Moab: Home to Arches, Canyonlands, and Westworld

When I chose Moab, Utah as our weekend destination after a work trip to Las Vegas, I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I knew that Moab was home to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, that it was a larger town than Springdale, Utah (the gateway to last year’s destination, Zion), and that January was definitely Moab’s off season.

It wasn’t until after I settled on Moab that I realized I could run a race while I was there AND that the valleys, canyons, and vistas surrounding Moab were where HBO’s Westworld was filmed.  Running races and Westworld are two of my favorite things, so I was pretty sure that I was going to LOVE Moab!

Here’s our Moab trip in map form. Click here to view a larger map and click on a waypoint to view a photo.

After I finished the Arches Ultra 9K on Saturday morning, Matt and I began exploring Moab. We drove along the Colorado River on Route 128, admiring the steep cliffs and bright blue water. For Westworld fans, this road is the “track” that the train takes to enter the park. There are no actual train tracks here, so they built a train car on the back of a flatbed truck and drove up and down Route 128 during filming. Matt and I listened to Westworld’s theme song on repeat during this section of the drive.

We soon came upon Castle Valley and Fisher Towers, two more show locations. We spent the afternoon hiking around Fisher Towers, then drove through Castle Valley before retracing our route back towards Moab and then north towards Canyonlands. We watched the sun set as we drove towards Canyonlands’ “Island in the Sky” mesa, then turned around and headed back to town for the night.

On Sunday morning we woke up early and drove for 45 minutes in the dark back up to the Island in the Sky. We paid $15 at an unmanned kiosk to enter Dead Horse Point State Park, then made our way to the Dead Horse Point viewpoint to watch the sun rise.  It was cold (25°F), quiet and beautiful. We looked out over rugged red cliffs and canyons that stretched as far as we could see and watched the January sun beams slowly illuminate the scene, turning each rock face they reached an intense, fiery red.

We shared this experience with one other couple and three professional photographers who had set up their tripods on a cliff below us.  It was so quiet we could hear the shutters on their cameras clicking as they snapped shot after shot of the amazing view. Once the pros were done we walked down to the same spot and took a few of our own photos. Views don’t get much better than this.

For Westworld fans, Dead Horse Point is a show location that’s featured in Episode 1. Look familiar?

Next we entered Canyonlands National Park and took a quick hike to Mesa Arch… our first arch of the trip! It did not disappoint.  We had Mesa Arch to ourselves and the underside of the arch was glowing in the early morning sun.

We returned to Moab for a quick breakfast (and much needed coffee… I was really dragging after our pre-dawn wake up call!) and then set our sights on Arches National Park. Arches is a fairly small park with a single main road that allows you to get close to many of the major highlights with minimal hiking required.  We hit several of these spots on Sunday, with visits to Balanced Rock, North Window Arch, South Window Arch, Turret Arch, and Double Arch.

Next we embarked on a longer hike to see Utah’s famous Delicate Arch. I was a little worried that this arch might not live up to its hype… how could it possibly compare to our transcendent sunrise from 8 hours earlier??! Matt and I hiked up smooth red rock for a mile and a half and carefully picked our way along an icy trail that was little more than a ledge on the shaded side of a red cliff face. This was the most crowded hike we’d been on so far and I was just starting to get tired of watching people in inappropriate footwear try to navigate the ice when we turned a corner and there it was: DELICATE ARCH.

Delicate Arch was breathtaking. The scale of it is hard to describe. It looks small at first, but then it dawns on you that the little speck at its base is a person and you realize how big it is, and how stately and alone it is, just standing there, rising up out of the red stone and framing a gorgeous range of snow-capped mountains off in the distance. All of the other hikers around us were clearly hit with the same emotion, and we all just sat down with our backs against a warm rock wall, murmuring quietly amongst ourselves and staring at Delicate Arch in the afternoon sun.

Matt and I stayed at Delicate Arch for close to an hour before heading back down the mountain. Delicate Arch totally rivaled Dead Horse Point’s sunrise views and I would strongly recommend both spots to any future Moab visitor.

Monday was our last day in Moab and we had a long list of arches that we still wanted to see. Matt and I got on the road in the dark once again, this time heading to the Devil’s Garden section of Arches NP. Devil’s Garden is home to a staggering number of arches and other crazy rock formations, including Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the world.

