October Surprise

[Brooke Pudar is a staff writer for Go Go Go. She lives in an old house, where she alternately tends and neglects her garden.]

Solid vacation planning is incredibly important. With a carefully researched trip, you can
wring every drop of joy out of the experience. [Ed. note: Brooke is a girl after my own heart.] Because pretty soon it’s going to be over, and then it’s back to the grind. And I do not like the grind.

But as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” That’s what happened last October when we visited southern Utah.

Southern Utah is a hiker’s dream: five national parks, a national monument, a national
recreation area, and the Grand Canyon is a stone’s throw away. You could spend months
and not see it all. We had a week. Our plan was this: four days in Zion National Park, two
days in the slot canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and one day in
Bryce Canyon National Park.

The day before we left, the forecast was perfect: sunny skies all week with temps in the 70s. But by the time we arrived in Zion, an early season storm sprung up on the radar. It would hit as we headed for Escalante.

I tried not to worry. “Maybe the weather will change again. I’m sure it will be fine!”

But I knew in the back of my mind that the one thing I was most looking forward to was
in jeopardy—a rugged and remote exploration of the Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons
deep in the heart of Grand Staircase Escalante.

Escalante was the last part of the country to be mapped. It is an enormous (1.7 million
acres) expanse of cliffs, pinnacles, rivers, and canyons. To reach the slot canyons, you
must get off the highway and head twenty-six miles down the rough dirt road called Hole-in-the-Rock Road to an unmarked turnoff. Once there, you squeeze through narrow, twisty slot canyons with dramatic, tall red sandstone walls.

Bad idea: Take a rental car down a remote dirt road when it might rain. Maybe you
get to your destination, but good luck getting back. You could be stranded in the mud for
who knows how long, miles from civilization.

Worse idea: Hike slot canyons when bad weather threatens. Flash floods spring up in an
instant, even if the weather is miles away. And there’s only one way out of a slot canyon.

So even though it wasn’t raining when we arrived in Escalante, our plans were washed out.

As we shot past the turnoff for Hole-in-the-Rock Road on Highway 12, I pasted myself to
the window to get a glimpse of the adventure we were missing. “Don’t worry. We’ll come
back sometime,” John said cheerfully. Despondence set in. We not only had to skip the slot canyons, but now we were heading into a snow storm.

As we climbed in elevation, it began to rain, and then sleet, and then snow. John pointed
out that the snow could be cool. “Yeah, maybe. You didn’t pack a hat,” I mumbled. The car’s external thermometer read 32 degrees. The temperature had dropped 40 degrees.

“I’ll be fine,” John reassured me.

“No way! You’re going to freeze. We need to find a hat!” My pitch rose. I was losing hope. The vacation is ruined!

But it wasn’t.

After finding suitable headwear for John, we headed to Bryce’s main attraction, the
amphitheater. The amphitheater is a canyon filled with rock formations called hoodoos.
These spindly towers of rock, formed by erosion, shoot up from the canyon floor like a
silent stone audience. It’s an amazing sight. And it’s even more amazing when the hoodoos are capped with snow. The crisp white contrasts with the striations of red and orange in the rock layers.

We hiked the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail, which takes you down into the
amphitheater so you can walk among the hoodoos. I’d venture to say that doing this hike
in the snow is the best way to do it. The trail was empty, and the blanket of snow made an
eerily silent scene.

So, yeah, bad weather waylaid some plans but also created a really memorable experience. It’s a good lesson for future travel that I guarantee I’ll forget the moment I see another questionable forecast.

Speaking of future travel, I’ve got a trip to the slot canyons to plan.

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