A Week in the West: Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks


Ya know that feeling where you’re dying to get away and do something spontaneous? That urge to light a fire under your own butt via some exciting adventure? I had that feeling most of my final semester of college. In my head I’d to be spending the entire following summer in a van, road tripping the USA. What with family obligations and work, this summer-long adventure seemed to slip away as quickly as it had entered my mind. It was nearly August. I was about to head into grad school. The thought of not following through with a road trip rubbed at me until, next thing I knew, I had a full-fledged week-long adventure planned, just in time to beat summer’s end. Sort of. Let’s call it an outline. Now all I needed were companions.


Lucky for me, my brother is down for anything (and my sister at that, but she had prior obligations). Fast forward and my boyfriend (what!?) and brother’s girlfriend were on board. It was lovely meeting Mads, my brother’s girlfriend of 6 days, at the airport before takeoff. Not that I can talk – Dillon and I had been dating for a whopping one month. But hey, what better way to get to know someone right? And the more the merrier!



Now that the back-story’s over, come along on what became our once-in-a-lifetime journey!


LAS VEGAS:


I highly recommend anyone looking to do a similar road trip fly into Las Vegas. We rented a four-door WHATCHAMCCALLIT car, drove down the strip and headed towards Springdale, Utah, the gateway town for Zion National Park. PRO TIP: If you’re under 25 (but at least 21 years old), you can still rent a car. They just charge you an extra fee. Since it was 1:00 in the morning when we landed, we spent the night in a town called Mesquite, halfway between Vegas and Zion. I’d like to take a moment to NOT recommend staying in Virgin River Hotel and Casino. Unless of course you enjoy the smell of cat pee. Builds character?


ZION NATIONAL PARK:


The next morning brought with it stunning desert views and unique landmasses that had been hidden in darkness the night before. We stopped for a bite at Peggy Sue’s Diner and got after the hour and a half drive we had to go. A BEAUTIFUL drive! I suggest checking out the Visitor’s Center upon arriving at Zion. We were given hiking suggestions based on the time we had, conditions, and our abilities.


Weeping Rock Trail was short and easy, but led to a wonderfully unique spot where water drips from the canyon side. We also squeezed in Hidden Canyon Trail, a semi-challenging 2.5mi hike that gave us a taste of what Zion had to offer. Around every switchback was a stunning view of Zion Canyon and the world below. It will take your breath away – the beauty AND the incline. Later, we treated ourselves to some Mexican food at Casa De Amigos. Awesome outdoor seating and complimentary chips and salsa… yes, please! Margaritas went down easy after a day of travel and hiking, as did our delicious meals.


That evening we took to grabbing a 12-pack and heading to where we’d be glamping for a night, about 25 minutes outside of the park entrance (with some obligatory roadside pullovers for a photo shoot). Under Canvas Zion is basically a canvas tent village nestled between gorgeous canyons in the middle of rural Utah – a place you need to see for yourself. Oh yeah, and with complimentary coffee and tea.


You bet we paid extra to have coffee delivered to our tents at sunrise. When in Zion. I believe the photos speak for themselves, but I’ll just say that glamping in Zion means beers around a community campfire, sleeping on a plush king size mattress complete with desert breezes, endless stars, and awakening to the sun casting it’s rays on red orange canyon formations right outside your private tent porch. And a hand-delivered coffee tray awaiting right outside your tent. Needless to say, I’ll be scoping out ALL the Under Canvas locations throughout the U.S.




Day two in Zion consisted of tackling Observation Point hike. 8 miles, 4-6 hours, and moderately strenuous, this hike would turn out to be both the most terrifying and awe-inspiring part of our entire trip. We encountered similar views to the previous day’s trails, but soon found ourselves diving deeper in to the canyons, different landscapes at every turn. Echo Canyon was about one hour into the hike and had gorgeous scenery of a slot canyon and less steep terrain. The slow rumble of thunder had been looming in the distance, but only enough to provide a shaded day and added ambience. Was I slightly anxious at the thought of a thunderstorm? Yes. But whatever, we carried on.


