Like many southern Californian folks experience, life was getting a bit hectic. We get to juggling a few too many things and forget why we're juggling at all. I needed to get away last week, so i took this three night trip out of san dieg.o to Zion national park and mojave national preserve (a park is more developed, trails, rules, regulations, with gift shops and food where a preservation is simple keeping the land from being developed - i.e. less rules, rangers, safety, food, water... you're out there more or less on your own) You've got to be willing to put some drive time in, about 15 hours total, but if you can leave early on a Friday and are willing to get back late Sunday night it is perfectly doable. I recommend getting one person who's willing to do most of the driving, another to head up food, and the last to handle logistics on where to stay and hikes to take... but I've got some recommendations.
This is from San Diego, so those coming from L.A. are going to have a little less time. I recommend taking a half day and leaving before 3:00 if at all possible. I usually head out before 1:00 to make sure I miss the LA traffic and get a jump on the influx of people into Las Vegas, which you have to pass through. If you didn't want to go to Mojave on the return trip you could look into a shorter out and back to Bryce Canyon or a longer route that takes you to the Grand Canyon, but you'd want to add at least another day onto that trip if you were to take it.
*Be aware that the road on the East side of that triangle in the middle is mainly dirt and is subject to mud/flooding/being washed out with heavy rains. I've never had to, but be prepared to make the wise call and turn around if needed.
This is right in the middle of the park - only about a 20 minute drive after getting into the West Entrance to Zion. The hike is less than a mile long, gives you a good feel of the valley, and amazing views. I recommend getting here first thing in the morning or late at night so you can have it to yourself a little bit more.
I have seen bighorn sheep (just growing the in here) almost every time I've taken a walk on the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. Keep in mind this is not a petting or feeding zoo. They're used to humans but still don't like you and want to be left alone while eating.
They are pretty photogenic though...
Zion is also home to huge mule deer, mountain lions, the rarely seen ringtail cat, Mojave desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, California Condor, and many more creatures. Again, wildlife is wild, not meant to be touched or fed.
You may get in past dusk or feel like settling into camp right after the sun dips down, which is early in Zion since you are surrounded by towering red rocks, but stay out to enjoy the under appreciated blue hour that comes out right after golden hour. My favorite spots for this are along the bridges. Everyone leaves so you have the views and paths to yourself. Make a hot drink and enjoy the peace and solitude.
One of my favorite things to do is head out on an early morning hike before sunrise and bring my mini stove with all the fixings for coffee. I'll usually have some breakfast biscuits as well. Bring a blanket and set up at a scenic spot. Great way to start the day.
It was a bit chilly and I'd been shooting for a while, so I posted up a second time right at the mouth of the narrows. There's a guy behind me right now, but I had this area to myself for about an hour and a half with only a few visitors who stayed a couple minutes at a time. Go in the winter, wear good gear, and you're sure to have a lot of solitude in some of the greatest places.
It was bright out by this point, but throw a Neutral Density filter on your favorite wide angle lens, jack up the aperture, and capture the water smoothing out over the rocks. Or don't and just sit back to enjoy it all.
Never Stop Playing
If you've hiked with me you know I'm always jumping around, throwing and catching rocks, falling, and have been soaked more than a few times. However you have fun out here, just do it.
Another benefit to the rainy winter months are the waterfalls coming out from spots you'd never expect. They could be seen on the walls throughout the valley.
The drive out of Zion is quite scenic. You're looking into a mountain range that was to your back and there's plenty of desert features to check out as well.
Joshua Trees in Mojave
Fun fact: Mojave National Park has more Joshua Trees than Joshua Tree National Park, but Joshua tree has more boulders, climbing, and a better marketing team.
My favorite camping spot
Not going to publish where this is... good luck finding it. If you really want to know, send me an email. There's about four "sites" around this set of boulders. They illuminate with a fire in the evening which make you feel like you've robbed a train back in the day and are hiding out. You can also scramble up to the top of the boulders for a great place to watch the sunset or stargaze.
Enjoy the National Preserve however you like, but remember the risk to the reward - no hospitals for a hundred miles or so.
Keep it wild
Here's Shasta in the morning. A great thing about the preservation, and a reason I struggle with sharing about it, is that people tend to go to beautiful places without respecting them. Leave no trace means no foil in the fire, no fire rings of rocks left behind, no food (even biodegradable) left behind on the ground. Sure, it might not damage the environment (some would argue this) but the next person who comes shouldn't have to see your dried up orange peel or scrambled eggs on the ground. Pack it out.
No matter how buried in society/people/work/responsibility you feel, there is solitude out there. I always say "this connects to your driveway" and it's true. Take the time to get out, treat the land well, and it'll return the favor.