Making Memories at Zion, Bryce and The Grand Canyon...and a Few Other Stops Along the Way
July 3, 2017
We left Page and had a little time before our whirlwind adventure started. The whirlwind adventure? Well, that was two weeks with our 14 year old niece, Kennedy. Yikes! While she's spent quite a bit of time with us in the RV in Texas (where she's from), this was the first time that she would actually be traveling with just Greg and me, so if things went south, it wouldn't be real easy to drop her back at home! And, did I mention she was 14?
Prior to her arriving, we had a few days to relax and prepare for her visit and luckily we were fairly close to St. George Utah, so we were able to do a Costco run, grocery store stock up, a spa day for Hobie, catch up on work, and also had the opportunity to connect a couple of times with Jason and Brandy, a very cool couple we met at the Xscaper's convergence earlier this year.
Our cool boondocking spot, about 20 minutes from Zion National Park
Great views and Hobie got an opportunity to do a little free-roaming!!
Along with all the prep work, we also had the opportunity to do a little exploring--nothing too crazy as we were saving all the fun stuff for Kennedy!!
One day we spent a few hours exploring Red Cliffs National Recreational Area. The area encompasses a campground, a day-use area, multiple historic sites, interpreted archeological sites, two paleontological sites, old mining ruins, and numerous trails accessible for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There's about 44,000 acres of beautiful, rugged land to explore....and we didn't even scratch the surface.
Beautiful Red Cliffs
Ruins of the old Cordura movie set shown in front of the spectacular red cliffs!
Toquerville Mine, a small defunct silver mine...and Hobie running wild and free!!
Probably smart that they have it gated!! Hobie would have gone in never to be seen again!!
We also made a quick trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument right outside of Cedar City. Last year when we were hiking in Michigan with David and Sharon, we ran into Meryl Streep on one of the trails in Taquenomenon Falls and she told us how beautiful Cedar Break was, so it's been on our list of places to go since last fall. And before you think we might have been drinking (because there is a brewery at the Upper Falls,) we were actually on on way to the brewery, so no alcohol had been consumed before we met Meryl.
We all were pretty convinced it was her, but of course the lady we met said she was a retired school teacher from California, but I'm sure Meryl just didn't want to blow her cover!
Anyway, Meryl or the retired school teacher, didn't disappoint and it was a great recommendation. It's a mini-Bryce Canyon, at a higher elevation (as demonstrated by SNOW still on the ground).
We left our campground and it was high 90's; it was in the high 50's here!
We had shorts on. Poor planning....again!
On our way back, got to see several pronghorn as they crossed the road!
Cedar Breaks sits at over 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater. It has a campground, some great hikes and is also a designated as an International Dark Sky Park, so an awesome place to take in the stars! It's also a great place to kill a few hours or a couple of days!
Next up was a quick visit to the less popular, less visited part of Zion National Park--Kolob Canyon. It's located in the northwest corner of the park and is a nice refuge when the main park is really crowded so we did a quick drive up to check it out. There are some hikes in this area, but also a nice scenic drive. I did the easy one mile Timber Creek Overlook trail, which just gives you a little different perspective to what you could see from the main road.
Some of the great views in the canyon!
Part of the Overview hike
And views from the top
That wraps up our time pre-Kennedy. Now the whirlwind begins!!
We picked Kennedy up in Las Vegas and her plane arrived around 8:30 pm, a direct flight from San Antonio. Also, prior to picking her up, we moved to a RV park because the temps were rising and well, we wanted to minimize potential issues!!
All went according to plan with her flight and we drove down the strip on our way back to the St. George area. Kennedy was pretty enamored with all the strip had to offer, wanting to know how much time we were going to be spending there, so she was a little disappointed that we didn't have but a day to explore Vegas. Hmmmm.....stark opposite of our National Park--get one with nature--plan.
