Ready for the final day!
We hit the trail just past 7:30am, and decided to log a few miles before we broke for breakfast. The morning was incredibly still, with barely a breath of wind, and the warm sun hit our backs as we started climbing towards the top. The view Monday morning was absolutely breathtaking, with an expansive panoramic view of the entire canyon, and the early morning sunlight blasting the red and orange rock walls. This is what we had expected all of Zion to look like, but we were pleasantly surprised that it was just one of many visuals we would get over the course of the weekend.
Beautiful view at 8:00am
We found a great little breakfast spot in a clearing between the trees on the cliff's edge that overlooked the canyon. For the final time we broke out the granola bars, fruit leather, and trail mix. We enjoyed the view, cracked some jokes, and then decided we need to hit the trail because we still needed to get to the next water source, Cabin Springs, to fill up our water bottles and camelbacks to keep us hydrated for the remainder of the day's hike.
Within moments of returning to the trail, we looked up to see two deer standing on the trail about 50 feet ahead of us. As we continued walking they slowly walked away from us, always keeping a safe distance. The one ran off, but the other one was quite brave and just stood by as we passed him, no further than 15 feet away. Pretty cool.
See the deer on the trail?
And there it is up close!
A bit further down the trail, we found the trail break that dove down to Cabin Springs, where we would find our last available water source until the end of the hike. Similar to Potato Hollow, Cabin Springs was located at the sheer edge of a cliff, which provided some incredible views for the group while they waited for me to filter the water. So I started to filter the...
Oh wait, did I say water?
What I should have said was "a sad ass mud-stream trickle with no elevation at all, making it virtually impossible to get a solid amount of water in a bottle."
I'm not bitter.
After digging inside the stream, removing some twigs and making an area slightly deep enough to get the bottle in there, I got enough water to fill two bottles, which was enough for the final five miles of the hike. At this point Jennifer had made up her mind that she was going to say something back at the Visitor Center, because relying on that type of a water source for survival is a bunch of bogusness.
Searching for water...
Relieved that I would not have to find "flowing water" the rest of the trip, we went back to the trail and began our final five-mile descent into The Grotto. This portion of the hike was what I had expected the entire trip to be like, hiking down switchbacks inside a canyon against the red, orange and yellow walls of the cliff's edge. The majority of the hike was spent in the sun, with hundreds of lizards basking in the sun on the hot rock walls. We came to a few spots with an excellent echo-effect (where Branden promptly yelled "MIYAGI!"), and then at the bottom of the first area, we found ourselves in a small, shaded basin that must have been at least 15 degrees cooler than everywhere else on the trail.
We then started the last major climb of the weekend, but this time the trail had been paved over with cement. Kind of took away from the overall experience, but as Branden noted, we were obviously getting close to the end when you get signs of civilization like cement trails. The climb was very intense, probably the longest lasting one of the weekend, and being on our third day and toward the end, we were happy to make our way to the last panoramic viewpoint of The Grotto. We took one last snack break at the top of the mesa, surrounded by cacti blooming with prickly pear flowers. I did a bit of random exploring, but then we could all tell we were ready to finish this hike, take off our boots, and leave all the "flowing water" behind us...so we trudged on.
View from the top
The descent into The Grotto's end was steep and quick, and as we began our trek, the number of day-hikers we passed increased exponentially. As we got to the main Grotto lookout point, we each got hit simultaneously with the most horrendous wave of nausea, as the nearby port-a-potties below us were situated in the sun, basking in all their "glory." I can not tell you how disgusting the smell was emitting from those things, but you can imagine how much we double-timed it to get down the hill and past that atrociousness. Bleh.
As I mentioned before, The Grotto was a high-traffic area, and as we continued to descend, one woman looked where we were coming from and asked, "Are Walter's Wiggles up there?" After asking her to repeat her question, and still clearly not having any idea what she was talking about, we each had our own unique reaction, including Jenn saying "I don't know what you're talking about, but it's pretty up there," and me saying "I bet there's a guy up there named Walter who will wiggle for him." We would learn later that there were a series of switchbacks that Zion is known for called "Walter's Wiggles" (which, for the record, the woman had already passed)...but I liked our answers anyway.
The number of people we ran into continued to grow, and we soon realized we were the only people there that had been backpacking over the weekend, and thus were the only ones with heavy packs and trekking poles. Everyone there was out for a nice day-hike into the most accessible low-point of Zion. At one point someone looked at us very judgingly, then looked at their friend and said "We don't need trekking poles." To which Branden quite curtly replied, "You haven't walked 25 miles." At this point in the trip, nothing could have made us laugh harder. Epic call-out.
You'll notice that I keep saying "as we continued down...", and that's because this downhill finish to the hike was no joke. It was switchback after switchback, with an incredibly steep decline the whole way down. The knees and ankles took a pounding, and we were glad to have our trekking poles to lessen the blow. At one point, I took a break at one of the switchbacks, and Branden and Jenn pointed out something above us. Directly above us there was a small outcropping where a bighorn sheep stood overlooking all the day-hikers. We stood there for about 15 seconds before we could confirm it was real, because it did not move for quite some time. After a quick ear-flick, we knew it was real.
Almost at the bottom of the hike, Branden's foot was killing him, my hip had a random seize-up, and collectively we were all ready to have our backpacks off completely. We charged ahead, reached the bottom, then continued along the flat (ah, flat felt so good) trail that ran along a river. And when I say river, I mean bona-fide rushing rapids in at least two feet of water at its shallowest. Now that is what I call "flowing water."
