embarking on an epic road trip amidst the Pandemic

In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.

Lee Iococca

The COVID-19 Pandemic has turned the world upside down. Cities and countries around the world are or were locked down. Our group of ten were supposed to be Peru bound early September. However, with all our flights canceled, we decided to embark on a road trip to escape, refuel, and pay tribute to our Peru trip.

The route: Seattle –> Dead Horse Point State Park –> Arches National Park –> Canyonlands National Park –> Monument Valley –> Natural Bridges National Monument –> Capitol Reef National Park –> Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (Escalante Petrified Forest State Park) –> Bryce Canyon National Park –> Zion National Park –> Grand Teton National Park –> Yellowstone National Park –> Seattle

Stats: 21 days, 4000+ miles driven, 7 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 3 state parks, 16 hiking trails, 74+ miles hiked with 8800+ elevation gained, lots of sweat, happy hours and bonding time.

Lodging: Campgrounds and RV parks – we had a total of 4 vehicles and 2 teardrop trailers and slept in our own partially converted van/SUV.

Food: Camp cooking – planned accordingly, especially if you are on a special diet. Grocery stores along our route were underwhelming. We avoided indoor restaurant dining and did takeout or outdoor seating a couple of times on the trip.

Our home away from home for 3 weeks

That was a moderately long road trip, but we were fortunate to have a friend who took on the duty as the designated planner. She planned out the route and made all the necessary reservations for all the campgrounds. Traveling, in general, requires lots of planning and researching but traveling during a pandemic requires us to be extra diligent to stay safe and avoid disappointment. Please scroll down to the end to see tips and add-on to your normal checklist with the Pandemic in mind. I have also included some of my favorite websites for research.

Even though we had three weeks, we had lots of grounds to cover. Therefore, staying in a central location at each destination was top on our list. Our first destination was Dead Horse Point State Park, with proximity to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Moab, we were able to explore all these areas with ease. We woke up in the wee hours to enjoy sunrise hikes, to avoid crowds, and to hike in the more comfortable time of day (Utah weather during that time was hot and dry, mostly over 90°F). If you are not a morning person, late afternoon hikes would be the alternatives. I was happy that we were the only group in a lot of the trails that we hit, at least most of the time. Researching the hiking trails ahead of time is the best practice, and especially during the Pandemic. Find out as much as you can about trail conditions and bring a map. In general, we noticed that the hiking trails in Utah that we hiked, were not as adequately signed as trails in Washington state. Though, I was happy that all the trailhead restrooms in Utah that we visited were open and stocked with toilet papers. Other than the hiking trails, we were captivated by the various rock formations, arches, Puebloan granaries, petroglyphs, and fossilized dinosaur tracks. What a treat!

The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park was closed at the time due to the Pandemic, so with less crowd, we were able to relax and enjoy the campground to ourselves. We did explore the Valley of the Gods and the surrounding areas and hiked at the Natural Bridges National Monument. We were in awe of the vast and dry landscape in this region and the Moki Dugway was beyond amazing. I could not imagine how hard it was for the people to live in this land long ago. This type of terrain persisted as we continued our journey to Capitol Reef National Park. We had been lucky to have clear skies almost every night and was able to see the Milky Way right above our campgrounds. Stargazing at Panorama Point in Capitol Reef was otherworldly. I have never seen so many stars before. It reminded me of just how small we were in the universe. The drive on Scenic Byway 12 to Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument was the high point of the trip, literally and figuratively. We reached the highest point at 9600 Ft. and the stunning mountain views captured our minds and sights everywhere we turned. We had the most fun hiking the canyons in Escalante. It was the first time for most of us to see slot canyons. The Dry Fork Narrows – Peekaboo Canyon – Spooky Canyon did not disappoint. It was very narrow in places, the trail description mentioned 10 inches wide canyons, but they felt narrower. There was quite a bit of climbing and at times we were on all fours, but it was fun and exhilarating. We were the only ones in the canyons throughout the hike, which gave us more time to explore and experience the place. I was glad that we had downloaded the map with GPS tracking so that we could find our way back. We stayed at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park campground for this part of the journey and took the opportunity to hike the Petrified Forest Nature Trail. That was where we saw petrified woods closely and learned a lot of the history around the Escalante area. The petrified woods were just incredible and looked good, even being millions of years old.