Our first stop, Grafton Ghost Town, was a small diversion on our way to Zion. Grafton was first settled in 1859 and in 1862 the town was completely washed away by a flood. The people rebuilt the town a mile further up stream at its present site and by 1864 about 28 families lived there, but was deserted in 1866 due to Indian attacks. The people moved back in 1868 but by 1920 only three families still lived there and today it's pretty much deserted. Part of the movie--Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was shot at this location, so that's pretty cool. Thinking Kennedy might have had some higher hopes for a "ghost town," but it was a cool stop that didn't take too long.
An old cabin/house
Low low ceiling inside
And proof of the Indian attack. This was a four sided grave in the cemetery;
each side had the name of a different family member. All were attacked by Indians.
Next we made our way into Zion National Park, which this time of year is pretty crowded and because of the that, the only way to conveniently see the scenic loop is to either ride the bus or have reservations at the lodge (technically I guess you could walk or ride your bike if you had lots of time). There are shuttles from the town of Springdale or you can catch a shuttle from within the park, which is what we opted to do.
But before we caught the shuttle, we drove highway 12/Mt. Carmel Highway through the park which is also a pretty scenic drive. There's a pretty significant tunnel on the highway, inside the park, which limits the size of vehicles that can go through it, and there are no lights in the tunnel, so it's pretty spooky!!
Supposedly this is a popular mountain for rock climbers....wow!!
Checkerboard Mesa is a worn mountain covered with
cross-hatching that resembles a checkerboard
A close up of the pattern
Another reason to drive the highway is the mountain goats hang out on this side of the park. We drove the road a couple of times and each time we got to see the goats!!
We named this one Kenny. He's the official Zion greeter!!
After exploring that section of highway 12 , we then hopped on a bus at the Visitor's center to explore the scenic loop. From what we read, the afternoon is less crowded and a good time to explore and since were able to get a seat on the bus without having to wait in line, we'll take that as a win!!
Some of the views from the scenic loop
This is the beginning of one of Zion's famous hikes--the Narrows,
which starts at Temple of Sinawava and is a moderate to strenuous river hike.
Yes, you hike IN the river!!
The Three Patriarchs
The following day we had planned to do some hiking and I had scouted out a couple of one to two mile moderate hikes, but Kennedy had another idea. She wanted to hike Angels Landing because she watched some people on You Tube do the hike and it looked cool. I thought it looked like it could kill me, but hey, what the heck! Damn You Tube!!
Angels Landing is unique fin-like mountain formation that juts out to the center of the main canyon. The trail, which is mostly paved, follows the narrow spine to the final viewpoint which is about 1500 feet above the canyon floor. The hike is about 5.5 miles and is a series of uphill climbs and numerous switchbacks and described as strenuous....and well, I'd have to agree!!
Greg dropped us at the Visitor's center in the morning and Kennedy and I caught the bus and took it to the Grotto trailhead, where we started the hike. We had packed plenty of water and lots of snacks, all of which were needed as the temperature got to about 100 that day, and of course, most of the hike is in exposed sun.
Long story short, we both made it to the top, with Kennedy leading the way. It was by far, the hardest hike that I've ever done and while it was extremely hard getting to the top, coming down was no picnic either!!
This is a shot from one of the switchbacks on the way up.
Yes, still more to climb from here.
And some views from the top.
The last half mile is the toughest part, mainly comprised of rocks and chains,
for another 500 ft. in elevation gain
If you look real close, you can see a few people making their way to the top of the landing
Some of the chains to help you get up and keep you from falling!
And success!! We both made it!!
So after that hike, all I wanted to do was rest (collapse), but wait, we had tickets to see Shrek the Musical at the Tuacahn, which is an outdoor amphitheater outside St. George. The text exchange with Kennedy (prior to her arrival) went like this, so not going wasn't an option. After all, Shrek is life!!
Ugh! So we got cleaned up and headed to St. George for the play!!
The amphitheater is surrounded by beautiful red rocks
and is an awesome place for a concert or play!
We couldn't take any pics of the show, so this is the best it gets!!
Greg didn't have high hopes for the play but I had a little higher expectations and we were both pleasantly surprised with the quality of the actors and the overall performance. Kennedy, who obviously loves Shrek, enjoyed it as well!!
