After our Colorado project with Christ Church Windsor over Easter, these Appalachian Trail thru-hiking veterans couldn’t leave the area without doing some hiking. We hope you take the time to enjoy this epic blog post of our 11-day epic camping road trip where we visited SEVEN national parks and crossed off several bucket list items along the way, setting up camp from our economy rental car as our base of operations. Because of the pandemic, our plans had to be formulated well in advance, booking campsites and national park shuttle tickets in very specific timeframes, leaving not much to chance. Our plan for this trip was the Four Corner States: Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and we were psyched for it to finally begin!
I guess technically we got to do some hiking DURING our project, because the team did take a trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park where we strapped spikes on our shoes so we could hike a few miles in the snow to Emerald Lake. The lake wasn’t visible because it was frozen over and covered in snow, but the view and backdrop of the Rockies was surreal.
Upon picking up our rental car in Denver, Colorado, we took a local’s recommendation to head to Fisher Towers outside of Moab, Utah. When we arrived, there were only four car camping sites total, and just one was taken. We immediately snagged a spot and hit the desert trail for our first hike on our own.
Our first night, we couldn’t resist doing some star photography given the dark sky reserve and the dramatic backdrop of King Fisher and the other sandstone spires of Fisher Towers.
When we woke up at Fisher Towers, the pink light was cast on everything in sight. We slowly enjoyed breakfast outside our tent before hitting the open southwest road for our second day of our epic camping road trip.
Day two took us to Arches National Park where we hiked more than 15 miles and saw 12 named arches, only missing three of those labeled on the park map. Each natural rock formation was unique in its own way, but our favorite part was definitely the Devils Garden Trail where we scrambled up rock faces, braved the strong wind on precarious ledges, and hiked through sand on the primitive trail.
For sunset, we hiked up to the iconic Delicate Arch — the one on Utah’s license plate. This is when we discovered that sunsets out here aren’t about watching the sky transform, but rather the color of the sun transforming the red rocks. Hiking back down in the dark with headlamps was pretty fun too!
We woke up well before the sun on our third morning of our epic camping road trip, hiking in the dark to watch the sunrise through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. When we arrived an hour before sunrise, a line of photographers with their tripods were already set up. The scene was pretty cut-throat, with little conversation and much angst about whose territory was whose. But when the sun finally snuck up above the horizon and gave us the diamond ring effect we had seen once before during a solar eclipse, everyone was happy to get “their” shot.
Next we cooked breakfast (oatmeal with dehydrated fruit and instant coffee for Jordan) at Grand View Point Overlook, which like the name suggests, does in fact have a grand view! Unlike Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park is more of a scenic drive with overlook after overlook of the expansive canyonlands.
Once we finished enjoying all the views Canyonlands National Park had to offer, we headed to Natural Bridge National Monument. Here too we drove to the viewpoints, but it wasn’t until we hiked down to one of the natural bridges that we were able to experience the enormity and grandeur of these natural bridges formed by water and wind.
Canyonlands and Natural Bridge probably would have been enough for one day for most people, but we pushed on through Monument Valley. You might recognize this photogenic spot from the movie Forest Gump, when Forest decides to end his cross country running trip and his followers are left on their own. Well, we can verify that the epic backdrop was not a green screen since we saw it with our own eyes!
Continuing our drive, we made it to our camping destination of Lake Powell just in time to watch the sunset and moonrise.
Day four of our epic camping road trip began with a serene sunrise at Lake Powell’s Lone Rock Beach. After entering the lottery in a long-shot attempt to gain a permit to see The Wave in Coyote Buttes (your group’s number has to be one of only FOUR numbers drawn— and there were 105 groups waiting and hoping their number would be one of the four selected), we were not lucky winners. Instead, we squeezed our way through our first ever slot canyon, taking endless amounts of photos along the way.
During the five and a half miles of weaving through Wire Pass Trail and Buckskin Gulch, we were amazed that after seven years of non-stop travel, we are still seeing God’s creation in new and awe-inspiring ways.
Day five of our epic camping roadtrip was spent at Zion National Park and we were immediately blown away by the immensity of the landscape. We hiked our way through most of the canyon, even making it up to Scout Lookout viewpoint just BEFORE the famous Angels Landing, one of the most dangerous hikes in the US. The only reason we didn’t traverse the sketchy, rocky ridge is because it was closed for trail maintenance.
