Friday, February 27, 2015

Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

10/23-27/2014. Drawn in Kanab, Buckskin Gulch, and Kaibab Plateau.
The two men that picked us up at Zion brought us to U.S. Highway 89, to an intersection full of truck stops, gas stations, and motels. We visited Thunderbird for lunch, particularly because we were amused with their sign. According to Thunderbird's history, "homemade" was initially abbreviated to fit onto the sign. Over the years the shorter version, "ho-made" came to take on a different meaning. It was then that they added the girl to the sign. Visitors from all over the world have eaten here. The name has played a huge part, but the pies definitely are worth the stop!

Freebird and I finished up an exceptional lunch and dessert and then it was time to complete our journey to Kanab. We stood in front of the restaurant and waited on someone to offer us a ride.

While waiting, a local woman and her furry friend stopped by to visit. They were driving along an ATV trail (there's a huge network of these trails in the area) back to Kanab.

Soon a couple and their next-door neighbor stopped for us. Before entering Kanab, we passed the entrance to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They all highly recommended that we take a tour at this large, no-kill animal shelter. We kept it in mind and considered going later. We figured that we would be returning to Kanab after exploring some of southern Utah and northern Arizona. 

Our ride trustingly brought us home with them and introduced us to their chihuahuas and their neighbors in the trailer park. They were so kind and hospitable toward us, recommending a few restaurants, the best grocery store, and some motels to stay at in Kanab. They also gave us directions to the local BLM office. By the end of the day, if we failed to find a room, the couple offered us a patch on their driveway to set up camp!

One of the couple's chihuahuas, Lilou.
We ended up finding a room at Red Rock Inn, the second place we checked. We tried to negotiate with Dan, and he lowered the price by a whopping 47 cents! He was impressed by our persistence anyway and told us that we brought some fun to his day. We set down our packs in the room and walked over to the BLM Field Office to find out more information about the Wave Lottery.

Every morning  at 8:30 a lottery is held at the Kanab Visitor Center to permit a certain number of individuals to visit the Wave the following day. Only 20 people a day are allowed to walk through this small patch of BLM land, and it is closely monitored. Many people have made it part of their bucket lists, so this area is in huge demand. Visitors will often stay for a week or more in Kanab, entering the lottery each day. At their peak time during the summer, 100-200 people will cram into the room to hear the results.

At the Field Office, we received directions from two women as to how to get to the lottery in the morning. They rolled their eyes at hearing about the Wave. One of them said that this is all that most tourists care about, when everywhere else around Kanab and southern Utah is just as worthy of visiting. We agreed completely with them. We could care less if we would actually win, but the lottery itself sounded like it would be an interesting, unforgettable experience that we just couldn't miss! The women advised many other beautiful places to visit in the area and gave us maps.

Upon returning to Red Rock Inn, we found a note taped to our door that read something like this, "In the spirit of our conversation earlier, I have a proposal for you. Please come to the office immediately." So we walked over to the office and entered to find Dan with a huge grin on his face. He had known that I was suffering from a cold at the time, and therefore, he decided to have a heart and offer us a room with a larger bed at the same rate as the one we already occupied. He grudgingly admitted that he actually cared, and all he wanted was for both of us to rest peacefully. Luckily all we had touched in our room was a hand towel and bar of soap, so we exchanged these items and transitioned our belongings easily into the next room.

Freebird went away to hike the Squaw Trail that rises above Kanab, as recommended by one of the ladies of the BLM office. I didn't feel up for going with him and stayed behind to make a phone call and to draw. I had been feeling down, knowing that my family was upset at me for taking an "extended vacation" for 6 months, and realizing that I had lost some friends back in Indiana. Once I had alone time to meditate upon this, I came to peace with everything again. It was then that the symptoms of the cold vanished. I sat beside the window for several hours, sketching away.

Freebird returned after sunset with Trynche, a friend that he had just met on the trail. She invited me along with them to Escobar's, where she was offering to buy us Mexican food for dinner. First she stopped to look at my sketchbook and was captivated. Trynche is also an artist, as well as a writer. Then we went off to Escobar's, where we were greeted by Rosa, the owner of the restaurant and a friend of Trynche's. She has been eating here for a few years and has gotten to know Rosa very well. Most of the year, Trynche lives in Connecticut. During the summer months, she works in Kanab.

