Our friend Sandy visited Southwest Utah last year. She shared information with a gleam in her eye. We planned a March 2020 trip, including her advice on Valley of Fire state park, choosing hikes and making reservations in Springdale for Zion .. for Bryce Canyon .. and then a pandemic arrived. Cancelled 😔
A new opportunity presented for an October vacation — we dusted off the March plans, gathered clothes for all types of temperatures and headed west for a scenic beautiful seven days. A “to be continued” vacation of sorts – with planning nearly a year ago, and one big interruption .. ended up being a scenic wonder.
With three suitcases and a handful of masks, we flew Southwest nonstop to Las Vegas, Nevada. After our Enterprise rental car pick up .. we headed straight to Sams Club for pillows! Traveling is fun .. but not with a stiff neck. We bought the same exact pillows we sleep on every night.. and put them in our very own pillow cases. Felt a little Covid safer also, and for $10 bucks — why not?
Next stop right next door to Sams was a Wal-Mart where we purchased gallons of water, peanut butter, apples, paper towels and several other snacks. Hungry from a long day already, we ate delicious Chili’s fajitas. then drove to our first official destination Valley of Fire State park. Nevada’s oldest state park greeted us with beautiful Aztec Sandstone rock mixed with iron for their red colors. This day park has picnic areas, bathrooms, a visitor center and multiple hiking options. Also petroglyphs in at least two areas. When we arrived, the temps were near 90 with little or no humidity. Since our day had started in the wee hours of morning, plus the time change- our visit was abbreviated recon. Seven sisters was a rock formation we checked out, along with Atlatl rock and even spotted a few desert big horn sheep. We saw enough to warrant a morning return, then chose to call it a day – heading for our nearby hotel in Overton, Nevada. The North Shore Inn @ Lake Meade was a comfy place to sleep. With Covid, no breakfast was available .. but we knew that ahead of time. Who else packs their own oatmeal and or granola, real bowls and spoons? A trick I learned from a coworker. Helps the morning to not feel rushed, saves a little bit of money and gets the day moving at your pace — not the local restaurants. Amazing what you can create in a hotel microwave.
Saturday morning we prepared to hike at Valley of Fire, early in the day to avoid the heat. The morning was a crisp 50 degrees. Fire Wave trail was our first choice – the hike started in sand, ended with flowing rocks of red and white. A beautiful contrast along with a beautiful day and temps that warmed up quickly. On this hike we met another empty nest couple from Northern Utah and together spotted a big horn sheep near the top of a rock bluff. Also met a photographer from New Jersey who serves as a guide in Death Valley. Was interesting to hear his stories of the Big Horn sheep there.
After Fire Wave, we moved to the White Dome trail. Before heading out, ate a quick snack. Another trail that started in sand but included a slot canyon where a nice cool breeze was welcome. We compared these shorter desert hikes to a three day weekend, you can pack a lot into three days. And these 2 mile hikes had a lot packed into them, much beauty and diversity. We met a young couple from Minnesota on this trail, they were awestruck with the magnificent also.
Last stop was the visitor center, I asked a few questions about their bird population – specifically hummingbirds (which leave in April due to the heat) and rainfall. This area had no rain in the last 153 days. Their annual rain fall is 4 inches. We broke out the medicinal chips (aka a can of Pringles), made peanut butter sandwiches before heading on the drive to Zion National Park. The term medicinal chips came from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park .. with the higher elevations salty foods are suggested. Pringles! Works every time.
Arriving in Zion late afternoon – we purchased the $80 annual America the Beautiful pass and incredibly found a parking space at the visitor center. The park was packed with people .. the shuttle lines were incredible .. people everywhere. We tried a short hike near the visitor center, but so many bike riders and already having a pretty full day – dinner in town seemed like a good idea. The night was quiet at our Air B and B in Toquerville, Utah – the Lundell Family Farm where we were greeted by pet rabbits and a friendly rooster welcomed the morning.
