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Southwest National Park Vacation Report

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Suey at It's All About Books asked for a vacation report. Since she and a few more of you were kind enough to suggest alternates when the government shutdown threatened to shutdown my National Park Vacation as well, I owe you all an update.

Note: I didn't share any of our pictures, I just linked to other sites.

When the shutdown was announced, we initially thought, "Oh, we have 12 days for them to resolve this. We don't have to worry about it." And then days kept passing by. We went back and forth a lot, trying to decide what to do. We finally decided to just go for it as planned. The state parks in the area still looked great and if the National Parks did reopen while we were on vacation, we would be in place to take advantage of it. What a relief to have that decision made!

The very next day (I believe), Utah announced they would open the National Parks on the state budget! Woohoo! That took care of Zion and Bryce Canyon, our first two stops! A day or two later, Arizona announced they were opening the Grand Canyon for a few days, including the first two days we planned to be there! We were pretty much set!

We flew into Las Vegas the first day. We were kind of exhausted but we did go over to the  MGM Grand to see Cirque du Soleil's Ka show. Holy cow. We were blown away! Neither of us has seen a Cirque show before and this one was awesome. A ship sunk, the stage was tilting every which way and the performers were swinging out over the audience. We loved it!


The next day we drove to Zion National Park. We loved seeing the desert landscape on the drive. It was so different to what we're used to. The closer we got to Zion, the more impressed we were. But by  the time we actually got to the Park, the weather was very cloudy and rain showers were coming through periodically. We had packed our rain jackets though, so we headed straight out. Even through the cloudy skies, we could tell Zion was a special place. Words just can't describe it. We did a couple of easy hikes and called it a day. The next day was sunny and beautiful and we fell in love. We started the Angel's Landing trail  but I hung out on Scout Overlook while Luis actually went out to the "landing." He got some beautiful photos! We continued on with the West Rim Trail for a while and we loved how the landscape changed once we got away from the main canyon. That took up most of our day but we also hiked to the Emerald Pools.

The next day we drove to Bryce Canyon, where the weather just couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to do. We had some sun, some clouds, and even a few flakes of snow while we sat on the canyon rim eating our lunch. I was not happy with the flakes but my husband was thrilled. That landscape was kind of freakish. All those red spires looming up. It felt like we should be filming a movie set on Mars or something. We hiked into the canyon on the Navajo Loop Trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. At the very, very bottom we felt more like we were in a pine forest than in the middle of that weird canyon!

The next day we took off for the Grand Canyon. We have isolated little communities here in the Appalachian Mountains where I live, but even to me some of the houses we saw were ridiculously remote! I kept thinking about a part in Lonesome Dove where they're talking about a woman living on the prairie who killed herself (and her kids?) because she just couldn't stand the sound of the wind anymore. I could actually almost see how that would happen as we drove past those solitary houses.

We didn't see a whole lot of the Grand Canyon on the first day because we got there so late. We did get to check out the Desert Watchtower, which was really cool. We saw our first elk as we were driving along and got to see and hear a bull bugling. So exciting! (I just found out that elk are referred to as bulls and cows instead of bucks and does. You learn something every day.) We then went out to watch the sunset. Wow. We were a bit late to catch a lot of color, but it was still beautiful. Of course we wound up walking back to the car in the dark and all I could think about were the Mountain Lion crossing signs we had seen along the roads! That night we heard that the government shutdown had ended so we didn't have to worry about cutting our Grand Canyon vacation short. Yay!

On Thursday we watched the sunrise, which we were a little late for again, but I thought I did a great job getting out as early as I did. I am not an early riser, to say the least! We walked the Trail of Time, which had all the different rock layers identified for us and gave us an idea about how long it had taken to carve the Grand Canyon. We started at the end that was supposed to be the present and every 1 step was 1 year. It slowly increased until every step or so was 1 million years and the whole trail was just over a mile long. I still can't wrap my mind around it! We rode the shuttle bus out Hermit Road that day, stopping at every overlook along the way. Each one was more spectacular, I swear. That evening we mis-timed our shuttle stops and had to hike about a mile back to our car in the dark again. Luckily there was a full moon but I was still thinking about those Mountain Lion crossing signs. I did not want to be Mountain Lion Dinner on my vacation!

We had decided to hike the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden on Friday but the more of the trail I saw from the rim on Thursday, the more worried I got. I'm a mountain girl and I've been working out steadily for about two years now but, man, that trail looked steep. All the warnings all over the park and in the newsletter about being careful and knowing your limits, and how many people die in the inner canyon or have to be rescued didn't help matters one bit. We decided to go for it anyway and headed out fairly early the next morning. I'm so glad we did it! It was such a different perspective to get down below the rim. We met so many people who were inspiring! The most notable were an older couple. I think she was 76 and he was 80 and they were on a backpacking trip from the North Rim to the South Rim. Wow. It was his first time but it was her sixth. The last time she did it in one day was when she was 70. Holy cow! And I was worried about doing the 4.5 mile hike with a 3000 foot elevation change at my age? We've got this. I just hope we still have it when we're their age! Anyway, we made it down to Indian Garden, which was a nice little oasis in the middle of all that desert-y landscape. We wanted to hike out to Plateau Point and get a look at the Colorado River, but we were a little worried about time. Everything we saw said to allow twice as much time to get up the canyon as it took to get down, and going by that, it was time to turn around. But this mountain girl was ready to be done with that trail. I started up and just went. It really didn't take much longer for us to climb back up than it did to go down, so we would have had plenty of time to see the river! Better to be safe though. I didn't want to be caught in the dark yet again, thinking about Mountain Lion Crossings!

The last day we just took it pretty easy. We rode the shuttle on the Kaibab Rim Route and checked out those overlooks. My husband still wanted to get a picture of a bull elk in the woods, not on the road, so we decided to rent bicycles late in the afternoon and hope we caught some feeding. It worked! He was so excited. You're supposed to stay something like 100 yards away from wildlife, but they stayed right around the trails. What can you do? When you come around a curve in the trail and they're right there, there's not much of an option. I could have touched some of the elk, they were so close. Awesome!

The next day we drove back to Las Vegas. As we were driving along, I was snapping pictures again, as I always was in the car, when I saw a bighorn sheep on the side of the road. That was the one thing my husband wanted to see that we hadn't. Brakes squealed, we turned around, and we actually found a little flock of them. Luis was thrilled! Next we drove over the Hoover Dam and walked out on the Pat Tillman bridge to get a good look at it (the dam, not the ram). We were tired of being in the car though, so we didn't do the tour or anything. We got back to Vegas, checked into our hotel, and headed out to really see Las Vegas. It was so crowded! I wasn't expecting it to be so bad on a Sunday night! There were a couple of times where we got caught up in huge tour groups and I just had to speed up and drag my husband along as I got away from them. I hate to get boxed in like that. Our favorite thing was the Fountains at the Bellagio. They were amazing. I could have watched them for hours, assuming no one crowded me too badly!

I'm pretty sure this is the show we watched...

Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and urge anyone to visit any of these parks. Maybe not in early October though, just in case the government decides to shut down again! Our very favorite was Zion. There was something about the light there that was just magical. It was also a nice mix of canyon, river, and trees.

Have you been to any of these parks? What did you think?

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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