After dinner Trynche dropped us off at Honey's Market to resupply. She went to Family Dollar to run a small errand and then returned to pick us up and to take us back to our room. I'll never forget the wonderful night we had together. Trynche gave us hugs, and before parting ways, she handed me a present. At the store she had just purchased a brand-new Sharpie pen. Giving it to me, she encouraged me to never stop making art. These days I continue to create sketches with it.

The following morning, after enjoying a complementary breakfast and checking out of our room, we ventured over to the Visitor Center to enter the Wave Lottery. A hilarious woman started off with the basics - why they do the lottery, what happens if you win, etc. She then shared with us some antics from past lotteries. One time a man, who had been attending the lottery for weeks, was so thrilled when he finally won that he kissed a few people on the lips!

Though nothing happened quite as intensely that day, it was still rather amusing to observe everyone's behavior in the crowd. We sat back and watched as all the excitement unfolded, just as this hawk did, watching curiously from outside the window.

The winners were selected and were given permits to enter the Wave the following day. We weren't chosen, so we prepared to hitch out of Kanab toward Buckskin Gulch. We walked over to 7-Eleven to fill all of our water bottles, making sure we had enough to drink in the desert. Then we had one more lunch at Wendy's.

After finishing a delicious meal, we crossed the highway and began to hitch. Eventually a photographer picked us up. I slept most of the way there, so I don't recall much about him. He graciously took us 70 miles out of his way and left us at House Rock Road.

Now we had to catch another ride down this dusty road to the Buckskin Gulch trail head. It was very warm out and we had to rest in the shade of a Grand Staircase-Escalante informational sign while waiting for someone to drive past on this quiet road. A French family stopped for us and squeezed us into their backseat with their son and daughter. It was quite a tight fit, but it wouldn't be long until we reached Buckskin Gulch.

The French family sending us off at the trail head.

Some sunglasses Freebird just bought for me in Kanab.

While taking a snack break, we saw this woman overlooking the landscape nearby us. She and her husband came over to meet us. Their names are Rita and Jerry. They enjoy surfing and mountain biking and live in Half Moon Bay, California. We talked with them for hours in the Buckskin wash, and then climbed up a rock with them to watch the sunset. They had been wandering through the slot canyons all day and were planning to return the next day to explore more of the area. Before dragging each other away to their campsite (they both were talkers and blamed the other for never shutting up), they filled up all of our water bottles for us.

After watching sunset from the rock, we settled down below in a cozy sand bed that night. 
In the morning I woke up early to watch the sunrise....

Looking down at Buckskin Gulch.

We packed up everything and began our journey into the slot canyons...

I found a hiding spot and made a sad attempt to exact revenge on Freebird for all the times he's scared me, and I failed horribly! He came around the corner and saw me instantly!

We came to the junction of Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon, and Wire Pass. We spotted Jerry and Rita crossing through a pool of water at the mouth of Paria. Rita yelled, "Come with us! You guys are fun!" We refused, knowing that there would be many pools ahead to wade through. We wished them happy trails and watched them leave. Most likely we would be seeing Rita and Jerry later that day. 

Nearby we found a sandy ledge that provided views of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon below. This would be the perfect place to eat lunch. There we encountered a gallon of water that someone left behind. It smelled as if it hadn't been sitting there for long; it had no odors of plastic leeching into the water from prolonged sun exposure. How wonderful to find this trail magic in the middle of the desert! Wrapped around the jug was a killer whale necklace, which I continue to wear to this day.

We took a 3-hour lunch break atop this ledge, reading the Bible, napping, and drawing. 
Then we began our walk through Wire Pass, the narrowest of the three slot canyons...

Once out of the slot canyon, it was a few more miles to the Wire Pass trail head...

We arrived at the trail head only 1 minute before Rita and Jerry did. They gave us a ride to the Stateline Campground at the start of the Arizona National Scenic Trail. We were invited to stay for dinner with them; that night we would be feasting on spaghetti.

Some water Rita and Jerry found at the start of the Arizona Trail, which they pulled aside for us to use. They also provided us some of their own water to take towel baths while waiting for dinner.

Since I didn't want to move, I stayed with Rita and Jerry while my go-to photographer took these amazing sunset shots!

We all stayed up late into the night, talking for hours. Rita and Jerry didn't want us to leave. Jerry insisted that we set up camp next to them and continue conversing through the night! However, they would be biking the Arizona Trail the next day, so we all knew we would see each other again.We left to set up camp on the trail, from where we would begin a journey to the Grand Canyon. As we parted ways, Jerry gave me a book about Mother Teresa.

