Day 2: SECOND TRY AT UPPER CALF CREEK FALLS
It was about 6am when we awoke. The skies had a few patches of clouds but the sun easily passed its rays between them to give promise to the new day. It seemed like Ed’s fears of getting flash flooded while in the Narrows were allayed.
It was time to head over to the visitor center and pick up our permits. The backcountry office still wasn’t open yet so Ed and I patiently sat in front of the window along with a couple of other folks who were already there. We weren’t taking any chances procrastinating. After all, we had waited months for this trip to occur and we weren’t about to be denied. Cindy and Julie were still asleep in the MPV.
When the office window opened, we got our permits, were handed foil-looking zip lock bags to carry our solid waste, and paid the necessary fees. We got the usual spiel from the backcountry ranger about the dangers of flash flooding though the forecast said for very fine weather and the Virgin River levels were low. None of this was surprising because I had monitored this information throughout the weeks leading up to this trip.
Now with full light of the early morning fully upon us, we did what we had to do to make the Narrows happen and now we just had to wait for our pre-arranged shuttle pick up tomorrow morning at 6am.
Everyone pitched their tents and got the camp ready for the next two days and two nights in Zion National Park. When our temporary “homes” were set up, everyone wanted to take a nap to get caught up on sleep.
I was still restless that the new day was upon us and wasn’t really in the mood to sleep under the increasing heat of the early summer desert sun nor waste this free day. So what was I to do?
Well I had this “brilliant” idea to give Upper Calf Creek Falls a second shot. The first time, mom and I missed the correct trailhead and got lost a month ago. I thought having the whole day to drive 150 miles (one-way) out to the falls and back was reasonable. The rest of the group could have a leisurely day using the free shuttle service to explore Zion Canyon when they woke up.
So I failed to convince any of the other three to abandon their naps to join me on this excursion and I took off. Julie had reservations about me going alone, but she knew I had to get this itch scratched so she didn’t stop me.
By now it was after 8am. I said my good-byes and headed east on the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (Highway 9) passing through the tunnel and the Checkerboard Mesa on the way to US89. It was a little slow going because there was an RV in front of me who refused to use any of the pullouts despite going painfully slow on the twisty red-colored paved road.
It was about 9am when I finally headed north on Hwy 89. I was careful not to speed as I had received two traffic tickets a month ago along this stretch of road. The drive proceeded as normal as the daylight continued and the summer heat started beating down with increasing intensity.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something running very fast towards the minivan…
Before I could process what it was, it ran right in front of the MPV and I immediately slammed onto the brakes…
…and it was too late!
With a sickening thud, the MPV hit the deer in its rump and instantly dented the driver side. The deer bounced off the minivan and buckled on the other side of the road.
Not sure what just happened, I kept driving thinking the dent wasn’t that bad. But as I approached the town of Orderville, the engine light came on and the reality that I wasn’t going to make it to Upper Calf Creek Falls started sinking in.
My next thought was that I had to somehow return to the Watchman Campground. So with that, I headed back towards State Highway 9. I expected to see the deer that I had hit several minutes ago, but that deer was nowhere to be found!
Did it survive the impact and run off? Did someone tow the deer off the road that fast? These thoughts quickly gave way to the sense of urgency to get back to my friends who were napping in the campground not suspecting what had just happened.
Anyways, I eventually made it back SH9 and started the climb up into the sandstone wilderness of Zion’s east side. However, I knew this was going to be a tall order as it seemed the minivan struggled to climb and the radiator system appeared to be busted.
It wasn’t long before the engine overheated and I was stranded on the two-lane road with no shoulder and a sloping embankment right off the road. Thus, I was partially on the highway and now I started to lose my sense of reason.
After futile attempts to pour what water I had left to try to cool off the engine, the MPV would no longer start. I was worried the engine was fried.
By now, it was 11am. The summer heat was on its way to peaking and the only shelter I had left was the shade inside the sweltering car.
Vehicle after vehicle swerved around my vehicle with curious glances at the damage to the car. Some even honked as if I was in the way and should’ve drove it further off the road into the dropoff. Those idiots!
Anyways, I waited and waited; hoping someone would call a tow truck for me. It wasn’t until about 1pm when someone called a tow truck driver out of Orderville.
It wasn’t long after that when a state trooper pulled up behind me in his squad car to inquire about the situation. When I explained to the big burly cop a deer did this damage, he stoically took down the information and processed my drivers license and dad’s vehicle registration.
