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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Zion Day 3; Our Biggest Adventure Yet

I woke feeling refreshed, and the fact the bed was level, plush, and downright comfy made me wish I had done anything I could to stay here just a bit little longer. The morning view through the cathedral windows was glorious in splendor and served to reaffirm my faith in life and beauty....and the fresh cup of Kona Blend made from an honest to god real coffee maker didn't hurt either. We had a lot of things planned in the afternoon that revolved around the activities at the Zion Ponderosa which meant we only had about ½ a day to stay with the confines of the Zion National Park.

We made the trek back through the Tunnel and had the agenda to spend sometime at the Zion Museum, a walk on the River at a trail called Lower Falls trail, and a final walk on the Canyon Overlook which according to the guides was a 1 mile moderate hike. We originally were going to do the canyon overlook first but based on the fact it was Saturday and we planned to park at the Museum parking lot as opposed to the real parking lot, rolled the dice for parking at the museum.

Alas we were too late, and I had to park at a turn out and walk to the museum after dropping off the family first and make a short walk back to the museum. We took the shuttle to the Cable Junction departure point and crossed the street towards the first trail. It was an easy walk and one which we hoped for since we knew would be climbing some stairs soon. The Virgin river flowed and its waters looked pristine, almost as if mother nature was giving a come hither look. As me and the kids hopped along some of the rocks on the banks of the river, one of the kids spotted a toad on the bank. Only remarkable thing here is I remember as a boy living on the Huntington Beach/Westminster border frogs and toads were fairly common, but for some reason I couldn't recall the last time I saw one in OC. Neither here nor there but a curious notion none the less.

The Virgin River

After that was a short period spent in the museum. The air condition felt good and the various artifacts were certainly interesting, and made even the more by the glorious view offered from the museums patio which showed proudly displayed some of Zions most majestic mountain views. There is no shortage of majestic views in Zion, but those who planned the museums location clearly had this spot in mind when choosing the location, it was one of those nature scenes in which you could easily have a seat and just gaze for hours at the sight which presented itself. I wished I had more time to take it in both with a bevy of activities still to achieve along with the Canyon Overlook hike there was no time to lose.

We made our way back through the two tunnels that separate Springdale and Mt Carmel and found the parking lot for the canyon overlook full. I thought about parking in the handicapped spot and taking my chances but decided to kill 10-15 minutes and hoped someone would come down the hill thus opening a spot....and luck would have it a Chinese couple came down and pointed to the space their car was parked in.

Now the Canyon Overlook is one of the most scenic hikes in Zion and the one mile descent didnt seem too difficult as most of the parking maps said this was a moderate hike and not strenuous. But after looking at the first set of stairs, we thought it best to let my dad stay in the van and hang which proved to be a fine idea. Now grandma on the other hand could not wait to tackle the challenge and was clearly invigorated from the whole trip. Only a few years removed from knee replacement surgery I was a bit worried, but the broken hockey stick I converted into a hiking stick served as a fine assistant for the sometimes uneven footing. Apart from the stairs, both man made and stone, there was a covered area which not only provided some much needed shade, but also had a sandy bottom that we all agreed had to be the worlds greatest camping spot....provided a long horned sheep or mountain lion wasnt using the facilities. I was assuming the hike was a quick one, but it was a bit more then we bargained for and every corner was met with yet another flight of stairs, and yet more corners and climbs to face. We finally made the top of the hike which proved to be worth the walk. Apart from the snaking roadway that made its way to the tunnel, the elevation along with the view, along with standing on a few of the rocks that made the ascent even higher was a joy to behold. And was a bit of a weird feeling to see my Mother there to celebrate with us. On the way back we cam across an Indian family resting in the shade of the covered rocky overhang, and gave a bit of a double take to see mother making the hike back down. The older gent asked how old she was and my mom said something like “age is only a state of mind” or something thereof. They gave us a big smile. Of course on the way up and back every passerby was friendly and made some comment about our crew.

The worlds greatest camp site.

