Before I left on my road trip, a friend asked me for the five things I was most excited to see and do on my trip. I blogged about it back in July, and mused about how it would be interesting to see what I came away with as my five favourite trip elements when I got back, against what I was hoping for. So, here we go! Let's have a look at what I was anticipating, how they turned out, and what the list might have looked like if I had known in July what I know now.
The Original List:
I think I ended up spending a total of 7 days in Arizona. I'm also pretty sure that at least two of those days were rest days, and spent mostly in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and another two were travel days. Measly, I know. Of the things that I hoped to do in northern Arizona specifically, I did one. (Two if you count Grand Canyon National Park.) And it was horrendously disappointing.
I went through a difficult phase of my trip where it felt like, unless I wanted to climb 1,500'+ down into a canyon and back every day, the parks I was visiting were mostly just "viewpoint parks". I would drive to them, then drive from one viewpoint to the next, getting out just to look at the same one thing that everyone else was looking at, and take a picture of the same thing everyone else was photographing. This was tough for me; I was having a hard time connecting with the parks the same way I connected with Yellowstone National Park for instance, where I clocked over 33,000 steps in one day, exploring everything by foot.
I was really excited to see Monument Valley. It had been high up on my list of things to see, along with Antelope Canyon and The Wave, among so many other picturesque landmarks of the northern Arizona and Utah border. Monument Valley ended up being the biggest disappointment of my trip. I paid to get into the park, and once I had parked and got my bearings, discovered that I only had about an hour and a half left to do the scenic drive (which is what they tell you to expect to spend, at minimum). I had to get going right away, because as I also discovered, camping in the park was an extra fee. Given my budget and my method of traveling, I could not justify spending $40+ on an entrance fee and one night of camping, for only 24 hours or less of seeing an area.
I also discovered, once I had arrived, that there is no hiking allowed. There is one trail, accessible via the campground, that does not follow any of the road or monuments along it. You are not permitted to hike out from any of the viewpoints, and side roads are closed for private use only. It became clear to me that if I were to experience this park in any of the ways that I had hoped to (thanks to Instagram for getting setting my expectations so high), like during sunset (when the scenic loop is closed), or from some kind of vantage point, it was going to cost me even more.
I did the drive in about an hour, and I only got out at three viewpoints (I think there were eleven), because I was so bored of feeling herded around for a photo op. I also really wish that there had been more advance warning about the severe condition of the road; I felt lucky to have made it out of there without having popped a tire, or knocked rocks up in to puncture a tank inside my carriage like the sedan in front of me on the way out. It was plain terrible.
The further I drove into Arizona and the more I tried to plan, the more I ran into obstacles. You cannot access Antelope Canyon without traveling with a guided tour that ranged in price from $50 to $80. I couldn't visit The Wave without navigating a permit lottery that may keep me in the area trying my luck for weeks. I abandoned most things that I wanted to do in northern Arizona, and skipped straight to the Grand Canyon, where I made fast work of the viewpoints, avoided the hustle bustle of the busy park village, and simply carried on west.
Conclusion: If I went back and wrote this list again, knowing then what I did now, would I still put northern Arizona on my list? No. Not because I no longer wish to see the aforementioned things, but because I simply did not have the time to wait and try for permits, and I could never have known which days EXACTLY that I would be in Arizona to acquire permits in advance. I also didn't have the funds. This is something I'm going to have to plan for specifically, allot more time to, or work out ahead of time. I guess I will also have to budget for guided trips accordingly!
Paria Canyon in Southern Utah
I was planning to access this canyon via Northern Arizona. After all of my crazy disappointment (see above!), and I think some lack-of-hiking-opportunities depression, I ended up skipping it for lack of enthusiasm. At some point, I determined that maybe the desert was starting to wear me down, and I really just needed trees and the ocean.
Conclusion: If I went back and wrote this list again, knowing then what I did now, would I still put Paria Canyon on my list? Yes. And then, I would actually do it!
A night or two in Basin & Range National Monument
I was going to travel through Basin & Range National Monument on my way out of Great Basin National Park, and on my way into Utah. I met an awesome human named Veronica while camping in Great Basin, who even sat down and went over a map with me to give me some insider details on what was worth seeing and what likely wasn't. She and I attended the ranger talk that night, where we watched the Perseid Meteor Shower from the visitor centre parking lot. While we were stargazing and spying on Saturn through telescopes, mice completely ransacked my car.
