Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
We are back.
Snake didn’t die. House wasn’t robbed. No need to crack the estate documents I always leave on my desk in plain sight for my adult kids, just in case….
It was a great trip. You know you did a lot when the adventures from five days ago seem as if they happened a month ago.
I’m going to take the next few days and blog in detail about the trip, since these are sights that many have on their individual and family bucket lists. If you have experience with any of this, feel free to chime in.
Planning and Schedule
When it comes to travel planning, I am an odd, but so far workable combination of obsessive and lax. I love researching, but I spend the hours ultimately in the service of flexibility. That is, I don’t want too many surprises…so we can be surprised.
I dreamed this trip up a couple of months ago when contemplating the shape of the summer. June is mostly shot, since both boys will be going to camps (their own choice) that take up most of the month – none coincide with each other…not one of the weeks! Down here in the south, school starts early in the not-fall – August 6 for the rising high schooler. There are other commitments in the beginning of July as well. So that doesn’t leave a lot of travel time this summer (I’m not complaining…we got our fill in over the past 18 months at a ridiculous level. I’m grateful.)
But we did have these two weeks, in between Confirmation (May 18) and the beginning of the first camp (June 1). What to do? How about go out to the parts of the West that none of us had ever seen?
(Past travels have included: some time in Phoenix and Tuscon back in 2005 for all of us; the boys and I to Albuquerque and Santa Fe a few years ago; the boys and I to the San Diego area Thanksgiving, 2009, Monterey a couple of years after that, other parts of the Bay Area the summer of 2013 to visit my daughter who was interning there, and various spots in California for speaking engagements. So no Northwest….actually not much in the West, period.)
After (as I said) obsessing, here’s how the trip turned out. I’ll have more details about what we saw and the hotels in individual entries.
May 20: Pick up rental car. Drive to Boulder City and Hoover Dam. Drive on to spend the night in Saint George, Utah. Visit Pioneer Park in Saint George. Hotel: Best Western Coral Hills.
May 21: Morning in Snow Canyon near Saint George. Afternoon, drive to Bryce Canyon for two nights. Afternoon: canyon viewing. Hotel: Best Western Ruby’s Inn, closest to the park entrance (without being inside it). Night time ranger talk on astronomy.
May 22: 3 1/2- hour trail ride on mules/horses through Bryce Canyon. Afternoon: more hiking through the Canyon.
May 23: slow drive south, with various stops along 89. Lunch in Kanab, afternoon spent at Coral Sands State Park. That night, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we stayed at 2 of these bunkhouses, rented through Airbnb. They were great!
May 24: Make way to Grand Canyon, North Rim. Detour to view Vermillion Cliffs, then back through Jacob Lake – stop at the justly well-known bakery – and down to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, where we would stay the next two nights. A bit of exploring, listened to a ranger talk on California Condors.
May 25: Driving/hiking around the Canyon. Late afternoon ranger talk on the geology of the Grand Canyon. Nighttime ranger talk on river-runners of the Canyon.
May 26: Drive up to Zion State Park, enter in the east entrance, which lets us see the Checkerboard Mesa, Bighorn Sheep and some other great views, check into Flanigan’s Inn, ride the shuttle bus up to the end of the canyon, spend afternoon on various hikes, including the Emerald Pools Hike and the Riverside walk.
May 27: Ride rented bikes all morning. Lunch in the park, then back in car to Saint George. Stops to look at dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs. Hotel: Hampton Inn
May 28: Drive to Death Valley. Stop outside Las Vegas for In n Out, then on to Death Valley via the more northern route, which takes you to Beatty and then the ghost town of Rhyolite. In the park, it’s 111 degrees, but we soldier on, finding the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Stovepipe Wells. Check into our hotel, which is the Furnace Creek Ranch, then swim, eat and go back out to find Badwater Flats – the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.
May 29: Early rising to try to beat some of the heat. Down to the Devil’s Golf Course, through the Artist’s Drive, a bit of Golden Canyon – much of this trying to find various Star Wars filming location sites, back for another swim, then check out, and on the way out see the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point. Back to Las Vegas, yet another lunch at In n Out, spend the night at Excalibur, just to have the, er, experience of staying on the Strip at a hotel that might have a decent chance of being somewhat family-friendly, walk around a bit….
What we did was a short version of what they call “The Grand Circle.” It would have been great to get in Arches and Canyonlands, for example, but we hopefully will be able to do that another time, and throw in Moab and Mesa Verde.
Just a word about this backward-seeming itinerary. After all, if you look at a map, it seems as if it would have made more sense to do Zion-Bryce-Grand Canyon, rather than Bryce-Grand Canyon-Zion. It probably would have involved less backtracking, although returning from the North Rim would require going pretty close to Zion anyway, so…
Well, the reason was the challenge of obtaining reservations at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. I’ll write more about this in the individual entry, but it was the one park lodge I was determined to stay in. Bryce, Zion and Death Valley all have historic lodges as well, but those parks also have good hotel availability outside, but still near the park. (Death Valley is a little different…both hotels and all campsites are in the park, but given it’s summer there, for all intents and purposes, the Ranch was easy to reserve – in fact, I didn’t even do it until the day before we arrived. The Inn would be a different story)
But for the Grand Canyon, if you don’t get in the Lodge, the nearest accomodation is a small hotel about 20 miles away, and after that another small inn at a further 20 miles. The short version is…those were the days I could get!
Those last three days weren’t planned until we were actually on the trip I didn’t know how much time we would want to spend in Zion and if Death Valley would even be doable, so I waited until we were actually in Zion to finish that part up.
There’s only one accomodation on our list that I’d probably recommend against if you have other options, but you know, live and learn. I”ll talk about that when I get to that day. It’s hard to figure stuff out when you’ve never been in an area before, whether that’s a city neighborhood or a huge, arid expanse!
A note on camping and RV’s – renting an RV seems to be a pretty popular option for travelers in the area. At every stop in every park, I saw at least two RVs rented from this outfit, and at Death Valley, several of these. There might have been more from other companies that just weren’t as clearly identifiable. I actually considered it for about two minutes – fly into Vegas, rent an RV, not have to move our stuff every couple of days? Sounds good. The boys were keen on it. Except for the fact that I know nothing about RV’s, really don’t want to drive something even the size of a smaller camper, and I’m pretty sure that when you factor in all the costs, including gas, there isn’t that much difference in total expense, especially with a $50/night hotel tossed in there here and there.
But if camping is your thing, I can’t imagine a more idyllic place to do it than Zion, just so you know.
Tomorrow: Adventures with Spirit Airlines