Monday, August 31, 2015

More Adventures In Utah: Zion National Park


Fly to Las Vegas and then drive to Springdale, Utah (approximately three hours). Spend the afternoon hiking in Zion National Park.  (Fun fact - Utah has five national parks, but Zion was its first.) Spend the night at the La Quinta Inn in Springdale.


Go on an ATV tour near Zion National Park.



Fly to Las Vegas and drive to Springdale, Utah. Arrive in the late afternoon, check into the La Quinta, and spend the evening relaxing.  Springdale is a great town. It is very small, but very cute with a number of restaurants and art galleries. So far, on this adventure to see all of the national parks, Moab and Springdale are my favorite national park towns. Interestingly, St. George, Utah, the major town en route between Las Vegas and Springdale is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. (We didn't get a chance to explore it though, unfortunately.)

The La Quinta Inn in Springdale was a great hotel option. We chose it because it allows dogs, but it is close to the park, new, clean, and it has a great pool and hot tub. We also received cookies upon check in (major bonus!). In retrospect, the Cable Mountain Lodge also would have been a great choice because it is closer to Zion National Park and therefore you only have to take one bus to see the attractions instead of two, but overall, I have no complaints about the hotel and would stay there again.


Sleep in, have breakfast at the hotel, and then swing by the Zion Guru to talk about gear needed to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park. Stopping at the Zion Guru  (conveniently located right next to our hotel) was great; the man running the store was incredibly helpful, friendly, and funny (and a Michigan grad much to Ryan's liking). He convinced us to rent boots and walking sticks to use in our hike on the Narrows. Renting these was a great move as it made the hike through the river much easier and much more enjoyable. Hiking the Narrows is a must do in Zion. The hike takes you through a river, and the trail is actually the river itself. We probably hiked about three or four miles, so we didn't hike all of the Narrows, but we definitely enjoyed it. To get to the Narrows, we took the Springdale town bus to the entrance station at Zion National Park where we switched to the national park bus which we took to the Narrows (and then around the park later that day). 

Hiking the Narrows

After hiking the Narrows, we had lunch at the Red Rock Grill at the Zion Lodge (where it would have been great to stay had we been able to get a reservation). We then set out to hike Angel's Landing. (Angel's Landing and the Narrows are Zion National Park's most famous hikes.) Angel's Landing is a difficult hike, but well worth it for the view.

Angel's Landing

Climbing Angel's Landing

After leaving the park, we grabbed a quick dinner at Amigo's and then went to bed - exhausted after a busy day of touring. We were on the second to last bus out of the park after a long day of hiking; luckily the Springdale town bus sent a special bus to pick us up. (Springdale should consider having the town buses run for a certain amount of time after the park buses end.)

Because we were so tired on Friday, we ended up skipping the drive to Bryce Canyon on Saturday and just exploring Zion. Trying to do both parks in only a three day weekend was probably a bit too ambitious. It would have been totally do-able in a four day weekend though.


We woke up early and drove about 45 minutes to Hurricane, Utah to do a four hour ATV tour in Sand Hollow State Park. I was reluctant to do the ATV tour, as I had no real interest in ATV'ing and had some qualms about the environmental impact about ATV'ing in general. After getting over my initial fear of ATV'ing, I loved it. We saw some amazing sites, such as Jurassic Park, that we wouldn't have been able to see any other way. Our guide was great too, and taught us a lot about the local flora, fauna, and geology. I would definitely do another ATV tour. After ATVing, we had lunch at Wildcat Willies (recommended by our jeep guide). The lunch was great (order the turkey sandwich). We then spent the afternoon lounging by the pool before driving back to Vegas to catch flights home.

All in all, Zion ranks at the top of my national park trips. (Top parks so far include Zion, Arches, Yellowstone, Sequoia, Saguaro, and Carlsbad Cavern.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Utah Adventures: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks with some Salt Lake City and Park City thrown in

Labor Day of 2014 took me to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Getting to Arches and Canyonlands is easy from New York; we hopped a direct flight from JFK to Salt Lake City on Jet Blue. (Salt Lake City is about a 3.5 hour drive from Arches National Park.) We arrived in Salt Lake City close to midnight and drove about a half hour to Park City where we spent the night at the Hyatt Escala Lodge. We got a great deal with Priceline Name Your Own Price; the resort did not disappoint. Our room was huge and gorgeous with multiple fireplaces. We easily could have fit more than just the two of us in there. (The only downside to staying at the Hyatt Escala Lodge in the off season is that there is no room service. I also regret not bringing my dog; the Hyatt Escala Lodge is dog-friendly.)