Then, he went on to tell me that I should be cited for a hit a run. Well in my panicked state, this was not what I wanted to hear. So asked him if I was going to be cited.
The cop, sensing my despair shook his head. He went on to tell me that I did the right thing by not swerving and running off the road. “Better you than the deer,” he said. “Man, this is quite a way to ruin your vacation.”
And with that, the tow truck driver finally arrived and the cop took off. The tow truck driver must’ve thought I was making a weird request to have him take me to the Watchman Campground upon me learning there was no mechanic in the nearby town of Springdale.
When we finally arrived at our campground at 2pm, he asked that I pay him for half the total distance he drove since I didn’t have Triple A Plus (just the regular Triple A). So I obliged and he was off.
Nobody was at the campsite. Julie, Cindy, and Ed must’ve been in Zion Canyon having a quiet time doing the usual touristy stuff there, I thought.
At this point, I knew the minivan would eventually need to be abandoned so I spent the time removing everything left in the van. It was during this time that I had found Ed’s cell phone. I was kicking myself for not making use of it when I was stranded on SH9.
So with that I called dad. Obviously, he was upset and assumed I had oversped. But eventually, cooler heads prevailed and he went on to urge me to call 21st Century Insurance to report the incident. The insurance operator wasted no time hooking me up a tow truck out of St George. I realized at this point that I would have to get the wrecked MPV to St George (nearly 45 minutes west of Zion) then rent a car from there. Apparently, St George was the nearest town of any size that could tend to this little emergency that threatened to jeopardize this long awaited trip.
At this point, I had left a note on the picnic table informing the rest of the party of what had happened. I felt real bad for putting us in this situation and I wasn’t sure what to say or do when I finally face my peers.
Finally at a little after 4pm, the tow truck arrived. He wasted no time hooking up the MPV and we were off. We worried about getting to the National Rent-a-car after their closing time at 5pm so we hastily drove back on SH9 towards the I-15.
During this drive, the driver and I talked about deer and cars. To my surprise, the driver told me that this type of incident was actually very common. Many of his calls pertained to damage from striking wildlife.
We eventually made it first to the National Rent-a-car at 5pm. Fortunately, they didn’t close yet. I wasn’t about to get picky with the cars so they rented me some gas-guzzling Chevy SUV. And with all the payments and paperwork done, I drove off in the behemoth and followed the tow truck driver to his wrecking yard and shop.
I have to say that this guy was extremely supportive and seemed genuinely interested in my well-being. My cynical mind kept thinking there’s gotta be catch to all this, but no. He insisted that he and 21st Century are under contract together and he’ll take care of all the legalese and processes needed to file this claim and get the inspector out to his shop and all that.
After he placed a few calls and I filled out some forms, I gladly gave him a firm handshake and was back out on the road heading east to the Watchman Campground again.
It was a little after 5:30pm when Ed’s phone rang. When I answered, Julie told me that they were in the Zion Adventure Company getting outfitted for tomorrow’s Narrows trip. She urged that I hurry up as they were about to close. I was almost at Springdale so I immediately headed to ZAC and arrived a few minutes later.
Soon, I got outfitted with a comfortable pair of 5-10 Canyoneering shoes. I didn’t need anything else as I already had hiking sticks and I didn’t intend to immerse my garbage-bag-lined gear in water.
And with that, we were ready for tomorrow’s trip. We left ZAC and headed to our campsite to pick up our showering stuff and fresh clothes. Then, we proceeded back to a camping and trailor park area near the end of the north end of Springdale. It was there that we had finally showered and some sense of normalcy had returned.
After a delicious and nutritious dinner that Cindy and Ed had prepared, I filled everyone in on the drama that I had to go through on this day. Julie told me that she had a bad feeling about me going off on my own. “Things always happen to you when you’re alone,” she said. And she was certainly spot on in this case!
Knowing that we had to be at the visitor center all packed and ready to go for the Narrows tomorrow morning, we did as much as we could to ensure we wouldn’t forget anything when the shuttle would pick us up. That also meant our sleeping bags were already packed (though our Thermarests were in use since we still wanted something soft between our bodies and the hard ground).
And so we tried to sleep the night away. But we were all freezing without our sleeping bags as strong winds threatened to blow our tents and picnic table items away. It was difficult to sleep to say the least with the unnerving howling winds and the wind chill. Perhaps it was a mistake to pack the sleeping bags beforehand…