|By getting an early start on The Narrows trail we were able to get many pictures without other people in them!|
If you’d like to listen to our podcast about Zion, click here! If you'd like to listen to our podcast about Tuacahn, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon, click here!
I gazed at the shelves, feeling suddenly anxious and ill-prepared. Row upon row of hi-top water shoes were arranged neatly by size, waiting for would-be hikers to plunk down their $24 to take them along on a day hike up The Narrows. I mentally listed all the ways that my years-old water shoes weren’t good enough, strong enough, safe enough, warm enough. Or wait. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so hasty. Maybe I could just buy a pair of those nifty neoprene water socks to wear with my shoes rather than the plain old socks I’d brought along to prevent blisters. I turned to look for a display of socks for sale rather than for rent.
That was the key. Turning away. The farther I walked from the hypnotically organized shelves, the less I felt the need for the specialized gear. Within moments, it had lost its hold on me, draining away gradually, like water down a slow gutter. My shoes would be fine. I didn’t need to spend any money at all to do this hike. It was just a hike, right? Albeit a hike in water which I’d never done before, but it would be fine. And just like that, I saved myself $24.
The next morning, we missed Josh’s goal of being on the first shuttle bus of the day at 6:15, but we managed to get ourselves out the door and on the second one. We were shocked to see standing room only when it arrived at the lodge to pick us up, but we were thrilled when most of the hikers got off at the stop for the Angel’s Landing hike. We rode on to the stop at the Temple of Sinawava, a rock formation where Zion Canyon Drive ends. We made a quick restroom stop and then started on the paved trail along the Virgin River. We had checked with a ranger the day before to ask about the likelihood of a flash flood before noon, and he said that we should be OK as long as we were done before 3:00. He also told us to be sure to check the weather frequently before beginning since conditions can change quickly and flash floods are deadly on this hike. Josh checked repeatedly before we left the hotel, and a flood appeared to be unlikely. So off we went! There were a few people ahead of us, and the morning was cool and calm.
|The mile-long Riverside Trail was an easy walk before the wet part of the trail. Notice that none of us are wearing special footwear!|
The high walls of the narrow canyon prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the rushing water below, and I was worried that the shaded canyon would mean freezing cold water temperatures. I fretted about this silently as we walked the mile-long trail and then made our way down the makeshift steps to where The Narrows begins. The initial step into the cool, clear river wasn’t so bad since the water was rather shallow at this point. Beyond that point, we were more concerned about our footing than the water’s temperature, so my fears were completely unfounded.
We waded upstream a mile and a half, stepping carefully on the slippery rocks, occasionally treading on sandy beaches, and taking pictures of the multi-colored cliffs that lined the water as we went. At one point the water was chest deep and Kinley plunged in for a swim, but most of the time it was no more than knee deep.
|Josh kept our camera in the same dry bag around his neck that Kinley had used on the Grand Canyon mule ride.|
|We spent a lot of time looking down as we tried to pick our way through the swiftly-flowing river.|
This was – by far – my favorite hike of our trip. And starting early was key. We found ourselves stepping around bends in the river, completely alone, multiple times that morning. Well, on the way up. Once we turned around at the famed Wall Street area and headed back, it was a completely different story. Hordes of people clogged the waterway, stirring up sediment in the water and making it impossible to see where to place your feet for the most stable route downriver. The beaches, which were sandy and pleasant on the hike up, were now muddy and slippery. Crowds of wet hikers had dripped their way across the banks making what used to be dry land difficult to traverse. In fact, the one time Knox fell on the trip wasn’t on the slick rocks in the river, it was on the now slippery banks as we hiked back down.
|One we hit the Wall Street area, we decided to turn back. Again, we got plenty of pictures without other people in them.|
|The view looking up shows just how close together the walls of the canyon are.|
But that hike up. Holy cow. Those two hours with the sun-streaked canyon walls; the glistening river stones smoothed by untold eons of rushing water; the sunbeams glancing off the river’s surface; the gasp-worthy scenes around each bend; the gurgle of the ever-moving, life-giving liquid in the middle of a Utah desert. Those two hours of hiking were sublime. In fact, had Kinley not been shivering from her swim, I would have wanted to carry on just a bit further. To see what was just around the next bend. But I know what would have happened then. Beyond that bend would have been another, and another. Calling me. Beckoning me onward through the river, over the rocks, into the next sunbeam. Turning back would have been harder without a wet teenager.
|Look at the difference on the way back! People were EVERYWHERE! We were so glad we had taken our pictures on the way up!|
But back we went. We were finished before noon, but swarms of people were just beginning as we finished. Trust me. Do this one early.