Next day (Sunday), our timed shuttle entry ticket was for noon. We arrived early again (does anyone sleep late on vacation?) and were rewarded with a parking spot at the visitor center. From the visitor center we hiked the Watchman Trail – a beautiful climb with an additional loop option. Amazing views with lots of other hikers, and a surprise visit from a Scrub Jay at the top while we took in the wonder. Returning to the visitor center, we boarded the shuttle and rode into the canyon. Because of Covid, no personal vehicles were allowed. However, you could rent Ebikes. So many bikes! I was glad our plans to rent one did not come thru. Every bike rider had to come to a complete stop before the shuttle could pass. We rode to the temple of Sinawava, wondered along the Riverside walk trail, ate a picnic on the Virgin River. This trail was the bottom of the canyon, where the Watchman had been the top. Quite the contrast, quite the sacred place. So much beauty.. surreal.. hard to leave. We grabbed a deli dinner from the local grocery store – Davis Market and returned to the Air B and B for a soak in the tub (me) and some Braves baseball (Mark).
Monday our timed shuttle tickets were for 11:00, but we were awake and at the visitor center early again – and found another parking spot. Each time we found a parking spot saved 20 bucks parking in Springdale! That was fun. We studied the map, called our parents, chatted for a bit, went to the visitor center – then boarded the shuttle for a day of hiking the Kayenta trail to both middle and upper Emerald Pools. Beautiful views of the Virgin River, Zion red rock, gorgeous trees and a small water fall. We met two young couples traveling together from Arkansas, shared stories and found much in common. Before returning to the Air B and B, we drove to Kolob Canyon, the northern boundary of Zion. Much less crowded with similiar amazing beauty dotted with fall colored Aspens which made me smile.
Tuesday morning, we chose not to board the shuttle again in Zion – and instead drove thru and out the East side of Zion, which includes a one mile tunnel toward Bryce Canyon. Panguitch, Utah was the location of our Air B and B. We ate lunch at Kenny Ray’s before driving into Bryce Canyon National Park. First sighting of a hoo doo .. and a drive of the entire park road to Rainbow Point, stopping along the way to gawk a bit. Day of driving and enjoying the beauty, we checked into our air B and B-The Clover Patch for the first of our three night stay.
Wednesday morning started with a 34 degree temp, so thankful for heated seats and layers! We started with part of the rim to rim trail at Inspiration Point to Bryce Point. So amazing, such depth to the rocks. Hard to describe, even with photo after photo .. the beauty has to be seen in person to comprehend. Walked the Bristlecone trail, thru the forest. Enjoying the views from the top of the park – planning to see it from the lower canyons tomorrow. Made a date night for dinner at Kenny Rays again, after a quick shower. The Clover Patch had a nice inviting fire place – comfy hang out to spend the evening reading and listening to more Braves baseball. Also a clawfoot bathtub for more Epson salt soaking .. gotta love it.
Thursday morning a 42 degree welcome with a brisk wind, called for the first fleece! We had packed a lot of cold weather clothing, and this was our first chance to use it. But it didn’t last long .. down a few layers while hiking the Queens Garden Navajo loop combo trail. Layers are clutch! And so are hydration packs large enough to hold a fleece. This was a busy trail, starting clockwise descending. Walking alongside the hoo doos, looking up from the canyon was awesome. Wallstreet was quite a climb out, and so pretty. We actually ran into the young couples from Arkansas here again. What are the chances?!
Friday morning we drove scenic highway 143 out of Panguitch toward Parowan chasing yellow Aspens. After stopping in Cedar Breaks National Monument for some amazing cool views at 10,000 plus elevation, then Brian head Ski resort – we made the discovery. Yankee Meadows in the Dixie National Forest was yet another happy place…where shimmering aspens still held their leaves — just waiting for me to come stand under them. Such amazing beauty, yes I cried. On this drive we passed thru thousands of empty aspens trees.. I can only imagine what they looked like two weeks ago.
We spent Friday night back in Overton, Nevada near Valley of Fire. Dinner and ice cream at the Inside Scoop before sleeping one last night on our Sam’s pillows at Northshore Inn @ Lake Meade again.
Saturday morning, before returning to Vegas for a late afternoon flight – we revisited Valley of Fire for a goodbye tour. After walking to Elephant Rock and visiting the Cabins built in the 1930s by the CCC, we spotted at least 25 bighorn sheep near the visitor center. Rams feeling frisky and head-butting each other. It was a beautiful goodbye tour. Fire Canyon, the scenic road – all the wow you can pack into seven days. The joy of companionship – and the provision of time off – and a love of travel and discovery, together. A beautiful thing.