Exploring Utah's Mighty 5 Solo

Letting It All Go

My last final of the semester was completed, it was time to pack up my car up and head back home to Kansas to begin further packing for the most epic trip I have ever done...solo. 

Sometime during my summer internship, I realized I only have a very limited amount of free time left before I get a job and step out into the "real world." This was my last time in my life that I will have a month off of school or work until I retire. I knew I had to do something unforgettable. A once in a lifetime trip. I began planning my trip that instant. 

I chose Utah as my destination because I was a bit familiar with the state as me and a handful of fraternity brothers spent a week in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park over our spring break the year before, as well as the somewhat mild winter weather that was forecasted for the regions I would be visiting. 

Around 5am I left my home and drove the 14 hour drive to Durango, Colorado. I arrived at my motel exhausted from driving, but excited that this trip I have so highly anticipated for months was about to unfold before me. 

The next morning I left for Monument Valley, Utah to check that out for an hour or so, then headed north to Canyonlands National Park where I would stay for 2 nights. I arrived at  the Needles (Squaw Flat) campground around mid-day and began to unpack and set up my tent and other belongings. This campground was free to stay at during December, but the visitors center and all other facilities in the park were closed. My campsite was tucked underneath a beautiful canyon, and the only other camper in the loop was about a quarter mile up the road. This was it...the start of my once in a lifetime trip. 

The next day I rose with the sun, got dressed, ate breakfast, and began my 7 mile hike on the Squaw Flat Loop Trail. Being that it was the middle of December and barely anyone in the park, I did not see a single hiker while on the trail. I enjoyed the solitude, but at the same time It was a little eerie when trying to locate the cairns on the second half of the trail. there were times where I noticed I found myself off trail looking for the next cairn, and had to backtrack to the last one I passed to find the next. Another set of eyes sure would have been helpful! That night I began experimenting with some light painting of the canyon that my campsite was tucked underneath, and learned a thing or two regarding light painting. 

Canyonlands Campsite

A new day had begun and it was time for me to pack up and head out for my next stop, Arches National Park. Before I entered the park, I stopped in Moab, Utah for some groceries and a much needed shower. I then entered the park and again had no problem finding a wonderful campsite. This time it cost me 25 dollars a night to camp. I took what I learned from the night before and began a little light painting of my campsite shown below.

Arches Campsite

I rose with the sun the next morning and headed off to Delicate Arch. Once I reached delicate arch, I was the only one there and had about an hour to enjoy the beautiful landscape to myself. I then went back to camp, ate lunch, and set off to Devils Garden Trail, which is right next to the campground, to Landscape Arch

Delicate Arch

The next morning I packed up my tent and other supplies and drove off to Capitol Reef National Park. Once I got there and set up camp, I hiked the Hickman Bridge Trail. After arriving back at camp and checking my phone, I realized that it was Thursday. The next destination was Zion National Park. I wanted to spend more time in Capitol Reef, but knew if I wanted a good shot at getting a campsite at Zion, I'd have to get there at a decent time Friday before it filled up over the weekend, which ended up being a very good call. 

Capitol Reef

I arrived at Zion ecstatic to be back to a familiar park that I love so much, but a bit worried that there may be a limited amount of campsites available, if any at all. I got to Watchman Campground a little before noon, and learned that only one loop was open, but there was campsites open! I drove the loop and found the site I wanted, payed the for campsite, set up camp, and was quickly back out hiking. I chose to take it easy that first day and hike the Watchman Trail. It is a very modest trail with a high reward at the end of the hike. The next day I got up and set off for Angels Landing. Last time I was at Zion, we were cut short of hiking Angels Landing because of rain. I found myself about halfway up the spine of Angels Landing before it started to rain. For the second time, rain has postponed me from reaching the top. I went with my gut feeling and turned around and headed back to camp. 

Watchman Trail

At this point in time, Bryce Canyon National Park was the last of the Might 5 that I still needed to hit to complete my goal. I got up, drove to Bryce, and hiked the Navajo Trail. I then ate lunch at an overlook then headed back to Zion. Bryce is a fairly small park, and I did not see it worth packing up and camping there when I can just drive the hour and a half drive from Zion to see the park and be satisfied with my visit. 

Navajo Loop

Now back at my campsite in Zion, I bought a shower from Zion outfitters and felt like a new man. The next day I drove about 2 hours to Page, Arizona to check out Horseshoe Bend. I came in with the intentions that it wouldn't be busy since almost everything else wasn't either, but boy was I wrong. There were literally bus loads of foreign tourists in the parking lot. Once I arrived at the lookout point, it was almost impossible to find an open spot to capture a decent picture. I left for my campsite in Zion a little disappoint, but happy I got to see Horseshoe Bend in person finally. 

Horseshoe Bend

Next on my list was to hike Observation Point in Zion. This hike takes the cake for my favorite and most rewarding hikes that I have ever done. There were a few people on the trail, but no where near as busy. Once at the top, I started to cook and eat my backpackers pantry meal while staring at the amazing scenery below me. 

Observation Point

I stayed in Zion for a couple more days before I decided it was time to head back home to spend time with family for Christmas. I packed up, drove to Denver, Colorado and stayed the night with a good friend of mine, drank some drinks, and the next day drove all the way back to Kansas City. 

Boom. Its over. Just like that. Looking back it feels like it all went by so fast, but once I remember all the little things I did, all the scenery I'd seen, and all the miles hiked, it felt like a month in paradise. 

There are countless lessons learned that I took away from this journey. Most importantly, that I can do whatever I feel like. Being a thousand miles away from home all alone for the first time was a big step for me to take, but I'm very glad I did. I had the experience and confidence under my belt, but mothers being as they are, worry about everything. I completed my highly anticipated trip that I had been planing for months flawlessly without any hiccups. I learned that time is very valuable. I learned that whenever given the opportunity or window to do something I have been wanting to do, I better jump on it. 

My only wish is having more time... 

Published: December 28, 2017

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Jake Fagan

Kansas City