Four Days Two National Parks

 Bryce Mitchell catching some sun at the top of Angel's Landing.

Bryce Mitchell catching some sun at the top of Angel's Landing.

FOR MOST WEEKEND WARRIORS FREE TIME IS ADVENTURE TIME AND ADVENTURE TIME IS PRECIOUS.

Utah is full of epic natural beauty; there are a total of five National Parks within the state.  This past Labor Day weekend, I visited Zion and Bryce Canyon.  September is prime time for visiting these parks because you avoid the killer heat of the summer.  To begin the weekend, I left work Thursday night with a car full of camping gear eager to meet my brother outside of Zion.  The drive to Zion is approximately 6 hours from Phoenix.  Just as I arrived to Mt Carmel Junction, a small town 25 minutes outside of the park, my cell phone lost internet connection. So after repeatedly turning it off and on I was finally able to reach my brother, who thankfully already found a camping spot nearby.  We are huge advocates of free public land camping and frequent the website freecampsites.net; there just so happens to be an ideal public land camping spot minutes from the entrance to Zion.  

We opted to leave our tent in the car and cowboy camp under the stars. By the time we arrived, the night sky was too magnificent to cover with nylon.
  
Day 1: Angel's Landing.  Angel's Landing is exactly what its name suggests, a landing strip for the divine or for the devils daring enough to try it. It's a 5-mile round trip trail that starts from the Grotto bus stop and climbs over 1,440 vertical feet with sheer cliffs on both sides.  Your only saving grace is a metal chain to grasp as you traverse the highly exposed final ridge.  The trail begins peacefully alongside a river with light tree cover but quickly ramps up with some leg pumping steep switchbacks.  About a mile and half into the switchbacks you are rewarded with shade and a view. Before you have the time to relax, the incline increases as you make your way toward the final ridge.  After the switchbacks come the real challenge, the traverse.  The final half mile of the hike is narrow and usually crowded but full of breathtaking views that make every step worth your while.   Pro tip: bring plenty of water, we had extra so we were able to stop and share some of ours with several hikers who ran out on the way down.

Day 2: Venturing into the Narrows from the bottom up.  We trekked about 3 miles and caught the light bouncing off the canyon walls, an absolutely epic experience, and turned around and came back.  Because we were pressed for time we didn't go for the 16 mile top down route this time.  I did that route my previous time in Zion several years back.  Wrapped up the day with some ice cream in Springdale and storytelling around the campfire with our new camp neighbors from Washington State.  My brother and I were thrilled to see the wide range of nationalities we saw during our time in Zion.  It's great to see how so many people from all over the world all share a common passion.  It was a great example that the wonders of America's National Parks are here for everyone to explore.
The following day we left Zion for Bryce Canyon bright and early!  This drive takes about an hour and a half, if you don't stop to take in the awesome scenery along the way.  Our new friends we met at our camp fire last night shared a great tip about another free camping gem located about 2 minutes outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.  Directly before the National Park sign on the right hand side of the road is a beautiful camping area which is also listed on freecampsites.net.  We set up camp and hit the park! 
Day 3:  After a quick visit to the gift shop to claim yet another National Park refrigerator magnet we decided on the Peek-A-Boo Loop a stunning 5.5 mile loop through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater.  If you're paying close attention you may have noticed that my brother's name is Bryce and we are in Bryce Canyon, something he was very excited about.  One of the best things about hiking on popular trails is that you get to meet some fantastic people; we met a lovely couple all the way from Canada.  They were both very strong hikers who had no issue keeping up with my brother and I, something I can only hope I'll be able to maintain when I'm in my 60's! 
We finish the evening off with some mildly sandy pasta. Yes, I did say sandy,  who knew not rinsing the pot was such a big deal. Before turning into our beds under the stars I got to practice something I've been learning about for the the past few months-time lapse photography, video link below. 
Day 4:  Heading back to Arizona and stopping for one last night of open air camping in what is now my favorite little known camping spot in Arizona.  Near Marble Canyon (a stretch of the Colorado river before it becomes the Grand Canyon and almost as epic) way up in the northern tip of Arizona is this gem, a totally secluded free camping area with up close and personal views of Marble Canyon that are out of this world.