The Top of the Canyon Overlook

We made it back to the lodge for a quick rest and a bit to eat but the rest of the afternoon proved to be a busy one as we had miniature golf, our 6 person atv ride, and zip lining on the agenda.

Miniature golf was kind of white trashish, and I almost wish I had worn one of my cutoff shirts and drank a can of Pabst to seal the white trash deal. Time ran low though so we were only able to finish around 9 holes. I did like the fact the course had ramps that led to the water, and white and green shag carpet that served as pseudo sand and rough.

We made it back to the recreation hall to get our ATV and the guy working the front desk came to give me the once over of the vehicle. He asked if I had ever driven one, and of course being a man I said, “oh yeah all the time” which was a complete lie. We were given a lot of warnings about not getting it over 30 mphs were later proved to be a bit of salesmanship. We were handed a crudely drawn map and given some vague instructions on some nice trails and off we went.

Of course, through years of playing off road racing video games there was no way in hell I was going to go at Autopia speeds. Once we were out of the parking lot I pushed the petal to the floor and smiled as I watched Tomoko and Alex's heads jerk backward. My enjoyment of the ATV experience was somewhat hindered by my family's apprehension to sliding around dirt corners and trying to go as fast as possible. There was one smooth downhill I figured I had to take to top speed out of the principle I wanted to simply see how fast I could get our rented Polaris. And once again the over 30 mph warning was largely spectacle as even going downhill while gunning it only achieved a speed of about 35.

We made our first stop at a beautiful top vista marked by a totem pole, that had the most panoramic view I had ever saw. According to out guide one could see Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon....of which I suppose he was correct. I could have stayed there for hours but was on the clock and still wanted a few more opportunities to give my children whiplash. Gramma was sure having a good time though.

After that beautiful view we tried to follow the map but after a series of confusing mishaps ended up being slightly lost in the expanse that served to be the rugged Utah wilderness. Alex kept asking if we were lost, and I told him everything was just fine, but truth be told after passing a few dilapidated trailers and shacks with crudely drawn “no trespassing” signs I started getting visions of deliverance entering into my stream of thought. Gramma was sure having a good time though.

Letting the Kids Drive...I figured if I let my 10 year old drive what difference did an open door make?

The Magic Totem Pole

Soon we came to an expanse of smooth dirt road to which Gramma suggested I let the kids sit on my lap and pilot the vehicle. How could I turn that down? We spent the next few minutes letting the kids sit on my lap and drive. My white trash side emerged once again when I looked at the cargo space on the back of the ATV and wished their was a cooler with some cold beer to complete the effect. Gramma was sure having a good time though.

After the kids took their turn the wife asked to drive which I was fine with. As mentioned before though the Autopia speed morphed into Jungle Cruise speed to the point where I was almost giving a running commentary on Trader Joe, Schweitzer Falls, and tigers protecting napping Zebras. Gramma was sure having a good time though.

Soon I was back in the seat and with time running out spent the remember of the trip gunning the atv at full speed sliding into corners, doing donuts, and exploring some of the back areas that featured a paint ball course as well as a small dirt track. Good times....well worth the price of rental.

Back at the recreation area we check the atv back in and soon it was Zip line time. We were relived when my youngest passed the weight check and was allowed to zip line with the others. With video camera in hand I was able to record the event live. As I stood in the field under the line to record the event for posterity I was able to get my wife and the kids taking turns on the zip line, and soon noticed a small crowd forming outside the building which housed the zip line. Putting my glasses on I realized the people from inside the building had all come out to witness my 71 year old mother do the Zip Line.

As she took a leap off the step, a roar of applause, whoops, and hollers met my mother as she soared through the Utah sky. It was a bit surreal actually. I was very happy though, it was a moment I wont soon forget and the whole trip was a beautiful event that was priceless. The staff was nice enough to let the whole crew do another zip from the line before it closed for the evening and a good time appeared to be had by all.

