The remainder of our time in St George turned out to be partly relaxation and partly just the opposite. After enjoying the rodeo so much Sarah enrolled in a bull riding course ……. OK maybe she didn’t! She did however spend a few hours each day making good use of the sun beds by the pool, enjoying the 30 degrees plus heat and Steve joined her for some of the time. Actually he joined her for all of the time! He also did quite a lot of running as he has a marathon coming up in a few weeks and his preparation hasn’t been going quite to plan. We also dusted off the bikes and had a few hours here and there getting our cycling legs moving again. The return to San Francisco and the resumption of our trip to Mexico is starting to loom large on the horizon.
St George is situated less than an hour’s drive from Zion National Park. This is a fantastic place with incredible scenery and some extremely varied hiking. We visited the park a few years ago and being so close we had to make a return visit. There were a couple of walks we wanted to do, those being Angel’s Landing and The Narrows, but squeezing two trips out to Zion and back around all the sun bathing was proving a little difficult to fit in. After much discussion about which walk to do Steve decided we should do Angel’s Landing….. and Sarah decided we should do The Narrows! Then Sarah suggested “Why don’t you run Angels Landing while I have a coffee and read my book and then we can do The Narrows together?”. Steve thought this was a brilliant suggestion so we parked up in Zion nice and early, caught the shuttle bus to the Zion Lodge and Sarah went off for her coffee and sausage and egg biscuit and Steve headed for the start of the trail. Angel’s Landing is called by some “The scariest hike in America”. It is a fairly steep two and a half mile climb up to a place called Scout’s Lookout, nothing too scary in that bit, it is just tough on the calf muscles. It’s the last half mile that all the fuss is about as it is a very narrow ridge sometimes only one person wide (you have to turn sideways to pass someone coming the other way) with 1500 feet vertical drop offs on either side. It’s defiantly not for vertigo suffers. There are some pretty good videos on youtube if anyone wants to take a look. Steve didn’t get his camera out until the end of the hike!
Another two and half miles back down and we meet up, with Sarah still licking her lips from her breakfast and having walked along the river bank in order to meet Steve. We then jumped back on a shuttle bus to the very end of the park to start The Narrows walk. This is the signature hike of Zion and can only be done at certain times of the year when the river isn’t too high or flowing too fast and there is little or no rain in the forecast. The hike is very unusual as you follow the river where it has cut a deep ravine through the rock with sheer rock faces on either side which are several hundred feet high. The distance between the sides of the ravine is very narrow, hence the name. As you move along the hike you have to make several crossings of the river, what makes this particular hike unusual is there are no bridges!! So in order to cross the river you have to go through it!
To be honest it’s great fun. The trail goes on for 16 miles and you can get a permit to camp at the far end and then return. We did a shortened four hour route of which about two hours were actually walking in the water. Sometimes it was only a few inches deep, other times it was above waist height and it wasn’t particularly warm! The river bed is very rocky which makes it a little precarious under foot and we did see a few people fall in. Sarah ended up carrying her bumbag around her neck for most of the crossings. By the end our feet were completely numb, but it was well worth doing….. a great experience. We finished the day pretty worn out. “A day by the pool tomorrow I think” suggested Sarah with no argument on that one from Steve.
After St George we headed South towards the world famous lights of Las Vegas, but as we hit the outskirts of the city with the mega hotels of The Strip in clear sight our route took us back North. The experience of “Vegas” will have to wait for a few weeks. We shall be returning with Steve’s son and his girlfriend at the end of October. For now it was onwards to Death Valley.
Wow that place is hot! It’s late September and it was still 43 degrees, and so dry! It must be unbearable in July and August when it hits the 50’s. Steve being Steve had to go for a run. So around about midday he set off for 5 miles in the middle of Death Valley! Funnily enough he didn’t see any other runners as it seemed everyone else was enjoying the views from the comfort of their air conditioned vehicles!
Death Valley is a strange place, with salt flats and a rugged dry landscape and obviously not much lives there. Although it was a great experience to visit (and for Steve to run there) it would have to rank towards the bottom of the places we have visited so far. Maybe slightly above some of the dodgy towns in Washington and Oregon with populations of less than 50 though!
As you approach the end of Death Valley the road climbs high and over a mountain range before descending back to the valley floor. This area is used as a training ground for the fighter pilots of the US Airforce and as we drove over the mountain and started our decent back to the valley bottom we were lucky enough to see one come hurtling along the valley bottom several hundred feet below. We also past some unusual places including the US nuclear test site from the 1940’s as well as coming close to Area 51!
After Death Valley we continued North. We were heading for our next stop, the town of Mammoth Lakes. With Death Valley sitting a couple of hundred feet below sea level and Mammoth Lakes up at almost 9000 feet, the next 4 hours saw an incredible change in scenery. The dry dust of the desert was gradually replaced by the cooler, fresher mountain air. Although we have both thoroughly enjoyed our last three weeks in desert conditions, in fact they have been incredible, we were both looking forward to the change in environment for the next few days.