Needless to say, I slept very little that night. I tore my car apart at the crack of dawn, and discovered that the little monsters had tried to build a nest in my cabin air filter. This really shook me. You may laugh (as Veronica still does), but when your entire home and all of your belongings are and are inside of your car, and it is threatened by rodents that could potentially chew through important wires or items in your home, all while in the middle of no where and with no cell service... you think twice about putting yourself in any more remote of a location! So, I skipped the monument. I drove straight to St. George, Utah, and found myself a new (sturdier!) cabin air filter, and attempted to deep clean my car.
Conclusion: If I went back and wrote this list again, knowing then what I did now, would I still put Basin & Range National Monument on my list? Probably not. It just didn't seem like there was much going on, and it sounds like maybe the area hasn't been all that well considered yet. But I would have spent an extra couple of days in and around Great Basin National Park, at least! AFTER mouse-proofing my car a little better.
Waterfalls in Northern California
Yet another thing I didn't get to! Are you sensing a theme, here? I ran out of time. I knew I wasn't going to get to see everything I wanted to see in California, and this was one of the things that had to be crossed off of my list at the last minute. I'll get back to them, though!
Conclusion: If I went back and wrote this list again, knowing then what I did now, would I still put Northern California (specifically for waterfalls) on my list? Yes.
Disperse camping under the Milky Way
Almost every night was a night camped under the Milky Way. The Milky Way is one of the things I miss the most from my trip. Unless I was camped out at Wal-Mart, I could peer out through my car windows almost any time I wanted to, and be reassured that our galaxy was still there, gazing back at me. Some of the best nights were in Great Basin National Park, camped on BLM land near Moab, and in Grand Canyon National Park (I almost fell out of my car falling asleep with the door open, so I could stare at it while I dozed). I definitely got a good fill of stars this summer!
Conclusion: If I went back and wrote this list again, knowing then what I did now, would I still put the Milky Way on my list? Absolutely!
Things I Would Add:
Redwood National Park
Everything about it. I was absolutely enamoured by everything on the west coast, but especially Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek State Park and the entirety of Avenue of the Giants. I could never have asked for a better birthday gift, than to spend it running around these parks with the biggest shit-eating grin of my life.
Zion National Park + Hiking The Narrows
I mean, sure, I read about it before I left. But I don't know how it didn't make it on my radar as so much more important. This park was so stunning and unbelievable. I would have put the whole park on my list, and I would have made sure to plan for a whole week to explore it. I didn't get enough time here at all.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Most of the areas that I had hoped to backpack through or spend time in the backcountry of were removed from my itinerary long before I left on my trip. I wanted to see as much as I could, and traveling solo in my car was already starting to feel so bold and brave, that the idea of abandoning my car somewhere to backpack for a few nights left me feeling a bit too uncomfortable. So, those trips were set aside for future adventures! But I wish I would have planned for an extra day or two in Craters of the Moon National Monument, so that I could have camped at least one night out in the backcountry of this insanely foreign place. I had no idea I would enjoy it as much as I did. The peace and quiet was so welcome, and I wanted to spend so much more time appreciating and just resting in it.
There are so many more things that I would have loved to do along the way. I made notes of hikes I'd like to go back to do, and places I have yet to explore. I knew even on my way south that a lot of the things on my list were not going to happen considering the brief time that I had to do it all in. But I set out ambitious, and knew that whatever I got up to, I could hardly be disappointed if I did my best. Overall, that was very true.
I took the attitude of seeing my trip as being like a cruise - where you stop in at a port for a day or two and you get a feel for the area, and you do this with several places as you go. At the end of the cruise, you have a really good idea of which of the areas you got a taste of that you'd like to return to and spend more time in. I went on a Caribbean cruise once, and thanks to that cruise, I know now that while I wasn't crazy about Cozumel, I would love to revisit Jamaica! And thankfully I didn't waste a week or two of holiday time and enthusiasm in Cozumel to figure that out. The same thing applied to this trip. Now I know where I really want to focus some time and energy in the future, and where I definitely need to get back to - like Rocky Mountain National Park, which I ended avoiding entirely because I'm 99% sure it will be a black hole of backcountry hiking for me. I'm pretty sure I could spend two months just in that park alone!
Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.
First: Monument Valley 2017 | Second: Great Basin National Park 2017 | Third: Zion National Park 2017