We hiked on the snow-covered trail in the dark and arrived at Landscape Arch just before sunrise. There were no other people in sight, just us and the long, unbelievably thin arch. We watched the sun hit the arch, turning it a bright golden yellow, and took tons of photos. Then we left Landscape Arch behind and set out on the “primitive trail” to see more of Devil’s Garden.

The primitive trail was barely a trail in most places. It was good that the sun was up by this point, because we had to climb and scramble up, over and across rock fins and ridges to get to the next few arches on our list. In one area we had to walk along an exposed rock spine with drop offs on either side and a steady, strong cross wind… so powerful that when I took my glove off to take a photo and I had trouble putting it back on because it was blowing straight sideways.  Luckily my earwarmer headband was holding my precious Arches Ultra cap securely on my head!!

While in Devil’s Garden Matt and I saw Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch, then returned back by Landscape Arch to visit Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. There was one other couple out on the primitive trail but we otherwise had this sunrise hike to ourselves.

Next we took a few short hikes to Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch (all “private” viewing again… January is definitely the time to visit Arches!!) and then we wrapped up our long morning of hiking with a trek down “Park Avenue,” a canyon lined with towering rock monoliths that reminded early visitors of a skyscraper-lined street in Manhattan.

We returned to Moab for lunch at the Moab Brewery. By this point Matt and I estimated that we had hiked close to 10 miles but we weren’t done yet. After lunch we made a quick stop at the nearby Matheson Wetlands Preserve, a natural wetlands area on the Colorado River. The preserve was underwhelming, with little wildlife out on a chilly January day, but it was a quiet place to digest our beer and burgers before our final hike of the trip.

To get to our last hiking destination we had to drive along Route 279 (aka Potash Road), a scenic road sandwiched between the Colorado River and sheer red cliffs. The cliffs are home to “Wall Street,” a popular rock climbing area, as well as several great examples of historic Indian rock art. We stopped to see the petroglyphs before continuing on to the Corona Arch trailhead.

The Corona Arch parking lot was almost empty, and we passed the afternoon’s only other hikers on their way back to their car less than a mile into our hike. Excited to have one more arch all to ourselves, Matt and I pressed on, climbing up and up into a wide bowl-like formation with steep drop offs to our right. We scaled a ladder bolted to the rock and trekked up stone steps carved into the rock.

Finally the massive Corona Arch came into view. Once again, we had a private viewing of the breathtaking arch, and we spent a while soaking in the view and utter silence around us. Just as we were about to head back to the car the nearly full moon (the super blue blood moon) rose up and over the arch. Perfect.

And just like that, our whirlwind weekend in Moab was over. We were on the road by 4:14AM the next morning and back in Philadelphia nine hours later.

In three days we hiked to sixteen arches, visited two National Parks, saw magnificent views of the Colorado River, and were outside (or in the car) for every sunrise and sunset. Best of all, we experienced all of this with no crowds and, in most cases, with these iconic landmarks all to ourselves. Moab in January definitely did not disappoint!

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I ran an Ultra! OK, not really, but it WAS a Trail Race in Utah.

Every January Matt and I have a work trip in Las Vegas. After work ends on Friday, we take a long weekend adventure to somewhere within driving distance, like Zion, Sedona, or Temecula. This year’s destination? Moab, Utah. I’ll describe Moab in more detail in my next post, but suffice to say that there are some pretty awesome things to do in Moab for anyone who enjoys being outside, being active, and being rewarded with breathtaking landscapes.

I had already decided we were going to Moab and was doing some online research when I came across mention of the “Arches Ultra” trail race that would be taking place the Saturday we’d arrive in town. That’s cool, I thought, there will be lots of runners around. Then I clicked through to the race site and discovered that in addition to the “ultra” race distances of 50 mile, 50K and 13.1 miles, this event would also feature a shorter 9K trail race. That’s only 5.6 miles… I can do that!!

I immediately scrutinized our itinerary to figure out if it was even possible to get to Moab in time for the race’s 10AM start. If we retrieved our rental car in advance, left Las Vegas immediately when work ended at 5PM (pacific time), got dinner on the road, and drove until 11PM (mountain time) Friday night, we could spend the night in Richfield, UT. Then we’d just need to drive 2 1/2 hours on Saturday morning to get to Moab. Totally doable!

