From Death Valley to Las Vegas, baby! Started our Vegas trip by getting kicked out of a Walmart parking lot (our first ever on this trip and hopefully the last). It’s somewhat of a right of passage in the world of #vanlife. A knock on our door at 11pm sent Kate hiding under the covers and Jason talking with the security guard. Even though this Walmart had no signs posted about overnight parking and it was open 24/7 we apparently couldn’t stay there. We made our way to a 24 hour grocery store where at 4am we were woken up to the sound of someone power-washing the grocery carts next to our van. Besides that mishap we were able to meet up with our buddy Brad, stay in a hotel (hello indoor plumbing and a real bed) and drink too much while checking out the Vegas strip. Unfortunately, we had no luck at the casinos. As they say, “the house always wins.” Our hotel happened to be on the 13th floor, maybe that’s why we didn’t have much luck.
After Vegas, armed with a “just in case” puke bag for Kate’s brown bottle flu, we made our way to Zion NP in Utah! We went about our normal routine, finding a camping spot in the campground and making our way to the visitor’s center. Jason had read about a hike called “The Narrows,” a hike up river through a slot canyon. The ranger said it would be feasible but, very cold. Jason was all for renting the waterproof pants and boots and braving the cold….Katie was not. Usually, we are on the same page when it comes to our abilities and adventurous-ness but, not this time. Instead, we set out to hike “Angels Landing”, another popular hike in Zion that, looking back, was probably far more dangerous than “The Narrows.”
Angels Landing is a 5 mile round trip hike to the top of a rock formation that is described as, “so high, only angels can land there.” The first two miles of the ascent is a steep, switchback ridden trail that’ll have you huffing and puffing. The last half mile to the top, however, is where things get ridiculous. The trail turns into an extremely narrow path up a ridgeline. Gazing down either side of the path, steep drop-offs lead all the way to the bottom of the canyon (people have died on this hike).
Thoughtfully, the lovely people at Zion NP installed a chain railing for you to hold on to as you navigate up. At the top, views of the canyon are spectacular! We were amazed at how busy this trail was with hikers of all ages and abilities. Saw plenty of unprepared hikers, hiking without water or in flip flops. We often hike in Chaco sandals, but FLIP FLOPS?! Our time in Zion was unfortunately shortened by colder than expected nighttime temperatures. Two nights of temperatures in the teens (but the “feels like” temps around 9 degrees) was all we could handle.
Up next, Bryce Canyon. This small but mighty Utah park turned out to be one of Kate’s favorites! One 18 mile long road is all there is, but you better believe we stopped at every single pull out to marvel at the orange landscape. It is home to the world’s largest collection of hoodoos (rock formations). It is truly a geological masterpiece, that one needs to see not just from above but also below.
We bundled up the next morning to hike the “Figure 8 Loop” trail which is a combination of Queen’s and Navajo with Peekaboo Loop. We keep saying, if you want to get away from the crowds, get out on the trails. During this 4 hour, 6.4 mile hike we saw less than 10 other people. It is truly an incredible place that you just need to experience, pictures will never do it justice (but we’ll try).
National parks are amazing during the day, but don’t forget about them after the sun sets. We were fortunate enough to be able to experience the Leonid meteor shower among the hoodoos. Bitterly cold, eerily quiet, and the blackest night made for a stunning light show. Bryce was the perfect way to end our (too) short time in Utah. We will be back, when it’s warmer as we both have some unfinished business with the nationals parks there.
Grand Canyon, Kate’s first time and we lasted 4 hours… hear us out. We went on a Monday (the week of Thanksgiving) and apparently everyone takes their kids out of school early and drives them to the Grand Canyon. Kate was convinced a child was going to fall into the canyon as many parents were paying more attention to their phones and taking pictures instead of keeping an eye on their child. We weaved our way through and kept our eyes on the leash-less children (Katie now understands why her parents used a leash on her wrist at the amusement park). If we’ve learned anything, we probably should’ve planned a trek down into the canyon away from the crowds. Next time we’ll be more prepared.
A quick stop in Sedona to hike Devil’s Bridge and then met up with Jason’s cousin Tony and his wife Chara to hike around Boynton Canyon. Tony and Chara knew a “secret” trail that led us up rock formations to ancient ruins. On our way down the trail we set out to find a vortex. Sedona is believed to be the meeting place of electronic and magnetic energies. “Vortexes” are where the two energies meet. They’re believed to “align” a person. We hiked up to check it out. Apparently, when bristlecone pines get all twisty, it’s a sign of a vortex. Well, we saw a few twisty bristlecones but, didn’t feel any alignment going on. Eh, maybe next time.
Our next 3 weeks were spent exploring from a home base of Scottsdale, AZ. Jason’s grandparents were snowbirds in Arizona to get away from those Milwaukee winters. Their condo has stayed in his family and it was the perfect spot to explore from, not to mention free showers, laundry, a full kitchen, being able to stand up to get dressed, and sleeping in a real bed. Talk about lap of luxury! Our buddy Danny (who we got to meet up with in Montana) joined us for “Friendsgiving.” It was nice to have a piece of home in Arizona on a day where we missed our families more than usual.
A few days after, Tony and Chara invited the three of us to join them and their friend Dan on a quick road trip to Mexico to go fishing. We aren’t big fishers but, it sounded like a fun trip. No, we did not drive Michelvangelo to Mexico. We gave MV a break and hopped in with T&C. We crossed the border and stopped in Rocky Point, a popular destination for Arizonans, for tacos before driving another couple hours south to Puerto Lobos. Translated by Jason’s limited Spanish, Wolf Port. Apparently, they call dolphins the wolves of the sea. The entrance to the town of Puerto Lobos is a plywood sign with the town’s name painted on it and an arrow. Thank all things holy we didn’t drive MV because you need four wheel drive to conquer the dirt roads into town.
We found our little casa and Tony and Dan immediately set out to catch dinner in their kayak. Sure enough, we had fresh fish that night, fried grouper. YUM. The next morning we set out for the real fishing adventure, a guided trip with Arturo. Was the boat a little sketchy? Yes. Were there life jackets? No. Did Arturo ask Tony for the weather report when we arrived? Yes. HOWEVER, we caught a bunch of fish and had a helluva time! We caught yellowtail, grouper, sea bass, snapper, skipjack tuna, and mackerel. And that’s just what the sea lion who was following our boat didn’t steal off our lines!
That night, we took our haul to a local restaurant and had them prepare it for us. We celebrated our successful day with tequila…too much tequila. The next morning, we made the trip back to the states. Crossing the border, we were in the second car in our caravan and when we pulled up to the border patrol agent he says, “So, that front car said all the drugs were in this vehicle.” GOOD JOKE, TONY. He let us pass and we were on our way home. Big thanks to Tony, Chara, and Dan for letting us tag along. Wouldn’t have been the same experience without Tony’s fluent Spanish, Dan’s fishing knowledge, or Chara’s tequila pours.
We ended our three week stint in Arizona before flying home for Christmas by hiking around Scottsdale (if you don’t hike Camelback did you even visit Scottsdale?) and then a trip down to Tuscon to check out Saguaro NP. The park is split into two parts with Tuscon right in the middle. Saguaro cacti are the largest catci in the nation.
We spent our time on the west end of the park and were in awe exploring these majestic giants. Once again we were able to be in a NP during a meteor shower, it was one spectacular show over the saguaros!
Arizona and Utah, we’re already planning a road trip back to see more of your beauty!
K & J