An Epic Road Trip!

Buckskin Gulch, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah
Dain reaches for the high water mark of a recent flood in Buckskin Gulch. There's no escape if you find yourself on the downstream side of a torrent of water.

Three friends + five days + two national monuments + six national parks = 1,400 miles!

All of the Mighty Five Utah National Parks in less than 24 hours.


The way it ended up barely had any resemblance of what we planned on. Isn't that the way epic road trips happen—by the seat of your pants!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

5:30 p.m.—All packed up and ready for our annual hike, I pull out of the neighborhood; Dain is riding shotgun, and Matt is chillin' in the back seat.

The plan… camp near the Paria River Contact Station to get our permit to overnight hike Buckskin Gulch into Friday. Then, if time allows, jump up to Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon for a short visit before heading home sometime Saturday.

9:23 p.m.—Things get exciting fast as we swerve to avoid hitting a deer while cruising down US 89 towards Mount Carmel Junction. Now, if you find yourself near Mount Carmel Junction, don't forget to stop at the Thunderbird Restaurant for a "ho made" pie! At least get a picture in front of their billboard just north of the junction on the southbound side of the highway.

Soon enough we found ourselves at the Paria Contact Station and find an open campsite for the night at the White House Campground next to the Paria River in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM).

Slight Change of Plans
Thursday, September 1, 2016

6:58 a.m.—A beautiful sunrise over the cliffs greets us. Upon visiting with the rangers at the Paria Contact Station, we determine that imminent storms will make it unsafe for us to enter the gulch today—tomorrow looks like better weather.

8:30 a.m.—Back in Kanab at the Rangers Station, we put our names in for the drawing to enter The Wave. Only 12 individuals will be allowed to have walk-in permits today. Unfortunately we are not drawn before permits run out. Grabbing brochures at the desk and asking rangers what they recommend, Dain suggests we head down to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. I've never been there… we don't have anything planned for today anymore… why not, it's only 71 miles away.

9:52 a.m.—A small herd of bison are grazing in a meadow just before the entrance pay station. I decide I'd rather purchase an annual pass instead of the $30 entrance fee.

11:05 a.m.—We're looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon at the North Rim Visitor Center and Lodge.

12:16 p.m.—The North Kaibab Trail is our first hike of the trip—down into the canyon a mile or two.

1:54 p.m.—1.7 miles into the canyon, we reach the Supai Tunnel where we decide to turn around—we've descended 1,441 feet into the canyon—still 12.3 miles from and 4,320 feet above the Colorado River.

5:41 p.m.—Rather than backtracking up to Kanab, we decide to complete the loop and take the highway back to the Paria Contact Station via Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Page, Arizona,  and Glend Canyon Dam. On our way back, we cross over the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge.

7:37 p.m.—As we are pulling into Page, Arizona, we realize that we are passing Horseshoe Bend and decide to take the short hike to see the famous landmark in the Colorado River.

8:30 p.m.—I have to stop and get some night shots of Glen Canyon Dam as we wrap up the day's activities.

Abbreviated Buckskin Gulch
Friday, September 2, 2016

7:11 a.m.—Another beautiful sunrise in GSENM.

10:56 a.m.—After obtaining our permit for Buckskin Gulch, we arrive at our preplanned trailhead and attempt to find entrance into the Paria River near where the powerlines cross over the river. We spend about 30 minutes trying to find a safe way in, but the slopes and cliffs are too much for us to manage. We now understand why they recommend entrance at White House, Middle Trail, or Wire Pass trailheads.

12:02 p.m.—The Middle Trail trailhead registry has a ranger's sign in two days ago, and the last sign in before that was a month ago. Record floods have prevented hikers to hike the full gulch for the past month. We follow cairns until we find the very steep entrance. Just before entering the gulch we see that some storm clouds are threatening in the west.

1:04 p.m.—A petroglyph of two deer on the cliff wall show hikers already in the gulch where the Middle Trail is. As far as we can tell, Buckskin Gulch is the boundry line between Vermillion Cliffs NM and GSENM.

3:25 p.m.—Due to an imminent storm, we are now exiting the gulch after heading upstream for a half mile or so and then downstream for about a mile. Dried mud on the walls show us that recent flooding has been as deep as ten or more feet in places. Just as we crest the back onto plateau above The Dive just a quarter mile from the trailhead, rain begins to fall with moderate intensity.