We made it back to our vacation home for the final night, I cracked a bottle of Cabernet and cooked the remaining meat products on the grill and was a bit melancholy this was to be the last night of what was a very special occasion for so many reasons. To be able to share so many events with my parents, my children, and my wife made me realize(for about the millionth time) how lucky and blessed I truly am. No matter what the employment situation may be, no matter how uncertain the future, no matter what the cloudy financial situation may be....I was the richest man in Zion. I thought of how many people probably had all of lifes luxury and wealth, but never experienced the love, the comradeship, and outright enjoyment of familial companionship I had experienced over the last four days.

And the fact the next day was to be met by an 8-10 hour drive back to OC made the moment all the more special. But rest assured readers, I will spare the blog entry about the ride back.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Zion Day 2; Scenery Upgrade

I woke feeling like I had no sleep at all. And being the pull out bed from the couch in the cabin appeared to be lopsided, with a few of the braces looking bent and out of sort which made the mattress lean from left to right at about a 10 degree angle meant, as tired as I was, I still slept an uneasy rest.

We had a big day ahead of us though and as poorly as I slept, knew there was no time to lose in A)we had to check out at 11am to move to our newer, posher digs, and B)it was the first time my Parents were visiting Zion, which of course meant me being the expert with all of my one, count em', one previous visit meant either a glorious moment or one from the “what the hell was I thinking?” file.

As we began to pack I experienced the first benefit of Zion Ponderosa, and our cabin lodging meant I could walk over to the cafe/restaurant and fill up my big blue decades old coffee mug and the $2.50 price was well worth it, as was my breakfast of day old Costco sandwich, strawberry shortcake cups....minus strawberries and whipped cream, and a handful of baby swiss flavored Cheez It's which was rapidly becoming my favorite snack of all time, running neck and neck with Snyder's Buffalo Wing flavored pretzelsbits which I covered a couple of years ago when we camped at Lake Lopez.

We packed and headed out on the road and as I promised my family, I stopped at the first attractive looking turnout and made everyone get out and take a quick mini hike that I billed as “hiking preseason.” Truth be told, I kind of wanted to gauge my parents attitude and from this determine what trails we could walk and which we would avoid at all cost. And as luck would have it, we had a nice hike and every seemed content and happy.

We entered the main parking lot and were lucky enough to find a parking spot even though there were signs posted everywhere that lot of was full and cars must park in the city and take the Springdale UT shuttle to get back into the park. We filled our water containers and hit the first shuttle content to do the River Walk trail which is one of the easier trails in the camp.

And much to my surprise, my mother seemed to really enjoy it. As a matter of fact, even though she had knee replacement surgery a few years ago she was leading the charge. As we walked through the huge expanse of rock that accompanied us on both sides, she was was a merely a blip on the forward views as what I thought would originally was going to be “stop if you need to stop” turned into “is she ever going to stop.” Dad meanwhile was content to hang in a shady spot and enjoy the scenery, and quite frankly, my ill advised foray into Scout Leader, had made me a bit jealous he had the option that I didn't. And the walk on the river walk is always a bit bitter sweet as it is the trailhead to “the Narrows,” one of the most famous and picturesque parts of the park...but also can feature knee high water and some rough currents which sometime does not always go hand in hand with camping with the family.

The hike was also noted for the overaggressive squirrels in the park who not only jump on your lap to try and get a snack from you, but would also climb on your back pack and literally attempt to open it to get what every the could..I'm guessing the squirrels in the park were probably famliar with every flavor of power bar in existence. I also noted the signs that had graphic injuries from squirrel bites were gone which made me sad, nothing more I like the being out in the middle of nature with huge signs featuring a bleeding hand. It was Zion's version of the lady who smokes through her trachea.

We stopped for lunch at the Zion lodge, which was quite nice and not too shabby for food quality. I once had the worst meal of my life at the restaurant at the top of the Aerial Tramway in Palm Springs by which all other park restaurants are judged. And this was not too bad, I had a Utah microbrew lager, which was refreshing after the days activities. I later stopped by the one liquor store in town and drew a smile with the same Utah Microbrew offerings....the best name being “Polygamy Porter.”

