After a long, hot day of driving (high temperature of 114˚F!), I made it to the dessert outside of Zion NP. My plan for the night was to pitch a tent on some federal land outside of the park, where I could get away from the lights of the town nearby and camp for free.
It’s not well known, but you can camp on any undeveloped land administered by the Bureau of Land Management for free and without a permit. Simply follow their rules, don’t overstay your welcome and leave no trace. With that in mind, I found this (PDF) map of the are around Zion. With the help of GPS on my smartphone, I was able to locate a place to park along Kolob Terrace road, packed up my bag, and hiked off into the desert.
About a quarter mile from the road I set my gear down for the night. The ground was still warm from the afternoon sun and I was able to sleep out, cowboy style. I fell asleep to the most amazing starscape I’ve ever seen – there were no big sources of light for miles and the sky was completely clear. That was a night to remember. I was struck by the simplicity of it all: I was alone in the desert. Nobody knew where I was, and nobody would know come morning. I hadn’t paid for a campground or a hotel room, yet I had one of the most memorable nights on my trip. I felt like a cowboy, a pioneer, an explorer, you name it. Content, alone and at peace.
I then drove into Zion where I spent the morning. I did a few short day hikes, including the trail to the mouth of the narrows:
(yes, I did resort to taking selfies for this part of the trip)
In the afternoon I drove to Bryce Canyon. It’s about 2 hours of switchbacks with great views and one long tunnel. In Bryce, I did a day hike of the peek-a-boo loop and then trekked down into the canyon to spend a night in the backcountry. I camped in a valley that was surprisingly forested with plenty of trees to set up a hammock.
The next morning I hiked out among the Hoodoos and was on the road again…