Katya Belykh (Guide): «…Our jolly voyage started with a big disappointment: two weeks before the trip was scheduled to begin it became known that the Supai Indians have decided to keep their reservation closed for tourism, fearing the swine flu virus that began to spread around North America.

The tickets have already been purchased, the gear was packed — the tour could not have been cancelled. An alternative route was designed after a brief moment of melancholy, turning out to be no worse the original travel plan. Here goes:

Day 1, May 15th-16th: After arriving to Las Vegas, we set out to South Utah instead of the originally planned North Arizona. Our first park is Grand Staircase — Escalante National Monument.

We arrive to Escalante late at night. It’s a small town at the park’s edge with a quiet and cozy  vibe, the starting point of many desert and canyon trails… It was already too late for us to start a serious hiking trip in the morning, so the next day became a day of exploring the surroundings, going on short hikes and relaxing.

The trail we took went through Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cottonwood Narrows and Grosvenor Arch. Kodachrome Basin State Park is full of oddly shaped red pillars, cliffs and hills… Multicolored mountains.  Against the mountain background, the foliage looks unrealistically green, and the sky is way too blue… A short hike on the nearby hilltops — about 2 miles.

The next stop is Cottonwood Narrows, a really dry and narrow canyon at the center of the park. The hike is 3 miles long, and in some places the canyon is so narrow that the only way to walk is by digging your heels into the walls — the bottom is too narrow to stand on. As the sun was starting to set we emerged from the canyon, tired from the many experiences and the heat…

Grosvenor Arch is one of the tallest and most beautiful arches in the park, a great place to wrap up a long, experience-filled day. After we were done admiring the arch and taking pictures next to it, a light dinner and tea was prepared to ensure an appropriate ending to the first day of our trip.

Our main dinner was waiting for us back at Escalante…

Day 2, May 17th: Coyote Gulch. This is the first day of our three-day hiking trip. The backpacks are packed, the breakfast — consumed, and spirits are high and ready for adventure. The trail begins at a small parking lot in the middle of the desert, at the end of a 30-mile-long dirt road. All around us is nothing but silence and beautiful nature. Coyote Gulch is a canyon with walls of red sandstone; it is one of the side canyons of the Escalante River. Red rock arches, a bridge “built” by nature, waterfalls, canyon walls that warp and reflect sound in an obscure manner, walls that curve upwards like a subway tunnel, leaving only a narrow strip of the sky visible, waterfalls again, water sources coming out of the rocks in a misty cloud, natural springs with delicious drinking water, red cliffs… All of that is Coyote Gulch.

The length of the trek is 13 miles in each direction. We covered 7 miles to the first big arch on the first day, and set up camp right under it. The trail is not difficult, but a bit peculiar: about half of the way is spent walking on sand, and the other half needs to be traveled ankle-deep in water… With a heavy backpack in tow it can get a bit uncomfortable.

But the next thing you know is the miles are walked, the camp is set up, and dinner is prepared and eaten. A candle burns, and the moon rises above the arch… A quiet sound of running water reflects against the walls of the arch, becoming three-dimensional and infinite. Some of us woke up in the middle of the night and saw the walls of the canyon glisten and gleam in the moonlight with all colors of the rainbow. Others dreamed of strange and marvellous things… Perhaps they weren’t your everyday dreams?

Day 3, May 18th: Coyote Gulch. Today, we left our baggage at the campsite and walked the remaining 5 miles to the Escalante River and back. The distance travelled for the day is 10 miles. We explored the most beautiful and unusual parts of the canyon. For a long time we walked, swam in waterfalls, climbed on tall cliffs and walked high up on the steep sidewalls. We swam in the Escalante River, took a nap on the rocks of Escalante Canyon, and drank plenty of spring water… On our way back, those who wanted a challenge went rock-climbing up the canyon walls, looking to enjoy the view of the endless red cliff desert in the midst of which Coyote Gulch hides. Lots of joy and adrenaline. The view from the top of the canyon was an instant reward for all the effort put into the dangerous and challenging climb. Sunset on Mars… it probably looks just like that. Afterwards there was a hard and dangerous climb back down into the canyon, bringing even more adrenaline. Nighttime was the same — moonlight, candlelight, and amazing sounds…

Day 4, May 19th: Coyote Gulch. We are leaving the canyon. It’s the same 7 miles we walked to get here, but the backpacks are a lot lighter now since we ate most of the food. Throughout the whole day we kept hearing an occasional thunder roll and feeling some raindrops. Luckily for us, though, heavy rain never came — the dirt roads in this park are driveable in dry weather only and become impassable for all vehicles after it rains. People stranded by the rain often have to wait for the road to dry up before they can leave, which usually takes only a few hours in the dry desert climate. But we got lucky: the road stayed dry and we reached Escalante town without any unnecessary adventures. The remainder of the day was spent relaxing, bathing, and eating lots of delicious meat for dinner.