We finished our lunch and refilled our water containers at one of the many parks Spring Water Taps. They basically take the parks own spring water, treat it, and then have various spigots around the park for hikers and campers to stay hydrated with. A very nice touch and sensible arrangement given the heat and the terrain. I cant help but think if Zion were California some dopey bureaucrat would be charging 2 bucks for a 10 oz bottle of water.

It was the midday and we made the walk up to weeping rock. The trail was not far but certainly was fairly steep. The wife was concerned it may be too step for my mother but fueled by her best day ever she made good time, made all the sweeter by 3 deer foraging by the trail roughly 15 yards from us. One was a young male, was just starting to sprout some antlers. They were nice enough to pose for us.

We made the final steps to weeping rock which is always a great experience. Not only is the view phenomenal, but the reason it is called “weeping rock” is because the moisture from the top of the mountain filters through the rock which gets released on this overlook which creates this amazing rain type effect. In the heat the drops felt great falling on the top of my head, and I wasn't the first as many of the hikers were using the raindrops to moisten their bandannas and hats. I even found a consistent trickle of water that I opened my mouth to and drank from...the water was cool and had a slightly miner-ally quality to it....not surprising there as it was filtering and falling from the rocky granite.

By this time my mother was in full Zion mode and wanted to tackle all of the trails, including the Angels landing, but my dad wasn't fairing so well and by this time the summers afternoon heat was in full effect which meant it was time to hit the grocery store and get back to the lodge. We were fortunate in that we settled for a cabin for the first night but the next two nights meant we were moving to a full vacation home.

Arriving to the home at Zion Ponderosa was a total 180 from the cabin- spacious, a strong wifi signal, a hot tub, bbq, enough real beds to sleep our party, and a beautiful view from the living room that made the drive and the toil completely worth while. And being a fully stocked vacation home, meant we had a real coffee maker, a full size fridge, laundry, wine glasses, and everything one could ever long from on a vacation including directv. I wasn't quite sure if this was the best vacation home ever or the cabin we stayed in the previous night just sucked.

I bought some chicken from the market along with some bbq sauce and some sausages, I was hoping the kitchen would have salt and pepper and some tongs-Ill be damned if they didn't have fajita seasoning, all purpose seasoning, and a full bbq kit with tongs and every other conceivable bbq tool one could every want. I was almost thinking a red apron would be packed in there somewhere as well to complete the BBQ supply 101. Hell, they even had a heavy duty metal cheese grater and a lemon zester as well. 

To finish the blog entry, the rest of the night was enjoying our bbq with a bottle of Concannon Merlot, spending some time in the hot tub, a quick shower, and then a good nights rest on a mattress that was stable, level, and devoid of metal framework protruding into the lower vertebrae.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Zion 2013, Zion with Parents and Kids

Rented van stocked with supplies, parents, and kids and my big blue coffee filled with some of 7/11's finest; I could not have been happier. I love a long road trip. I really do. Probably the reason I enjoy Kerouac's “On the Road” and the final chapters of “Farewell to Arms” where the main characters set out for some epic journey. And there is something about being on the road when the sun rises that I find exhilerating, and this morning was no different.

We were on the road for a 3 night, 4 day trip to Zion National Park. For me it was the second time I was fortunate to visit which I covered in my previous blog entry about Zion National Park, but was extra excited for my folks; for whom it was all new. My mother had mentioned it was always something she wanted to do, along with zip lining, and as chance would have it the Utah Camping Resort we were staying at happened to have that as well which meant dear old mom would be able to scratch two items off of her bucket list.

And unlike last time we visited, we were driving straight through without any one night stay overs in Vegas or State Line....which I loved and energized me. And apart from a few snafu with the roof top luggage rack, and the loose flap that slapped the roof of the van any time I went over 80 mph's, we had some fun stopping by the Del Taco in Barstow, a truck stop in Mesquite, and the Costco in St George which oddly enough, featured no Mormon women in bouffant hairdo's wearing pastel colored dresses.

