In traveling from New Mexico to Utah via Arizona, we drove over 600 miles on the first day of our Utah camping trip. 600 miles from Southern New Mexico to northern Arizona. That’s about 1000 kilometres. We drove via Carizozzo, Pie town, Magdalena, Socorro, the Petrified National Forest, and Flagstaff, before ending up in Page, Arizona. Page, Arizona, is on the edge of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon – with both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon within only a few miles.
We wouldn’t normally have driven into Flagstaff on this route, but we had to stop off at REI for a couple of much-needed items. We discovered that Dwight’s frame pack, which took him through Peru and to Macchu Picchu, and which also contained two sleeping bags, a couple of headlamps and his camping knife, and our ENO hammock and tree ties, was missing. We realised that we had not seen it since our move in March. Ugh. Yep. Let’s just say that we did not move ourselves….and leave it at that.
Because one of the sleeping bags had a broken zipper, we had already replaced it when we drove through Phoenix on our way back from the Las Vegas trip, and we already had upgraded the headlamps – Dwight had won a Black Diamond headlamp when he placed first in the 15 mile at Jemez Mountain Trail Race, and I had given him a Petzl headlamp last Christmas. But, we still needed to buy a sleeping bag for me, and a replacement folding knife.
I ended up with a Marmot Trestle 15. It is designed to be good until 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 Celsius). I have two guiding principles for camping – no one pays me to sleep on the ground anymore and I absolutely detest being cold so I need to have warmth in the bedding department. I will gladly tell you that with the temperature dropping to about 35-40F I was lovely and warm even being lightly dressed. As for the first part, we have excellent sleeping pads. I am only about 3 inches off the ground but I can’t feel it (and that’s all that matters).
Just before we arrived at Page, we stopped at Horsehoe Bend right on sunset. We kind of missed sunset really, arriving well after 8pm. It’s about a .6 mile walk in red sand to the lookout point from the carpark. The lookout was filled with about 150 people, all marveling at the natural beauty of the Lake Powell tributary (it later joins the Colorado River) as it winds its way around such a majestic rock outcrop the size of a mountain. It is hard to capture images which do its magnificence justice.
The second morning we were out of the hotel (our last night in a real bed for 4 nights) by 7am Arizona time. We were a little concerned about making sure that we secured a campsite at King’s Creek campground – they are first come, first served and we weren’t exactly sure how busy it would be. We stopped off for breakfast overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam and Bridge.
The new Navajo Bridge (over Glen Canyon) was built in 1995. One of the engineers on the project was Robert Rabe, Dwight’s grandfather. Bob Rabe was the engineer for bridges all over Arizona, Alaska, California, and Wisconsin. It was the first time Dwight and I had ever seen a bridge he had been an engineer on and it was really special. I didn’t have the chance to meet Dwight’s grandfather as he passed away in 1999. This is one of the last bridges he ever worked on.
We drove up Highway 89 into Utah and had to leave a little team Rabe on the way in.
We drove through Kanab, Utah, by Red Canyon, and saw some arches over the road and hoodoos. Once we entered Dixie National Forest, I was surprised to see so much green – It is an alpine desert. As we climbed to over 8000ft and then settled at 7800ft at King’s Creek Campground – I felt myself in awe of the natural beauty and unexpectedness of it all.
We arrived at King’s Creek Campground, driving past Tropic Reservoir where Dwight will start his 50k race on Saturday.
We were happy and satisfied to find about half the campsites vacant and found one shaded by tall thin ponderosa pines in the centre ring of sites at the back of the campground. By dark, there would be no campsites remaining. We would have likely secured a campsite arriving later in the day but we certainly wouldn’t have had much choice.
We set up camp, had some leftover tamales for lunch, and pottered about for a couple of hours. We had a “crew meeting” with Dwight explaining his race plan and roughly what he will need at the aid stations. While his race will have four aid stations, I am only able to meet him at one of them – we talked about how many calories he is aiming to consume each hour, his plan for hydrating during the race and the effort level he is aiming at during each part of the race.
We looked at the map and compared it to the altitude map – this race will have over 6000ft of climbing. Then it was time for packet pick up and to go exploring in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The drive from King’s Creek to Ruby’s Inn is about 6 miles, but it is mostly dirt road. The dust obscures much of your view as cars barrel past. No wetting down roads here. Ruby’s Inn is a mountain town – set up for tourist traffic – and there were dozens of tour buses in addition to the traffic there for the Bryce Canyon Ultras race expo and packet pick up.
The Grand Circle extends from the Grand Canyon to the south, Shiprock in New Mexico, and Capital Reef in the north – about a 250 mile radius. It is an area filled with the highest density of national parks and monuments in the contiguous United States – hence the tour buses. There were quite a number with Chinese characters marking them out as specialist tours for Chinese tourists.
