New Year: American Southwest

One text, from my friend Beth, asking what I was doing for New Year's eve spiraled into an adventure filled five days in the great American Southwest. We scoured for cheap flights to spend the ‘holiday’ together and ended up in Las Vegas, but rather than the tradition booze filled NYE we opted for something much more wholesome. Over the last few years, I come to realize that I don’t really care much for a big NYE celebration;  I’m much more comfortable doing something low key to honor the start of a new year. With flights to Vegas being super cheap (mine was $11 with points)  it was the perfect decision and I knew it would be a perfect jumping off point for our adventure. With the Grand Canyon calling to Beth and Zion and Bryce screaming out to me, we started planning our Southwest road trip with nothing more than a small idea of what we’d find along the way. Sure, we’d seen all the beautiful Instagrams and had a general idea of what would be out there, but we were shocked by how truly stunning it is in person.

Our first night was spent catching up over margaritas in Vegas and our pitcher wasn’t even close to being finished before we were both ready for bed. Anyway, we sprinted out of the  hotel ASAP in the morning and over to Enterprise to pick up our rental car. We drove 300 odd miles to Antelope Canyon for our only scheduled tour of our trip. I had been told prior to our trip to try and find some unguided and free slot canyon tours but I am super glad we opted to do this tour. Antelope Canyon is stunningly beautiful and worth the money. The tour is hosted by a Navajo family and all the proceeds go back to the tribe and educating their youth. Our young tour guide didn’t know too much about the geology behind the land and canyons but she shared about her experience growing up on the reservation and what it’s like to be a Native American teenager.

 Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

We spent the final moments of 2017 exploring the beauty of Utah and Arizona, crossing through both states in and out on our way to Antelope Canyon and to watch the sunset at Horseshoe Bend. After the sunset, we ventured off to our amazing homebase for the next few days. We stayed at the most amazing little Airbnb and I wish I could go back there right now. We had our own canyon and farm to explore and our host, Laura, was adorable and our interaction with her friend Mike was a highlight of our trip

 Best Airbnb yet!

Best Airbnb yet!

Antelope Canyon: we did our tour through Dixie Ellis tours. It was worth the money to have a tour guide to point out all of the beautiful shapes and the folklore surrounding this particular slot canyon and also the best ways to capture them. She took amazing photos of us and showed us how to get the best shots and capture the lighting. The beauty within Antelope is unmatched, I have never seen anything like it and I hope that people take the time to take this canyon tour. We were also treated to a traditional earth celebration dance before our tour which just added to the overall feel of being on native land and sharing time with the Navajo people.

Horseshoe Bend: a quick pull off of highway 89 and about 10 minutes down the road from Antelope Canyon. It’s worth the pull off and is the perfect add in after Antelope. We decided to watch the sunset on 2017 while hanging over the edge of the bend. There were hundreds of people who had the same idea as us and we all sat in near silence as the sun began to set. This is such an easy little walk from the car, there is no reason for one to miss it on a Southwest road trip. It doesn’t look like much when you are walking up the hill and out but when you make it to the edge of the cliff and look out, the view is 100x worth the easy walk. To the strong battle between rock and water to create such an intense bend in the large Colorado river is impressive and unmatched.

 Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

2018 started with one of the most intense and terrifying hikes of my entire life! At some point in my life, I decided to stop allowing my limiting beliefs and fears to run the show and I started doing the things that scare the shit out of me and that’s how I found myself in the parking lot at the Angels Rest trail head on the first of the year.

Angels Landing in Zion is the most mentally challenging hike I have done to date. I am terrified of heights, which is a new thing that I am learning to accept. I started rock climbing over the summer of 2017 and it’s allowed me to become more comfortable with high up spaces, but only when harnessed. So, this hike is THE hike to do in Zion and from the moment we booked our flights I was coming up with excuses as to why we wouldn’t be hiking it. I told Beth that it was going to be too icy for us to even attempt it, I expressed that it was going to be a 1500ft elevation gain hike in hopes that she would want to back out. I bought myself some YakTraks, just in case we still wanted to go up, and put on my big girl shoes the day before we met.

