The Day We Almost Froze

6 Jun
2012
Posted in: Parks, Utah
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We try to keep an eye on the forecast as we’re traveling, but we’ve been hit with some weird stuff that we weren’t expecting — blizzards, haboobs, massive thunderstorms and windstorms, and plain old too hot and too cold temps. Most of the time we just leave things up to chance. We started heating up for real in Zion, where the daily temps were always in the mid-90s. The day we decided to leave Zion Canyon to explore a new section of the park, Lava Point, a cold front was moving through and the temperature was expected to be in the 70s. Relief at last!

Most visitors to Zion head to the Zion Canyon section, the most developed and spectacular section of the park. But there’s a lot more great stuff out there. We visited the Kolob Canyons section a few years ago, and it made us wish we had the time to do some backcountry hiking in that area. This time we were excited to head into another section of the park and were hoping to camp (for free!) at Lava Point, high above Zion Canyon. We were sick of the crowds in the Canyon and the madness of the South Campground. It was time for some real wilderness.

As we drove up Kolob Canyon Road, I watched the temperature drop with dismay. When we finally rolled into the little campground, the reading was 36 degrees. It was about noon and very sunny and there was a brisk wind. We were torn — on one hand, it was so beautiful, it had taken so long to get here, and we had hoped to spend some time hiking on the remote backcountry trails. On the other hand, we might freeze to death. We’ve been pretty cold in the past, but we were coming off a couple weeks of scorching desert days and our cold resistance was all gone. It could even snow. So we packed it in and drove on.

Rather than heading back and going 60 miles out of our way (on boring Hwy. 15, no less), we consulted Google and found a web of dirt roads running through the mountains north of us — if we followed these roads, we could intersect Rt. 14 and camp in Dixie National Forest. My theory was that the dirt roads would be freshly graded and passable, as they would have just been groomed for spring (I grew up on a dirt road, I reminded Paul). The road was fine, and it was freshly graded…until it wasn’t anymore. The grader hadn’t finished yet, so by the time we got to the top of the mountain, we were driving on a horribly rutted, rocky, bumpy little track through the fields. Of course, by then it was too late to turn around. Paul grabbed a 3.2 out of the cooler to fortify his courage as a passenger and we pressed on. A few miles past the halfway point, the road again was freshly graded, and before we were ready, we popped out of the mountains onto some pavement. We found a sweet campground in Dixie National Forest, but then it started snowing. It was 32 degrees out. I chatted with the host who suggested we keep moving to a lower elevation. He also told me that his golf cart and bathroom cleaning equipment hadn’t yet been delivered for the season — and he couldn’t be expected to walk around and clean the outhouses — so the pit toilets were pretty inhospitable. Good to know.

So we kept going, catching glimpses of fresh snow and elk, until we realized that we couldn’t out-drive this cold — we were just going to have to deal with it. We made it to Red Canyon, just west of Bryce Canyon National Park. And yes, we had to dig out all of our cold weather gear, but we survived. We probably wouldn’t have stopped in Red Canyon otherwise, but it ended up being one of the most beautiful places we’ve stayed. More on that in another post …

The view of Zion Canyon from Lava Point.

The view of Zion Canyon from Lava Point.

We spotted the first elk of our trip in a high meadow.

We spotted the first elk of our trip in a high meadow.

We're learning: to prevent your camp stove from blowing away, simply place a large rock on the unused burner.

We're learning: to prevent your camp stove from blowing away, simply place a large rock on the unused burner.