We arrived in Mammoth Lakes in late afternoon and went straight to the start of one of the trails. We had come to do some walking so we thought we would make the most of our time and get straight to it. An hour’s walk around one of the lakes was a good appetizer and also a reminder of how things are different at over 9000 feet. The lungs have to work that little but harder, in fact everything has to work a little bit harder. At the end of the walk, with a fair amount of daylight left, Steve decided to go for another run and off he went for another four miles. “I probably won’t get the opportunity to run below sea level and above 9000 feet on the same afternoon again” was his excuse!
The following day we did a couple of walks around Mammoth Lakes. It is a beautiful place, with pine trees all around, crystal clear lakes dotted in the landscape and pockets of snow still clinging to the sheltered crevices of the highest slopes. Mammoth is primarily a ski area with a very long season, in fact they were skiing this year until July 28th! They are hoping to open the slopes again in November so that’s only 3 months to cram in Spring, Summer and Autumn! We had initially looked at camping here but with temperatures forecast to be below freezing, and hotel costs being simply ridiculous, we ended up in a hostel right in the middle of town. It turned out to be a steal at 65 quid a night!!!! You can imagine the price of a room in a hotel!!
Mammoth Lakes was a lovely place and once more our visit was over too quickly and we were soon on the move again. This time to quite a well known place, Yosemite National Park. They have a National Parks version of monopoly here and Yosemite has the same purple square as Park Lane, so it is rated highly. We were expecting big things! Did it deliver? Yes……and No!
The campsites at Yosemite are similar to those at the Grand Canyon in that you have to be there online ready to book when the slots become available. We were lucky enough to secure a pitch for a three night stay over the weekend. We were up and away early from Mammoth Lakes for the two and a half hour drive. We saw the saw sunrise over the mountains and drove into the park. After entering the park it is still well over an hour to the village but the scenery makes the time fly by. We stopped a couple of times for photos, but didn’t stay out of the car for too long as the temperature was barely above freezing! Luckily Yosemite village is situated at around 4000 feet so by dropping down 6000 feet from the top of Tioga Pass, and an hour later in the day, the weather was pretty reasonable when we arrived at 9am. We were too early to go to the campsite so we hit one of the trails straight away. We chose The Mist trail which ascends 3200 feet past two waterfalls which even at this time of year were still flowing enough to make the trip worthwhile. Like many of the trails in Yosemite The Mist Trail is not easy going, with steep gradients and uneven ground it certainly makes your legs work, but the views are amazing and you forget all about the hard going to get up there.
After a good five hour walk we made our way to the campsite and this was the first time we got a real appreciation for how busy Yosemite can get. The site was in a great location in the middle of some enormous pine trees, it was a big site and it was busy, very busy. The site was completely full and some people had come in quite large groups and had taken full advantage of the pitches, many had four tents to a pitch. The toilet blocks were pretty basic, pretty small and pretty dirty. The showers were in Curry Village a good 15 minute walk away. They just couldn’t cope with the number of people. Don’t get us wrong, we are well used to managing with the absolute basics and even with no toilets at all. We have dug holes in the ground several times this year, but this is a prestigious National Park, Park Lane on the monopoly board! It just couldn’t cope with the number of people.
The next day we were up early and, although feeling a little stiff from the previous days walk and the cold night in a tent, we set off on another trail this time to Glacier Point. This trail was higher and longer than the previous day so we set off pretty slow but soon got into a rhythm. Once again the views were outstanding but it wasn’t until we reached the top that we got the real show stopper. An absolutely fantastic view of the whole valley. We were lucky it was such a brilliantly clear day and all the sights that are featured in the well known photographs of the park were clearly visible. Half Dome and El-Capitan seemed to be in touching distance. It was a great place to continue the theme of “lunch with a view” before heading back down to the village.
The trail up to Glacier Point had not been very busy at all, probably because it’s a good six hour tough hike there and back. When we got back down we were hit with the full force of Saturday afternoon in Yosemite. It was ridiculously busy with people and cars everywhere!! We had considered walking to the trailhead in the morning but that would have added two miles to the walk each way and with tired legs at the start we decided to drive and park the car…. Big mistake…. the two miles back to the campsite took just over an hour and a half! There was just no parking. All the car parks were full and had been closed and the Park Rangers were sending people round a six mile, one way loop which had become full of cars and the whole road network was at a standstill. What really struck us was firstly how well the Rangers were prepared for the full car parks with pre made signs directing people on a never ending loop (which were obviously well used) and secondly it wasn’t even a holiday period. What it must be like in August… we dread to think!
So Yosemite for us was unbelievably good hiking and outstanding views, but you have to be prepared to share the village which has inadequate infrastructure with several thousand others. Or come midweek in November maybe?
With Yosemite finished it was time to make our way back to the coast for a short stop at the surfing mecca of Santa Cruz before returning the car to San Francisco and getting back on the bikes to finish the trip to Mexico…..oh yes we had almost forgotten about that!