Thankfully our long journey northeast went according to plan and Matt and I arrived at the race at 9:20AM. The ultra runners had started their longer races hours earlier (those 50 milers had to finish before dark!) so the start area was quiet and I had time to take in the sights. A huge cliff rose up out of the desert just to the north. The sky was deep blue and the ground was a beautiful red that reminded me of Sedona. The weather was perfect – low-30s and sunny. What a great day to run a trail race in Utah!

I lined up with 96 other runners at 10AM. I felt a little out of my league as I listened to people around me chatting about how they had come from Colorado and Arizona for this race. I was positive that their western heritage automatically made them much better equipped to run an off-road race at 4600′ elevation, but that was OK. I positioned myself towards the back of the pack and prepared to have a blast running in Utah.

It quickly become clear that I had started way too far back. As soon as I carefully crossed over the cattle guard near the start (that could be a major ankle buster!) I began working my way around the crowd. Finally the field thinned out and I found myself cruising along with another woman. We chatted as we ran and I learned that her name was Kristen and that she was from Arizona. (This is one of the great things about trail races; everyone talks to one another and is so friendly!!)

Shortly after mile 2 the course veered off onto an actual trail (we had been on a paved bike path up until this point) and I let Kristen (the Experienced Westerner!) take the lead. I tucked in behind her as we weaved our way up, down and around hills and rocks. At one point I felt like a slalom skier as the trail switchbacked around the desert. Fun!

After a few twisty miles we were back on the paved trail, making a beeline to the finish. With less than a mile to go, I realized that I had the energy to pick up the pace and I focused on Kristen, who was still within reach ahead of me. Kristen must have had the same thought, because together we BOTH picked up our paces and zoomed towards the finish. It quickly became clear that I wouldn’t be able to catch her, but I kept up my speed, pausing only slightly to one-step over the cattle guard (Matt said I ‘took it well’ compared to some!) before sprinting through the finish chute. Utah trail race complete!

I collected my medal (I had forgotten there were medals!) and awaited the results. Because I had started so far back I had no idea how many runners were ahead of me. Imagine my surprise when the results were posted and I was 10th OVERALL!!! By my count, I was also the 4th woman to cross the line, but later I discovered that the official results show that I was actually 3rd female overall. Cool!!!

Kicking the weekend off with a trail race was a great introduction to Moab. The race was well organized, the other runners (especially Kristen from Arizona!) were super friendly, and there was great race swag. I LOVE my new Arches Ultra trucker hat and I wore it constantly for the remainder of our time in Moab. Apparently many of the other runners felt the same way… I kept bumping into other ‘tourists’ wearing The Hat for the rest of the weekend and it was fun to compare race stories. Granted, everyone I met had raced at least twice as far as I did, but, no worries, I ran an “ultra,” too!

More on our weekend in Moab coming up next!

2018 miles: 176.3

Recap of 2017, in February (Why not?)

This is my blog and I do what I want. Recently that has meant that I haven’t posted much, but it’s not for lack of subject matter. Tonight I’m attempting to document some of the best things I saw, ate, and did last year. Without further ado, here are my un-blogged thoughts from 2017!

January

OK, I did actually blog about Zion, but no 2017 recap could possibly be complete without mentioning this epic trip. In January Matt and I spent three days exploring Zion canyon in Utah. It snowed and rained 90% of the time but we felt extremely fortunate to have this notoriously overcrowded national park nearly all to ourselves.

The best (yet sadly, unblogged) food that we made in January was a creamy, cheesy buffalo chicken panini. We assembled these rich sandwiches using buffalo chicken dip that we didn’t serve during our New Year’s Day brunch. (We made WAY too much food for brunch!)

February

Continuing on with the panini theme, in February we made insanely delicious short rib paninis with leftover braised short ribs from our Valentine’s Day dinner (recipe). Can you tell we got a panini press for Christmas in 2016?? ☺

February was unusually warm last year. (Actually, I’m typing this on February 15, 2018 after coming inside from running in a t-shirt… it was 64° today! These weird warm winter days are the best.) In February 2017 I sweated my way through the Pickle on the Road 5K in a 66° heatwave, finishing in 24 minutes even. Afterwards Piper, Matt and I relaxed outside and watched a thunderstorm roll in.