Our fifth night camping, we pitched our tent in Zion National Park. In the Bible, Zion is the Lord’s holy mountain and the dwelling place of God. From our campsite, seeing the sandstone mountain reaching up toward the star-filled sky, it was easy to feel close to the Kingdom of God.
Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. -Psalm 9:11
On day six, we squeezed in two more hikes at Zion National Park in Utah before heading to our third state in our four corners states camping road trip.
Now onto the third state of our four corners states camping road trip, and of course we had to go to the Grand Canyon. This was a bucket list item for Jordan, having never seen its immensity and grandeur. He was surprised to see so much life, from the evergreen forests to the elk and wild horses. We hopped from viewpoint to viewpoint until the sun set behind the canyon’s walls.
Day seven was spent checking off a pretty big bucket list item of ours: hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trail. Since the north rim was still closed for winter, we hiked from the South Rim to the Colorado River and then back up to the South Rim on a different trail. In our 17-mile day hike, the temperatures swung from 37 degrees to 90 degrees as we descended a mile in elevation over seven miles of switchbacks via the South Kaibab Trail and then gained the elevation right back via the Bright Angel Trail over a 10-mile incline. The hike was once in a lifetime. We had views of the canyon the entire way and really felt like we got to experience an iconic spot in our country in an intimate way.
Content with our 17-mile day hike of the epic Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim Trail, but also still having plenty of energy, we went into the tiny tourist town outside the park to clean up so we could then catch another Grand Canyon sunset. We found a private campground with coin-operated showers and each paid for eight minutes of hot water bliss. This was our first shower of the trip (on day seven, with who knows how many miles under our belts!) since all the showers at the national parks we intended to use during our trip were closed due to Covid.
Finally feeling clean and back at the Grand Canyon, Jordan snapped shots of Cassie in the golden hour light on the rim at Hopi Point where he noticed a smaller photographer with a big camera.
“You look like you know what you’re doing, could you take a photo of us together?” He asked the 5-year-old named Bo, who eagerly accepted, but asked his mom for permission before we handed him our DSLR. While he snapped a great shot of the two of us, his dad captured the scene for us on his phone.
On day eight of our epic camping road trip, we left the Grand Canyon behind, but continued on to check off more bucket list items. Cassie’s always wanted to visit the artful town of Sedona, Arizona. Other than being an art mecca, she wasn’t sure why she wanted to go, but when we saw the backdrop of the town, we knew why it’s a destination for many. Walking through town felt like being on a hike, especially when we got to Creekside Coffee where it felt like a viewpoint with the red rocks looking back at us as we sipped on coffee and snacked on a vegan muffin. We gallery hopped all day appreciating so much amazing art until the shops closed and the sun went down.
On day nine, Cassie crossed off yet ANOTHER bucket list item of hers: Petrified Forest National Park. But first, her conspiracy theory that cars don’t actually need gasoline to run was proven wrong when we ran out of gas on the highway eight miles short of the town with the cheapest gas in the nation.
After AAA gave us a couple gallons to get us on our way, we finally got to see fossilized forest Cassie had eagerly been wanting to see for years. Now in the desert of Arizona, but a long, LONG time ago, water once was plentiful here, as were trees. As they died, they fell into mineral-rich water and were covered in sediment, which preserved them until they turned into rock! It’s pretty mind boggling to comprehend the age of these fossilized trees (around 225 MILLION years old).
Day 10 of our epic camping roadtrip we spent in another artful town, but our destination was much more specific than Santa Fe, New Mexico. We spent four hours walking the mile-long stretch of Canyon Road, which has the highest concentration of galleries in the US. We were inundated by art of all kinds and eventually pulled ourselves away to try some New Mexican food at The Pantry.
Heading back to Colorado for the night, the temperatures were dropping drastically. We checked the weather and saw they were calling for snow — in mid April! We decided to “splurge” on a budget hotel in Colorado Springs to avoid tenting in snowy weather the night before our flight back home.
Luckily when we woke up on Day 11 (and final day of our trip), the snow forecast was pushed back and we still had time to visit Garden of the Gods. Jordan was overjoyed to spot bighorn sheep!
Our flight out of Denver left on time, and we were grateful to get out of Colorado just in the nick of time. When we landed back on the East Coast, we saw that Colorado got three inches of snow! We felt thankful to be back home, and to begin editing the videos to share with you! We’ll leave you with the two videos we produced from Colorado, the first showing the partnership between Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh and Christ Church Windsor for an Easter outreach event, and the second sharing the story of one of the Providence team member’s experience serving in Colorado.