The Great Outdoors || It's all We've Got Right Now + Video

About a month ago we pulled the plug on our European Vacation. International borders were closed, but even if they opened up before the end of August I'm still not comfortable taking an international flight, and what would it even be like at our destinations? Things change so quickly because of covid-19. Planning felt not only stressful, but impossible. I didn't want to spend that much on an airline ticket only to end up with a disappointing experience. One of our flights got cancelled, and there was no other flight to book that would get us to our connection in time, so we were able to get a full refund and not just a credit from Delta. This is officially the first time that I have ever gotten any money back from an Airline company. For once a cancelled flight was a good thing. England, Ireland, and Portugal will have to wait until next year...hopefully. Since Europe wasn't going to happen we turned our attention to what could happen this summer. Where can we drive to? What can we do? The great outdoors seems to be all we got right now, so we focused on national parks, which had just recently opened up again. We decided on Zion National Park for the fourth of July because, it's only 2.5 hours from Las Vegas where my parents live. A road trip felt like a lower risk trip to try to plan during this time, but even this had it's challenges. I booked this a week out, and once I did, kept checking the Zion National Park website for updates and alerts that may affect our trip. I carefully read the covid-19 policy for our hotel and checked into what was open and what was closed, but we still ran into trouble.

We rolled up to our hotel only to find out that it was closed. I was not notified by phone or email. Their website never indicated it was closed. There we were, all the way from California ready to start our vacation in Utah, but we had nowhere to stay! I was shocked, and disappointed. Their bathrooms have a bidet. I was really looking forward to staying there. Covid-19 strikes again. I walked back to the car, to give MJ the news, and we got on our phones to see what hotel we could book. I'd started a list of prospects in Trip Advisor, so I did have a back up in mind. Unfortunately, it was more expensive then where we were supposed to stay, but I didn't want to go with a cheaper option because it was really important that we have a balcony. Luckily, Flanigan's Inn had a room available for us. Zion National Park is located in Springdale, Utah and the main road leading in is flanked on both sides by beautiful red rock mountains. We had a mountain view and pool view from our balcony. It may have been our second choice, but the hotel was fantastic. It was close to everything. It felt clean the minute I walked in and that is a big deal for me.



Most of the trailheads are miles beyond the park entrance. Initially, the shuttles were closed, but two days before we left they were set to re-open July 1st with a a $1.00 per person ticket reservation system intended to limit passengers. Normally, you can hop on one whenever you want for free, but the reservation system is set to continue at least through December 2020. We were determined to get to the Narrows, so rather than rely on the shuttle system we brought our bikes with us. MJ bought a new car, this time an SUV, just in time to make this possible. I'm glad we were able to, because the day the reservation shuttle reservation system opened up, it was already booked two weeks out. I wasn't too keen on riding them anyway. Bikes and e-bikes are available for rent locally, but I'm glad we didn't have to pay. Luckily the hotel we ended up at was also very close; in Springdale about 0.5 miles from the Zion National Park Visitor Center, which is the park entrance on the South end of the park. The Temple of Sinawava Trailhead that leads to the Narrows is about 8.0 miles from that. It's the very last shuttle stop/trailhead in the park. There are no parking lots except for the visitors center parking near the entrance, unless you make hotel reservations at Zion Lodge in which case you get to park your car there inside the park. Personal vehicles are not allowed on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive when shuttles are in service, and if its off season (or a pandemic) and the shuttles are closed the road is shut down altogether when limited parking along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive fills up. Private shuttles are allowed onto Scenic drive, but those also need to be booked in advance and cost about $50 per person. So many rules!!! This was our first time there, so it was hard to tell what rules were because of covid-19 and what rules are just the regular rules. Originally I'd read that they weren't collecting money to get in due to covid, but when we showed up they were collecting fees which are $25 per vehicle for a seven day pass if you drive in, or $12 per person for a seven day pass (not to exceed $25 per family). They take your money at the booth if you drive in, and if you walk or bike you can pay at the visitors center and enter the park through there.

We didn't know how long all of this would take so even though we didn't have to worry about parking we got an early start. That day was expected to be about 85 degrees. An earlier start allowed us to take advantage of cooler temps while we could. We were up around 7:00 and after getting breakfast and some air for my tires down the street from our hotel we were on the road by 9:30 am. The rangers will not come and rescue you if it gets too dark or you can't get out. No reservation no shuttle, so there was nothing to fall back on. We had to get ourselves from our hotel to the Temple of Sinawava and back on our own. I'm not a biker like MJ. This was going to be a breeze for him, but an 8.5 mile ride in one push is very ambitious for me! Between the altitude, the incline, the heat, and inability to figure out the appropriate gear for my bike, I struggled. I had to holler for breaks 3 times on the way there. Another Zion rule is that all bikers must stop and pull over when Zion National Park shuttles (not the private ones) pass. The shuttle will not continue until you do. I think it's a great rule, because it's very tight. I was panting like a dog. My throat was parched, my legs were burning and I really didn't know if I could make it. About halfway through the ride, I got a handle on what gears to use, got past the burn in my legs, and was finally able to enjoy the ride. I looked around me in awe as the wind blew past my face. It was simply magnificent to be surrounded by such natural beauty. It took us 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it to the trailhead. We hooked up our bikes to a fence and set about hiking the Narrows.