March

Piper and I kicked off the month of March with a busy weekend. Piper ran her fastest 5K (at the time) with me on a Saturday morning in 22:43 and then together we participated in a K9 Nosework seminar all day Sunday. We both slept well that night!!

The unblogged food of March was an absolute winner that I really need to make again (and share here!). Pasta e Ceci is an Italian stew of chick peas, pasta, and pancetta and this recipe marked the first time I ever cooked with anchovies. It wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be and dinner was delicious.

April

In April I upped my running mileage and made it all the way to Sterling Pig Brewery in Media on one particularly epic outing. My 8 mile effort was rewarded with a fresh Snuffler IPA. Cheers! I also participated in four races in April, most notably the Haverford Twilight 5K, in which I bettered my non-downhill 5K personal best by more than 20 seconds (22:54).

In food news, Matt got a smoker in 2016 and he took advantage of April’s weather to smoke a pork shoulder. A BIG pork shoulder. We ate pulled pork sandwiches for a few days before getting more creative, with pork paninis (duh) and the delectable smoked pork and broccoli rabe stromboli pictured above.

May

Matt and I have long had plans to renovate our house’s old sunken living room into a clean, modern dining room and this project finally began in May. Over the course of a week contractors ripped up the dirty white-ish carpet, installed a wet bed, and laid huge tile “planks” that look like wood and match our kitchen floors. More on this project in July.

After a big PR in the Broad Street Run in early May (1:21:28), I was content to reduce my running mileage and relax a little. Matt and I spent our evenings outdoors under our awning, sipping wine and listening to Piper thundering around the yard (she actually sounds like a herd of horses). We cooked countless meals on the grill, including a totally blog-worth steak and provolone calzone with peppers and onions.

June

A busy month. We spent the evening watching jumpers at the Devon Horse Show, sampled wine in a summer rainstorm at our wedding venue on our fourth anniversary, and overhauled our home gym with new paint, switches and outlets, shelves, and a white board. I spend a lot of time in that room so it was a welcome change.

June was also the month that Piper bit a porcupine at the Hunting Camp (!!!!) and, in less exciting wildlife news, she found a tortoise in our yard. Piper’s nose also earned her a pass in the K9 Nosework Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for birch, despite the fact that she had nervous breakdown on the super slippery linoleum floor before the test even began.

Inspired by memories of our honeymoon in St. Lucia, I cooked Caribbean-style chicken roti and I actually made the roti flatbread! That was a lot of work. An easier but equally delicious June meal was Matt’s take on grilled patty melts, with swiss cheese, horseradish sauce and arugula.

July

Dawn at Promised Land State Park

This month marked my favorite sunrise of the year. We were spending July 4th weekend with Matt’s family in the Poconos and Piper woke up at the crack of dawn. Unable to get her to settle back down, I took Pipes for a walk with my GoPro in hand and we arrived at Promised Land lake just as the sun came up over the horizon. I will purposefully wake up this early next time we’re there in the hopes of experiencing this quiet beauty again.

This month I also made a patriotic blueberry pie, hurled very sharp axes into a plywood target in Philadelphia, and supervised while Matt and two delivery men struggled to maneuver our massive and ridiculously heavy new live edge dining table into our house. The new table was step 2 in Operation Dining Room.

Finally, Matt and I spent a relaxing week in Cape May, NJ with his family. We rented bicycles (beach cruisers, complete with baskets!) and had a blast pedaling 20+ miles around the cape. We visited two wineries, multiple breweries, a peanut butter shop, a lighthouse, beaches, and, naturally, a Wawa.

August

Eclipse month! I tried to buy solar glasses but the manufacturer cancelled my order a week before the big day due to supply issues. Boo! Unable to find alternate approved glasses on such short notice, we made pinhole cameras and watched the eclipse in the parking lot at work and then at home in our backyard.

Inspired by all of our Cape May biking, I borrowed my mom’s bike (it doesn’t have a basket but it actually has gears!) and enjoyed exploring the length of the Chester Valley Trail and local roads. My go-to workout was to run the 5 uphill miles to my mom’s house, stop in for a glass of ice water, then bike the 5 downhill miles back home. Speaking of running, in August I raced for the first time since May and earned a blazing new PR of 6:20 in the Downhill Mile.