It started at nearly 2100 feet elevation. Rain and then diamond sized hail that would leave welts all over my body. A flash flood that made the trails invisible under the rushing water and had dirt, sand and water pouring over the walls of the canyon… and onto us. It was movie-like. A time when I was convinced we may well be on the news that night for having slid off the side of a canyon. I honestly couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the rushing water and hail bouncing off myself and everything around me. What seemed like an eternity passes before it slowed to a drizzle. We descended the hike in record time. Survive flash flood hailstorm in Zion. Check.


The plan had been to camp in a campground that night with a tent and sleeping bag that we rented (the budget only allowed for one night of glamping). But after kissing the ground upon return from our hike and our welted-selves being sufficiently soaked to the bone – plus the rain in the forecast - we decided we’d find a motel instead. Off to Page, Arizona we went.


PAGE, AZ:


This wasn’t in the plans. In all honesty, we booked this motel using the few moments of internet service we conjured up in Zion. It was on the route to the Grand Canyon so it made sense. Little did we know, we were making a stop in the town home to the famous Horseshoe Bend, at the very start of the Grand Canyon. The warm, dry motel was a welcome stop after the day we’d had and we set out to get a few beers and dinner.

The next day this is what we beheld:



It is a sight that leaves one speechless. Who lets people get this close to the edge!? Selfie at your own risk, I guess.


CORAL PINK SAND DUNES STATE PARK:


This is an incredible stop to make between the two parks. We happened to be nearly the only people in the entire park, a dark thunderstorm was in the distance and the sand was an incredible barely-wet, yet incredibly soft texture.



GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK:


It was exciting driving into the Grand Canyon and getting teaser views along the way. A quick stop in Cameron to pick up tent rentals that we arranged and we were in the park. Sidenote: I found a woman, Stacey, on AirBnB who rents camping supplies in the Grand Canyon area. I mean it was PERFECT. We met up and she gave us a tent, 4 sleeping bags, 4 sleeping pads, cooking supplies, 4 pillows, and 4 campfire chairs. We simply booked a site at Mather Campground and were set on accommodations.


Even in person, the views at the Grand Canyon are nearly impossible to take in. It was so vast, my eyes struggled to comprehend the sheer size. The landscape is one that seems unearthly, making us question the enormous lengths of time that it took to form. We continued this deep examination of the world and ourselves over a campfire and craft beer that first night.



The next morning we agreed to get after the South Kaibab Trail - a challenging day hike. There are beautiful viewing sites along the trail, making the hike down fly by, switchback after switchback. This trail consisted of three major stopping points - Ooh Aah Point, Cedar Ridge (bathrooms, yay!), and Skeleton Point. The park warns against going past Cedar Ridge on a summer day hike. Cue us hiking to Skeleton Point in an Arizona August. We descended more than 2000 feet over 3 miles down, meeting up with a looming thunderstorm at Skeleton Point, the trail’s first view of the Colorado River below. I’m talking still waay below.


I’m not saying this was a dumb decision by us, hiking so far, but the journey back up was not easy - think 2 hours straight on a stair stepper but the stairs are ⅓ of your height high. Also our water supplies were seriously low, so yeah. 3 miles straight back up the canyon and we were feeling GOOD once we arrived at the top. I mean that. It was an amazing feeling to accomplish it.


After hunting down some showers ($2 in quarters, heads up!), we cooked over the fire and kicked back.


The next morning we packed up, met Stacey in Flagstaff, AZ to return the camping supplies, and headed towards Phoenix, where we’d be flying out of. We made a stop in Sedona along the way. PLOT TWIST! My uncle, aunt, and two cousins were in Sedona. I discovered this via my cousin Holly’s Instagram. What a time to be alive. We met up with them along the Cathedral Rock Trail and got some unexpected family time in.


PHOENIX:


Later that night, we arrived in Phoenix. I melted into the bed at Found:RE Hotel that afternoon, got an unnecessary mojito in the pool with Dillon, and took a much needed real shower. The four of us got dinner and called it a night soon after, as we had a 4:00 wake up call to head to the airport. Next time, Phoenix deserves a thorough exploring.


The time we spent together out West not only created bonds, it was a testament to the beauty and power of nature. And it didn't satisfy my yearning for adventure, but rather fed it, and left me craving more.

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My path to loving travel was unconventional. Let's be real tho, there's no wrong way to grow to love it. Read more on my path here

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