From Buffalo Bistro we made our way into the Grand Staircase. Unbeknownst to us at the time we entered through the back way, which was just a dirt road, making the trip much longer than if we had taken the direct route from Bryce Canyon. But then we wouldn’t have met Ron, so really it all worked out in the end.
We followed the dirt road for an uneventful hour before coming to an information kiosk. We checked it out, read some of the stuff on it, ignored most of the warnings, and went on our way. For the record some of the warnings included: road is IMPASSABLE when wet-check weather conditions, make sure you have plenty of food and water, check in at a ranger station or visitor center to make sure someone knows where you are, no overnight camping without a permit, etc. While no one knew where we were except for maybe Ron (and even then not really), we did have some water, beer, and canned goods so we reckoned we would be alright for food if it came down to it. We hadn’t checked weather but all we had come across so far were dry lightning storms (which were awesome!) so we assumed the best. Besides, how bad could the roads be?
They were terrible. That first hour of dirt road was smooth as silk compared to what I put my poor little ford taurus through. The road conditions went from slightly grooved to potholes the size of craters. As night fell we drove, ever so precariously, deeper and deeper into the canyon. I can see why these roads would be impassable when wet. There were times when there was so much clay on the road the car almost got bogged down in it, and it was dry! Our unease at our decision to recklessly drive into this situation grew slightly as clouds rolled in and night fell upon us.
Talk about an intense drive! The canyon walls and road were the same red color as Bryce, and once the sun set the storm began. There was no still no rain, so we cautiously inched our way along the dark road, red canyon walls and sheer drop offs at hairpin turns illuminated by flashes of lightning. We finally made it to the Willis Creek trailhead, turned in and parked. The first thing I noticed about the sign my headlights illuminated was a sentence in all bold stating: You could die out here. Oh. Apparently the roads are REALLY not possible to drive on when wet because of all the clay, and if it rains a lot you could be stranded for days with no one to help you if they don’t know you’re out there. Since the sky above us was still clear, Kathryn and I decided to wait it out and see. We grabbed a beer and sat on the ground to watch the show. We were now at the bottom of the canyon, and we sat there looking up at the clear sky above glittering with stars as lightning forked out of the clouds on the canyon rim in a 360 around us. It was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen; the type of beauty my cheap point and shoot couldn’t even come close to capturing and even an expensive, high end SLR using photographer would struggle to encapsulate into a 2 dimentional photo.
A great, big, dark and menacing cloud ruined our happy moment as it rolled in over us and we decided it might be time to head up to the visitors center (we ultimately opted for safety’s sake to sleep by the visitors center and return in the morning once someone knew we were down there). Damn good thing we left, it poured that night. It rained more that night than it did any other time this entire trip. Sure enough, that battered clay road was sure as you’re born impossible to drive down the next morning. Whew, close call! I was quite bummed out because that was a hike that looked really cool, but we got redirected to Kodachrome Basin State Park, and I am so glad Kathryn was willing to pay the $6 to go.
Since we wanted to get to Zion National Park later that day, we took the first hike we could find called the Shakespeare Arch Trail that linked with the Sentinel Trail. If you get the chance to go to Kodachrome, do it. This park is way less populated but no less impressive than the national parks. The Shakespeare Arch itself was more than a little less impressive than the brochure boasts, but it’s what’s beyond the arch that counts. We hiked a bit of the Sentinel Trail before coming to split, where we could take a trail that continued along the path we were on, or veer left to a more difficult hike called either Slip Rock or Slippery Rock Trail (I can’t really remember). We opted for the more difficult one and hung a left…only to be faced with a rock wall and an arrow pointing up. Are they serious? We bouldered a bit up this rock and sure enough it was a trail. Small rock piles guided us as we trekked across the top of these massive rocks. This trail took us above Shakespeare Arch, and I tried my very hardest to stand on top of it like a bridge but I just couldn’t get to it. Despite that, this trail was absolutely fantastic. Not only were the views great, it didn’t feel like a trail-more like we were just blazing our own on top of the world. Too much fun.
After taking our time exploring this hidden gem, it was time to go. Of course we got distracted by checking out Chimney Rock (mostly due to my squealing about how it was just like the old Oregon Trail computer game and demands to see it in real life, apparently ignoring the fact that the real Chimney Rock from the Oregon Trail is, in fact, in Nebraska….), but we weren’t there long and it was off to a later than anticipated start to Zion National Park.