To our great pleasure, the trail opened up and allowed hikers to go down to the river and freshen up. Well, we did more than that! Branden led the charge, taking his boots and socks off, leaving all his clothes on, and just wading out into the middle of the river and sitting down in the middle of the rapids. It didn't take long before I followed, taking off my boots, socks and shirt and finding a deep enough pool to dive headfirst into. The girls were quick to follow my lead, and after a bit of convincing, stripped down to their sports bras and underwear and dove in. The water was very cold, but given the hike we just finished, nothing could have felt better. We enjoyed the water, scrubbed ourselves clean, and just enjoyed the end of the trip in that river. Then we looked up to see an older gentleman with his camera out snapping photos of the ladies! After realizing that "Take a picture, it'll last longer" wasn't exactly a witty response, I just yelled, "Hey, how'd those pictures turn out?!" He quickly snapped off his camera and went on his way...with his wife next to him. Friggin creeper.
Branden loving the river.
Julie getting the courage to dive in
Once we were sure there were no more paparazzi, we dried off, threw our clothes and packs on, and walked across the final bridge to the waiting area for the shuttle that would take us back to the visitor center. Julie saw the shuttle about to depart, and she took off like a bat out of hell to hold it for us to jump on, instead of having to wait for the next one. I hadn't seen her move that fast all trip! It was awesome. I heart my wife.
On the shuttle ride back, Jenn told Julie her plan of getting a patch from every National Park she visits and putting them on her backpack. Julie thought that was the coolest thing ever, so they quickly decided Julie would do it too and they would call themselves "Patch Bros." Whatever that means.
After about a 10-minute shuttle ride, we were dropped off and the girls went inside the visitor center to get patches, and for Jennifer to follow through on her vow to berate the rangers for having bad information about "flowing water." After that, we decided we were starving and headed straight for food and would pick up the second vehicle at the trailhead later. On a recommendation from one of Julie's friends, we hit up Oscar's Cafe, just outside the park limits. The waitress seemed to understand our desire for fluids and salt, as she brought out bottomless chips and salsa, as well as a round of waters and lemonades (and iced coffee for my wife who had been deprived of the caffeine for 3 days). We went through 3-4 baskets of chips, and I believe 3-4 lemonades and 2-3 waters...each. Then we ordered our meals, which we weer all incredibly happy with. But we ate with our eyes, and by the end of the meal, we all sat back in our chairs, feeling amply bloated and sated, but unsure of whether we would be able to move ever again.
But, we weren't done there. On our way up to the mountain two days earlier, Jenn saw a sign for "Bumbleberry Pie" and spoke that name about every two hours or so during the course of the weekend. We had no choice to go there and check it out. It ended up being a small bakery and ice cream shop, and as Julie says, there is always room for ice cream!
Now completely stuffed, we hopped in our rental car to go pick up the $60 Priceline Negotiator Jeep Wrangler. But as we started the drive, we made the realization that it was 3:00pm, which was Julie and Jenn's prescribed nap-time for the previous two days. And within minutes, we realized that Julie had floated into "la-la land", and turned into the loopiest, hyped up on nitrous-oxide person I've ever seen. Odd as it was, it made for one of the most entertaining car rides I can ever remember. I won't go into detail cuz it won't be nearly as funny retold, but just take me at my word...she was ridiculous.
We dropped Branden and Jenn at their car and then the two cars caravanned back to Las Vegas to drop off our rental cars and go tot he airport to catch our flights (around 8:00pm). Julie and I reflected on the trip, talked about our plans for the week, and then basically zoned out for the 2.5 hour drive.
The only other odd thing that happened worth reliving was the baggage check. You may remember in the first post (ZION PART #1), I alluded to the fact that we bought propane in Vegas since TSA doesn't allow you to fly with butane or propane tanks in your luggage (checked or carry-on). Well, after checking our bags downstairs on Monday night, and going through the security lines before the gate, the four of us grabbed some food, hung out and chatted before Branden and Jenn took off on their flight. After saying our goodbyes, Julie and I made our way to our gate, and as we sat there, I received a text from Branden that said "You took the propane out of your backpack, right?"
A shot of sheer panic went through my body.
"Holy sh*t, I have the leftover propane in my checked backpack downstairs!"
I told Julie (and Branden via text), and we agreed I should tell the Southwest attendants. I told the woman at the desk, she didn't seem overly concerned because of the almost-empty tank, but phoned downstairs to let them know anyway. Having done my due diligence, I sat back down, slightly relived, and then I realized something else...
"Holy sh*t, I have a second thing of propane in my carry-on bag!"
Yep, that's right. The propane in my checked bag was the one Branden bought at Walmart along with the stove on that fated trip Friday night. But I had also bought a propane tank for the stove in Vegas, thinking Branden was bringing the stove to match it. And since it wasn't needed on the trip, I left it in my duffel bag so I didn't have extra weight on the trip. And now it was in my bag under my feet in the airport...inside the security gates! How the hell did the security scanners not pick that up?! After realizing that question was no longer important, I slowly unzipped my bag, slyly grabbed the propane and mozy'd over to the nearest trash can and threw it in like I was holding an activated bomb.
Yeah, I'm a special one.
And that's how the epic stories of the Zion trip ended. Just the way they started. With the damn propane.