Park City, Utah
We spent the first morning of our trip enjoying our luxurious room at the Hyatt Escala Lodge and seeing the beauty that is Park City. The real highlight of the day was visiting Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Temple Square is the seat of the Mormon Church (like visiting the Vatican for Catholics). Non-Mormons (like us) aren't allowed in the temple so we couldn't visit the temple, but we enjoyed taking a tour of Temple Square and learning about the Mormon religion. The tours are given by Mormon teenagers on their missions. Our tour guide, Natalie, was great. She and the other tour guide (whose name I don't remember) answered all of our questions. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and we could not have enjoyed the tour more. (The tour gives some background of the Mormon religion, and takes one into the visitor's center which contains Mormon art and an 11 foot statue of the Thorvaldsen's Christus (the savior).) A highlight of our visit included talking to a Mormon family whose daughter was celebrating her 12th birthday and therefore able to enter the temple for the first time. (Women are not allowed in all parts of the temple though.)

Thorvaldsen's Christus
Mormon Temple
After visiting Temple Square (and buying some souvenirs at the gift shop and mall across the street), we drove three and a half hours to Moab, Utah. The drive, in the dark, was long and boring - if you go, I suggest doing the drive during the day. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express in Moab. The hotel was great - amazing views of the red rocks in the distance and a fun swimming pool and hot tub (which was amazing after hiking)!!

Swimming at the Holiday Inn in Moab
Our first day in Moab (which is a cool town) took us to Canyonlands National Park. We signed up for a guided tour of Horseshoe Canyon with Navtec Expeditions. Our guide was great, and the hike was fantastic (though long). We hiked down the canyon where we traversed the floor until we found rock art dating from 2000 BC to AD 500. Our tour guide was great, and the tour was well-organized. That said, we probably could have done the hike on our own. A couple of us hikers made the mistake of not bringing enough water; luckily our guide helped us out, but we should have brought more ourselves. Also, if you do this hike, note that it is a long, all-day hike. (Swimming afterward and sitting in the hot tub felt great!)

Horseshoe Canyon
Horseshoe Canyon

The next day took us to the Moab Music Festival; a great music festival that we read about in a magazine in our hotel room in Park City. We did a hike with the music festival where we hiked with musicians to a nice red rock overlook where we enjoyed a classical music concert. Many of the hikers were elderly people who were slow hikers so we spent a while hanging out on the rocks waiting for the concert to start. The weather was gorgeous though so it was enjoyable. We were also some of the first from the group to return to Moab afterward.

Musicians coming out on the red rocks
Hike to concert

We spent the afternoon touring some of the arches in Arches National Park, and we spent the evening enjoying horseback riding at the Sorrel River Ranch. After horseback riding, we enjoyed more music at the Moab Music Festival at the Sorrel River Ranch. (The Sorrel River Ranch looked great; next time I travel to Moab, I hope to stay there!)
Delicate Arch

Our last morning in Moab was spent hiking in the Fiery Furnace. One has to hike Fiery Furnace with the guide unless one has hiked it before. None of us had hiked it before so we had to go this route. The rangers lead free tours of the Fiery Furnace, but unfortunately we did not sign up in time for one of the free tours. Luckily, we were able to sign up for a last minute Fiery Furnace guided hike with the Moab Adventure Center. This hike was great and a must do for anyone who goes to Moab.

Fiery Furnace
Arches in Fiery Furnace
Fiery Furnace
After hiking the Fiery Furnace, we drove the 3.5 hours back to Salt Lake City. En route we stopped in Provo, where we toured Brigham Young University and bought some candy and ice cream at Pop'n'Sweets Candy and Ice Cream Parlor. The ice cream parlor carries candy from around the world and makes great ice cream floats. Brigham Young University has a gorgeous campus. We read a number of articles about women at the university, all of which were quite interesting.

All in all, the national parks and learning about the Mormon religion, made for a great trip. I highly recommend the trip and it can be easily done in a long weekend!