Alex Travels California – Week 7

Alex Travels California – Week 7
Jason Nockels

Written by Jason Nockels

Arches National Park

Neither of us slept well at our roadside truck stop, but it was the only place we could find close to the train station in Salt Lake City. Instead of staying any longer, Jarno was up early to start driving to our next destination: Arches National Park. It wasn’t until the next morning that we got to go inside the park. We had arrived late and both of us were definitely exhausted. I was slightly tense as I didn’t want to miss the best light in the morning. The temperature was rising fast, but the light was just perfect when we made a turn and saw before us the red mesas, towering above the landscape. The clouds helped to keep the sun at bay and created stunning spotlights and shadows that slowly moved across the valley.
I had a specific goal in mind though to do a hike on the Devil’s Garden Trail at the far end of the park. We drove past beautiful red stone towers, arches and canyons until we reached the trail head. “Are you sure you don’t want to go?” I looked over to Jarno. “Go ahead, I might just stroll around here instead.” With three water bottles, camera and lunch packed I set off on the 8km hike. It didn’t take long for me to start doubting if I will manage to hike the entire trail. The sun was now high up in the sky, and ferociously burning everything below that wasn’t protected under some form of shade. The trail led off to a side path where we were treated to stunning views of arches and the rocky red landscape. I continued on the main path until I reached Rainbow Arch, a massive but very thin arch where I took a short break to catch my breath. A big cloud had just rolled in and provided much needed shade for me to continue up the next stretch of trail, leading up a steep rocky ridge. A small patch of flat trail followed before blending into the natural trail leading right on to the top of another ridge where I had an unobstructed view to both sides. The sun was now back in full force, making it hard to take any photos or keep the pace of the hike. I was walking alongside a German family, but wasn’t giving away my German language Skills, until they tried to take a group photo, and I offered my help.
“See there, an American who can speak perfect German,” the dad joked as I took their photo. At Double-O arch I decided to call it a day and sat down for a quick lunch break. I didn’t even make it halfway of the route, but with only 45min left until I had to be back a the parking lot, I had no other choice but to turn back. The German family had the same idea, so all of us walked back together, chatting away. Talking and hiking is always a good combination as it didn’t feel as long to get back to the trailhead. “Nice to meet you, and safe travels!” I said to them before heading back to the RV to continue our drive south towards Monument Valley.

Mexican Hat and Monument Valley

I was a bit bummed that I didn’t climb up the hill to watch the sunset from the hilltop, but today I would at least catch the sunrise from there. I woke up early around 6am and started hiking up at the crack of dawn. It didnt take me long to get to the highest point (we did park right at the foot of it). The sun was still hidden behind the hills but it’s light already filled the sky.
The landscape was still mostly dark, but the distant cliffs were already radiating crimson red light. A combination of dark red earth and the early sunlight provided the right condition for a fiery sunrise.
I spent at least an hour past sunrise watching the landscape slowly change before me. Jarno was already up when I returned and we headed straight to Monument Valley. I could already see the unmistakable rock formations miles away. They grew bigger the closer we approached them, until we reached the iconic stretch of road leading in a near perfect straight line towards the mesas. We spent at least half an hour moving up and down the road for me to get just the right shot.
I could already see that it was taking way too long for Jarno and rushed back inside the RV. It must have taken us between 2-3 hours to arrive at Page, where I already had a camping spot in mind for us. This was my second time here at Lake Powell. Last time we had contemplated staying at a camp site right on the edge of the lake and this time round we did make it back here to finally try it out.
“Another great spot!” Jarno turned to me whilst we were sitting on our camping chairs watching the sunset, whilst a group of young Americans were having a good time drinking beer in the lake alongside the blaring of contemporary country music.

Grand Canyon North Rim

What is better than waking up to a sunrise? Waking up to a sunrise right next to a lake like Lake Powell. I never seen so many purple tones in a sunrise like the one I was just witnessing now. A storm cloud still lingered right above the mesa, and just behind it the sun was peeking through the gaps in between the clouds. The lake was very calm and shimmering in all sort of purple hues, perfectly reflecting the colour palette of the sky right above it.
“I could stay here for a week!” Jarno said to me, but we both knew that we needed to get going if we wanted to make it to Las Vegas by Saturday and still visit the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks.
I had already been to the Grand Canyon, at least the South Rim, so it was a straightforward decision to head to the North Rim instead as it was much closer to us and meant less distance to travel in order to reach Las Vegas as well. Both me and Jarno were boiling in the heat of the desert, and even the cool waters of Lake Powell were only a quick reprieve, so we were that much more surprised to find ourselves in the middle of an Alpine forest when we drove up to the North Rim. Suddenly the temperature dropped, the vegetation grew greener until we were surrounded by pine trees, hunting lodges and lush fields of grass.
It was Jarno’s first time at the Grand Canyon and I was looking forward to seeing his reaction when he finally laid eyes on it. I wasn’t disappointed as the sheer scale of the Canyon left him in utter awe. We spent the night in the North Rim camp site and set off for our next destination the following day.