The next morning, we packed up and headed to Bryce where we were going to be doing some boondocking with Brandy, Jason, their friend Hannah, and Dave and Mairead. (We met Dave at the convergence/Coachella and he said he had a wife, but we weren't convinced until we met her....she's the real deal!!) Brandy, Jason and Hannah were already there and had secured a nice big area that would accommodate all of our rigs.
Getting to/from Bryce, we had to go through this tunnel.
Of course there had to be a semi going through at the same time we were!!
Great spot about eight miles from the park! Thanks Lee for the recommendation!!
Happy hour commences!! And,Hobie has a new friend, Myla!
We had two days set aside to explore Bryce National Park which is home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world! It's a struggle to find the words to describe this place. Words fail. Photographs do not do it justice. It's incredible.
Day one we drove the scenic drive and stopped at all of the turnoffs. Each turnoff was more beautiful than the next. Here are some of the pictures.
Our second trip to Bryce involved an afternoon of horseback riding which takes you to heart of the canyons. The ride was about three hours overall and the views from the horse were even more spectacular than from the top!
Kennedy getting settled on her horse Mary Jane
While the website says you would become best friends with your horse, uh, that was not the case with Greg and his horse, Blackjack!!!
Some views of the canyon from the back of the horse!!
This one looks like a fist to me!! Rock power!!
Bristlecone Pine, one of the longest-living life forms on Earth (not this one specifically!!)
Overall a great opportunity to explore the canyon, just be warned of a horse named Blackjack!!
Next up was a trip to Peek-a-Boo Canyon just outside the town of Escalante, about 45 minutes from Bryce. The canyon is part of the Grand Staircase Escalante and happened to be off of Hole in the Rock Road. If that sounds familiar, we wrote about it when we visited Bluff, which was a couple of posts ago and you can read about it here . Right before you turn onto Hole in the Rock road, there's a small Visitor's center which gives you the history of this road. It's also a great place for a bathroom break especially if you are heading down Hole in the Rock road as it's long and bumpy!!
Covered wagon replica at the Visitor's Center
A picture depicting the journey through the rock
So, we turned off to Hole in the Rock road, and after about 25 miles of rough road, with the last mile being four wheel drive only, we made it to our destination--Peek-a-boo Canyon, a pretty cool slot canyon. Well, technically we made it to the trailhead, the canyon was about a mile away through some sandy hills.
The beginning of the hike in...
The hike is describe as moderate and we would definitely agree. It's all exposed, so pretty hot, and a portion of the hike is in some pretty deep sand, so that adds a little to the difficulty. Once you arrive at the canyon entrance, there's about an eight foot climb to get in to the canyon, which is also a little challenging.
At the entrance of the canyon, preparing to enter!!
Two in, one to go!!
Parts of the canyon are pretty tight!
There's another slot canyon next to Peek-a-Boo named Spooky, but a beanpole of a guy (who took our picture) said that parts of it are extremely narrow and he struggled to get through. Not wanting to be fat-shamed by a canyon, we opted to skip that one!! Overall, Peek-a-Boo is a little over a two mile hike; Kennedy said it was harder than Angels Landing; I totally disagree!!
Our last day in the area we took a drive back to the town of Escalante to visit Petrified Forest State Park. The park is really nice and has a lake, campground and some trails, one of which leads your through the petrified forest. There's a simple loop which only has a few pieces of petrified wood (about one mile) and the extended (harder) loop (and additional .75 miles) has the bulk of the petrified wood. Kennedy and I tackled both loops and we both agreed that this was the easiest of all of the hikes!!
A petrified log, estimated to be about 150 million years old.
Love the colors in the wood
So, our time in Bryce had come to an end and we were on to our next stop which was Williams to check out the Grand Canyon. As we were preparing to leave, Greg was having some issues with his knee, so Kennedy and I packed up the rig and we were on our way. It was a rough drive, with some crazy winds and extra challenging with Greg's knee acting up.
On to the next destination!
