We were in the process of getting our house painted. Laney was at the dogsitters so that she wouldn't mess up the paint job (her dog hair is everywhere). Sandy was going out of town soon to help Shannon get ready to go to Europe for a month of study. The painter was busy. Looked like a good time for me to get out of town. The weather forecast for Utah looked good. It had been a rainy spring but finally the forecast was for sunny skies. Time to head for the hills. Or in this case, canyons.
I called my friend Dave Thiel. We had done several hikes the previous year, including an attempt on Thompson Peak in the Sawtooths. He was up for a trip to the Utah canyon country since he had never hiked there before. I had been working hard since the first of the year to lose weight and get in condition. Time to go hiking and reap the benefits of my hard work.
We left on a Wednesday morning. I had to let the painter in because Sandy had an early meeting. But then I was free to go. I went to Dave's house and picked him up and then we were on the road. Our goal was to reach Cedar City, Utah for the night. That would be close for an early start on our first hike.
There were two parts to our trip. We would start out at Zion National Park. Dave had been there but never hiked. I had hiked there quite a few times but it is one of my favorite parks. So I was happy to go back. Our first two hikes would be there. Then we would go to Escalante, Utah to hike in the Escalante/Grand Staircase National Monument. I had driven through the area once a long time ago but had never hiked there. I didn't know much about it. So that part of the trip would be exploration.
My first check with Dave as we were driving down was if we could go to the game store in Salt Lake (Game Night Games). I figured that I could find some good Strategy and Tactics issues there. But Dave didn't want to go game shopping. Ok. Some people have no culture. We drove straight through to Cedar City. We got there about 6 pm and stopped at a modest (cheap?) hotel. It was the same place I had stayed in Cedar City the year before on my solo trip to Zion. Dave did the serious negotiation of our room price for the night and managed to get us a discount.
At this point Dave was all excited about going to Cedar Breaks National Monument. But I was more interested in food. We hadn't eaten all day. So we went to the Pizza and Pasta Factory. We had an ok dinner there. The salad bar was very good and they had these huge breadsticks that came with dinner. But the pasta was just so so. Maybe my perception of the dinner was effected by the fact that Dave was whining the whole time about not going up to Cedar Breaks. I wasn't that excited about the idea. I had been to Cedar Breaks many years ago and my only recollection was that it wasn't worth revisiting.
Dave was anxious for an early start the next morning so we could get the best light. I set my alarm but somehow I missed that my clock was off by an hour. So our 7 am time to meet at breakfast passed. At 7:20 Dave called me and and I did a panic get ready and leave drill. We were on the road by 8 am so there wasn't much harm done. It didn't take us long to reach the Kolob Canyon exit. We made a quick stop at the visitor center. I got my required tshirt for the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park (very cool). Dave got a trail map. I bought an annual pass for US fee areas. We talked to the ranger about the trail we were planning to do and he warned us about stream crossings. We were ready to go now. A ten minute drive took us to the trailhead. We were off.
The trailhead is at Lee's Pass. This is the highest point on the hike. From the trailhead the trail drops 800 feet into the Timber Creek drainage. Then it drops further down the drainage. Almost all the elevation gain on this hike is on the way out, with the steepest part at the very end. On a long hike (fourteen miles) the long, steep uphill at the end is discouraging.
The early morning light that Dave was so anxious to capture was there - backlighting all of the cliffs. We were looking east into the sun. No pictures this morning. This is an afternoon picture place. He needs to trust me when I have been to a place before.
The initial hiking is easy - it's all downhill. Then the trail follows Timber Creek for a few miles. The ranger at the visitor center said that crossing the creek would mean getting our feet wet. But every time we were able to find a way to cross over rocks, logs, whatever. And there were a lot of crossings. Twenty three to be exact. I counted them on the way back. But eventually we had hiked along Timber Creek, hiked up and over the ridge, and dropped down to LaVerkin Creek. It was much larger but fortunately we didn't have to cross it. There wouldn't have been any way to avoid wading.
We had a long hike along LaVerkin Creek. Then we reached a junction for Kolob Arch. We took a trail to the north for about a mile. There was some scrambling along the creek till the trail ended suddenly at a sign. When we looked up we could see Kolob Arch high above. It is the second largest arch on earth with a span of 287 feet. For a long time it was considered the longest arch on earth till it was passed up by measurements of Landscape Arch in Arches National Park. I have also seen some claims that two arches in China surpass both Kolob Arch and Landscape Arch by quite a bit.
We took a break for drinks and a snack. Dave found a path that climbed higher that gave a better view of the arch and the valley below. Then we turned around and started back. On the way out we encountered a party that had come in on horses. They were in full cowboy gear - jeans, shirts, hats and cowboy boots. They had left their horses at the junction and were wondering how to get up the creek. By walking? They were having a lot of trouble. We weren't impressed.
We had a long hike out. The round trip to the viewpoint for Kolob Arch was fourteen miles. I heard a lot of complaints from Dave about how it was too long for the first hike of the season (at least it was for him - I had been to Capital Reef NP a few weeks before with Sandy). But I had chosen it for it for our first hike based on how far we could drive from Boise, where we could stay overnight and how the hikes would compare to each other.
We had a long hike back. The climb back up to the trailhead was especially tough. I have never been a big fan of hikes which start with descents and end with climbs. (Although I have done it, I'm not that excited about the ultimate "inverted" hike, the Grand Canyon). But eventually we made it back to the car. The other discouraging thing was that although the hike was great, the best views were actually from the trailhead. That's very discouraging.
After the hike we went to the viewpoints along the scenic drive. There were very impressive views of the Kolob finger canyons section of Zion National Park. At one viewpoint I took a picture for a couple so they could both be in it. They offered to take a picture with the two of us in return. "No thanks. We really don't like each other." That got us some funny looks.
We drove to Springdale for the evening. It's a touristy town right outside the entrance to Zion National Park. Definitely the most expensive place we would stay, but we wanted to do one hike in the main part of the park. It does have several good restaurants and lots of places to shop for tshirts. We had motel reservations there. It was the one place we decided to room together to save money. Dave just crashed. He turned on the NBA playoffs, flopped on the bed, and said that he wasn't interested in going anywhere. He stayed there other than getting up to take more ibuprofen or to get fresh ice to put on his knee. So I went out for the evening myself. I had a good pizza at Zion Pizza and Noodle Company. I really like their food but their system is a bit of a hassle. I did some tshirt shopping. You can't have too many tshirts! And the Bulls won their playoff game to advance to the series with the Heat so Dave was happy. We hit the sack early and the next day were ready for our hike. For Day Two I had chosen my favorite hike in Zion National Park.