After showering back at our cabin, we had lunch at a lackluster Thai place in Springdale just outside the park. After our LA experience, Thai Sapa was a massive disappointment and expensive to boot. (What kind of Thai place can’t make Thai iced tea because “the owner isn’t here today”???) Also in Springdale, we found a laundromat and popped a couple of loads in, wandering around the nearby shops while waiting for our dirty (and wet) clothes to wash and dry. On our way back to the lodge, we stopped off at the Human History Museum inside the park to help the kids find some of the answers to questions in their Junior Ranger books. A ranger there swore them in once they finished, and the kids added another badge to their growing collections.
That evening, we had another disappointing meal, this time at the park lodge. I think that of the parks with full-service lodges, Zion had the most disappointing food options. The Castle Dome Café snack bar closed early and had little more than burgers, fries, and hot dogs. The Red Rock Grill required reservations, and they got off to a bad start when we had to wait half an hour past our reservation time to be seated. Even then, though, I had high hopes after looking at the menu. But when I went to the salad bar and had to pick through the lettuce, the spinach, and the spring mix to find enough that wasn’t too slimy for my salad, they lost me. And lest you think it was just me being picky, there was a lady behind me who was getting annoyed with me for taking so long until she tried to pick out greens for her own salad. I’m pretty sure I had taken everything edible, and yet the containers were still full. We exchanged glances and each muttered something about how disgusting it was. The entrees were fine but certainly not delicious. In short, I was underwhelmed and wouldn’t recommend it.
We did tell the manager of the restaurant that he might want to take a look at the greens, and we overheard another family tell the manager of the hotel how disappointing the restaurant was. There were also flies, and one roach skittered across the hardwood floor two tables away from us. And we weren’t dining al fresco. And, of course, it wasn’t cheap either. But our sweet server did the best she could, and these issues had far more to do with the management than with the employees.
After dinner, I tried to use the lobby wifi to upload a blog post while Josh and the kids played a game of Settlers of Catan. We have a little travel version that we bought years ago for $5 at a second hand store in Chicago, and it has served us well in our travels. Later, as we walked back to the cabin, several mule deer were grazing on the green lawn in front of the lodge. By this point in our trip, mule deer were only slightly more interesting to us than grass, so we didn’t join the groups of guests watching them eat.
The next morning, we took another early-ish shuttle to the trail to Weeping Rock. This is a sandstone cliff that seeps water and provides a habitat for lush vegetation. Again, because of our early start, we had it pretty much all to ourselves. It’s only a half-mile paved hike, and I’d recommend it over either the middle or upper Emerald Pool. While waiting for the shuttle, we wandered down to the Virgin River for one last look before we packed up and headed out of the park.
|The picture doesn't show the water leaking from the Weeping Rock above, but it was really pretty!|
|The Virgin River runs through Zion National Park.|
As we left, we drove through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Upon its completion in 1930, the 1.1-mile tunnel was the longest in the United States. In 1989, the park service began controlling traffic so that only a few vehicles go through at a time. Much like when a flagger allows only one direction of traffic to flow at a time during road construction, vehicles traveling one direction go through and then vehicles traveling the other direction are allowed through. It takes a while and there are strict restrictions on larger vehicles. If your vehicle is too big, you have to pay $15 for an escort through!