In other news, the zucchini plant in my garden that hadn’t produced any fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) suddenly started pumping out monster zucchinis in August, Piper honed her underwater retrieving skills in my mom’s pool, and Matt helped me make a towering fruit trifle for the annual YPP. (That’s Young People’s Party, for those of you who’ve made it this far.)

September

Ah, September. We made tons of blog-worth food this month, including cajun shrimp and grits, Moroccan Butternut Squash and Chick Pea Stew that looked just like the magazine picture, and, for the first time ever, HOMEMADE PIZZA DOUGH! I had always been intimidated by any recipe that called for yeast, but I finally bought the correct ingredients, found a not-too-scary-looking dough recipe, and just went for it. Matt and I celebrated our newfound pizza-making prowess by becoming “chefs for a night” for my mom and stepfather. It was a really good meal, if I do say so myself. (Also, the ricotta cheese on that pizza in the background is homemade too! Just a little wetter than I intended.)

Also in September, Piper competed at a mock Nosework trial and I crashed into a car during the vehicle portion of the search. (Don’t worry, she still found the odor, eventually!)

And finally, this month can’t be recapped without mentioned two events that DID make it on the blog: our glorious hike up Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park and my huge new personal best at the Pints in the Square 5K (22:03). What a month!

October

October was defined by races – five of them! – and a work trip that actually took me to the Philadelphia Convention Center for a few days. Usually we exhibit in far away places like Vegas and San Diego, so it was cool to be so close to home. One day I commuted in on the train with my brother (who also works in the family business) and I thoroughly enjoyed watching out the window as we rumbled by the many towns that make up Philadelphia’s Main Line. (I wrote my college thesis on this area and love its history.)

Speaking of the Main Line, my mom’s horse competed at Dressage at Devon this month! She ‘danced’ to a musical freestyle program on October 1st and Piper got to come along and watch. (Piper totally thought that this horse was real and pointed at it for a good 30 seconds before bashfully realizing her mistake.)

October was not a big month for cooking, but we did use our newfound dough-making ability to craft homemade spinach, sausage and ricotta strombolis. We should really make those again sometime.

November

Matt and I traveled to Palm Beach for a long weekend in early November. We rented bikes (of course), ate tons of good food, and relaxed by the pool for hours on end. I get to return to Florida next month on a quick 3-day trip with my mom and I’m already looking forward to it!

In November I perfected my chocolate chip cookie recipe and Matt and I kept making more pizza. You might even say that pizza is the new panini around here. I ran off the calories from all of that wonderful food with three races, including one 5K with Piper in a new Piper personal best time of 22:38.

December

Commence Dining Room Phase 3! We rented scaffolding from Home Depot and Matt and my brother spent an entire day running electrical wires and installing new light fixtures in the dining room and front hall. (Aren’t they cool!!??) In the week leading up the Christmas, Matt worked for hours repairing and painting the walls and installing our (still unfinished) floating credenzas on either side of the room. Eventually they will have wraparound wood tops that complement the table. I also need to design a gallery art wall for the huge empty wall that you can’t see in the above photo. So many details! Someday I’ll post the finished room and it will be awesome.

Piper spent several afternoons at work with me in December (she is well-behaved as long as she can look out her window) and I single-handedly made pan-roasted chicken with harissa chickpeas for Matt for dinner. We joke that usually I am just his sous-chef. We also binge-watched Star Wars movies (IV, V, VI, VII) in preparation for going out to the movies on New Year’s Eve to watch The Last Jedi. We later caught up on episodes I-III in early January.

December was a huge month for running, with two new personal bests in the same weekend. I finished the 2 mile Jingle Elf Run in 14:04 and the 5 mile Brian’s Run in 37:24. All in all, I ended 2017 with 1,314 miles and new PRs in the mile, 2 mile, 5K, 5 mile, and 10 mile. 😄

January

OK, January wasn’t part of 2017 but I’m on a roll. On New Year’s Day 2018 I slept in (Star Wars the night before and all) and ate waffles for breakfast before remembering that I had wanted to enter a 5K that started at 10AM. That wasn’t happening, but luckily there was another nearby race that didn’t start until noon. I bundled up in all of my new Christmas running gear and braved a “feels like” temperature of -1°F for the duration of Stanley’s Dream 5K. I finished first in my age group and won a pair of neon yellow gloves which I promptly layered over the two pairs I was already wearing.

