Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Utah National Park road trip - June 2002

In June of 2002, I decided that I wanted to visit the National Parks of southern Utah. None of my friends were available during the time I wanted to go, so I decided to go alone. I bought a cell phone just in case I needed roadside assistance.

The first day went well. I left Phoenix early in the morning and had a nice drive to Flagstaff to visit Sunset Crater. I had a nice stroll on the trails there then headed over to Page, AZ to visit Horseshoe Bend, and spent the night. The next morning, I headed into Utah. My first stop was to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This park is mostly for people with ATVs or dune buggies, but I enjoyed seeing the coral pink dunes against the bright blue sky. I wandered around for about an hour, before heading back on the road to Zion National Park.

As I was driving into the canyon at Zion, the brakes to my car started to make grinding and screeching noises. I wasn't quite sure whether I should keep driving, or pull over and call a tow truck. Since the breaks were still working and it was over 100F outside, I decided to keep driving and stop and the next service station. Unfortunately, that service station was at the bottom of the canyon..... and my brakes didn't last that long!

As I was descending some steep curves in the road, my brakes decided to stop working. Luckily, the emergency/parking brake still worked (sort of). By shifting the car into neutral and using the emergency brake, I was able to make my way into the canyon without killing myself or anyone around me. I got to the first service station, and was told that they would have to order the parts. Since it was a Saturday, they wouldn't be able to order the parts until Monday, and they should have them by Tuesday - Wednesday at the latest. That wasn't quite what I wanted to hear.

After a 20 mile drive, I arrived in Hurricane UT and found a garage that could fix my brakes. I finally left the garage around 3:30 and headed back to Zion to visit the park. I didn't really enjoy the park that much, because I was still pretty shaken up about driving without brakes and having an extra expense that I didn't plan, but I did manage a few short hikes.

I spent the night in a dumpy motel near Zion NP and then drove to Bryce Canyon early the next morning. I spent the day hiking various trails in Bryce Canyon and enjoying myself there. Around 5 in the evening, I decided to head towards Kodachrome Basin State Park. Leaving Bryce, my brake pads started smoking as I was driving down a really steep curvy road. I pulled over before my brakes died on me again. My cell phone had reception, but for some reason ATT decided that I wasn't authorized to roam, and wouldn't let me call AAA. I waited in 100+ heat, but there were no cars in sight to help me. After the brakes had a chance to cool, I started driving again - and pulling over every few minutes when I detected a burning smell. I eventually reached a town at the bottom, and they told me the nearest service station was back up at Bryce!

Needless to say, I spent the night at Bryce, so I could get my brakes fixed - again. At least it gave me a chance to see the sun rise over Bryce.

With fixed brakes, I headed back down the "hill" to Kodachrome Basin. I enjoyed the drive and a few short hikes, then contemplated whether I should risk driving 10 miles on a deserted dirt road to view Grosvenor Arch. I decided to chance it and was glad I did. The car worked fine and I got to enjoy this arch all to myself.

Utah Road Trip - Part 2

Remembering the Utah trip made me think about what makes a vacation cross that line from being fun to a disaster? Is it one adverse event? Does it need to be a catastrophic event? Is there a series of events? Is it an event that you still can't find humor in years later?

I'm not really sure, but despite having some unfortunate incidents on other trips, I think of all of them with at least some fond memories (and some stories that entertain friends and family). Yet the Utah trip is pretty much remembered as a disaster. I'm not sure why. I guess the fun I had visiting and hiking through spectacular national parks didn't outweigh some of the things that went wrong.

Starting the trip with car problems, and then experiencing them a couple days later, set the tone for the trip. I was always a little paranoid that the brakes would die again - and since many of the roads were fairly steep and curvy, it was a bit nerve-wracking!

