Death Valley

17th and 18th June, 2017

After a brief (and very different) interlude in Las Vegas with Anna, I headed to Death Valley National Park. Having stopped off for a night at a lovely B and B in Pahrump (K7) to recover from the night in Vegas, I arrived in Death Valley late morning. Temperatures were already at 113F (45C) and set to rise up to 120F (49C) over the next couple of days.

After a brief discussion with a Ranger about the longer hikes that were possible in the Park, he suggested Telescope Peak as, due to its higher elevation, temperatures are always slightly lower. He advised me of areas where you are allowed to pitch your tent for free in the Park, one of which was Mahogony Flat, at the starting point of the trail for Telescope Peak.

I headed up there, a little cautiously as the last few miles were off road and I was worried about my rental car’s ability to make it! The effort was worth it though as I arrived at what, in terms of views, has been one of the best camping spots of my trip. Perched up high I was afforded fabulous views of both sunset and sunrise.

There was a downside though, I have never been anywhere (and I do mean that literally) with so many flys. It was impossible to sit out for any length of time without being completely covered in them, and the collective noise was phenomenal. Luckily I had pitched my tent where even from inside I had quite a good view out, and retreated there when it became too much.. Wildlife was definitely in full swing though, and I was woken up in the early hours of the  morning by what I originally thought was the sound of someone hammering in tent pegs. I had thought it was extremely inconsiderate of someone to arrive at 4am and put up their tent so noisily but, on getting up for coffee and sunrise, I realised it was in fact a pair of crows going around pecking underneath rocks with their beaks and overturning them. The pair carried on all morning, shouting to each other as they did so. So, in some respects, it was not the most relaxing of spots.

I headed out early to climb up Telescope peak, the highest point in Death Valley and the Panamint Mountain Range, at 3,366m (11,043ft).  It gets its name from the fact that it offers panoramic views for hundreds of miles in each direction.  The walk up was spectacular with views down over the valleys on the west and east.

Finally, at the top…I had a nice panoramic video to show you but nowhere I have been since has the wifi capacity to upload it, so some photos will have to do for now…

As has been the case in a lot of the hikes I have chosen, I was again lucky enough to have the spot to myself for much of the time, just passing three people on the way down.  I decided to take the opportunity to get in some running and ran the last 3 miles, which was no mean feat in the heat!

Just when I thought the adventure had finished, I discovered that getting my car back down from Mahogany Flat was a lot more difficult than getting it up, and there were quite a few moments where I wondered if I would make it without getting a flat tyre.  Once back on the road though the drive out of Death Valley proved very rewarding as a beautiful bird of prey soared in front of my car, a huge hare hopped across the road (I had no idea how high they can jump), and I saw quite a few of these fellas on the roadside…

Zion National Park

11th – 13th June, 2017

Still struggling to leave Utah, I found myself in the Zion National Park area.  I pitched up at a little campsite just outside the entrance to the National Park on early Sunday afternoon and decided to do a short walk in the Park that day. The views as you drive through the park are incredible and make it quite dangerous in terms of how much you are concentrating on the road!

Unfortunately, as every Park is different I had failed to appreciate that there was a shuttle system in operation, which means you have to park at a central point and get shuttled out to trailheads for hiking.  As a result of not realising this, I found myself driving straight back out the other side! Slightly put off by the crowds I had seen inside (it was Sunday) I decided to find somewhere else to do a short hike that afternoon and found myself on a lovely trail, that rather ominously started with this sign:

Shortly after entering, an absolutely giant hare ran across my path, leading me to wonder whether if I followed him I might find myself at a tea party 🙂 (Alice in Wonderland, for those of you who wonder what on earth I am talking about).

Once again I had stumbled on a spot where there was not a soul around, and enjoyed a peaceful walk along the Chinle trail with views of Mount Kinesava.

The following day, I managed to figure out the Park system and got up early to head out.  While I normally try and avoid the crowds I had decided to undertake one of the more ‘famous’ routes – that of Angel’s landing, a 454 metre (1,488 feet) rock formation that offers fantastic views over Zion.  A steep climb up to Scout lookout, you then have the choice as to whether to undertake the final half mile to the end of the narrow ridge that runs along the precipice.

Angel’s Landing is the one in shadow!

Angel’s landing is the one in shadow in the middle.

As someone with a fear of heights, which I have spent a long time trying to overcome this, I was pleased to find that I appear to have come along way.  It’s difficult to see on this photo, but here’s me standing right on the edge with a 450 metre sharp drop behind me – I think I look relatively calm considering 😉

Whilst on Angel’s landing I was lucky enough to run into Anna, another solo female hiker and road-tripper.

