The Wild, Wild West

I realize I’ve gotten quite far behind in my blogging. And so many exciting things have happened in the past few weeks that I should have been writing about! But alas, life has gotten in the way. I’ve been too busy living life to write about it! But here I am, back at it once again.

Earlier this month, I took a trip out west with my favorite travel buddy, Colleen, and a couple of other friends. Colleen and I have been close friends now for nine years. Our beginning story is a sweet and random one. When I had just graduated college, I was about to embark on a journey to Benin in West Africa to join the Peace Corps. Despite my many protests, my mom put an article about me going in the local newspaper, The Olean Times Herald.  Colleen happens to be from the town (or very small city, rather) next to mine (Olean, in fact) and saw said article in the newspaper. She looked up my parents in the phone book, called their house phone (ah, how times have changed) and left a message with my brother that she was about to go on the very same journey. We spoke and agreed to meet up before the trip, but before we actually did, I spent the next couple of weeks on a wild goose chase trying to find out who this girl was. She ran into my brother and cousin at a party. I ran into her sister at a bar. I asked around about her – “Do you know Colleen Yehl? What’s she like?” and also got the very same answer – “Yeah, she’s really cool.”

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Colleen and I in New Zealand, only a few months after we first met.

Finally, we met to go on a shopping trip before we left for Benin, and we’ve been friends ever since. We both quit the Peace Corps at the same time (Benin wasn’t for us), subsequently planned a New Zealand/ Fiji road trip together, she joined me and an ex-boyfriend on a trip across the country, then a year after returning from Benin, at the suggestion of her sister Francie, we went to teach English together in Korea. Only a few months after meeting, she told me if we went to teach in Korea together she was sure I would be in her wedding. I’ll be honest, I thought this was a bit premature. We hadn’t even known each other very long! Low and behold, she’s now one of my very dearest friends, and I was indeed in her wedding last year! Does she have secret psychic powers? Could be.

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Colleen and I in Bryce Canyon National Park

Anyway, so as you may have noted from earlier posts (or just knowing me, generally), I have a strong need to spend a lot of time outdoors. I’d spend the majority of my time outside if I could, and if I don’t get enough time outside, I tend to get terribly cabin-feverish and depressed. So back in March, at the end of winter, I was feeling extremely cooped up and decided I needed to plan my next outdoor adventure. I had been hearing amazing things for the past few months about Zion National Park, a place I had never even really heard of until about a year ago, and decided I wanted to go. I texted Colleen and asked her if she wanted to go, then we booked our plane tickets the very next day!

Having talked to a couple of people about the trip, it was highly recommended to me that we check out Bryce Canyon National Park while there. Man, I am glad we did! It was incredible. We flew into Vegas (basically my vacation nightmare, but it was so late I didn’t actually spend any time in the city other than to drop my bags and hit the hay at our Airbnb for the night. We got up early the next morning, did a necessary grocery run (almond butter and banana sandwiches for days!) then drove the four hours through Zion to Bryce. I met a local guy while on the shuttle to get my rental car in Vegas, and he noted how boring the drive out to Bryce would be. All boring desert, he said. Well, for a native northeasterner who’d never been to the southwest (other than to southern California), boy was he wrong! It was spectacular! The colors were amazing. The tan of the sand, the blue of the sky, the red of the rock…. I was a tad bit sad that I was driving because that meant I had to pay attention and couldn’t scan the horizon more.

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We set up camp then immediately hit the Fairyland Canyon Trail, which was recommended to me by Kelsey, who went last summer. The trail was breathtaking. It was unlike any terrain I had ever seen before. I felt like I was in a different country, or perhaps even on a different planet. As we began our hike, I was bundled up due to some pretty chilly, strong winds and hail coming down on us. Within 15 minutes, I was working on my tan in a tank top as I hiked. The trail was aptly named. I seriously felt like a character in a storybook, or perhaps a piece on a life-sized chessboard. Everywhere we looked, tall hoodoos, rock spires named for voodoo (which originated in West Africa – coming full circle now!) swelled out of the ground. We barely saw another soul for the entire eight mile trek. The last mile, we saw deer after deer in a misty field at dusk. It was an incredible start to our trip.

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Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

That night, Colleen froze our butts off in our tent. When we woke up, it was covered in frost and the car thermometer read 26 degrees! Well worth it though!

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Then, we headed onward to Zion National Park, where we spent four glorious days. Zion is amazing. Utah, in my opinion, is a well-kept secret. Well, Zion was actually quite busy, but up until now it has been a secret to me, and I’m pretty well-traveled so I’d say that means something! We hiked at least eight miles a day, got plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and camped each night. The park is located in a 15-mile long canyon through Navajo sandstone along the Virgin River. Mountains of this red, orange and tan sandstone tower around you in the park, and the views from any hike are absolutely spectacular. I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful it was.

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A couple of highlights were Angels Landing and the Subway. Angels Landing is supposedly named so because it’s so high that only angels can land there. It is a steep path cut through rock where you have to scramble up rocks with a steep cliff on both sides of you. To make it safer, there is a chain available that you can hold onto. The trail’s smallest width is only 28 inches (though that seems exaggerated to me). There are signs everywhere letting you know that six people have died on the trail since 2004(ish – can’t quite remember if that’s the right year). Anyway, it was a rush! I love rock scrambling, and it reminded me of a (more dangerous) version of my favorite trail in the Shenandoah – Old Rag. It was thrilling to scramble up the rocks with such views all around me!

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The climb to the top of Angels Landing

My favorite hike by far, though, was the Subway. It was a 3.5 mile(ish – I think it’s longer) hike through a creek, with lots of bouldering. The water was refreshingly cool (I definitely fell in and got soaked! Whoopsies!). It ends in several waterfalls, the last being 300 feet high, located in a canyon room with rounded walls, which is where the hike gets its name. We saved this for the last day because you have to have a permit to hike it, and the application process is competitive. We were supposed to hike it a couple of days before, but they close it if it rains because there’s a risk of flash floods, and unfortunately, it was raining that day. The entire hike was enormously enjoyable. It was beautiful and challenging, we didn’t see many people (until the way back), and if you know me, I LOVE the water! So a hike through water where I have to scramble over boulders is pretty much the dream! We saw fish, toads, beautiful birds…. What we didn’t see was a rattle snake that another couple that we met did see. What a bummer!! But the worst bummer of all was that we had to turn around before the very end (we were probably within 15 minutes of the end) because we had a flight to catch (which later got delayed by four hours). It was a huge disappointment, but didn’t detract from the immense enjoyment of the hike, and it seriously gives me a reason to go back. I’d highly recommend anyone who goes to Zion do this hike for sure!

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Waterfall during The Subway hike

We were actually supposed to do a two-day backpacking trip while there as well, through the Narrows, which means you actually hike through parts of the Virgin River (I think). However, due to runoff from melting snow farther up the river, it was closed due to flash flood warnings. Another reason to make it back there one day!

After a few hours spent at the Vegas airport, we headed to Colorado. We did some hiking, saw the city, met up with a couple of friends, stopped into the botanical garden, saw a show…. Good times had by all!

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Peter Pan pose in Rocky Mountain National Park. From sand to snow!

Man, I love nature. Life is rad.

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