Day 5, May 20th: Bryce Canyon. After breakfast, we leave Escalante and head up into the mountains. Bryce Canyon is the highest elevated canyon in the whole region, located on a plateau rising from 2400 to 2700 meters tall. Bryce has some very unique geological structures called hoodoos; we spent all day walking among them. Distance travelled for the day was not as much — about 4 miles. Everything around us was too beautiful to walk past it, and kept inviting us to sit down and observe, take pictures… After a walk between the beautiful and psychedelic hoodoos we had a picnic at the highest point of the park, with a view of all the surrounding plateaus…Enjoying beautiful views while sipping on great coffee with cognac is a lot more enjoyable than doing the same but without the coffee and cognac…

A large portion of the evening was spent driving to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. This was a long, experience-filled day.

Day 6, May 21st: Grand Canyon, North Rim. The Grand Canyon greeted us with rain and chilly weather, which was very unusual this time of the year. But the weather helped us out a lot — we hiked 5 miles down into the Canyon and back, all in one day. The hike back up is usually very hot and dusty, but this time it was perfect — nature itself was helping us accomplish what we intended to do…

After admiring the Canyon’s beauty and grandeur from one of the observation decks, we went down the North Kaibab Trail. Our destination was Roaring Springs — a waterfall spring that flows straight out of a rock. Once we reached the spring, some brave members of our group went for a swim, not intimidated by the cold water. Hats off to the brave heroes!

The hike back up was hard. But everyone overcame the difficulties with honor — however, it’s not like there was an alternative route. Later that night we all had a feast, celebrating the conquest of yet another height(or depth).

Day 7, May 22nd: Grand Canyon, North Rim — Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. We were planning to hike another trail in the canyon today, but the morning brought us cold and rainy weather yet again. After a brief meeting we decided to leave the mountains and go down into the valley, closer to the warm weather and sunlight. This is why after breakfast we set forth towards the Death Valley National Park — the final destination of our tour. We spent a part of the day at Lake Mead — a man-made lake in the desert, formed as a result of the Hoover Dam construction. It’s a very surreal sight — a lake in the middle of the desert. Crystal clear transparent water with a blue-green tint, rocky shores with almost no vegetation, the surrounding mountains… After everyone had a good swim we continued on our way and reached Tecopa by sundown.

What can be said about Tecopa? It consists of several houses lost in the middle of a desert. Pools with hot mineral spring water right under the open sky. The ground, white with a crust of salt. Desert plants, all with a baby-blue tint. The mountains, the sky, and the sun above your head. In Tecopa, you will want to think about the Eternal…

But the righteous thoughts will be interrupted by food from the best restaurant in the region, with a chef that clearly has some kind of magical powers.

Day 8, May 23rd: Death Valley National Park. Our stay in the Death Valley was a bit shortened due to hot weather. This day was devoted to an observational tour of the Death Valley, as well as a trek to the famous Zabriskie Point. (Those who have seen Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” will know) We got up at 6 am to make it to the “Zabriskies” before the midday heat. Everyone stayed fairly organized, and at 8 am we were at the trail’s head. It was an excellent morning stroll, and by 11 we were already having breakfast at a restaurant in the center of the park. Everyone was satisfied and nobody got overheated!

After breakfast (more like brunch) we stop by the lowest elevation point on the Western Hemisphere — 87 meters below the sea level! The water is salty, and the ground is covered in a thick salt crust as well. The Valley becomes very hot — over 40 degrees Celsius, but due to the dry air and constant wind it’s actually pretty bearable. Our next stop — Artist Drive — is a small trail leading into a canyon that has walls of every single color of the rainbow. It’s hard to believe sometimes that all these wonders are natural and not man-made…

