Journey Into the West – Day 1

My journey into the West started as an idea to visit Philadelphia, because that’s how plans work in the real world. We don’t start at A and arrive at B, we start at cake and arrive at the hospital.
Instead of visiting him in Philly, my friend, Terry, suggested we go on a road trip.

So we did.

Day 1 – Escape from Las Vegas / Arrival at Zion

My flights were unnotable except for the Salt Lake City to Las Vegas leg, on which I think I was the only non-Mormon-missionary. I expected proselytization, but my scowl and arm tattoos scared them off. Either that or the growling.

Terry had flown in the night before, so I picked him up at his hotel and we went in search of food and the random pieces of camping gear we weren’t able to pack. An REI, Walmart, and Radio Shack later we were on our way into the desert, supplied with an ice chest full of pork products.

Without the blemish of Vegas, the Nevada desert is pretty. It’s not obvious until you get a few miles away from the towns and billboards, but eventually you’ll come over a rise and look across a valley filled with cacti and Joshua trees and it snaps together.

We followed I-15 through Nevada into Arizona and Utah. I had expected it to be a boring slog of a drive, but the desert views contributed to my zen-driving state and it felt like we floated our way there.

We arrived at Zion National Park and discovered that the main campsites were full. A park ranger told us about another, unmonitored campground that was an hour’s drive toward the back of the park. But there were only six sites there and he didn’t know if it was full.

Undecided if we should take a chance on the site or go somewhere else for the night, we drove through the eastern portion of the park taking pictures of goats, rock formations, and the tunnels that cut through the mountains.

Once we reached the eastern edge of the park we found another park ranger and asked him about the remote campground. He gave us directions and told us we’d need a “big jeep” to make it there. So off we went in our rented Volkswagen Passat.

I enjoyed this drive more than the rest of the park. The winding road took us across rolling pasture land and mesas. As we climbed toward the campground the desert scrub was replaced with pine trees, the rocks and cliffs changed in color from red to the darker blacks and browns of volcanic rock, the air cooled, and passing cars became less frequent.


We reached Lava Point, elevation 7890ft, at twilight. Five of the six camp sites were taken.

Tent setup, we hiked a short trail to a lookout point with a broad view of the land we had just driven through. A distant thunderstorm rolled across the mesas, obscuring them with dark columns of rain.

Camp View

I had been stressed when we found out the main campsites were full. Now I was happy that they were. Given the option of sweating out the night in a hot canyon valley, surrounded by hundreds of campers, versus this quiet, pine forest on top of a mountain, I’d gladly take the same risk again.

We cooked bratwursts and I ate mine out of an enamel cup using my pocket knife as a fork, because that’s the way of men. We sat in the dark and talked and looked at the stars through the splotches of clouds above us. Lightning from the passing storm flickered at the edges of our view.

I climbed into my sleeping bag and slept like a chemically sedated baby.