Tuesday 25th April – Where Angel’s Land

Jon had a big sleep in while I did some writing with the company of a hummingbird buzzing in my ear and around my bike. After initially thinking I was on the up, I feared my sore throat was getting worse as I coughed and spluttered away. Once I was done with my blog, I took advantage of the perfect reception we had on the hill to catch up on the F1 held in Bahrain last week. Jon rose after I’d gotten through an exciting qualifying. Couldn’t wait to watch the race now!

I made us a bacon, avocado and cheese omelette which we ate while admiring the views that we’d seen the day before. I discovered to my surprise that my fridge had turned off overnight, thanks to the cloudy day yesterday and the shade the solar panel was in from the bike. Jon was keen to do some experiments to determine the output of the solar panel and the effect of the shade on it, so we were on the lookout for a good space to do some testing. We left camp around 11am, now on Mountain Time, a very late start for me. We’d gotten away with one of my best camps yet, full credit to Jon for seeking it out.

After driving down the hill, we took a sharp left to go and check out a ghost town that Jon had found. At the end of the dirt road, we found Grafton, a settlement from the 1940s that was supposed to be a cotton farm. There were a few buildings left that had been restored to their former glory and one under construction by a man working away in the field. As we got out of the car, we were joined by a beautiful grey and white dog, friendly as ever and she walked with us as we checked out the buildings.

The church and next door building had been fully restored with glass windows for us to peer through while the shack a little ways away was still open, allowing us to walk through. It was a magical place, I can only imagine what it would have been like eighty years ago. The grass in the fields was alarmingly green and the village sat at the bottom of the valley, looking up towards the red, white and orange cliffs of Zion. Further down the road, there were cows grazing in the fields, right next to the Virgin river, flowing healthily right by the town.

I watched my new friend roll around in the mud and chase rabbits through the field while Jon dawdled in the old houses then the three of us walked to another house back along the road. The gate was locked, but we just sidled over the nearby fence and into the home. It was a beautiful old place, complete with creaking doors and floorboards, even had a cellar round the back that went underneath the house. Back outside, in the barn we found an old wagon, it pretty good condition too!

Walking back along the road, my new friend became very playful, wanting to jump all over me and play-bite my hands. I went along with it, walking/running along the road. When we got back to where the man was working on his project, he yelled out for her to get down, but I told him she was alright. We got talking to Mike, a thin man in his 50s, who had been working away on a small log cabin with very modest tools. He told me that his dog’s name was Mia (Mee-ah) and that he’d been out there working for only a few weeks and already had four walls up. Next was the roof, the challenging bit, but he expected to be done in another few weeks. He enjoyed the serenity of working out in the fields with some music going and only himself and Mia to worry about. He was a happy guy, obviously happy to be working outdoors doing something that he loves. Mike advised us that we should head down the other road to see another house which was posted for no trespassing, but he said we’d be ok.

After doing some solar panel testing we followed his advice and drove the short way down the road, jumped the fence and explored the last house. This one was absolutely gorgeous. On top of a set of very narrow, steep and creaky stairs was a two-bedroom attic that would have been the perfect haven for a pair of young kids. My Mum would love exploring this place. Around the back of the house were some very healthy cows enjoying some very green grass. At the side of the house was an outhouse, complete with a halfmoon on the door and a huge barn, used in the filming of “Bush Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” according to Mike. We wandered down to the river next to a Mummy cow with her two calves and watched the river flow past us.

Jon had a play on a fancy tractor on our way back to the car, fiddling with all the controls and fancying himself a farm man. Back at the fence, I encouraged an older couple to make the climb over the barbed wire so that they could see the beautiful house and, kudos to them, they made it over. Mia had attached herself to them now, obviously no loyalty!

We’d been in Grafton nearly two hours, just wandering the place in the sun and now, we drove out, with a wave goodbye to Mike. It was time to get to Zion. As soon as we got Springdale, it was very obvious that the place was busy with tourists, a complete contrast to what I’d experienced around New Year’s of 2015 when the place was empty. There were cars parked all over the streets and the places that had seemed familiar before now looked foreign. We drove on through to the park and, ignoring the “parking full” signs, we found a spot right at the door to the visitor’s centre, a perfect Colin Edwards park. We wandered in to the center amongst the tourists, reading the information signs as we went. I lost Jon at one point when I went to the information desk to find out a bit more about the technical canyons in the park that required ropes and abseiling skills, which we were equipped with! Unfortunately most of the canyons were too full of water to enter, so that idea went out the window. It looked like we’d be hiking. After doing a few laps of the centre, I finally found Jon and we agreed that we should have lunch, then catch the shuttle bus up the scenic route to do a hike.

At the car, I donned some pants and a jacket to combat the cold wind and Jon rummaged through everything he had trying to find his jacket. I eventually found it in his climbing backpack, much to his joy. I made chicken and cheese toasties for lunch while Jon put his hiking boots on and eventually we were ready. We walked off to the shuttle bus, expecting a line, but instead walked right on to a bus. The views through the canyon were beautiful, the rocks shining their bright colours in the afternoon sun. We got off the bus at the Zion lodge for an over-priced ice cream before walking a half mile down a trail by the road to the Angel’s Landing trailhead. It was all very familiar from the last time I’d been here, with significantly less ice and snow on the ground.