We spoke about how St George was very, very close to the town in Nebraska and then I posed a real brain teaser to my wife if she would rather live in St George by Zion, or by 29 Palms near Joshua Tree.
We finally settled on it was better to be in California, close to the things we hold near and dear although quite frankly I was leaning towards Utah, probably moreso out of the adage of “familiarity breeds contempt” then anything else.

We made the drive through Springdale and I always love the hipster vibe it gives off and the generally amicable demeanor of the locals, of which this afternoon was a grand total of one. We stopped by the SOL market to pick up additional staples as well as to just see what they offered as we would be back in town the next day, but more importantly, staying the next night in a mountain lodge that had a gas grill which of course meant I had to BBQ something. Not a bad selection either, it was almost like Whole Foods mixed with Stater Bros as seen in Sedona Arizona. We bought a couple of Mexican Pepsi's which paired well with the Baby Swiss Cheez Its I brought along with us for road snacks.

We entered the park and had though originally maybe hiking a quick, short trail, but given that I woke up at 4:30AM and after an 8-9 hour drive and the hour added through the time change, and also given we were still 45 minutes from the lodge was probably a no go for the hike. And I always am jealous of those lucky enough to get campsites right within the Park. I figure there surley can not be any better place to camp as A)there are hundreds of trails and every one sure to have a great view and B)the Virgin river runs right through the park which means you take a quick dip if it gets too hot. This time my feelings were a bit adjusted however as there were signs posted everywhere about fire warning meaning no campers were allowed to have a campfire. For me, camping with a campfire is life decaf coffee or nonalcoholic beer. Especially with the fire in Colorado Springs recently, it made sense I understood-and actually this one time made me happy I was not camping there.

My folks were really enjoying the majestic views and the scenery. After we passed through the tunnel that takes you into Mt Carmel, we pulled off of a couple of the view points to get some fresh air and take it all in. The weather was perfect, while it was 90 degrees in Springdale(according to anyhow), inside the park was perfect with a nice breeze and a comforting sun, as opposed to the blistering, searing sun we faced at Joshua Tree a few weeks previous.

We pulled off at one random turnout and were taking some pictures when a car pulled behind us, and stepping out was a woman with a huge professional grade camera. She gestured to the hill across from us and as we looked a huge bighorn sheep was making its way across the bluff. It was fairly good size and I did my best to take a few pictures from all of the camera devices we carried. They are not uncommon by any stretch for the area, but it was the first time I saw one in the wild. And soon, the 2 cars on the turnout turned into 4 cars and a van with everyone busting out cameras to take pictures of new big horned friend.

We got back into the car and finally made out way to our temporary home that was the Zion Ponderosa. We had a cabin for the first night and a luxury home for the next two. It was nice to unpack, crack a cold beer, and take a stroll of the grounds. Later, took a quick jaunt to the pool and while the conditions may have been excellent for those guest from colder climates, for us it seemed pretty chilly so were content to sit in the hot tub and relax for a bit before heading back to the cabin for our Costco dinner we bought previously.

For some reason, camping food always tastes better and while we in a cabin as opposed to sleeping in an actual tent, the principle held with the Costco Ceaser Salad and Turkey Swiss wrap seeming like Filet Mignon washed down Silver Oak. It was comforting and after a quick shower I was ready for some sleep yet still excited for tomorrows adventure. And once again my california blood was not use to the time change in conjunction with geography meant the sun not even starting to set well after 8:15pm. I was kind of hoping the kids may have been tired and gone to bed early but alas the late sunset and the wife's decision to give the kids some instant hot cocoa mix meant it was not to be. 9:45pm never felt as much like midnight at it did on this occasion. I still awaited the next couple of days with eagerness and what awaited for us. With the views offered up at Zion and a few days to hike some new trails for views not seen by those merely taking the tram tour, I could not wait to get started.

My attempt at a panarama show...and the pesky sun ruining brilliance.

Big Horn Sheep.....others said the sheep in the area were undersized, I am pretty sure this one was 'roiding.