Looking back, it seems when you hit that aging milestone of 30, you feel like “oh, now I must act like an adult…”. Then, 40 arrives faster than thirty ever did and you maybe realize you had not made that first $Mill as you had hoped. Then, you wake up after to going to bed before 11pm and all of sudden you are 50 and your doctor reminds you that all sorts of undeniable things have happened to your physical vessel. You eyesite needs updating, it is time to have them stick a camera up your butt (colonoscopy) and lastly, sleeping on the ground in a tent while camping is no longer fun.
I am well past that 50 mark and I have finally conceded that to not surrender my love for the outdoors, I needed to upgrade my camping experiences to “glamping” and, unfortunately I never seem to do anything half-ass. “Glamporama” in Zion National Park during the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday weekend just happened!
Visiting Zion from Las Vegas is only about a 3-hour drive including pulling into Costco for gas in St. George. Despite the close proximity, my visits have been less over that past couple of years due to the overwhelming crowds. Zion ranks #3 as the most visited National Park behind Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon. That makes Zion more popular than Yosemite! Wow!
Four of Utah’s five national parks set new records for attendance in 2017; since 2012, the state’s “Mighty Five” have seen a 66 percent increase in visitors. Bryce Canyon moved up to 12th nationally with 2.6 million visitors, Arches ranked 16th at 1.5 million, Capitol Reef was 21st with 1.2 million and Canyonlands 26th with 742,271. The good news is that internationally people recognize the value of visiting our national parks.
My thinking that even though Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday in the calendar year, I assumed the Zion visitor population would most certainly be diminished compared to the March-October crowds. Unfortunately, it was not so. Great weather, albeit cold at night for camping and lower fuel prices (around $2.75/gal), must have kept the human flood gates opened because on Black Friday, all the people that were influenced by #optoutside did just that and into Zion. It was absolutely insane. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cars everywhere. Driving back from Carmel Junction on Friday to through Zion, there were more cars parked at ever piece of dirt turnoff than are allowed. For 15+ miles. As such, instead of camping from Tuesday through Sunday, I #optescape#gohome with plenty of great memories and images and headed home Saturday midday.
I had never actually camped in Zion but two months in advance I did the appropriate reconn and found out that the best camping in the park is at the Watchman campgrounds. Named for the majestic peak that supervises the earth travelers below. I opted for the “F-loop” which is walk-in campsites and ended up with F12 which for how I like things, was the best site in the entire area.
Watchman campgrounds are the only campgrounds you can reserve online in advance and most of the other campgrounds are really setup for in and out with not much privacy. The downside to glamping in a walk-in site is that it literally took me two hours to haul my gear in and another two hours to haul my gear out. Watchman campsites have steel overhangs, table but no fire pits. There are community fire pits that tend to bring groups together and it can be loud as 5+ voices echo in the valley of these mountains. But, I have a great solution I will detail later.
Recently purchased and setup once at a local park, I was ready to deploy my new CORE Equipment 9 person Instant Cabin Tent which measures 14′ x 9′. That really sounds extreme for a solo or party of two, right? Not so Joe! The main motivator to migrate to a “cabin tent” is to then be able to implement a cot sleeping platform eliminating that crawling up off the tent floor to take a pee twice at night. And, since I am a jumbo-sized dude, I opted for the well reviewed Kamp Rite Oversize Kwik Cot. (I tried to purchase mine on Amazon for much cheaper but Amazon buys in bulk and had run out of inventory. I called Kamp Rite and, even though I paid a bit more, their customer service is great!) In fact, Kamp Rite makes a really cool ten-cot that would be great for road trips and quick car camping deployment.
If you visit the hyperlinks to both of these websites you notice that both products promote QUICK setup. I can verify that for sure. The CORE tent, despite how big it is, even as one person, pops up quickly. Setup and tear-down for both products were as advertised and the true test is that they both fit in their respective carrying bags after the tear-down.
Some people would be satisfied with their “glamping” experience at this point. I am not even close. Something that does not require a lot of space in the car are floor mats. I am far from being a clean freak, but making the extra effort to have a soft matt for your feet when you roll off of your cot along with a doormat outside and inside the main entry look good and will help keep some dirt away from all of your tent. Plus it just feels more “home-ie”.
Ok, now to takes things to the next level. This might seem absolutely ridiculous but it was probably my most successful accessory – outdoor furniture from IKEA! These two chairs and small table were so perfect for this CORE tent. As you will notice in the tent, I did lay an old yoga matt under the legs as a precaution but not necessary. I forgot to mention, an important component is to lay a heavy-duty ground tarp underneath the CORE tent. This provide better protection so you do not tear the floor of your tent on small rocks or pebbles in your camping area.