We had to change our planned route to California due to the wildfires in the area. So, we decided to extend our stay in Utah to explore Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park before heading up north to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. My husband and I had been to Bryce, Zion, and Yellowstone on a different road trip years ago. It was nice to have a chance to explore these places again. The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon received the most wows from the group as we walked from Inspiration Point to Sunset Point. We only had time to stay for half a day, but the fascinating hoodoos rock formation left the most lasting impression of all the parks we visited. Zion National Park was the park that we encountered the most visitors, especially on the trails in the main scenic area along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. No cars are allowed on this Drive, and because of the pandemic, you must book your shuttle ticket in advance or wait until late afternoon when they release available tickets for the rest of the day. There were reduced seats on the shuttles, so plan and allocate extra time for transportation. When we visited mid-September, quite a few hikes along this Drive were closed for various reasons. I highly recommend hiking the Virgin River Narrows if you had a chance to visit this park. Unfortunately, we were not able to do it because of the toxic cyanobacteria bloom at the time. We later found a more pleasant and less crowded trail in Kolob Canyons that ended with another stunning rock formation. It was refreshing to hike through the cooler canyon floors and streams after mostly exposed and; hot sandy trails that we encountered in Utah. If you are looking to experience the wilderness in Zion, Kolob Canyons is the place to go.

Grand Teton National Park felt very much like home. The hazy sky, the cooler temperature, the abundance of trees, clear lakes, and mountains made the hikes more pleasant. Grand Teton is bear country, so always hike in groups, and carry bear sprays, and know how to use it if necessary. We saw a black bear when driving to the Phelps Lake trailhead, and a ranger told us a bear had been a frequent visitor there. However, we did not encounter one on the trail, but we did see grouse and mule deer. Temperature differences between day and night are huge here. The daytime temperature was in the 70s to 80s but, it dipped to freezing at night and early morning. Always check the weather forecast before leaving home and pack accordingly. Even when traveling in the summer, I would always pack long sleeves shirt, fleece, and a puffy/down jacket in addition to summer clothing. Since we did not spot very many wildlife in Grand Teton, we were hoping to see more in Yellowstone. We were ecstatic to find herds of bison roaming in the fields and the roads, a black bear resting in the woods, families of elks enjoying their early morning walk, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, ravens, and pronghorns. Other than the abundance of wildlife, Yellowstone National Park has a diverse geological landscape. We were amazed by the thermal springs, geysers, lush forests, waterfalls, the unique rock formation with cliffs and canyons, lakes, rivers, and pastures. That was what we experienced hiking the Artist’s Point Loop Trail, where we passed through the forest with the deep canyon, waterfalls, river, lakes, thermal grounds where nothing grows, then back to lakes and lush pastures. It was a perfect ending to our road trip.

During this Pandemic time, it may be hard for most people to think of travel. However, I believe that with careful planning, researching, and taking safety precautions, it can be a very fulfilling and rejuvenating journey. Below are some tips that I hope would help you with your planning.

  • Check COVID-19 restrictions, if any for the state that you will be traveling to. Stay local whenever possible.
  • Check to make sure the park(s) you planned to visit is/are open, and if there is any special entry permit needed. Some parks are limiting the number of visitors, so entry permit and advanced reservations are required. These include all the trails that you are interested in hiking. 
  • Plan according to your interests – maybe viewpoints are your thing, but if you are able, I highly recommend some hikes to feel and experience the surroundings.
  • Download offline maps or carry paper maps since cell signals will not be available in some places.
  • It is important to carefully consider your lodging options. We felt sleeping in our own vehicle or outdoor camping would minimize our risks.
  • Not all campgrounds are open and with limited lodging options, try to secure reservations before leaving home. Another reason to make reservations ahead of time is that you may have a spotty cell phone and internet coverage during your trip for extensive research.
  • Be flexible. Have a plan B and C or more. Our original route included Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks in California (after Utah) but, we had to change our plans because of the blazing wildfires in the areas. 
  • Make a list of items you will need to bring with you to avoid unnecessary trips to a store. Please include face masks and hand sanitizers on your list. 
  • Always carry the ten essentials when hiking, no matter how short your hikes might be.
  • Research and familiarize yourself with the areas before you go. For example, most of the places we visited in Utah were in higher elevation. We were tired easier and breathed harder when hiking there in combination with the heat at the time.
  • When the park is busy, sometimes maintaining a 6-ft social distance is hard, so wear a mask and wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently. During this trip, we avoided the crowds as best as we could by visiting early in the day and finding less popular trails.
  • Enjoying the outdoors during COVID time requires some intentional adjustment and new responsibilities. If you do go out there, please follow the Recreate Responsibly guidelines.
  • Websites for research and useful APPs:
    • Individual state travel website
  • Follow my journey on Instagram @nourishedjourneys

I hope you are able to explore, enjoy and experience during this uncertain time.

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