We found a campsite less than a quarter mile up the trail on a ridge. The following morning, we got to experience a hike through the beautiful Arizona desert on the Kaibab Plateau...

Along the trail we came across the first marked water source, a tank that collects rainwater. Hunter cameras monitor the pool to watch for wildlife. We filtered from the water and ate lunch nearby. Hunters kept coming by to check for animals and seemed to be disappointed that our presence was keeping them away.

We saw Jerry and Rita approaching on their bikes, and we yelled for them. They came over to see us, and again we talked for a long time. Jerry gave us an orange, and then we all continued on our way down the trail. They rode ahead of us, and we would see them again later.

On their return trip, we got into a long conversation about personal spiritual experiences and how each of our lives have been transformed by getting to know God. Rita was crying tears of gratitude as she shared with us stories from her life. This beautiful talk was the last time we saw Rita and Jerry. They would be returning to California soon.

We arrived at a Forest Service road and tried to hitch. At this point the scenery on the trail wasn't varying much and there was lots of forest-walking. We decided that we would rather try to get a ride to the Grand Canyon now. One man stopped for us but said he wasn't going in the direction that we were heading. No one else was driving past, so finally we gave up. We would camp on the trail that night, and then walk further up the trail to what appeared to be a busier road.

The sunset as we set up camp.
The next morning we continued to walk through the forest, until we came to a small Forest Service road. We followed this to the more-used road, in hopes of finding a ride.

No cars passed by during the half hour that we sat in the shade along the dirt road, so we turned around and followed this road to the north. We ended up back at the same road that we tried to hitch from the previous evening, though at an intersection of a few routes this time.

We waited a long time there, and still there were no signs of any vehicles. Finally we decided to make some lunch. Sure enough, once we finished eating, two hunters drove past in their truck and checked on us. They were driving to Fredonia, one of the routes we were considering for getting to the Grand Canyon. But they had another friend following them, who was returning home to Phoenix and could take us closer to the Grand Canyon than they could. Their friend, Blake, gave us a ride down House Rock Road and dropped us off at its intersection with 89A.

Vermillion Cliffs.

Along 89A, the first person to stop for us was Highway Patrol. He was just checking to see that we were okay. Seeing that we were trying to catch a ride to the Grand Canyon, he offered to take us to Jacob Lake. We climbed into the backseat, snapped on some magnetic seat belts, and looked through the barred windows as we drove along. We asked him about his experience with law enforcement and people. He said to us, "The majority of people are good. Sometimes they just make bad choices."

Pulling up to Jacob Lake, the policeman had to open the doors for us and let us out. Several people froze with fear as they watched us slide out of his car! But once they saw that we wore no handcuffs and were shaking hands with him, they knew we were harmless and continued on with their business.

Jacob Lake provided us one of the best gourmet meals that we've had so far on the journey, followed by some of the best pie ever. We filled up our water there and then returned to the road to attempt one last hitch to the North Rim.

I was feeling down again, thinking about my family and friends in Indiana once again. They didn't understand why I had to be out here. Moreover, again I was feeling like a burden to Freebird. All of this time I had little to no money and Freebird was paying the majority of the costs for our travel. The bill was still growing that I wanted to pay back to him, and thought that maybe I should leave. I told Freebird that I would hitch on to Moab, and he could continue on without me. He talked me out of hitching back by myself. Besides, he and I both knew that I was meant to be here right now.

Time passed and the sun went down, the air temperature dropping drastically. I was wearing all of my clothes and still couldn't keep warm. We considered camping across the street if no one would stop for us soon. It didn't seem like anyone would. But then we watched a man drive up to the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center behind us and go to its front doors to seek someone to talk with. We just knew we were going to be riding with him. As he returned to his car, he asked, "Are you looking for a ride?" Julian, of France, invited us along with him on his trip to the Grand Canyon.

We drove down the winding road through the Kaibab Plateau, getting to know each other. Julian once taught French in Russia, and he has also backpacked around several countries. The satellite radio in his car, as we were entering the park, shuffled to an old, familiar 90's song by Fastball. "You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere. They won't make it home but they really don't care. They wanted the highway, they're happier there today, today...." Upon arrival at the North Rim, we raced each other down the path to Bright Angel Point to watch the sunset. 

And thus began our adventure of 8 days in the Grand Canyon...


  1. I really enjoy your posts about you and Freebird. I have been following your blog since finding you through Daniel Suelo's blog a few months ago in Moab. Look forward tot he next post every few days.

    1. Nice to hear from you, thank you for reading!