The Narrows is basically a hike in an actual river. Because it's a river flash flooding is a possibility that you have to be aware of, but the day we went the flash flood risk was low. The water in the Virgin River is cold and the height varied between ankle deep and waist deep as we continued into the river bed. A Narrows hiking package including a walking stick, hiking boots, and neoprene socks is available to rent for $25.00 at a few local shops, but we can't ride bikes and hold a stick at the same time. The foldable ones we tried to order wouldn't get to us in time, so we decided to make due with no sticks and our Keen's water shoes. It was painfully cold at first. I really didn't think I'd make it very far, but then my feet went numb. Once that passed I could feel my feet again, but the water felt fine. I guess I just got used to it. The floor of the riverbed is covered in slippery boulders of various sizes so walking was quite a challenge. There was a lot of slipping and we really had to watch every step, but it was doable without the walking sticks. I can definitely see how the gear would have made our trek easier, but we made it okay. I did see someone in crocs. I don't know how they survived, but in my opinion neither those or flip flops will cut it. If the water were any colder I may not have been able to do it without extra foot gear, but in July it was doable.  I was also worried about falling or how deep the water might be and ruining our phones so I bought wet bags on Amazon just in case. There are areas with rocks on the side where you aren't in water, but the majority of the time you are sloshing your way through the river, and while you do it the views are spectacular.

It was MJ's idea to bring food, and I'm glad we did, because we didn't have to have to cut our day short because we were hungry and we needed all the energy in order to get through the hike and get us home. There are restrooms, but no food available out that far. We hiked until 12:30ish, took a lunch break, and then hiked some more. We hiked about 2 hours in, and then turned around. It seemed to go on forever, but I later found out that it goes about 16 miles. Altogether we spent about four hours hiking in the Narrows, and at the end of it all we had an 8.5 mile ride to get back to our hotel. In retrospect, I realized that we should have bought groceries before we hit Zion. The prices in all the grocery shops in Springdale are very high, and alcohol wasn't available in any of the stores we went in. Utah allows alcohol at state run stores, but I don't know where those are. We did however have the foresight to buy wine in Vegas beforehand, so at least we had that.

I stared at the shuttle buses with longing, as we got on our bikes. I couldn't believe I still had to ride home after all of that. The ride back was much better, thank goodness. There was less uphill and I'd gotten the hang of my gears, so we made it back in 45 minutes. The entire day took us about seven hours. We spent four hours hiking six miles in the narrows and made it back at 4:30pm. I enjoyed the day so much, but my body was DONE. Everything hurt. Funny story. After all of that, we try to get into our rooms but neither one of our keys worked. I went into the office all sweaty and gross because MJ had lost his mask. They told me that he only reserved the hotel for one night! We got lucky in that they had two more nights available for us to extend. MJ still has no idea how he managed to do that, but again we were saved from being homeless in Zion. We ate burgers that night. Then took a much needed dip in the pool and jacuzzi to relax our aching joints. Then we enjoyed the evening drinking wine on our balcony.

We'd worn ourselves out the day before so we took it easy the next day, by getting a late start and then spending the day on paved trail with a trailhead very close to the park entrance. It's very difficult to get much further into Zion to hike the other trails without a bike or a shuttle. Then you'd have to do your hiking, and get back. There is no shade along Pa'rus trail or Zion Canyon Scenic road that leads inside the park. By the time we got to the end of Pa'rus Trail we would have had an additional 2 miles to go to get to Zion Lodge where there are restaurants and other trailheads, plus whatever hiking we wanted to do once we made it. I kinda wish we'd taken our bikes, but on the other hand I didn't know if my booty could handle it. The Pa'rus Trail runs along side the Virgin river with multiple access points so we stayed cool splashing in the river. It was another fantastic day in beautiful Zion. We spent another night on our balcony drinking our third bottle of wine. The first night we got takeout and ate dinner on our balcony. The second and third nights we ate at a restaurant across that street that had a very open outdoor patio. The extra we paid to get the mountain view balcony was worth it! Enjoying our view from the balcony was the nicest way to end each day.

After that we headed to to Vegas to spend some time with my parents. I had a ridiculous amount of anxiety about seeing them during this pandemic. We took our temperatures, and did our best to be careful and safe, but there is always a risk. Covid-19 continues to rage on, and there isn't an actual end in sight that anyone can count on so everyone has to make decisions about what risks they are willing to take. We hadn't seen them since October. We took the risk, and I'm glad to say it turned out okay. Las Vegas is so darn hot right now. Triple digits is too hot to even sit out much, so our primary activities consisted of eating good food, and watching movies. MJ and I are doing Bikini Body Guide together, and we were able to keep up on those workouts too. Their neighbors set off fireworks so it basically sounded like a war zone from 6:00pm on, and I was able to catch some of it out the window. I'm so glad we are a drive away, even though it took us an insane nine hours to get home. Leaving the day after the Fourth of July was a big mistake. In all, we were gone for seven days and a change of scenery was so good.

It wasn't Europe, but I've been wanting to see more of USA, and we had a really nice week anyway. Zion National Park is gorgeous, and I was so glad to get to see my parents.


Ashley @ A Cute Angle said...

It's so beautiful! I really enjoyed reading this post. I haven't traveled out West at all. Glad you got to see your parents. It's important to connect even with COVID.

Catherine Gacad said...

looks amazing plus i loved watching the vlog! i couldn't do some of those hikes - i am so short i would be underwater!

Squeak.. said...

I enjoyed reading your adventure.. (716..))