We decide that we've got plenty of daylight left for us to head to Zion National Park before day's end.

5:36 p.m.—We have entered Zion at the east entrance and decided to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail (1 mile round trip) near the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel east entrance. Before this hike, we capture pictures of Bighorn Sheep near the stream bed below the road leading to the tunnel.

7:03 p.m.—We are watching the beginning of the golden hour as we sit at the Zion Canyon Overlook. The red cliffs are aglow and just breathtaking with the contrast of the bright blue sky.

A Day of Unplanned Madness
Saturday, September 3, 2016

We woke up this morning knowing that we needed to get an early start as it is Labor Day Saturday and we are at Zion National Park! The crowds will be horrific this weekend! Matt doesn't want to do too long of hikes as hiking the Buckskin Gulch and North Kaibab trails were a lot to handle.

7:55 a.m. Zion National Park—We are beginning our hike to Lower and Upper Emerald Pools (3 miles round trip).

8:35 a.m.—We're at Upper Emerald Pools. I've been to Zion dozens of times and I've never been at Emerald Pools by myself. No one is here except the three of us. Unheard of! Until a few minutes later when the crowds begin to file in.

9:35 a.m.—We just stepped off the shuttle back at the Visitors Center. The crowds are now packed into all areas and the line for the shuttle is winding back and forth under the canopy, past the Visitors Center and all the way to the bathrooms. Let's get out of Zion and work our way towards home by way of Bryce Canyon.

12:07 p.m. Bryce Canyon National Park—Time for a photo in front of the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance sign.

1:11 p.m.—After visiting another road side stop further into Bryce Canyon, we are now beginning our hike on the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 mile loop). At the bottom of the switchbacks, we run into another tourist we met while at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona two days ago.

2:34 p.m.—After completing the Navajo Loop Trail, we visit the Visitors Center and then decide there's plenty of time to head up to Capitol Reef National Park, still on our way back home before calling it a night somewhere close by.

5:46 p.m. Capitol Reef National Park—We arrive at the entrance sign and then head straight for the Visitors Center minutes before they close at 6:00 p.m. We ask for suggestions for a good, but shorter hike. The top recommendation was Hickman Arch (1.8 miles round trip). Consider it done!

7:24 p.m.—We can't remember who exactly said it as we were close to being back at the car, but I think it was based on the fact my wife had commented four hours earlier on a Facebook post I made while at Bryce Canyon where she said, "Ok what National Park have you NOT been to?" And, Matt's wife replied, "Sheesh, no kidding!" One of us commented, "We haven't been to Arches or Canyonlands yet." Then it hit us… We've done three of the Mighty Five today, and if we head to Moab tonight, we can hit Arches and Canyonlands early tomorrow morning we can hit all five in less than 24 hours! All three of us agreed, we have to do it! Moab is just over two hours away.

A double rainbow sunset ends our daylight. Off to Moab we go!

An End to the Madness
Sunday, September 4, 2016

6:54 a.m. Arches National Park—We find ourselves greeted by a double rainbow sunrise over Turret Arch while standing under South Window (1 mile round trip). We jump over to Double Arch (0.5. miles round trip). Last stop, Canyonlands!

8:55 a.m. Canyonlands National Park—We're now just inside the park and heading over to Aztec Butte trailhead to see ancestral Pueblo granaries (2 miles round trip) before finally heading home. What an awesome view of the canyons and ancient ruins! A fantastic way to end our trip. 24 hours ago we were in Zion National Park and have done hikes in five national parks in 24 hours—none of it planned when we began our trip four days ago, none of it really planned until yesterday evening.

As we head out of Canyonlands, the line of cars backed up at the entrance gate is at least a mile long. Remember, it is Labor Day weekend. Oh, don't let me forget, the entrance fees to get into all six national parks would have cost me $150 if paid individually. The $80 annual pass has already paid for itself in the four days of having it.

We have just completed what is known as The Mighty Five—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

1:57 p.m.—After dropping off Dain and Matt, I pull into my driveway… 1,394.7 miles since we left on Wednesday. And to think, tomorrow is Labor Day… the weekend's not even over yet!

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