Friday, March 30, 2018

Navajo and other hiking adventures on the path to Lake Powell

We saw mostly deer and squirrels in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. But a little while after leaving, we spotted a big-horn sheep grazing alongside the road. Despite it lurching a little at a girl who got too close, Jackson really wanted to inch near it. We exercised caution. 

That night (Monday) we spent In Kenab, Utah, taking a break from camping with a night in a hotel. In retrospect, we should have camped because the camper van was every bit as comfy as any hotel. But it was fun walking around the town, billed as the “Hollywood of Utah,” and home to several movie stars, including one of my favorites, Eva Marie Saint, famous for On the Waterfront and Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

The next morning, it was back on the road towards our upcoming adventures in Arizona and our next campsite, at famed Lake Powell.

But first, to break up the drive, we stopped right alongside the highway for a hike through the Star Wars-like dunes and hills of the Toadstools in Grand Staircase-Escalante, which the Trump administration wants to very mistakenly open to oil drilling. If anyone wants to spoil this landscape, the least they could do is think about solar, which seems perfect for the area. Jackson and I had a blast hiding in the hills and scaring Rachel and Zoey along the walk.

Then it was off to our next hike, another true highlight of the vacation, at Antelope Canyon in Navajo territory. This is one place where pictures can actually capture some of its beauty, and it was highlighted several years ago on the cover of National Geographic as proof.

After ascending back up to ground level, we were ready to continue on our way.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My first Southern Utah exploration

Our western Spring Break journey continued with two nights of camping in Springdale right outside Zion National Park in Utah.

The place is really unexplainable in writing or photo form. And it’s a public-transportation dream, with only shuttles and feet (and bicycles) allowed to travel throughout the park (cars can go through but they are far from annoying or destroying the remoteness and beauty of the park).

See a remarkable history of the shuttle, which began in 2000 to alleviate the massively growing pollution in the park:

About the worst thing about Zion is the crowds at the Visitor Center. The goal should be to get there as close to the 7 a.m. park opening as possible as not to wait in the long shuttle lines there. We learned this the hard way after arriving to our campsite at 11 p.m. and not getting going early enough for our first day in the park. The good news is that it was easy enough to hike along the Pa’rus trail for a couple of miles to get to Shuttle Stop #3 (there are nine stops in all, each with multiple choices of hikes).

And Jackson was really into putting cactus needles into his hands to pretend he was Wolverine.

The river walk ends at the famous Narrows, where lots of hikers were headed in with wetsuits to walk through the thin river canyon.

Other great hikes we got to do included the Emerald Pools and another one that it connects to with beautiful and precarious upper ridgeline views.

We finished up Zion with one of our best moments, exiting the park and going through mountain tunnels only to find a pulloff spot that allowed us to hike up some hills into an area with lots of scat and that was pretty clearly mountain-lion territory.

Zion is definitely right up there in the running for my favorite national park in the U.S.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Civilization meets nature on our first day of camper vanning

We picked up our Escape Campervan after finding our way out of the gargantuan and gaudy Circus Circus hotel in Las Vegas.

Skipping ahead, after a day of travel, I can definitely confirm that this is a better way to travel with little kids than in our own car. We’re all spread out and the kids are a lot further away from the parents!

Ok, so back to the morning. We talked to several fellow Campervan travelers at the pick-up place. They all raved about their trips and gave us great tips and tricks. And, possibly helped by being among the first customers of the day, we were able to score at least half of the groceries we had planned to buy in the communal “stuff” area, including extra propane tanks, a cooler, Little Debbies snacks, hot dogs and buns, and moisturizer (it is seriously dry out here compared to D.C.).

For breakfast, we met our buddy Rachel Korenblat and her daughter Emma on the burgeoning, gentrifying Fremont Street area north of the Strip. Public US was an absolutely scrumptious way to take in our last meal in “civilization.”

Fremont is a really nice example of Vegas’s strength at placemaking. This area was nothing more than seedy hotels and nudie joints before a recent influx of development (and funding from interesting sources such as Zappos) towards deluxe kids playgrounds and book and record stores. Best of all, it’s dotted with art installations from Burning Man.

There is also the famed AAA-supported autonomous shuttle, which I’ve written about at Mobility Lab, and bikeshare.

And now the adventure began, as Just outside of Vegas, the interstate opens to wide expanses of mountains and rocks. The drive is already beautiful and the van hums along. One recommendation made by fellow van travelers (who also gave us a bottle of wine) was to stop at the Valley of Fire State Park about an hour out. It was not a letdown, with ancient petroglyphs and (rock drawings) and petrified wood as part of the attractions.

One of the day’s highlights was to see a big-horn sheep on the side of the road and also a pack of about 25 mountain goats.

We ate at a Del Taco and bought groceries at Albertsons, which put us arriving very late to the campground with at least one grumpy kid, Zoey. Here’s to smiles in the morning after Rachel wakes up in the tent by the river (we scored a great campsite) and the rest of us in the van.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Our big long (fun and gross) day in Vegas

Black Tap was where the debauchery began. It’s a tasty burger and shake joint in the Venetian. And I don’t mean just any shakes!

It was actually amazing how good the food and drinks (including a tequila-heavy spicy colada) were, considering the first thing I saw when sitting down on the outdoor patio was a young lady puking at her table across from us. Even grosser, the staff didn’t clean it up very well but the pidgeons did by the time we left.

Making it two for two, when not passing by the smokers while getting out of the elevator on the lower floors, our hotel, Circus Circus, has a nice big splatter of vomit near the soda machine in our 28th floor hallway. 

Being about two miles from the heart of the Strip, we figured we would take a bus, but the public transportation was a letdown, as it appeared impossible to pay for single rides, and dumping $8 per person for a day pass would have been a major ripoff. There’s so much traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard that we walked nearly as fast as the bus anyway. And on the way back to the hotel, it was a good idea to walk off the burgers, wings, drinks, candy, and ice cream anyway. 

Better for seeing the sites and hearing the sounds of Frank Sinatra blasting out of every hotel’s street speakers along the way.

Despite being unbelievably tired, still on East Coast time, jackson and I snuck down to the hotel’s huge red Adventure Dome. We planned for an hour but stayed for more than two, riding roller coasters and all the other fun rides.

Next we grab our camper van and head to the wilds.