Saturday, July 9, 2016

Southwest Park Trip Part 1: Vegas to Zion

Last fall we hit the road for the most amazing vacation through some of the Southwest's best national parks.  We've been lucky enough to have vacationed in Spain, Paris, Costa Rica... my husband and I both agree that our trip through Arizona and Utah was the best of anything we've done so far! You can check the full itinerary here, but we're getting you started at the very beginning in today's post -- flying into Las Vegas.

Why We Chose Vegas Honestly, it was an easy choice.  We could get direct flights from NC to Vegas (direct flights are really rare for us), and both flight and car rental prices for Las Vegas tends to be cheaper than other nearby airports.  Plus, knowing we were "roughing it" for the next week made me want to at least start out the trip in a crush of people, glitz, and good food. We rented an SUV for the trip because we knew we'd be logging a lot of car time, some of which would be on less than ideal road conditions.  This especially came in handy driving around Monument Valley and in Arches National Park.  

After picking up our rental car, we took a little drive down the strip like normal tourists and then set upon a Target to stock up on supplies. I'd recommend investing in:
  • bottled water (we got two 24 packs and that made us through the entire week)
  • first aid supplies like bandaids, neosporin, hand sanitizer (unless you already packed those)
  • sunscreen
  • nonperishable food/snacks:  we got 2 tubs of trail mix, a few boxes of granola bars, beef jerky (you can't have too much), a bag of fuji apples, and a box of cereal (we are big time cereal munchers)
  • a bottle of wine and a bottle opener if you always forget yours (don't judge)
  • anything you forgot to pack --socks, sunglasses, toothbrush, batteries...  
After loading up the car we made it priority number one to eat an obscene amount of food before making the 2.5 hour drive to Zion National Park.  There were so many choices, but because we have watched an embarrassing number of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives we had already staked out our destination months in advance: the Asian-fusion paradise called Bachi Burger

The oxtail chili cheese fries were a meal in their own.  And worth every calorie.

My man loves a good burger.
So no surprise, but this was hands down the best meal of our trip. 
Uncomfortably stuffed and with half of my burger relegated to a to-go box (to be happily consumed by Mark in a few hours -- no food ever goes long uneaten in my house), we headed out towards Zion National Park. 

Where We Stayed

The Driftwood Lodge was a fantastic place to stay, located just outside of Zion's main entrance in Springdale, Utah.  A free shuttle system runs through Springdale, bringing hotel guests to and from the park from morning til night.  The shuttle pick up is just right outside of the hotel and couldn't have been more convenient.  Our rooms were huge -- like I felt guilty with having so much space but maybe I had just gotten too accustomed to European hotel standards. We even had a little porch outside with a bistro table and chairs, perfect for uncorking a bottle of wine and enjoying the view.  And the view is spectacular.  The hotel backs up to a lovely mountain view with a little pasture where a neighbor's horses lazily grazed.  Another perk? Their complimentary breakfast buffet was first class. Fueling up on bacon and coffee every morning with that kind of view was just a little peak at what we'd have in store for us at Zion. 

Pull up a seat; this was the breathtaking view from our room at the Driftwood Lodge
I loved Driftwood Lodge, but I have to say food in Springdale in general is not so good.  We ate at a few different places over our 3 night stay, and it's definitely a town that suffers from the typical tourist food dilemma.  Keep expectations low and you'll be fine.

About Zion
Hands down, Zion National Park should be the top destination on your itinerary list.  You could easily spend a week just exploring this park. The convenience is unparalleled here, as you'll soon realize when you start hitting up the other parks on this itinerary.   There are well-maintained bathrooms (with actual toilets), picnic areas, well-marked trails, and insanely easy access with their fantastic shuttle service. There are hikes for all ages, and we spent almost our entire visit to Zion National Park with people in their late 50s or older. And believe me, it was inspiring because some of these older ladies were totally kicking my butt when we were hiking up Angel's Landing. #NoExcuses

Cost: $25 for a 7 day pass

And the views.  It's unlike anything you've ever seen.





The Patriarchs
Because we were only there for two full days, we had to pick just two major hikes to go on.  I'd definitely recommend trying to get a third day if your trip allows because we had to leave out the Observation Point hike and I've heard great things about this one too.  Just a reason to come back when I'm a ridiculously in shape 65 year old.

Top Hikes: 
Angel's Landing -- heart thumping excitement; perfect to challenge your fear of heights
The Narrows -- do you like hiking in waist deep water? 
Observation Point -- we didn't do this one but you get great views of the park and a view of Angel's Landing down below. Takes about 6 hours

Shorter Hikes:
Emerald Pools -- Not my fave but let me explain. There had been very little rain when we were there (well until the day we hiked the Narrows at least, but that's another story), so the "pools" were really just little mud puddles.  Not scenic and crawling with toddlers and young kids splashing in the mud, running and nearly toppling the more elderly visitors that had chosen Emerald Pools because it's one of the easier hikes in the valley.  I heard one older woman catching her breath on a rock whispering to her husband as she shook her head in dismay at the havoc of kids let loose like it was a mud and rock version of Chuck E Cheese "Their parents should have just taken them to the beach."  Okay, not all trips are for ages 4-6 and maybe hiking the most popular elderly person trail in a national park is one of them.  But when I have kids I'm sure I'll feel differently. 
Weeping Rock -- If you're hot its nice to get a splash of water here as you walk "under" a little waterfall of rivulets.  
Riverside Walk -- This is the start to the Narrows Hike, but even you don't plan on doing the Narrows, it's a nice little hike on a paved path that runs you right by the Virgin River.

I'd also really recommend just driving through Zion and stopping when you find something you want to explore.  The changes in landscape are unbelievable.  We got out and jumped around on the sides of mountains that looked like sandcastles and got to share the road with a herd of bighorn sheep.  Not a bad way to spend an evening.






Want more Zion?  We're talking Angel's Landing and The Narrows next!

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