The Watchman campgrounds have great bear boxes to store all your food and cooking supplies which makes your campsite nice and tidy. After you connect with your fav bluetooth speaker promotional product from Swagman, you can get busy setting up the rest of your gear for the forthcoming days of adventuring. Between hiking, roadtripping and camera gear, there is a lot to manage!
Remember that dilemma of noisy people at the community fire pit nearby your tent? Well, the coup de gras for the RB Zion Glamporama was to implement my own “home theatre”! Since I mostly camp by myself, after a long day of adventuring, and finishing the last meal of the day, an evening in the tent is usually concluded by listening to music via earbuds or reading a book via the Kindle app on my phone. Those conclusionary (yes, I made that word up!) activities still work in the glamporama environs, but, why not set the bar a tad higher?
I stumbled across this Nebula Mini Project by Anker with 360º sound and was blown away. Small footprint, big delivery. A tad more expensive than maybe your other portable projectors but when you take into account how the visuals pop, the sound is great and the ability to connect an HDMI cord from your phone to the projector – “that is gold Jerry, GOLD!” Combined with a inexpensive but amazing portable screen, all of sudden I was watching great content I had downloaded ahead of time on my Netflix app! So, as the community fire pit got louder with more alcohol consumed, the volume and vibrations of my murder mystery movie got louder. No doubt you could probably see the movie being projected within my McMansion tent from afar. NOW, THIS IS HOW YOU GLAMP! I only setup the theatre two of the four nights but, the one night it was raining slightly it just seemed it could not be a more perfect accessory for #tentlife!
Page/Lake Powell/Kodachrome State Park
Wednesday was designated as the day to find one of two required images for my 2019 custom Robert Baker Photography Appointment Calendar. Calendar images require a unique composition to ensure people enjoy looking at the image for an entire month. I had a couple of vague ideas but trusted my spontaneous road trip would afford me to stumble upon something. First on my checklist was to try and get a lottery permit to hike “The Wave” which requires visiting the Kanab Visitors Center by 8:30am, filling out the appropriate information and then at 9am they called out the lucky 10 permit winners for Thursday and Friday (a total of 20). I had thought that maybe most people would be traveling on that Wednesday and maybe there would be better chance. Not so Joe! Over 90 applications were submitted which translates to about 300+ people wanting to access these area in the next two days. I am actually pretty lucky when it comes to this type of stuff but not this time.
After the groans subsided, I jumped back in the adventure rig and headed to Page, Arizona – home to Lake Powell. I had only been here once before to run a half-marathon a few years prior but not much changes in Page. The blue skies were plentiful as were the crowds to everything. I tried to book a touristy slot canyon tour for $60 that was sold out. I tried to park anywhere nearby Horseshoe Bend to grab some snaps to no avail. Best I could do is drive up to the Wahweap Overlook and grab some pics there.
I noticed a BLM Outpost called the Big Water Visitor Center off Highway 89. Still looking for inspiration, I noticed a somewhat do-able dirt road loop that drives up Cottonwood Canyon road that parallels the Paria river north to Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin State Park. Once you turn off and start hearing the crunch of gravel on your tires and the red dust covering your back window, you can only hope that this road with no signs does in fact get you somewhere.
The drive was fairly unspectacular and the arrival to the Grosvenor Arch felt like a reasonable payoff for the wear and tear it had put on my Volvo wagon. As the long shadows of the trees started to decorate the road, it seemed that maybe a state park named “Kodachrome” would be a safe bet for a killer sunset shot.
Sunsets happen quickly in winter so as I rolled up to the Park entrance, I queried the Ranger if he thought the park has a sunset worthy shot. He spoke with confidence and experience there were a couple of excellent sunset shots available so I paid the $8 and pulled through. Nope. Nope, and nope. Nice little park out in the middle of nowhere but it took me about 12 minutes to determine this was not the sunset calendar shot I was looking for. Plus, this was my turnaround point to head down a different lesser marked dirt road to return to highway 89 and Kanab. With no signs and no markings I was getting concerned about the return trip. I forgot to mention, leaving my campsite in a hurry earlier that day, I had left my smartphone in the tent and thought it would be an interesting experiment to go a day with a phone. Now I was realizing this could have dire consequences.