We return to Tecopa to wait out the day’s heat in the mineral water pools…

The upcoming evening will be the last one in our tour. We decide to greet it with all the seriousness the moment calls for… Sunset at Dante’s View… This place is 1000 meters above sea level, located in the mountains that border the Death Valley from the East. We buy some wine and snacks and head out at 6pm, trying to get there before sunset so we can set everything up. As the road led us higher up into the mountains it became colder and colder, and by the time we reached the parking lot it was about 15 degrees Centigrade, a big change from the 38 degrees in Tecopa just an hour ago…We walk down a trail to get away from the parking lot, find a spot with a good view of the Valley, sit down and wait. Then the sunset begins: beautiful clouds, mountain tops, and the Valley beneath us… We uncork the wine and slice the fruit. Everyone is a little sad, knowing that tomorrow everything will end and everybody will go home. But life is amazing — how can it not be, when we’re surrounded by such beauty! After it gets dark, obedient American tourists go back to their hotels. We, however, are in no hurry — we’re drinking wine, eating fruit and cookies, someone’s playing music and someone is dancing in the last rays of the disappearing day…

Day 9, May 24th: Death Valley National Park — Las Vegas. This is the last day of our tour. But the first half of the day turned out to be very eventful. Early in the morning we got to participate in a fire ceremony, led by a local healer named Daniel in accordance with Native American tradition. Afterwards, Daniel took us on a hike to the hills that surround Tecopa and showed us a Place of Power, located in the desert just outside of Tecopa. Some members of our group felt doubtful and sceptic, but the author of these notes got her voice back right after coming back from that hike — it has previously disappeared almost completely due to the dry and hot desert air…

The last place we visited, already on our way from Tecopa to Las Vegas, was an amazing desert oasis — The China Ranch. There is no way to spot it from afar. The road leading up to it is a narrow serpentine winding between dry and inanimate clay hills. Then, all of a sudden, you make a turn and see a green valley with a creek, green thickets and date palms. A small settlement has formed around the creek, and, little by little, the people have planted the date palms, flowers and everything else. A small fairy-tale-like town is the result. The most mind-boggling thing is that the clay hills loom over all the surrounding greenery, and you are constantly reminded that beyond this oasis is a burning hot and nearly lifeless desert…

The last souvenirs are purchased and leftover dates are finished — goodbye desert and hello civilization…

A long time was spent saying good-byes at the airport — we’ve all become good friends during this trip.

To sum it all up: In 9 days, we’ve driven about 1600 miles and hiked about 50 miles on various beautiful trails. We’ve been to 4 states — California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Three parks — Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Death Valley, as well as a monument: the Grand Staircase — Escalante National Monument.

Everything else is just not measurable: positive emotions, photos and all the new friendships and contacts — how does one count all that?

Maxim Zubritsky. «Welcome to USA!»: «Where there’s a will there’s a way… For the past several years I’ve had a dream to visit the US, and this dream has suddenly become a reality: while attending a training seminar, i met some Russian-Americans who organize hikes into the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is very interesting, of course, but there is a lot more to America and I really wanted to also see New York, drive on the highways, and just see how the real America lives. After a brief message exchange and some scheduling I involved my new friends from America, and they agreed to show me the New York City, and more! I had no problems getting a visa (one of the common myths about US), and after a slightly exhausting 10-hour flight from Moscow to NY on a beautiful Boeing-767, there i was!

The first thing that surprised me was that nearly all of the airport security personnel was African-American. Another was how modest the JFK Airport looked when compared to some of the West European airports (London, Frankfurt, Copenhagen and even some Russian airports) — there were no giant LED panels, no panoramic glass windows or other ultra-modern solutions. Everything was plain and simple — by the way, another common trait of Americans is that they don’t care for fancy decorations: if it works and is reliable, they leave it at that. That applies to everything: clothing, cars, houses… Fancifulness seems to be the immigrants’ abode. I was greeted and picked up at the airport. The quality of roads in NY is not too different from large cities in Russia, and sometimes I even felt that roads in Moscow are better. But the infrastructure and planning of the roadways is far superior. I have noticed no significant traffic blocks; parking in the center is very hard to find, and any mistake gets you a ticket that “bites” you in the pocket, starting from $30 and up…

Due to a large time zone difference my first evening in NY was spent in a dream-like state. It took me 3 days to completely adjust to the new sleeping schedule. I was housed in Harlem (according to movies it’s a “criminal” neighborhood) with a Russian guy named Sergei who used to be an employee of one of America’s largest banks, up until it got dissolved in 2008…leaving him unemployed. But Sergei is not getting discouraged, and is spending the summer skydiving and getting ready to look for a job in the fall. Americans in general change houses and cities very easily, they just move to wherever there is work. Speaking of, I haven’t really noticed any signs of the ongoing economic crisis (as well as the swine flu) : just like back home, something is constantly happening, some people are changing careers, and everyone started being a little more careful with expenses and loans. Nobody is panicking or dying, though, and the crisis doesn’t even really get mentioned at all — it’s there, so what? — and people just keep on living…

