After a strange 18 hours in Las Vegas, we woke up and set our sights on Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. Andrea’s stomach was a bit upset that morning and she didn’t have much appetite. We didn’t read too much into it and grabbed a bite to eat before leaving Vegas. I had some delicious ramen noodles and Andrea had a nice, simple onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed) to calm her upset tummy. As the casinos faded away in the rear view mirror, we found ourselves in the middle of the Nevada desert yet again and settled in for a nice, quick 4 hour drive. Andrea’s stomach started to feel worse and worse as the drive wore on. At first we wrote it off as tiredness, but as we came closer to Zion she felt pretty bad. As we were double-checking the prices for the Watchman Campground ($20/tent/night), we also checked out some local hotels and found one right next to the park entrance in Springdale, Utah: Zion Pioneer Lodge. Although we were originally planning to camp, we opted for a recovery night in a hotel. After a quick shower, Andrea passed out almost immediately (8:30 PM) and slept for over 12 hours!
The next day (December 9th), Andrea woke up still feeling pretty rough, but we wanted to explore Zion National Park. We bought our $30 park pass and spent all day driving through the park and doing some of the shorter day hikes, always with a bathroom within easy striking distance. We did several trails: Court of the Patriarchs, Temple of Sinawava, Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools Trail, the Grotto, Riverside Walk, and Angels Landing. The views were spectacular! Although we didn’t get quite as far out into the park and away from the roads as we wanted, we were blown away by the views. Everywhere you turn is a picture perfect moment! Evidence below:
After a few hours of hiking, Doug had worked up a good appetite and we doubled back down to Springdale to find some food. After a quick Yelp search, we decided on Café Soleil, which had free WiFi! We rested our feet and enjoyed some tea. Andrea had a nice, warm soup to help calm her stomach (to no avail) while Doug enjoyed a wrap. Then we checked the weather and saw that while the Watchman Campground in Zion would drop to a nice, manageable 32-35 over night, Bryce Canyon (our next stop) would be a brisk 15-18 degrees with snow on the ground. Given Andrea’s stomach trouble, we decided to avoid the cold and called it an early night, set up camp in Zion next to an aloof group of deer, and planned to make an early start the next day to see Bryce Canyon in the morning before heading to Moab.
We woke up and broke camp before sunrise on Saturday, December 10th and piled into the car for Bryce Canyon. It was a long, winding drive through misty mountains and Martian-red landscapes before we pulled into the visitor center at Bryce Canyon National Park a couple of hours later. At first we were reluctant to pay the $30 to enter the park because of the intense fog, but after a quick conversation with the friendly ranger at the gate, we found out about the National Park Pass, which gives you unlimited entry to all national parks for 1 year for only $80 total (for both of us). Since we were planning to hit 5 parks, all $30 each, the pass made a lot of sense. We got our official polar bear themed pass and then boogied on down the road to see the sights.
Since we were planning to get to Moab by the evening and Andrea was feeling pretty weak from not being able to keep down food, we stuck to the car in Bryce, which was easy to do! The park is very well set up for car tourism, so we drove from scenic spot to scenic spot, continuously in awe of the snow-covered red rock vistas before us. We did a quick hike from Sunrise to Sunset Point and snagged these incredible shots:
In the early afternoon we hit the road again in order to get to Moab before too late. At a gas station outside Bryce Canyon, we double-checked our directions with some locals, who told us that it was worth taking Highway 12 through Escalante and Boulder to see Grand Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef. The GPS said it wouldn’t be too much longer and we were already set to arrive in Moab after dark, so we figured we’d give it a try. What a good choice! Grand Escalante National Monument isn’t a “monument” per se, but rather a massive piece of donated land of over 2 million acres with a beautiful highway right through the middle! The highway took us through canyons, up mountains, and across a beautifully red, but barren landscapes. I’m not sure exactly where the border between Grand Escalante and Capitol Reef falls, but it was a gorgeous drive.
We arrived in Moab just after dark and decided to stay at the Inca Inn to give Andrea easy access to a restroom, which was just $45 per night! They had HBO, good WiFi, included breakfast, and a perfect location just down the street from the entrance to Arches National Park. We snagged Andrea some crackers and Gatorade and she was as happy as a clam!
The next morning, December 11th, Andrea wanted to stay in for the morning and wait out her stomach bug. I spent a few hours exploring Canyonlands National Park, which is only about 45 minutes from Moab. Canyonlands is also easily explored by car, but also has some really great short day hikes that I took advantage of. Here are some photos of Upheaval Dome and Grand View Point Overlook.
By midday, Andrea awoke and decided it was time for some anti-diarrheal drugs. We had an ample supply of prescription-strength meds for traveling, but those are for 10+ days of diarrhea. As Andrea had only been out of commission for 5 days, I headed back to Moab for some over the counter Imodium. After Andrea had finished another Gatorade and downed some Imodium, she was up for a quick afternoon visit to Arches National Park before sunset. We drove through the park, did one short hike, and caught a sunset with a moon rise, as you’ll see below:
On December 12th, Andrea woke up feeling like a brand new person. Thank goodness for Imodium! We doubled back to Arches in the morning to see the end of the park, including some of the more famous arches below. We hiked some gorgeous trails out into the desert and Andrea was happy to be back on her feet!
All in all, we spent about 5 days in Utah and thoroughly enjoyed it (despite continual stomach trouble). We’d heard people say that it was a great state to visit, particularly for hiking, and allotted time accordingly, but did not realize exactly how much Utah had to offer. Walking and driving around the parks, you can really appreciate how hostile and barren some of the landscapes are. We made sure to hike in with plenty of water and snacks. To think that settlers arrived and tried to cultivate the land is just inconceivable!
The parks we visited are all relatively close together in southern Utah, but offer very different experiences. I highly recommend it! Even if you don’t like off-trail hiking and just want to stay in the car, there is a TON to see. The trails we hiked were all well-maintained, the campgrounds were easily accessible, and the parks offered a variety of experiences, including good, kid-friendly museums.
If you’re planning to visit more than 2 national parks within the year, the annual national park pass is well worth it!
Sunscreen is important, even in the winter. 😛