Monday, March 24, 2014

Photo Shoot: Once Upon a Time in the West

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A while ago my friend Erin posted on Facebook that she wanted to take trip to Zion National Park for spring break. "Spring Break" isn't really an aspect of my life any more but the prospect of a camping trip in Zion immediately piqued my interest, as it did for my friend/colleague Jordan, so we hopped on board.

As it turns out, Erin is the boy who cried vacation. She immediately bailed, leaving me and Jordan to take the trip that was her idea in the first place. This wasn't a big deal, I just know she'll be reading this and I want to take advantage of every opportunity to rub her nose in it.

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With Erin out of the way – Good Riddance! amirite? – Jordan decided he wanted to take advantage of the trip to visit a few photo-ready places around Utah and northern Arizona. We started by spending our first night in Goblin Valley – most known outside of Utah for doubling as an alien planet in Galaxy Quest and inside of Utah for recently being vandalized by Boy Scout leaders in the name of "safety."

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Goblin Valley is a bizarrely beautiful place, teeming with bulbous rock formations – or 'Hoodoos' – that contrast perfectly with the clear blue sky. I remember going there as a kid on family vacations and playing tag for hours at end. Now, as a 27-year-old, a few minutes of walking around and scampering over rocks was enough to wear me out.

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But scamper we did. Jordan got out early while the sun was setting. I slept in and did what I could with the harsh lighting.

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From Goblin Valley we headed south to Monument Valley (first picture above) where Forest Gump decided he didn't really feel like running any more. I'm a sucker for bridges, especially ones that burst out of rocky cliffs. The bright yellow sign is a little jarring, you would think the engineers would anticipate that this picture would be taken.

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Monument Valley was a first for me (I think. My parents took me all over the place when I was too young to remember). Before arriving at the actual valley we went through the Moki Dugway, a series of tight switchbacks that drop 1,000 feet over 3 miles on an unpaved road.

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That's Jordan. He doesn't like having his picture taken.

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We stayed in Monument Valley on our second night, then dipped briefly into Arizona in the morning to stop at Horseshoe Bend. I went to Dead Horse Point last year and figured it would be about the same but at Horseshoe Bend, you can walk right up to the edge, which is either a great or terrible thing depending on your attitude toward heights.

From there we made our way to Zion, which is probably the best hiking in all of Utah. We got in a little late, so the first night we just took a quick stroll up the Hidden Canyon Trial by the Weeping Rock.

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The next day's hike was not so quick. Most of our itinerary was set by Jordan but I insisted that we do Angel's Landing, which sends hikers climbing to the top of a 1,488-foot rock formation. Along the way we passed a crew from BBC America who were apparently filming a woman who was going to spend the next three days climbing up the cliff face to the top of the Landing. Multiple-day rock climbing is a whole other kind of crazy.

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Angel's Landing is the kind of trail that hiking was made for. Roughly half of the trip is straight up via switchbacks, with the other half being either a paved trail cut out of the side of the rock or a chain-assisted scramble with certain death at every side.

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It ends at an area that is roughly the size of my studio apartment. The last time I did it I was probably 11 years old and having now gone back I'm fairly certain that first trip was an elaborate scheme by my parents to get away with filicide. I mean really, who would take a child up there? "He just slipped," they would say from behind forlorn expressions, "there was nothing we could do."

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From the landing, you can almost see the whole park end-to-end. We had perfect weather, hot enough for comfort but cold enough to avoid a sweat-drenched death. The view, as always, was impeccable.

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