Two weeks later I raced on a much nicer day, this time with Piper at the Pickle Run in Ridley Creek State Park. Pickle Runs are prediction runs where you state your time in advance, then race without a watch.  The winner is the runner who finished closest to his or her predicted time. To make a long story short, I predicted an aggressive 22:30, but then the course was cut slightly short due to ice and Piper and I finished in 22:05! We didn’t win any prediction prize, but even with the short course I’m pretty sure that was our new fastest time together.  Piper and I will run our second Pickle Run this Saturday.

Last but not least, Matt and I received a gigantic enameled cast iron skillet for Christmas (thanks Mom!) and we’ve been having a lot of fun trying new recipes with it. So far we’ve made breakfast strata, tamale pie, and, my favorite, skillet pizza with roast beef, gravy, horseradish and arugula.

In January we also had a work trip to Las Vegas, I ran a trail race in Utah, and we spent a long weekend in Moab, but that’s a story for a different post. Until then, thanks for reading and happy new year! 😄

Climbing Old Rag Mountain

Over the past three years Matt and I have hiked and road-tripped our way through some awe-inspiring destinations on the west coast including Zion National Park, Sedona and Big Sur. Traveling “Out West” has become a yearly pilgrimage, yielding beautiful memories from past adventures and unlimited possibilities for future trips. (Portland! Napa! A train ride from SF to Chicago! The Grand Canyon! So much to see.)

With all of that excitement happening on the left coast, I haven’t given much thought to potential trips back east.  Sure, we take annual drives to the Poconos and the beach and make our way up to Vermont or northern New York every once in a while, but none of these places have rivaled the awesomeness of the western landscape. But all that changed on Friday when Matt and I hiked up Old Rag Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Continue reading

That time Piper met a Porcupine…

Flashback to last Saturday morning. Matt and I are sitting next to an older man in the Emergency Vet’s waiting room watching a nature show on TV. A porcupine appears onscreen and the man says “Have you ever seen a dog that came face to face with a porcupine?? OUCH!” Oh yes, I tell him. In fact, that’s exactly why we’re here!!!

Piper, or Porcupipe, as she may be called from now on, BIT A PORCUPINE on Friday afternoon. Piper is fine and no, I don’t think that she learned not to mess with porcupines in the future!! We were on a hike as part of our annual sojourn to the Hunting Camp, aka Globe Run Rod and Gun Club, a private wilderness retreat located in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.  As is always the case at Camp, all dogs run free and daily activities include swimming in the lake, hiking, and logging some quality time in the rocking chairs on the front porch. But this year was a liiiittle different, thanks to Piper’s prickly new friend. Continue reading

Zion National Park

Every January Matt and I spend a week working in Las Vegas at a big trade show. After many trips to Sin City, Vegas itself is not very exciting but that’s OK because our fun begins when the show ends on Friday. In 2014 we drove to Temecula for a weekend in southern California wine country and last year we road-tripped east through Arizona to beautiful Sedona for a few days. This year we wanted to find another 3-day weekend getaway within driving distance, so after much research Matt and I decided to visit Zion National Park in southeastern Utah.

zion-overlook

Why visit Zion from Las Vegas in January? Here were our primary reasons:

  1. Proximity: Zion is only 2 1/2 hours away from Las Vegas. You can easily drive back to Vegas to fly home, or catch a connecting flight out of the tiny regional airport in St. George, UT (that’s what we did).
  2. Off-Season: Like many National Parks, Zion is experiencing record numbers of visitors and over-crowding of the single park road, parking lots, and trails is becoming a real issue. We correctly figured that we’d miss out on all of that excitement and have the canyon more or less to ourselves during the third week of January.
  3. Weather: Zion usually has relatively mild winters and, unlike Bryce Canyon or northern Utah’s ski resorts, Zion usually doesn’t receive huge amounts of snow. We figured Zion’s winter weather would be perfect for hiking and we wouldn’t have to worry about trail or road closures in January. (This didn’t quite pan out!)

All of my research on the weather was well-intentioned, but sometimes you just can’t plan for mother nature.  Continue reading

A Weekend in Sedona

201 Mescal shadow panorama

Last weekend the East Coast was pummeled by a massive blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on our suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. If Matt and I had been home, we would have slow-cooked a stew, played with Piper in the snow, and stayed on top of shoveling our driveway. But we weren’t home… we were 2200 miles west in beautiful Sedona, Arizona!

