The national parks in Utah and Arizona have been on my bucket list forever. So when my friends Roger and Runqiu suggested it for a group trip, I was 100% in.
Watching Roger and Runqiu plan a trip for 10 people to Zion National Park was crazy. There were Google Spreadsheets. Slack. Uberconferences. We all live in different cities and timezones so watching it all come together was not unlike an Automattic meetup, or coordinating a project with a client.
Lodging and Logistics
- Housing: For 10 of us, we airbnb’d Marla and Karolyn’s beautiful Victorian home in Hurricane, UT. It was super centrally located, about 40 minutes away from Zion, 2 hours from Bryce, and 3 hours from Antelope Canyon / Lake Powell.
- Transport: We rented a 15-passenger van for transport. I was against this from the start, thinking that we needed 2 cars, but it turned out to be the perfect setup for 10 people. We had a ton of driving to do, to and from the parks (at least 2 hours each way most days), so it was fun to have everyone pile into a big van and play car games the entire time. It also meant that we could switch drivers easily so that no one was super tired.
- Communication: For organizing, we got everyone on Slack. We’d learned from previous group trips that GroupMe was draining our batteries and not everyone had iMessage, so Slack was the best alternative. We also brought walkie-talkies, a trick that we learned from ski trips together, so that our group could communicate in places without cell service (which was pretty much everywhere we went in the parks).
- Photography: I’ve blogged in the past that I’ve ditched my elephant of a DLSR in preference of an iPhone for convenience. On this trip, I almost regretted that, because the sights were so beautiful. Almost. I also brought my second-hand GoPro for canyoneering and kayaking, which was totally awesome.
Day 1: Bryce Canyon
Utah has all sorts of crazy geological formations, and the ones that make Bryce Canyon stand out are the funky hoodoos. What amazed me were the sheer number of hoodoos that you can see in the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, and a short 3-mile hike allows you to walk through them.
Day 2: The Narrows (and inflatables)
The Narrows is probably the coolest, most unique hike I have ever done. It’s also probably the most famous attraction within Zion National Park. The walk is in a beautiful, rocky river sandwiched between canyon walls. In the summer the water is refreshing, and during our hike, ranged between ankle and waist deep. Thunderstorms can cause dangerous flash floods in The Narrows, and I’m really glad I waited until I finished the hike to watch this terrifying video of the 2013 summer flash flood.
The best way I can show you the narrows is probably by video, so that you can hear the water.
That evening when we returned back to Hurricane, they happened to be having the most epic summer festival by our house. They had INFLATABLES! Obstacle courses, slides, and all sorts of festival games. Out of all the hikes, I got the most injured playing on the inflatables. Of course.
Day 3: Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell
Before I go any further, everything you need to know about Antelope Canyon is explained by this very informative video.
Before I was die-hard Swifty I was die-hard BSpears. And you might laugh, but I’ve always wanted to visit Antelope Canyon because of the video. (Yes, really.)
Antelope Canyon was absolutely spectacular. It did not disappoint. However, it was extremely crowded, and was probably made worse by the holiday weekend. To get into the canyon, you descend 5 flights of stairs. The canyon floods during bad storms (tourists have died in flash floods there). Some parts of it are so narrow you have to shimmy your way through. I would absolutely go back, but only on a weekday with less people.
After Antelope, we spent the afternoon kayaking in Lake Powell. The water was spectacular, and kayaking through the narrows were a nice surprise.
Here are three videos: one of Runqiu and Roger jumping, another of a crazy dude doing a crazy backflip off a super tall rock, and one of us kayaking through the narrows.
At the end of the day, we went to see Horseshoe Bend at sunset. It was magnificent and better than the pictures.
I’m not typically scared of heights, but standing on the edge of the cliff looking over at Horseshoe Bend made me dizzy. Runqiu however, is fearless, perched on the edge with her feet dangling off.
Day 4: Water Canyon
This was probably the hardest day of the trip – a 12-hour expedition into Water Canyon. I had no idea what canyoneering was, but I quickly learned that it involved beautiful scenery and rappelling into water, sometimes dropping 130 feet. I had such a huge adrenaline rush every time I stepped backwards over a cliff. By the end of the day I was exhausted, pretty beat up, and soaked from rappelling into ice cold canyon water, but it was so worth it.
Day 5: Angel’s Landing
Angel’s Landing is the best known rock formation at Zion. Holy switchbacks, this was one heck of a hard hike. Twenty-one switchbacks and a scary summit holding onto chains. After four exhausting days of activities, I decided to turn back after the first landing because I was so fatigued I was pretty sure I’d get hurt. But, supertroopers Roger, Runqiu, and Meghan made it all the way to the top.