and formations, but that makes for a great excuse to visit again. I’m glad we got to see Arches and Bryce first, both remarkable in their own right, but Zion is truly a place of overwhelming beauty with a scale so massive you can’t help but to stand in silence and come to the realization that nature is king, and we are simply allowed to exist beside it.
Plus I found $100 at the bottom of the trail!
Photo info: FILM: Mamiya 645af on a combination of Kodak Ektar 100, Portra 160/400/800, and Fuji 400h. DIGITAL: Fuji-X-T1 + 14mm, 23mm, 35mm processed with VSCO Film for Lightroom.