We decided to carry on past Angel’s landing along the West Rim trail, which climbs higher and offers spectacular views over the park. I have found that it is quite easy to get away from the crowds even in the National Parks if you are happy to hike that little bit further, which was certainly the case along the West Rim.

 

 

 

 

3 weeks in…

 

3 weeks into my solo trip, I have had plenty of opportunity for reflection so thought I would share some random thoughts and observations, some more profound than others 😉

• When camping alone in the middle of nowhere, years of watching horror films will automatically lead you to believe that the rustling at your tent door during the night is a crazed serial killer, as opposed to the more likely options of a gust of wind or a small animal.
• Travelling alone often results in the most interesting and rewarding interactions with other people, from brief conversations to more in depth discussions and shared activities. In this you get a glimpse of their lives and for a moment at least, your stories cross. Some people you will never see again, others will go on to become friends. Regardless, this helps to remind you that no matter how dark the world can seem sometimes, there are an awful lot of nice people out there just doing their best to get by.
• Despite the above, on seeing a hitchhiker you will do a very quick, and doubtless highly questionable, visual assessment to ascertain if they could possibly be the crazed serial killer who was trying to get into your tent the night before.
• It is impossible to eat too many pancakes, or drink too many free coffee refills. Also, you can put syrup on almost anything you eat and it will taste good .
• Total silence is something we seldom experience and it can be eerily beautiful.
• Despite there not necessarily being huge cultural difference between the US and UK, there are nevertheless multiple ways for a British person to embarrass themselves due to ignorance, including not being able to figure out how the pumps at the petrol station work. Also, a constant fear of under-tipping may possibly make you one of the most popular customers in services across the US.
• Nature is unstoppable in it’s capacity to astound.
• When taking a road trip, you can become disproportionately obsessed with when you will next get to wash your clothes. Invariably, it will be within minutes of having done so that you will spill coffee down your favourite top.
• Feeling totally comfortable being alone can be one of the most empowering things you can experience. Of course, it is made easier when you are lucky enough to have an army of people to call upon should you need to…
• Finally, it is a little known fact but the volume at which you sing out loud  to yourself in the car, increases proportionate to the number of miles you drive.

 

 

 

The beginning (kind of…)

 

When I set off on this trip, I had the greatest intentions of keeping a blog, writing every day, sharing my experiences etc. Well, 3 weeks in and I am only just getting round to setting it up. I have managed to post a few photos and couple of lines on Facebook every other day or so, but beyond that I just couldn’t seem to get going. I feel like it took these first 3 weeks to ‘settle in’, switch off from the normal rhythm of my life, and find a space where writing did not feel like a chore or an obligation.

I thought a lot, hours on the road will do that to you, but then I started worrying about having to backdate it all, an idea which I realised would stop me from starting completely.

So, here we are, it is Saturday June 9th and I am sat in a tent somewhere in the Dixie National Forest, near Escalante, Utah. I have no idea when I will actually be able to post this as have not had a phone signal for days and am relying on spotty internet in cafes and cheap motels.

I started this trip on May 22nd when I flew into New Orleans. My only set itinerary was to catch up some old friends along the way, and to be in Alaska for mid July to spend the last couple of weeks with two wonderful friends, and seasoned travelling buddies, who are flying out from France and the UK. Other than that, my plan was essentially to decide each day where I would go and do so using a combination of camping, cheap motels and Airbnb.

To get us up to date, the highlights so far have been:
• 3 days in the fabulous and welcoming city of New Orleans, including seeing the band Rebirth in residence at the Maple Leaf Bar.

• A wonderful weekend in Corpus Christi, Texas, catching up with my friend Amy, who I first met as a student when I was volunteering for the summer on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota.

• The stunning state of New Mexico and the wonderful city of Sante Fe, sat at the foot of the Sangre de Christo mountains and alive with arts and culture. It was here that I visited the incredible Meow Wolf’s ‘House of Eternal Return’ – a huge interactive art installation that takes you into a variety of ‘multiverses’. I lost three wonderful hours in there and can say it is the closest you can get to tripping without actually taking drugs.

• The ‘Thelma and Louise’ half marathon near Moab, Utah. An early morning race through the imposing red rock of this desert landscape, a wonderful celebration of female friendship.

• Utah! What can I say, I only ended up here because of the race, and in honesty had not planned to stay any longer. Over a week later and I am still here and can honestly say it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. From the arid vastness of Canyonlands, to the cooler climes of the La Sal and Boulder mountains, the scenery can change from one hour to the next. A nature lover’s paradise, if you take the time to get away from the crowds of places like the Arches National Park, you can find yourself so easily alone, hiking in the silence of the desert and camping out under the stars. If your lucky, like I was, you might even get to cross paths with a bear…

So, there we go, all up to date! I promise the rest will be a little more detailed: Let the rest of the voyage begin…x