Erin and I just got back from an incredible road trip out west with some good friends from college. The trip started in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we celebrated another college friend’s wedding, and ended in Phoenix, Arizona. I tried to keep a brief log of what we did each day while it was fresh and tracked some of my favorite photos from each location. Admittedly, my travel journaling was pretty inconsistent, so I went through and filled in details right when we got home - just to be upfront, everything in this post wasn’t written “in the field,” but I did try to capture my thoughts about the trip while they were salient and readily available.
Friday - 4/18/2021
Today was the first part of a two-day wedding celebration in Utah for a dear college housemate. His bride-to-be is Indian, so today we took part in a series of Indian festivities and celebrations - the western wedding ceremonies will occur tomorrow. The day included a Haldi Ceremony, where guests placed sandalwood, turmeric, and rice on the bride and groom before they were washed in a ceremonial bath. It was a fun mix of beautiful symbolism and celebratory chaos - by the end of the ceremony the groomsmen had started covering each other and the groom with turmeric, so everyone was quite yellow. I still have turmeric under my fingernails that won’t quite go away.
The other highlight was the Sangeet, which was a series of choreographed dances to celebrate the bride and groom. It was fun! We wore traditional Indian dress attire and watched various groups of family members and friends perform dances for the bride and groom. The groomsman dance was more organized chaos than choreography, but we did our best.
I was deeply honored to be allowed to take part in a celebration which was obviously significant and dearly held by the brides family as an important cultural touchpoint. The entire day was such a gift.
Saturday - 4/17/2021
What a beautiful day! Today was the wedding ceremony in Mapleton, Utah. The venue was nestled underneath a beautiful snow capped mountain at an orchard. Everything was pretty much perfect - from the ceremony, to the Indian catering, to the dancing, to having a chance to reconnect with old college friends for a bit. The bride and groom were so happy and confident and radiant.
Sunday - 4/18/2021
Today marks the beginning of the “on-the-road” portion of the trip with two friends from college who were also at the wedding. This morning we let ourselves have a bit of a slower start after the wedding festivities (this also let us do some laundry and get repacked before we hit the road). By around 11, we were in the car, heading towards the Kolob Canyons subsection of Zion National Park. It has a short scenic drive and a few easy hikes. The first hike took us out to a beautiful overlook, with mountains on our left and the open desert stretching out towards mountains just on the edge of the horizon.
We walked along a segment of a second hike which followed a small river through a canyon, but had to turn back to make sure we had cell service so that we could apply for shuttle tickets to enter the primary canyon of Zion National Park the following morning.
After snagging the tickets (somewhat miraculously, given the insane demand for shuttle access) we drove into the town of Springdale, which is just outside of the Zion canyon entrance. We got dinner in town and are going to go to sleep pretty early to make a good start towards Zion tomorrow morning!
Monday - 4/19/2021
We woke up and left around 7 AM to get a parking spot at the Zion visitors center before our scheduled shuttle ride at 8. Our hotel was in the town of Springdale, which is directly outside of the park entrance and pretty convenient. We took the shuttle to the farthest end of the park and attempted to hike The Narrows, which is a notoriously beautiful gorge where the Virgin River’s north fork flows into the main trench of the Zion canyon. The water is shallow and slow, so hypothetically you should be able to hike upstream through the river. Unfortunately, the water this time of year is extremely cold - after about a minute of standing in the water my feet were cramping up and I couldn’t feel my toes. We explored a bit of the canyon but quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to make it the entire 9 miles of the narrows trail, so we turned around and tried to thaw our feet out.
Other hikers had rented waterproof gear to traverse The Narrows at this time of year, but because we didn’t have a full day in the park it wasn’t worthwhile to do that this time around. We at least were able to get a taste of the trail and hope to be able to come out and explore the whole thing during a summer trip at some point in the future when the water is warmer.
Because we still had some time before we needed to leave the park, we hiked the Watchman Trail, which is a moderate trek up to an overlook that has a great view of the canyon and the surrounding mountains.
Later that afternoon, we drove down to Horseshoe Bend, which is just across the Arizona border near the town of Page. It was super windy and we got pelted with sand (it was rough and coarse and it got everywhere) but the view was crazy! I had a really hard time getting a sense of the scale of it. The mix of people there was pretty interesting - it seems that lots of Instagram influencers come here to get good photos.
Page seems like a cool town - like a tiny oasis in the middle of the desert.
Tuesday - 4/20/2021
We woke up this morning and grabbed coffee and donuts from a local shop before heading south to the Grand Canyon. The Arizona desert is so empty - no civilization anywhere for miles and miles, just rock ridges, shrubs, and power lines.
We got to the Grand Canyon at around noon - it’s unfathomably big! The whole thing looks like a giant green screen set up about 30 feet from the canyon ledge.