I am so glad that I was able to make it up this hike, it had moments of terror and fear, lightheaded moments and some negative self-talk but I was able to set that aside and tap into my strength and make it all the way to the final view point. I know and believe that anybody who wants to experience Zion and challenge themselves can do this hike. It’s challenging more mentally than physically for me personally, but it’s both and I hope that one day you’re inspired to give it a try and test your fears and limiting beliefs through such a beautiful experience.

The final view runs the entire length of the canyon, I could feel the power of the sun over head and the magnitude of the earth all around me. I felt powerful and small at the same time. It was a pure rush to take in the sights and sounds of being on the ‘edge’ of the canyon and the blood pumping through my veins allowed me to tap deep into the rhythm of the earth and people around me. I found some amazing support along the way, everyone who is going along with you is supportive and gave me tons of encouragement in moments where I was shaking and fearful. People cheered for me as I reached the final view point and I was moved to tears and they sat with me, shared stories, and walked with me back to meet Beth. I not only was able to jump into and through one of my fears, I also experienced the oneness of humans and nature in real time. This was absolutely the most amazing start to a new year yet!

 Top of Angels Landing down into Zion Canyon

Top of Angels Landing down into Zion Canyon

We jumped back into the car after a quick snack before heading to see Bryce Canyon about 73 miles away. Driving the landscape between the two canyons is mind-blowing and changes within a matter of miles. Within a 30 mile stretch, you will see hoodoos and beautiful red stone canyons that stretch for as far as the eye can see, to pink sand dunes caught between two slats of table mountains all hiding slot canyons and tons of wildlife. This drive is so worth the miles and time in the car, make sure to stop along the way to take it all in and appreciate the beauty of nature.

We made it to Bryce and were lucky enough to catch the rise of the New Years Supermoon over the Hoodoos, one of the most epic and stunning moments of my life. I will never forget the feeling I was on mars/ underwater at the same time, it was as if I could reach out and touch the face of the moon. We took our time soaking in the energy of the moon all around us before we began our drive back to the Airbnb to get ready for our drive to the Grand Canyon in the morning.

 Hoodoos in Bryce National Park

Hoodoos in Bryce National Park

After our long drive to Grand Canyon National Park, we stopped at a few viewpoint lookouts and took a nice sunset hike down into the canyon done before our final night exploring the SW USA. We chose to take the South Kaibab trail to Ohh Ahh point and it was well worth the quick dive into the canyon and all we really had time for. We were pretty hungry and tired after the drive and had to get back to Vegas to catch our flights out the following afternoon. I can’t wait to get back to the Grand Canyon and one day hike the entire Kaibab trail to cross the CO by the suspension bridge! (MAYBE THIS SUMMER?!)

 South Kaibab trail down into the Grand Canyon

South Kaibab trail down into the Grand Canyon

We stayed one night at the Yavapai lodge in the Grand Canyon and it turned out to be the perfect place for us to rest our heads for the night. Our final night was spent enjoying dinner and drinks celebrating our amazing trip at the lodge; we even met locals who gave us insider intel for our next trip out.

Every time I take a trip like this, a road trip especially, or one with little planned ahead of time, I feel like I didn’t give myself enough time; but I know that it just means I have another place to return to and explore whenever my heart desires. I feel that when you allow your travels, trips, vacations to have space rather than a strong itinerary allows for magic to happen. We didn’t plan to see the Supermoon rise over Bryce, or have a 4 hour conversation with a total stranger learning about Native American traditions and cattle drives, to see the Pink Sand Dunes, or to hike the South Kaibab trail - we left our plans mostly open and that’s how we had the organic and authentic experience we were meant to have this time in the Southwest. It ignited a love for that part of the world and will allow me to share it with others in times to come. There is something so special about the energy here and I hope that you see if you can make your way out there. It’s worth it!

 walkin on mars :)

walkin on mars :)

My musings for your next outdoor adventures:

  • Support our protected lands - buy a national parks pass, local passes, permits etc.
  • Always have a headlamp
  • Bring more snacks than you ever thought you would need
  • Have the trust in yourself to keep at it
  • Lessen distractions - no music, be open and listen to the sounds of nature
  • Always say hello to fellow hikers/ outdoor enthusiasts

This world is such a magical place and the American Southwest is the perfect place to capture the beauty, wonder, and intensity of this amazing planet we coexist on. This was a perfect way to start my new year ; I am so excited and open to whatever 2018 may have in store, not only for me but for you as well!

Travel light, travel often,

J