Sedona Map

Map of all trails & points of interest mentioned below.

Matt and I had been in Las Vegas for work during the days leading up the blizzard. Normally we would have flown home on Saturday (aka blizzard day), but, as luck would have it, we had already decided to extend our time out west with a long weekend in Sedona that culminated in a flight home from Phoenix on Tuesday.

Saturday morning we rented a Jeep at the Vegas airport and set out for Arizona. The 4 1/2 hour drive took us past Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam (which we couldn’t even see from the giant new interstate bridge!) and sections of historic Route 66 before twisting south into Oak Creek Canyon, the gateway to red rock country.

Oak Creek Canyon

If you approach Sedona from the north like we did, your first glimpse of red rocks will occur in this dramatic canyon. The road switchbacked constantly as we followed Oak Creek and descended a few thousand feet through snow-covered forest. We initially thought about returning to the canyon for a hike later in the weekend, but realized after our climb up Devil’s Bridge that red rocks + snow and ice can be a little treacherous. Someday when we return to Sedona in less snowy conditions we’ll definitely spend more time in Oak Creek Canyon.

Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point (4.2 miles)

We pulled into Sedona at 3PM on Saturday and wasted no time getting our first hike underway. We followed the Little Horse Trail up to Chicken Point and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Cathedral Rock. After hiking 2 miles into the wilderness I was surprised when a pink jeep rolled up the rock from the opposite direction… apparently this lookout point is also a stop on the famous Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour that leaves from Uptown Sedona. Matt and I really enjoyed this relatively easy hike, but if you’re not in the mood for a hike I hear that the jeep tours are very popular!

Orchards Inn and Elote Cafe

We drove back into uptown Sedona just as the sun was setting and checked into our hotel, Orchards Inn. Although the entrance to the hotel is smack in the middle of a very touristy section of route 89A, all of the rooms face east towards a serene wall of beautiful red rocks. It was easy to forget about the commercial strip out front when gazing out at the view from our private balcony!

View from our balcony

Saturday night we had dinner at Elote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Elote doesn’t take reservations so we waited 45 minutes for a table while sipping margaritas and munching on free spiced popcorn on Elote’s back patio. (As you can imagine, the wait went by in no time!) Dinner at Elote was all we hoped it would be and well worth the wait. Everything we had was delicious… elote (a fragrant corn dip), tomato salad, smoked pork cheeks, and buffalo mole poblano short ribs. Yum! The meal was so good we bought Elote’s cookbook, so be ready for some Elote-inspired recipes on my blog later this year!

Mescal Mountain – Devil’s Bridge Hike (10 miles)

I woke up before sunrise on Sunday, thinking I might be able to snap a few photos of the sun coming up from our balcony. Since we faced east my photos didn’t turn out (the more dramatic views were looking west, where the morning sun was turning the rocks a fiery red-orange), but this got us up and out of bed and ready to start our day. We had a hearty breakfast of french toast and pancakes at Wildflower Bread Company (which I didn’t realize was a chain until we saw another one in the Phoenix airport) and then set out on our first hike of the day: Devil’s Bridge.

200 Devils Bridge Trail Closed

Devil’s Bridge is a natural sandstone arch located 400+ feet up the side of a mountain. Brave visitors can walk out onto the bridge, making this a popular destination for hikers and Pink Jeep tours. I was thrilled to see that we were the very first car to arrive at the Dry Creek Road trailhead (no crowded views for us!!) but my excitement was immediately crushed when I saw a little U.S. Forest Service sign at the start of the trail… CLOSED due to dangerous icy slippery conditions. NO!!

A map of nearby hikes was posted in the parking lot and we realized we could salvage the morning by taking the Mescal Trail north, away from Devil’s Bridge, and looping around Mescal Mountain. This 5 mile hike ended up being our favorite of the trip. We had the well-marked path almost exclusively to ourselves and Mescal Mountain loomed over us in the morning sun as we circled it clockwise. The best part of this hike was when we entered a horseshoe-shaped curve along the side of the mountain – it felt like we were walking in a natural amphitheater that had been carved out of the rock. Very memorable!