We spent the first part of the day driving along a scenic route with several viewpoints where you could pull off and take in the view. Here’s a shot from our first stop at Lipan Point:
In the afternoon, we hiked the South Kaibab Trail partway into the canyon until we reached an overlook which is aptly called “Ooh-Aah Point.” The trail freaked me out a bit because there were a few places with abrupt drop-offs into the canyon. I tried not to think about how high up we were.
Here’s an image from the overlook where we turned around. At this point we had descended over 650 feet, but it’s pretty obvious how trivial that distance is when compared to the canyon’s depth. Like I said, unfathomable.
We finished the day trying to catch the sunset from Navajo Point, but the clouds ended up blocking the view and the evening got pretty windy / cold.
Wednesday - 4/21/2021
This morning we rented bikes and rode them from the visitor center to the Bright Angel trailhead. We saw some wild hogs along the trail which was pretty crazy. Biking was cool - we didn’t get as many views of the canyon along the bike trails, but it was nice mixing it up and getting to ride through the Arizona forests that surround the canyon. The forest is primarily dusty shrubs and pine trees and seems to be - in a different context, the bike ride would have felt at home in the Outer Banks (minus the elk, which are everywhere in the park). I was surprised by the infrastructure that the National Park Service has built around the canyon - we rode past a couple of lodging areas, a train station, a mule stable, a cemetary, and a space set aside for religious services.
I really enjoyed the Bright Angel trail. We went about 1.5 miles down to an overlook with a view of Plateau Point, which is a major turnaround location near the bottom of the canyon. Obviously we didn’t go down that far, but the upper portion of the trail wound through a couple of tunnels in the rock, and its positioning along the rock wall made it easy to see how the canyon passes through a series of sediment formations as you move downward. It really provides a sense of the extreme intervals of time represented in the cut-away stone as you descend.
Here is where we turned around on the Bright Angel trail. Way in the distance, you can see Plateau Point, which is still miles (and many thousands of feet in altitude) away!
Later in the day, after returning our bikes, we shuttled / hiked the Rim Trail to various lookout points along the South Rim of the canyon. The Rim Trail itself was pretty cool - you’re always right on the edge of the canyon so its easy to stop anywhere and get a great view.
Later in the evening we came back to Hopi Point to see the sunset. As is always true, the pictures don’t do justice to the gradual change in colors as the sunset spread through the sky and spilled into the canyon.
Thursday - 4/22/2021
After waking up, we made the drive down to Sedona, where we spent the rest of the day. Sedona is really cool - I would absolutely come back here again. We started our time in Sedona by visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is a famous Roman Catholic Church with really interesting architecture and a beautiful view of Sedona from the sanctuary.
We then went into Sedona itself and explored the downtown area a bit. There’s a really interesting market area called Tlaquepaque which was apparently built to mimic Mexican architecture. There are lots of meandering staircases and courtyards and fountains and alcoves with sculptures and wall-art - it was very easy to get lost as we explored the complex. Most of the art galleries seemed a bit too expensive / fragile for a group of dirty hikers to peruse, but it was fun getting some Chai and walking around.
Friday - 4/23/2021
On our last morning before flying back to the east coast, we hiked the Fay Canyon Trail, which is a short out-and-back into a heavily wooded canyon which hat ends at a rockfall with a small scramble up to a great view back into the canyon.
We made a short stop to see the Amitabha and Stupa Peace Park, which is a parcel of land set apart for meditation and various spiritual practices. I honestly don’t know much about Buddhism, but entering a space set aside for reflection and meditation was quite beautiful. Leaving this trip, I want to learn more about Buddhism from the perspective of practicing Buddhists - it feels valuable just as a world citizen to understand the religion a bit better.
After a busy early morning, we grabbed breakfast and hit the road for Phoenix, quickly re-entering the wide open desert.
Along the way to Phoenix, we stopped at Montezuma’s Castle, which is a Native American residential structure that is nearly 1000 years old. It is built directly into a cliff wall that overlooks a nearby river.
Here’s a view from inside the end of the (aptly named) Hole in the Rock:
I wish we had more time to check out the city, since so much of our trip was spent out in nature, but in the end that does give us another reason to head out west again soon! Ultimately, given the realities of Covid, it was also best for us to stay outside in the open air for the entirety of the week anyways. So Phoenix is certainly on my list as another visit for another time.
This was such a refreshing and exciting trip. I feel especially fortunate to have seen the Grand Canyon with my own eyes - I can’t reitrate enough how incomprehensible it is. The human mind really isn’t built to understand spaces and objects that large - the first moment of peering out over the ledge into the abyss was the highlight of week, for sure.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you enjoyed the pictures - I’m excited to be able to come back to this litle travel journal a year or two from now and remind myself how cool the southwest United States is.