After we got settled at the Grand Canyon Railway RV park, Greg's knee was basically locked up and he was running a low-grade fever, so we were concerned that an infection may be settling in his knee, which had happened before, so we decided to make a--hopefully proactive trip--to the emergency room.
The patient actually practicing patience!!
Last time this occurred, he was in the hospital for over seven days, had surgery and spent three weeks on intravenous antibiotics, so just wanted to prevent a repeat!! We ended up in Flagstaff as that was the closest hospital and they were really good, running multiple tests, and kept him two nights to ensure there was no repeat. Seems that they were able to thwart any infection; the knee was extremely inflamed so they pumped in a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs and prescribed a no hiking and horseback riding regiment!! And the search for a knee replacement begins!!
While Greg was in the hospital, Kennedy and I explored the town of Williams,
which is on Route 66. We could walk to the town from the RV park which was nice.
Lots of stores with Route 66 souvenirs.
After Greg was released from the hospital, Kennedy and I took the train to the Grand Canyon National Park, Greg stayed behind to rest. Prior to the train departure, they do a little cowboy show, which was cute for the younger kids....a little corny for anyone over 10!
Glad that I wasn't the only one on the train
with a kid who was less than amused with the entertainment!!
Once at the Canyon, Kennedy gravitated to the parts that were exposed with no guardrails and wanted to spend most of the time there. And of course I was a nervous wreck!!
The Hopi House
The fireplace in the Bright Angel Lodge--designed to represent the strata of the canyon.
The top of the fireplace is constructed of Kaibab limestone found on the rim of the canyon while the bottom layer is made of smooth river rock hauled from the floor of the canyon.
The rock in between was hauled by mule out of the canyon and
carefully placed in the same order of the canyon’s layers.
On our way back to Williams on the train, it was held up by some scary cowboys!!
The cowboys came through the cabin and "robbed" the passengers. All voluntary of course!
Greg hung out in the coach after being released from the hospital, resting and working on getting some mobility back. And after a couple of days, he was feeling a bit better and we were on to our final stop--Las Vegas!! We stayed outside Vegas in Boulder City and really only had one full day before Kennedy (and I) had to catch a flight.
We decided we would check out Valley of Fire State Park, which had some sentimental memories for us as that is where we got married a little over ten years ago. And with the temperatures being insane, it would be a driving tour for sure!!
We drove around the entire park looking for "the place" we got married, but couldn't find it and as were were leaving the park, I found an extremely old email from the company who had arranged the ceremony and we eventually found the rock where it all happened!! It was really odd because as we were standing on the rock where the ceremony took place, we both had remembered the rock stage being so much bigger.
The rock where it all happened!!
Kennedy was a flower girl at our wedding and during the ceremony she decided she wandered off to dust the rocks with her flowers. Greg declared a 'time out' during the ceremony and held her by her shoulders for the remainder of the nuptials.
We reenacted the shot here!!
Kennedy goofing off in the rocks....again!!
And they weren't kidding. It was hot....hotter than we have ever experience before!!
After a day driving around Valley of Fire, we hit the strip, which was something that Kennedy was looking forward to! We drove to Paris, valet parked the truck, ate dinner and then Kennedy and I went and explored the strip while Greg parked himself at a bar, where he was propositioned by a Russian "limo" driver.
Kennedy at Paris!!
The glass at Bellagio
Kennedy really enjoyed the strip (not sure if we should be scared or not) and it was the first time when I asked, "do you want to head back" that I got a definitive "NO!" I think she would have stayed a lot longer, but she had a 6:15 am flight, so we called it a night around 10:30!! Luckily the strip was just coming to life, so she wasn't exposed to (too much of) the extreme craziness!!
The next morning, or a few hours after we got back from the strip, we headed for the airport, where Kennedy caught her flight back to San Antonio and I hopped on a flight for a work trip. It was a fun visit, even with a hospital visit sandwiched in the middle and in the end; hopefully we created a few memories for Kennedy along the way. Of course we probably won't know for sure until she's a little older!! After all, not much is cool at age 14!!