Turning right from the exit of Kodachrome Basin, it was probably 2 miles before luckily saw from the corner of my eye the turnoff for Sheep Creek Flat Road. The first 5 miles of this dirt road were quite challenging and as the sun was finishing it’s last duties for the day, I was getting more concerned. I guesstimated my return trip would be slightly longer than the 35+miles and 90 minutes it has taken to drive Cottonwood Creek road.
After 45 minutes I came across a family of men hauling dead firewood….friendly enough and they confirmed that eventually I would make it back to highway 89 on this road. After forever and then some, I finally arrived at a “T” which I had not seen on a touristy map handout and opted to go right. Now, my gas gauge told me I had about 60 miles left and I felt confident I was close but still not signs, no lights and no traffic.
This part of the road was still dirt but even so I was able to clip along averaging 25-40mph which seems like I was hauling ass. It was dark and the full moon had not offered up any of it’s illuminance yet. As my fuel gauge was going down I was starting to panic. At this point I thought maybe my turning right was the wrong turn and I now was showing 20 miles left. I flagged down another truck of people with Montana plates and they said I was also going in the right direction to get to highway 89 and it was about 15 miles away. It turns out my right turn got me driving northwest to 89 instead of southwest which would have led me into Kanab. Instead, I got off the dirt road in Glendale with a huge sign of relief as I filled up the gas tank in Orderville. I am a veteran of road tripping and finding my way but I was a tad shaken up realizing that if I had run out of gas out in the middle of nowhere with no phone – I would have been jacked up big time!
Grabbing a quick meal at the Thunderbird Lodge at Carmel Junction, I could hardly wait to get back to my little “home” of a comfortable cot and tent and solid night of sleep. I was a little bummed as though I had grabbed some snapshots, I had not tapped the home-run calendar shot yet…Driving slower across highway 9 into Zion (deer populations are rising as are the road kills), once I got through the Zion tunnel, I was feeling a little bit of inspiration.
Thanksgiving In The Park
Thursday seemed like a good day to load up my camera backpack and take the shuttle into Zion and get off at the Temple of Sinawava bus stop and hike up the Riverside Walk that is the typical entry for access to hiking “The Narrows“. I was surprised to see and talk to quite a few people that had rented dry suits and walking sticks to do the Narrows despite the 20 degrees ambient temperatures and 45º water. On the bus ride back I saw some people that looked quite ready to get back to their hotel rooms and crank up the heat. LOL
I walked along the Virgin river trying to be present and have nature speak to me. Maybe I would get lucky and see some rock climbers or sheep on the cliffs. Nothing but a teasing sun to provide temporary opportunities to capture the colorful leaves mixed with the shades of brown that a dormant winter dresses for. As serene as the hiking was, I was ready to offload my 35lb camera bag and walk around my ‘hood at Watchman campground.
Walking around Springdale on Thanksgiving early evening, I walked into a Adventure Outfitting store in hopes of maybe hiring a guide to get me out to White Pocket or at least some slot canyons that would be worthy of a calendar shot. I was able to hookup and make a reservation for a guide on Friday and we were going to meet up around 10:30am for a half day tour to their own stash of slot canyons. Christian (the guide) was a super cool young guy and we both shared similar experiences of being Hotshot wildland firefighters. After about 40 minutes of driving in some sandy bog trails, we arrived at the secret spot. I have never used a guide before and I sort of expected this to be a triple top secret location but it turns out to be fairly popular amongst Kanab locals – especially the ones that own and drive these 4WD side-by-sides. We all got along and I got some decent shots but it reminded me that some of the best slot canyon photography I have seen is not by accident. It might take someone multiple trips with different lighting and weather to “get the shot”. I did come up with a unique shot that should look great for the calendar and even Christian commented he had never seen a shot quite like this. Stay tuned!
Friday night brought out the California yuppies to the community fire pit and as the beer and wine flowed their conversations grew louder. I get it and no problem. BUT, now it was time to fire up the home entertainment system and I ended up watching 22 July on Netflix about the terrorist mass murder in Norway. And, I watched it LOUD. hahahahah
With the overwhelming crowds at Zion, I decided to conclude my “glamporama” a day early and head back to Las Vegas on Saturday. It was cold Friday night and probably got down to the high teens. The CORE Equipment tents are really fantastic but they are three season tents. One reason they are so affordable. The great thing about travel adventure is that when you are in the middle of it, it is fantastic. But, I also like the feeling when you know the adventure is complete (for now) and you can look forward to getting home.
Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. – Ernest Hemingway