Zion National Park

I didn’t know how I could have missed Zion National Park on our first road trip through the exact same area, but this time I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. Any attempts by Jarno to skip it faced fierce resistance from my side. We started our drive from the North Rim rather late. Me having to find a good spot with signal to send off photos and files didn’t help that situation. We followed exactly the same route Fanny and I drove a month earlier, which brought us through the little town of Kanab.
What seemed like any usual sleepy midwest town, turned out to be quite the hub for creative marketing. Not only did they create the catchy slogan: “Abra Kanabra” but they also knew how to attract the modern traveler with signs like: “Stay with us, Wifi works great here”
We stopped for a coffee break before continuing on to Zion. “How far is it?” Jarno asked as we left Kanab. “About 30min away,” I said. And there it was a sign pointing us into the right direction: “Zion National Park.” “Hi Folks! So you guys need to make sure to stop at the second tunnel and wait for the ranger there to guide you in! The tunnel is too small for your RV, so we have to close the second lane so you can drive in the middle of the tunnel.” The ranger at the east entrance made sure to explain everything in detail. “All understood,” we both replied and headed straight into the park. “Look there is a wild goat, oh wait I think it is a ram!” I pointed to some animals climbing the cliffs. The landscape around us looked bizarre but tranquil at the same time. The pinkish rocks were washed smooth by a giant river, “like liquid rock” I thought to myself. We took some photos here and there before we reached the trailhead to the canyon overlook I read about. “I don’t think we can fit in there,” Jarno looked at the parallel parking space and then to me. “I’ll guide you in!” I smiled back and proceeded to jump out and wave Jarno in. It took us a couple of tries but we did manage to parallel park our 28′ RV into a 29 feet long parking spot.
The hike was by no means difficult, but I did run out of breath from time to time on our way up to the Canyon Overlook. The sun was still shining strong and made the climb that little bit more challenging. But once we reached the vista point, we were definitely not disappointed. The stone ledge in front of us fell dramatically into the massive u-shaped canyon and the sun was directly above the other end of it. “Just another canyon,” I jokingly said to Jarno as I pulled out my camera to take some photos. We stayed for at least 45min taking photos and watching the scenery right in front of us. I couldn’t help but take the same photo hundreds of times until Jarno reminded me that we had to head back before the tunnel closes and we would be forced to drive around the entire park to get to the other side. With 15min to spare we did arrive back at our RV and were now zooming across the rest of the park until we reached our free camping spot a couple of miles outside directly on the way to our next destination: Las Vegas.

Las Vegas

The first time I went to Vegas was just to drive through it on the highway, but I didn’t expect to be back here so soon and actually spend a night here in town. Jarno however was very keen to come here and for me it was definitely a welcome change to the desolation of desert, but the brutal heat was a reminder that we were still right in the middle of one. The RV’s air-conditioning unit had a hard time cooling the inside down, as the RV park didn’t have any shaded spots at all. We spent the afternoon resting and sleeping inside the RV so that we would have more energy for the night to come. “Alex! I know you didn’t want to go to the Beatles show, but as a thank you for having me join you I got you a ticket instead!” Jarno managed to surprise me and took me with him to the Mirage Casino where the ‘LOVE’ show would take place.
“What drink would you like sir?” The server behind the counter asked me. “I’ll go for a large frozen Margarita!” I replied whilst checking out the counter that looked like a regular cinema snacks bar, but was stocked with alcoholic beverages instead of popcorn and soda.
We sat down in our seats on the top rows, just in time for the show to begin. A colorful mixture of Beatles songs and acrobatics followed, but the most impressive were the constantly changing stages that transitioned so smoothly, you barely noticed it. Still in awe we left the show, me with a big smile on my face – which had a lot to do with the giant frozen Margarita I consumed throughout the show. “How about we play a round of roulette?” Jarno suggested and proceeded to exchange a hundred dollars for casino chips. “You play first and I’ll observe,” I said to him and the true Las Vegas experience began. As everyone says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you can fill in the blanks yourself.