Great site at the North Campground
As soon as we left Otter Creek, the road turned decidedly pretty. There was a stream (Otter Creek maybe?) that grew as we went, turning into a lovely river surrounded by bright green vegetation. This would be a beautiful area to camp, but we didn’t see any campgrounds before we hit Highway 89.
Butch Cassidy’s childhood home
Turning south, we made a stop at Butch Cassidy’s childhood home. It’s a small little site with a few informational kiosks, but it went nicely with a ranger talk we listened to later on.
We also stopped in Panguitch, so that Richard could try out the bike path that parallels highway 12. It officially starts at the Red Canyon and goes all the way into the national park. His report is not positive overall. He says the path takes you off the scenic route and mostly into trees. Plus, there is a seam in the pavement every ten feet or so that drove him crazy after a while. He got back on 12 the rest of the way. Our pin was Ruby’s again so that we could stock up for a three night stay.
I’d made reservations in Sunset Campground, but couldn’t get three nights in any one site, so we would have to move. We decided to look at North Campground, which is first come first served, to see if there was a site we could take there. That worked out great. The rangers just transferred over our reservation fee from Sunset and applied it. We got to stay put that way and were located closer to the Visitor Center, dump, and ranger talks. None of the places to overnight will give you canyon views, so it doesn’t really matter where you stay from that standpoint. We did want afternoon shade though and got it.
The first thing we did after getting set up and making dinner was walk over to the Rim Trail. Immediately, the views of the canyon are just breathtaking. With every step, your eyes are treated to a new vantage point, unlike any other view in the world. We walked slowly from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point along the rim and just feasted on the colors and crazy hoodoo shapes and shadows as the sun set behind us.
As we were walking back, we stumbled upon the evening ranger talk, which was all about famous outlaws. It was nice to put the little homestead we’d seen earlier into the context of Butch Cassidy’s life. I learned that he chose his “outlaw” surname after a horse rustler who had mentored him. His first name comes from having worked as a butcher for a while. He went incognito so as not to embarrass the family with his outlaw ways. Seemed a decent guy actually, sort of a Wild West Robin Hood. And his best friend was not the Sundance Kid, it was some other guy, and it is entirely possible they did not die in a shoot out in Bolivia. So there you go.
3D Contour maps showing that any way you cut it, this will be an ass kicker
The next morning, Richard got out his morning ya-yas, while I was getting showered and dressed, by hiking the Fairyland Trail down to the “Tower Bridge” formation. He said it was a steady downward trail but not too steep, and about a mile and a half to the turn around point. Then we rode bikes (second time on the bike for me, for those keeping score) down to the Visitor Center where they have relief maps. I studied those quite thoroughly as we prepared to do the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail that afternoon. I was pretty nervous about it, seeing as how once you descend, you are forced to do about six hundred feet of climbing to get your butt out of there. I talked to a ranger about how reasonable it would be for me to attempt that trail, making sure to take note of any facial expressions that might give away thoughts of “oh jeez, I’m gonna have to get this one out on a stretcher.” I also posted on facebook for confirmation that this was a reasonable thing for me to contemplate. I got lots of good info, and encouragement, and the suggestion to take trekking poles. The ranger strongly recommended taking the loop clockwise, going downhill more gently and uphill on the switchbacks. He said most rescues are from people getting injured going down. Made sense.
We packed as though we were going to be out there a long long time and I doubled the estimated trail time, figuring I was going to be taking those switchbacks as slowly as humanly possible. Like I’d be going for a record. We chose to start at 4pm, because it wasn’t too hot and the sun would be low enough to put most of the canyon in shadow. We really did not want to get caught out in overhead sunshine again. That also would put us on the climb somewhere near dinner. The Lodge is pretty close to the end of the trail and serves takeout until 9pm. I figured Richard could run ahead of me, order dinner, come back down, and place french fries at the end of each switchback to get me up, if need be.
Trekking poles for the win
I pulled out my brand new trekking poles that I bought just in case we try The Narrows in Zion at the end of our trip. I have never used poles for hiking beyond picking up random walking sticks when I used to go backpacking with my dad. And I used to cross country ski, but that’s it.
I was nervous heading down, to be sure, but immediately the majesty of the trail served as a major distraction from all the thoughts. Very quickly, I was just enjoying being on the trail. I also noticed right away that trekking poles are a game changer. It’s like going from 2WD to 4WD. I’m not sure how much is psychological vs physical, but I felt a lot more stable going downhill. There were people on the trail, but not so many that it felt crowded. More like just enough that I felt reassured. Like some were wearing sandals and I figured if they could do this, surely I, with my new shoes and rad trekking poles could do this too.
Queen Victoria….. sure.
The “Queen’s Garden” features a hoodoo that sort of kind of resembles Queen Victoria if you look at it just right. Once you’ve gotten to that, you’re at the valley floor pretty much. You go a little over a half mile more of easy and gorgeous trail to get to the junction at the bottom of the Navajo Loop. You then have to decide whether you want to go up the killer switchbacks on the left hand side or the killer switchbacks on the right hand side. Richard actually went back the next day and did this trail again, just so he could see the right hand side for comparison. The one that I did, the left way, was shaded the whole way with not much of an incline until the very end. Then it’s stairs and I don’t know how many switchbacks all the way to the top. Richard says the other way is more open with more sun exposure, and the switchbacks are longer across. But you get to see Thor’s Hammer closer up, so there’s that. We’re both pretty sure we would not want to go down either set of switchbacks because it does take a toll on the knees.
Switchbacks as far as the eye can see
I just took it slow and steady. I used those trekking poles and realized that I was using my whole upper body, instead of just my legs. Muscle memory from cross country skiing kicked in and it felt natural and like a much more dynamic way to hike. I had a much easier time with this than I ever anticipated and wasn’t even gasping for breath, the way I did just going from the campground up to the Rim Trail. I don’t know if it was all the trekking poles, or being just a little more acclimated to breathing at eight thousand feet, or what, but I clocked in at just over two hours for that baby, a far cry from the five or six I was mentally preparing for. We triumphantly strolled over to the Lodge and got a takeout dinner that we brought back to the overlook. That was one well earned sunset.
Our last day in the park we spent driving to all the overlooks along the park road. I’m pretty sure we did all of these a few years back, but it’s a view you never get tired of. I opted to chill out back at Dory in the afternoon while Richard did his repeat trail excursion. He snapped a photo of the “Two Bridges” and “Thor’s Hammer” for me and that was plenty.
This was a great stay. Three nights was enough to feel we’d done everything and it was nice to stay inside the park. Temperatures were beautiful and we would have been fine with no shade. Hopefully our fancy new lithium batteries are feeling fine with their big beefy solar panels. Without a battery monitor measuring directly from the battery*, all we have to go on is the solar controller panel that shows a happy face and mostly filled in graphic for battery capacity. So we go “Yay” and assume everything is fine. (*FYI, Richard is still deciding what he wants to do for a battery monitor, to be installed after we get home)
Total miles: 76.0, 15.5 mpg. North Campground A26. Full shade, still solar was pulling in up to 7-8 amps when the sun passed overhead. 2-3 bars of LTE for both of us. The Visitor Center has WiFi too. Dump is past all the loops in the North Campground. No dump at Sunset. Water at the ends of the loops. Trash was way down in the parking lot, pretty far away.