The parking lot was packed when we returned to our jeep. Lo and behold, the danger sign had been moved aside! We stopped at the car for a quick water break then set out south on the Chuck Wagon trail to access Devil’s Bridge trail. The trail was easy at first with no sign of snow, but then we began to climb up the north side of the mountain. The higher we went the more snow and ice there was… at first it was just on the sides of the trail but eventually the ice stretched straight across the natural rock stairs and narrow single-track trail that skirted the edge of the mountain. Eek! I don’t usually have any issue with heights but the combination of being on a cliff AND being on unsure footing was very unsettling.

Finally Devil’s Bridge came into view. A few insane people (with their kids!!) were actually sliding across the ice to walk out on the arch but Matt and I were satisfied with taking photos from the relative safety of our icy, sloping trail.  We headed back down the mountain and made it back to our car in just under 5 hours.  Not bad for a 10 mile round trip with lots of photo stops!

Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch / Red Rock Loop Road

390 Oak Creek BrewsBy the time we made it back to town it was after 2PM and we were HUNGRY! We recharged with a satisfying lunch of beer, soft pretzels and pizza at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque Village (an artsy, walkable shopping area) and planned our next move for the day.

After a quick stroll around Tlaquepaque we headed west down Red Rock Loop Road to Crescent Moon Ranch. This park offers fantastic views of Cathedral Rock across Oak Creek. We wandered around the trails along the creek snapping photos and taking selfies with my new GoPro Hero. This was the first trip that we’ve had the GoPro and we loved using it to get a different, wider-angle view of the beautiful landscapes around us. (And also for selfies… I realized that I have hundreds of photos of Piper but hardly any of Matt and I; hopefully now we’ll have more than three “us” photos to choose from for next year’s Christmas card!)

From Crescent Moon we drove clockwise around Red Rock Loop Road back to 89A. Most of the best views seemed to be in the eastern section between 89A and Crescent Moon, so we circled back down the loop road again, this time stopping at numerous pull offs and overlooks to see Sedona’s gorgeous red rocks in the setting sun. (Note: this was the only time we needed an SUV as some of the pull offs were a little rough; a sedan would have easily gotten us everywhere else we went on this trip.)

Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Hike (5 miles)

Monday morning we woke up early once more, this time to fit in one last Sedona hike before driving south to Scottsdale and the airport. After another breakfast at Wildflower we headed to Bell Rock, one of the most famous energy vortexes in Sedona. We followed the Bell Rock Pathway to connect to Courthouse Butte Loop, an easy trail that took us clockwise around the butte. The conditions were perfect – mid-50s with an intensely blue sky – and we were glad to take this final hike before leaving red rock country.

After circling Courthouse Butte we had lunch at nearby Red Rock Cafe in Oak Creek Village. Matt had a southwestern chicken fried steak scramble and I enjoyed a grilled roast beef sandwich with green chiles.  Yum!

Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale, AZ

We said goodbye to Sedona and pointed the car south towards I-17 and the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The drive only took 2 hours so at some point I decided that we should try to squeeze one more hike in. On our way into town we stopped at Pinnacle Peak, a popular hiking/trail running spot that offers great views of northern Scottsdale. We didn’t have a lot of time but made it up to the Grandview overlook before heading back down to our car.

Before I wrap up this (very long) post I have to mention the amazing dinner we had Monday night. From our hotel in Old Town Scottsdale we walked to Bootleggers, a “modern American smokehouse.” We ate on the back patio, right next to the stacks of wood that fuel the restaurant’s giant smoker. We’ve been paying more attention to smoked food ever since Matt bought a smoker last summer and Bootleggers was easily the best BBQ we’ve had thus far. We started with a tray of nachos heaped with smoked brisket and smothered with a perfect mixture of avocado, lime and cilantro (perhaps the best nachos I’ve ever eaten) and then enjoyed more BBQ brisket and smoked sausage for dinner. Our server brought us Bootleggers’ signature apple pie moonshine as a complementary dessert. Cheers!Snowy Driveway

The next morning we headed back to Philadelphia on an 8AM flight. Despite the fact that we had hiked 23 miles in 3 days we arrived home feeling refreshed, recharged, and full of energy. (The magic of a mini-vacation!) It was a good thing we felt energetic because we were greeted by 2 feet of snow waiting to be shoveled off the driveway. Welcome home!  🙂