The expo was a small collection of tents and activities. There was a s’mores area, the bib pick up and tshirt pick up areas, the merchandise tent, tents from a couple of other organizations and companies, a broadcast booth, and an area where people could redeem the meal ticket that came with their entry or buy lunch. The theme was about conservation, and about fun. There was also a bicycle operated smoothie station, and a diy pizza cooking area.
We spent about an hour or so there. Dwight went live on their Facebook feed – his first time “going live” and we enjoyed the sunshine and the energy. We also connected with friends from New Mexico who are in Utah for the race and who we hope to catch at an aid station on Friday during the 100-mile race. We wandered into the Ruby’s inn hotel gift shop and souvenir area – the largest of its kind I’ve seen in a long time, but there were so many people.
Dwight and I looked at each other and wordlessly headed for the nearest exit. Time to go explore Bryce Canyon! As we drove to the fee station we were once again grateful for the national park access pass that military families are able to receive without cost. The $30 entry fee is incredibly important to ensuring that services and facilities are kept up and built – but we are incredibly grateful that the National Parks Service makes access free to military families.
Even in mid June the park has a steady stream of cars and tour buses. Almost ¾ of the park is blocked off to most visitors – with access being tightly controlled – this is where a tour might be worth your time and money, especially if you are looking at going to areas like Rainbow point. The parking was full for Sunset point, and so rather than stopping at Sunrise Point or Inspiration Point we drove all the way to Bryce Point which overlooks the Bryce Ampitheatre.
We did a short walk down the under the rim trail (for about .4 mile) and then walked back to Bryce point toward inspiration point on the rim trail. It is all paved and there are no stairs.
What struck me at Bryce Point was the way the earth changed color from pale white to deep rich red. The lines of alpine trees intersecting.
The hoodoos rose like cathedral spires and castle towers. The rock faces had openings like the caves at mesa verde. In some ways it felt more accessible that the grand canyon, whose sheer size overwhelms. Here you could examine the details and watch as the birds dove toward the bottom of the canyon, the hiking trails visible as gashes in the landscape. The people looked like ants down there.
On our way back to the gate we stopped off at Paria View which looks directly into Bryce Canyon itself. There were far fewer people here, and we wandered slowly down the rim trail seeking out new and different vantage points. Part of this area didn’t have railings and there were numerous teenage boys torturing their mothers with their attempts to get close to the edge.
It was almost 5pm by time we left the visitors centre to head back to King’s Creek for Dwight to do a shakeout run and start thinking about dinner.
The headache that I had started feeling while we were at Bryce (at 8300ft) started to feel worse. Ahh, altitude headache, I have not missed you old friend. I only get them above 8000ft and usually with some medications and lots of water they go away after a few hours, like this one.
I usually make burgers the first night at camp, because they are easy and I can premake the burgers and freeze them (and they stay cold in the Esky (cooler for our American friends). It also means we can use the Gluten free buns and free up some space in our food storage. Once Dwight got back from a 4 mile run, I cooked the burgers and some mushrooms and heated up the GF buns (that is totally the secret my friends to them not tasting like cardboard), and added some avocado and tomatoes.
After dinner we talked, roasted marshmallows, and sat by the fire reading until dark, before crawling into our sleeping bags.
The next day we tried to catch our friend Matt at the Straight Canyon and Crawford Pass aid stations – we missed him at the first by about 30 minutes and the second by just a few minutes. He was in 2nd at 54 miles and although the aid station chief told us one of matt’s feet were bothering him, he was moving well. Matt is one of the mentally toughest athletes we know so knowing that his training, some of which Dwight shared, was standing him well buoyed Dwight – though he was disappointed we didn’t get to see Matt. We got back to the campsite around 5:30 pm, ate dinner, Dwight stretched out on a yoga mat to try and relax and do some visualization of the race. We talked through different scenarios including things that could go wrong: what if we missed him at the one aid station we were planning on meeting him, what if he bonked at a specific point, what if he had GI issues…it might sound morbid, but these conversations – or “rehearsing working the problem” are a great technique for thinking through contingencies and having mentally considered the options relieves stress and anxiety rather than create, even though that might sound counter-intuitive. These conversations would prove to be invaluable as the next day played out.
New Mexico to Utah via Arizona proved to be a fitting way to begin what would prove to be more of an adventure than we ever could have imagined. You can read Dwight’s race report for the Bryce Canyon 50 along with our other posts from this trip:
Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
Traveler. Scholar. Photographer. Writer. Dreamer. Teacher.
Anna Rabe is a speaker, writer, and social entrepreneur. She is proudly Team Rabe. The American Identity Tour is a crazy adventure marked with photos and word and inspired by the incredible women in Anna’s family, especially her late grandmother, whom she knew as Nan-Nan. Anna is currently finishing her book, “Not a Pedestrian Life.”