NYC is a city of contrasts, and here you can find anything and anyone (44,66% white, 26,59% black, 0,52% Native Americans, 9,83% Asian, 0,07% Pacific Islanders, 13,42% of other races and 26,98% of population is Latin American, regardless of their race; NYC also has 1,5 million of Russian speakers and more Irishmen than Ireland itself), any kind of religion, cultural tradition and movement. Everybody is very tolerant of each other — for example, in one of the city’s Catholic churches I saw a whole corner dedicated to protestant, baptist, orthodox and even muslim relics… Everything about this city is fantastic. The skyscrapers are like Manhattan’s business card (Manhattan is an island and a borough in New York City), Wall Street hosts all of the word’s most important business deals and can be compared to the world’s “economic heart”; it is clear why USA’s economic crisis affected the rest of the world so much. Empire State Building (1931) became the tallest building in US after the Twin Towers fell and stands 102 stories tall. 86th and 102nd floors are equipped with observation decks for tourists, and the views from there are simply astonishing.

The main goal of the visit — Grand Canyon — was, however, unreachable: the Supai Indians have declared a quarantine due to the Swine Flu epidemic (?!). So we adjusted our itinerary, and went to South Utah instead, hiking the Escalante National Monument and Coyote Gulch Canyon. There are 11 people in the group, everyone speaks Russian and has come to US from the former Soviet Union. Everyone has interesting fates and memories, many have not been to Russia in over ten years. Mark (11 years old, born in the US) is hiking with his mom who used to live in Donetsk. He speaks Russian well, but in a weirdly adult manner… later on I realize that adults are the only people in his life that he can talk to in Russian. Russian-Americans have a rule: always use Russian when talking to their kids to make sure they don’t forget it. The trail was very beautiful and supposed to take 3 days to cover. Just like good old times, I threw a 25 kilogram rucksack on my back and set forth in the 35 C weather along the bottom of a narrow, stunningly beautiful canyon. All in all it was a very pleasant experience, even though a large portion of the hike was spent walking in ankle-deep water. Along the way, there are oddly shaped canyons, many arches and a bridge created by nature. Waterfalls, places with a weird echo and many other natural wonders. Americans treat nature with a lot of respect — during the whole 3-day hike I haven’t seen a single piece of trash, as everyone takes their trash away with them. After the 3-day hike we proceeded to spend a day at Escalante National Monument, where we hiked a short, but interesting trail. After stopping by the Bryce Canyon Park, we arrived to the Grand Canyon and set out on a 5-mile dash to the bottom of the canyon and right back up, taking the North Kaibab Trail. In my opinion, that was one of the most dramatically beautiful trails of the Grand Canyon National Park. A whole book can be written just about it…

Last thing I saw was Las Vegas. It wasn’t included in my original travel plans, but we ended up there on our way to the nearest airport. To be honest, I was disappointed: casinos and nothing else… Overall, there is not much to see in Vegas.

My general impression of the US is very positive — there are many Russian-speaking residents and they can be found anywhere (New York’s Brighton Beach is actually a full-on Russian neighborhood, where you can even find store signs and price tags written in Russian), democracy, great vast expanses just like in Russia, nature… America is different and many-sided like Russia and our countries have a lot of things in common. I think both our countries have a big future ahead of them.»

Marina Bolshinskaya:

  1. «Did you like the trip overall? The tour was magical: a great group, the unbelievable beauty and power of the Grand Canyon, the invigorating and massive Glen Canyon and hot springs of the Death Valley.
  2. What did you like most of all? (list as many as are applicable) The variety of things we were able to see in a short period of time.
  3. What did you not like? (list as many as are applicable) Hurt feet after a day spent hiking through water.
  4. Would you recommend our tours to your friends/acquaintances? Yes, and I also plan to participate in many of the future tours. My son Mark really loved the trip as well, despite struggling physically on some hikes. Katya managed to pay attention to everyone in the group, simultaneously organizing everything we needed for the trip — from specialized lightweight hiking shoes and food, to car and hotel rental. She’s a total champ. I wish her the best of luck in her future tours. Join Katya and explore the natural beauty of America — you will not regret it!

Marina Bolshinskaya, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.


Ursa Travel Corp.

2449 Bryunswick Rd Wallkill, NY 12589 USA

E-mail: katya888belykh@gmail.com

Skype: katya.belykh

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