Watchman Campground – it doesn’t get better than this.
Alas, we finally had to come to the bookend national park of our epic summer trip. We end where we began, in Zion. After this stop, it’s all slog and lots of miles. But for this last spot, we had four days reserved in Watchman and fingers crossed the temperatures did not exceed 100º. Turns out, heat was really not the issue to worry about for this southwest summer trip. Like, at all.
Big Rock Candy Bike Trail
We started off with a beautiful drive down 89 where Richard got to bike the Big Rock Candy Mountain Bike Trail for about fifteen miles. We met up at the trailhead, which I really thought would have a candy store or somehow be involved with candy. That was a disappointment. But I get how it came by its name and the views made up for the lack of crystalized sugar. From the meetup point, we started the drive down, knowing there were thunder storms expected in the afternoon. It was a race against time that we lost in the final stretch.
This California girl is just not emotionally equipped for real weather.
Just a few miles before we got to the junction with Highway 9, the one that cuts down into the park through the tunnel, we got hit with a downpour. I am jittery enough about getting rear ended, but add water and I am a slushy mess of anxiety. I pulled off the road to wait it out and didn’t move until there was a good break. That break lasted long enough to get us up onto 9 heading west, like at a high point on the plateau. There, the storm bursts were even more intense, with lightning strikes touching ground not too far from where we were. The water made it hard to see anything at all out of the windshield and again, I bailed and pulled off at the first pullout. Another car did the same and we sat there with our blinkers, hoping anyone coming would be able to see clearly enough to not hit us. It was at this point I told Richard we might not make it the remaining ten miles to the campground and would have to just find somewhere up top to hunker down. But the burst died down eventually, and the deluge turned into just rain, which then just disappeared. There was more coming, so we decided that was the time to make it through the tunnel.
When the views are too good to be scared about the rain.
We passed through the national park kiosk on the eastern entrance and continued on toward the tunnel. It was all drenched, but even in my heightened state, I could appreciate the beauty. Streams and waterfalls formed spontaneously and the sandy soil showed off its deepest reds. By the time we got down and into our campsite, it was over. The only evidence of what had transpired was the color of the Virgin River. If the Green River looked like chocolate milk after a flash flood, this looked like cake batter. It was running fast and furious and carrying tons of muddy debris along with it. Right then I knew that hiking The Narrows might not be a thing on this trip.
Whew. Made it.
We got Dory all set up and then ventured out for a walk into nearby Springdale where we got an excellent pizza dinner. And a big IPA on tap. While waiting for our table, I noticed the place next door sold Oboz hiking shoes. Since all the hoopla with my foot, I have become fussy about shoe fit and decided I needed new ones made for wide feet. I’d already done some online research and was intending to get these shoes once I was back home and could get deliveries. As luck would have it, they had exactly the kind I wanted, and in the right size, but only in blue. Sold.
On Tuesday we got to have a full day in the park with temperatures predicted in the high 80s. We chose that day to attempt the Angel’s Landing trail. I wrote this trail off as impossible years back and had never really considered doing any part of it. But now, with a couple of successful canyon hikes under my belt, a healed foot, trekking poles, and new shoes, I wanted to do it. My only goal really was to try to get up to “Walter’s Wiggles.” This is a series of 21 tight switchbacks just before you take the trail to Terror and Certain Death (I think they call that “Angel’s Landing” but my name for it is more accurately descriptive). If I could make it to the bottom of that, I’d call it a good day, but I was also ok with just going as far as I could and then back down. That’s the nice thing about a reverse Grand Canyon hike: you go up first and are pretty likely to then be able to make it back down.
We got the shuttle to the trailhead by 9, which is really really early for us to be up and out. But by doing so, we got to cover the long switchbacks up the side of the canyon before the sun hit the trail. I think that made a gigantic difference for me. I arrived at “Refrigerator Canyon” feeling pretty good and I knew that this stretch would be mostly level before the wiggles. You do hit five or six longer switchbacks before you finally arrive, but once you see them, there is no mistaking. And still I felt pretty good. There are 21 corners to count on the wiggles and I announced each one until I made it all the way up. When you get to the top, you are at Scout’s Overlook and you are treated to a jaw dropping view of the whole valley, as well as the Terror/Death area.
As close as I’ll ever come to the Big Nope.