We started our trek up to the peak just before 4pm. With the sun going down after 8pm mountain time, we had no worries about timing. The path was as steep as I remembered, but the greenery in the valley astounded me. Everything looked so healthy and alive. We climbed steadily to the top, wishing happy hellos to those coming to the end of their hike. Once we passed through to the canyon between two big walls, I could hear our footsteps echoing so gave a big “Kooooiiiee” which triggered a bunch of hoots and yells from people all over the trail. We climbed the steep switchbacks up the backside of Angel’s and I waited for Jon at the top as he donned some cold weather gear not knowing he was only two switchbacks away from sunshine.

The sun at the saddle was strong but the wind was also howling a little so the temperature dropped more than a few degrees. I was half wishing I’d brought more than just my light jacket. We didn’t break for long at the saddle like a lot of others, but head off along the chains to the tip of the climb. Last time I’d done this I was wearing traction devices on my feet to give me some chance of staying upright in the ice and snow. By comparison, the grippy sandstone was a walk in the park! The views were stunning the whole way along the chains so we didn’t mind when we had to wait for slower climbers to come past us or for us to get by them. One guy on his way down, dressed in full camo gear, advised us that we would be getting back to the valley in the dark. Thanks for making that estimation of our abilities and speed old guy, we think we’ll be just fine!

We’d been hiking just under two hours by the time we reached the peak and almost had it to ourselves. Jon was suitably impressed with the view, as was I. After taking a few photos for another couple, we were joined by a couple of guys that we got talking to as we took in the view. They’d met on the trail and made fast friends and we had some happy banter with them. When the guy from Boston went down the face of the hill a bit to see how someone had managed to make a rock stack on a steep bit of rock, he voiced his question, “I wonder how someone got over there?” I told him, “they must have had bigger balls than you.” He was quite speechless.

Jon played with the squirrels and chipmunks, feeding them with a bit of the apple he was eating, which is highly illegal, while I fraternised some more with Boston boy and had a go at his fancy binoculars, managing to spot a pair of cyclists way, way down below, travelling along the twisting road. The wind was picking up and the valley was fully shrouded in shade so it was time to head down.

It was much quicker going with gravity and, not worried about the warning we’d received about arriving back into the valley at dark, we stopped at a flaked piece of wall just past the switchbacks to play a bit of bouldering. It was a potential problem that Jon had spotted on the way up and he was right in pointing it out, it was a good spot and we played around for quite a while.

The inappropriate shoes we were both wearing made it all the more challenging, especially for me when I gave up on my trail runners completely and switched to bare feet, hanging on by my big toe on more than one occasion. We had a good half hour of fun here, even seeing Boston boy and his mate again. It was enough time for Jon to complete the problem from both ends, getting to the middle from the left and to the middle from the right.

The rest of the walk down was quite short in time and easy on the lungs. The temperature was dropping as fast as we were so we didn’t muck around. Good thing there is so much time in the day! We stopped by the river near the trailhead to check out the strength of the current and the temperature of the water. It was flowing much faster than when I’d seen it last and it didn’t seem to be any warmer from the winter temperature.

We had only a short wait for the shuttle bus and in the mean time saw a giant turkey with his feathers in full flare behind him waddling down the road at his leisure. Not much more entertainment than that, we were on the bus with a dozen other people, admiring the towering cliffs in the sunset. Having talked about the possibility of working as a ranger in a place like this, we drove past the employee residential area, a few houses nestled into the valley, complete with a few people enjoying their dinner at an outdoor table. Not a bad gig.

Jon had the sleepies by the time we got off the bus and I wasn’t ready to expel much more energy either. Our first task back at the visitor’s centre was to fill up with water, which we did, happy that we’d be drinking and bathing in Zion spring water for the next few days. Despite the late hour (it was past 8pm), we thought we’d try our luck in the campsite for a walk-in and, after a quick consult at the entrance station, it looked as though one electric site was free so we made a beeline for it. Sure enough, right at the entrance to the RV camp, there was a vacant spot and I pulled right in. We couldn’t believe our luck!

I parked the van and we wandered back to the entrance station to see about paying, only to discover that we had to check in the following morning before 9am, so there was no more action required on our part. Even more winning! When we noticed a couple in a van driving out of the camp looking disappointed, I flagged them down and asked if they would like to share the site we’d just nabbed. Their faces lit up with joy, they were ecstatic at the opportunity. They drove back around and met us at our new spot.

Neil and Lacy were new to van travelling, but they’d packed a lot of adventure into the one month that they’d had. Neil was a Brit making the most of his one year working visa, flying out of Vegas on its expiry date and he’d fallen into Lacy’s lap in South Dakota. I was impressed at how much they were maximising their time considering they only had a month to get from Zion, do a big loop and fly Neil out of Vegas.

In the time we were at camp, I had a bottle shower and made Jon and I dinner. Jon declined the bottle shower, thinking it was too cold to suffer one, but he accepted the dinner alright. We were only up for a few hours before it was 11pm and bed time. Neil and Lacy gave me $15 for the morning to pay for half the campsite as they planned to be on the first shuttle at 7am to get to Angel’s Landing in plenty of time.

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