Just on the other side of the tunnel was Checkerboard Mesa, and beyond that we pulled over to see some bighorn sheep. (If you listen to our podcast, this was when the guy screamed the F bomb out the window at us as he passed us and scarred Knox for life.) Once we recovered our wits, we drove on to Cedar Breaks National Monument.
|Check out these bighorn sheep! The guy in the car behind us was not impressed.|
This stop wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we found ourselves with some time to kill. Just after I posted my first blog post about this trip which listed all of our stops in order and their dates, a former student contacted me to say that he would be performing in a show near Zion while we were there. He arranged for us to get free tickets to see Mama Mia! The show didn’t begin until 8:45, so we decided to add another Junior Ranger badge and National Parks Passport stamp.
|Since this one wasn't a national park, I didn't get a picture of myself with the numbered sign here.|
I’m pretty sure I gasped when I first looked over the rim and into the canyon. I’d never before seen the types of rock formations that Cedar Breaks has – hoodoos, fins, and windows. And the colors were spectacular as well. The Visitors’ Center had a large window across the back that afforded a breathtaking view of the canyon. Along the rim, wildflowers were in bloom, and the emerald greens of the surrounding spruces, pines, and firs stood in stark contrast to the ochres, umbers, and sorrels of the rock formations below.
|The kids and I got our first look at the hoodoos of Cedar Breaks at this overlook. Note the silvery color in the part of my hair in this picture.|
The kids got started on their booklets as it began to rain, and we piled back in the car to return to Cedar City for some lunch. Earlier in the day, I had done some Googling and made some phone calls to arrange to get my embarrassingly grey roots done, so the rest of the family dropped me off at a salon while they explored the little town together. (By the way, this type of thing happens every single summer. I get my hair colored right before we leave for whatever trip we’re doing that summer, and four weeks later, I have to find a stranger in a strange place to color it for me again. It’s a pain, but it is what it is. I refuse to be completely grey at 45.)
|Even in the rain, the Junior Ranger badge activities must be done!|
As soon as I once again took on the appearance of the Me I’m comfortable showing to the world, we grabbed another round of ice cream at Palette before driving back up to Cedar Breaks. The kids found a ranger to swear them in, and then we took a little walk around the rim area of the canyon before starting our hour and a half drive to the amphitheater for the show. On the way down the mountain, we observed a pastoral scene complete with shepherds on horseback. I didn’t even know that was still a thing. Southern Utah is full of surprises.
|Yes, I know this is the same picture from my other blog post. But this is really the one from this trip to Palette.|
|Cedar Breaks has better examples of fin formations like this one than Bryce Canyon, in my opinion.|
|Isn't this beautiful?!|
|Shepherds on horseback let their sheep graze near the Cedar Breaks National Monument. Who knew this was still a thing?|
Tuacahn offers pre-show meals as an add-on, but you have to call for reservations more than 24 hours in advance. I didn’t call early enough, so we had Panda Express in the car, which for Knox was actually a welcome change to our eat-local routine. Tuacahn is located in Ivins, Utah, which appeared to be a rather shi-shi little town with gorgeous scenery, luxurious spas, and plenty of gated communities – the kind where the gates themselves cost more than my house. The roundabout at the town’s entrance features a group of sculptures by a world-renowned sculptor. It’s that kind of place.
Even Tuacahn itself was impressive. We have an amphitheater in our town, and let me tell you, it is pathetic in comparison to this place. As you round a huge red rock mesa, the entrance comes into view, complete with fountains and dramatic lighting. The parking lot is immense, and the walkway leading to the ticket windows has an extensive cascading waterfall. It seemed more like a venue you’d see in Las Vegas than one you’d find in a relatively-unknown corner of Utah.
The heat was oppressive, but the show was a lot of fun. Josh and I had seen it before, but the kids hadn’t. Mamma Mia is a musical that’s really just a vehicle for ABBA hits from the 70s, meaning that the plot is a stretch at best. But every time my former student, Brayden, came on stage to dance, I was transfixed. He was marvelous! My favorite number was one where the dancers wore wetsuits and flippers, and Brayden executed every step beautifully!
|Check out Brayden's bio and fierce expression!|
|Seeing Brayden was a highlight of my summer!|
|You can see his name to the right of the reflection of the flash. I'm so proud!|
After the show, we met him in the plaza area (since it’s outdoors, there’s not really a lobby), and I got to thank him for the tickets and tell him how proud I was of him. He told us about his grueling rehearsal schedule and about some of the perils of having to learn three shows at the same time. (Tuacahn was presenting Mamma Mia, Newsies, and Shrek in repertory this summer using the same actors in all three shows.) We didn’t get to talk very long because we still had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us, and it was already past midnight. We said goodbye and made our way to our car in the now-empty parking lot.
Of course, we hummed ABBA hits all the way.