There were so many people up there. It would be inconceivable to me to try this trail, even with no one else around. But with a line of other humans also grabbing for the chain – literally the only thing preventing you from falling a thousand feet – there is just no way I understand how/why people do that. But clearly they do. And we watched. But only a little. I was happy that there was a “bathroom” up there, but I will say, it was extremely pungent. I had to hold my nose actually, but was glad for it in any case.
While I was feeling pretty pumped at having made it up, Richard was now worried about whether he would be able to make it down. He suffered a lot after the Black Canyon hike and was only just feeling fully recovered. But now that he had to sustain that same kind of downward stride, his legs were shaking and he was taking it super slow. But made it he did! And so did I! And we were stoked. And we had soft pretzels at the Lodge and there was much rejoicing.
Almost perfect for a paddle… except lightning.
It’s hard to top a day like that but the next day we planned to go out to Kolob Reservoir where I could maybe get my boat in the water. Richard rode the second half of it and it offered beautiful views from high above the canyon. There was one stretch of road, after a hairpin turn going up, that was narrow and deathy on the uphill side. No guard rails. I did not like that, especially when I had to pass a construction truck going down. Otherwise Kolob Terrace Road is spectacular. Unfortunately, even though the weather said no rain, there was a small storm centralized over the water. It was so small that I hoped it might just pass by, so I got my boat almost all the way set up. Then there was a lightning strike. I’m out. Pack it up. Instead, we drove out to Lava Point Overlook and enjoyed the views. We saw a Bald Eagle perched high atop an Aspen, so that was cool. And we checked out the Lamb’s Knoll climbing site. We weren’t interested in the climbing part, but the rock formations and surrounding valley were quite pretty.
Pretty desert colors by Lamb’s Knoll
For our final day in the park, I just could not unhook from wanting to do The Narrows. The water had calmed to a nice cafe au lait consistency and I figured I might be able to do at least some of it. We rented me an E bike so I could get my butt all the way out to the trailhead, carrying a walking stick in a tube at the back. This was my first foray on an E bike and I likey. It made it just easy enough to do the uphills that I was not totally spent by the time I got to the starting point. Richard had to do a work call, but said he would do his best to find me out there. While I had decided to try going in the water with my (former) hiking shoes, he was a strong no on water time. But then, as I was approaching the trail, there were rangers telling all hikers that there were storms happening up river and that flash floods were very likely. They advised against doing anything more than going very short distances in the river. Richard apparently had gotten a much more emphatic warning from the E bike rental guy. The words “lethal” and “deadly” were both used in the same sentence, which better explains his firm nopeness.
That’s The Narrows – at the top of the canyon, under those thick clouds…
I did go in the water a bit. There were plenty of other people who did not seem alarmed and were going past where I could see them. But after just a couple steps, I was absolutely sure that if something were to happen suddenly, running through the water would definitely not be an option. Every single step was done blind, feeling around for spaces free of large slippery rocks. It was cooling to go in and kind of fun to try it out, but I would really want that water to be pseudo clear if I were going to try walking any distance. Oh and no threat of lethal deadly flash floods too.
Still brown river, but beautiful anyway.
Richard met me at the start of the river trail and we had lunch on the shore, kind of excited actually, to see at least some kind of flash flood. But nothing happened and we walked back to the bikes. With an E bike, I can actually keep up with him. Mind you, he was in his “civvies” rather than bike shoes and clothes, and his legs were still probably sore, but that turns out to be a fair handicap. I was zooming along in Turbo mode telling him to try to keep up. E bikes are fun.
Aluminet over the top + covering the back wall + awning over the door wall + fans inside to blow around the air = nice and cool inside even in the mid 90s outside.
We finished off our last night with a tasty grilled steak and provolone sandwich, with mixed veggies on the side. This was the cherry on top of our southwest summer sundae. It had all the thrills. And so many places to get ice cream, or shoes, or E bikes. It’s the Disneyland of national parks, but it was the perfect bookend; the first and the eleventh national park of the summer. Temps started to get exciting, but with a little Aluminet covering, plus a few daily thunderstorms, the AC had no problem at all keeping up. I’m so glad it all worked out as well as it did.
Total miles: 143.7, 17.8 mpg. Site A20 hookups. Water spigots at the bathroom. No showers in the campground, but nice bathrooms. Good LTE for both. Good dump and potable water. Lots of space in the site, but no shade until late afternoon. Good solar.