One unfortunate incident happened once I arrived in Moab. I decided to take an off-road jeep tour through Canyonlands National Park. The tour consisted of a guide, me, and a family of four. There were two boys (approx. 10 and 12), and two high strung, type A parents who thought they knew a lot more than they did. Throughout the tour, this couple sniped about nearly everything. We had to go up a fairly rocky, steep trail called Elephant Hill, which was a technically difficult drive for a 4WD. The ride up was painstakingly slow. The entire time, the dad kept shouting at the driver to drive faster, and that he paid for a 4WD adventure and he wasn't getting his money's worth at 3 mph. The guide tried to explain that it was a difficult trail and you needed to go slow or we would all die. The dad kept whining and the mom joined in.... until the front of the jeep was pointing downward. Then she shut up and told the driver she needed to get out. She whined that she would rather walk than die in the jeep, since she was conviced he was going to roll it (even at 3 mph).

The excruciating jeep ride finally ended (I think both the guide and I had a splitting migraine by this time) and the hike started. The guide started describing rock formations, and the "know it all mom" kept correcting him. Her corrections were incorrect. As we were hiking the trail from Chesler Park to the Devil's Kitchen, the guide was talking about the different spires and grabens. The mom kept correcting him and telling him that the correct word was "garblens". He tried to assure her that they were called grabens; the dad joined the argument - and complained that he paid good money for a guide who never even heard of garblens!

As the hike continued, the trail practically disappeared, and was marked by cairns (piles of stones marking the trails). The dad thought it was prudent to race his sons to the next cairn, and then the winner got to kick it over. The guide instructed them not to touch them, since they marked the trail, but the dad again pointed out that they "paid good money for this tour and could do what they wanted!" At this point, I was done. I needed to get away from these horrible people. I told the guide that I needed to turn around. He offered to assist me with the rest of the hike, but I made it clear that I wanted to go back - unassisted - and he could take as much time as he wanted with the other people. His eyes pleaded for me to take him too, but I couldn't do that. After all, the horrible people paid good money for their tour and they wanted every minute of it!
The hike back was actually quite nice once the nasty family was out of ear shot. I spent time watching birds and lizards, found a few interesting bugs, and started naming rock formations. I called this one "Turtle Rock" because it looks like a big turtle to me. I had about an hour and a half of peace before I could hear the family returning - and then, I could hear their whining for a half hour before I actually saw them. Thankfully, they were tired and fairly quite on the way back. That was until we entered the town of Moab again. Then they started up with their whining about what a disappointment the tour was and how they were going to speak to the manager and demand their money back. I was sitting in the front of the truck with the guide, and we just kept rolling our eyes at each other and shaking our heads. Once we got back to the tour office, the whining family went in the office to complain. The guide offered to buy me a beer to make up for the bad tour, but since Utah only served watered-down "near beer", what was the point? After that day, I needed something MUCH stronger!

Road Trip - Part 3: More incidents

After the horrible day at Canyonlands, I spent the next day on my own at Arches National Park.

Other than it being really hot out, it was an ok day. I saw some beautiful scenery and enjoyed a few nice hikes. I also took some nice pictures of the various rock formations. For whatever reason, it just doesn't seem particularly memorable.

The next day I decided to take a short day-trip of rafting down the Colorado River. After the week I was having I didn't want to take the multiple day camping trip! Because of a record drought, the river level was really low. In a way, it made the trip less exciting, because the flow rate was lower. On the other hand, it made big rocks stick out of the river that normally aren't that, which made it a technically more difficult trip due to navigation. In spots, a normally Class II/III rapid became Class IV.

In one of those spots, one of the other tourists on my trip got flipped out of the raft. As he flew out, his leg kicked up and his foot made direct contact with my jaw. I bit my tongue (causing it to bleed) and felt like he broke my jaw. We fished him out of the river and pulled him back on the raft. Within a few minutes, my jaw was swollen and turning purple. At least it wasn't broken. By the time the rafting trip ended, the entire right side of my face was bruised.

That's it! Trip over. I spent that night in Moab, then packed up to go back home the next morning. I had a few other minor mishaps on the way home, but at least made it there intact - and 3 days early!

I spent the remaining 3 days of vacation at home - safe and sound - recouperating from my "vacation".