Return to Utah

random trip report

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My friend K and I are eager to do a post-COVID trip. K has never been to the Utah national parks, so I suggest a trip to Zion and Bryce.

Zion, it turns out, now requires reservations for the shuttle into the park, and they're booked months out. But wait! The local guiding companies have their own shuttles. Much more expensive, of course - $50 instead of $1. But I have no choice. And since I'm spending money I book a full-day rock climbing trip with Zion Guru.

Sat 8 May

I fly to Vegas and meet K. We get on the rental car shuttle. A woman in a skin-tight body suit wears a sequined mask with strands of beads. In the rental car center there's a huge line for Dollar, and the other counters are empty - a labor shortage or something. We stand in line for maybe 40 minutes. The woman in front of us says her partner just enrolled in the Dollar loyalty program online, and this lets you get in the Express line! So K does this (with considerable difficulty due to Autofill zaniness) and sure enough! She gets in the now-empty Express line and we save considerable time.

We get a red Nissan Versa and drive to Springdale. We use K's phone for nav, and its voice is a British male that we dub Nigel.

We're in the Holiday Inn Express, in room 228, which is across the hall from the elevator (more on this later). We have dinner at Zion Pizza and Noodles, where I also ate in 2016. Amazingly, it's completely unchanged - same great pizza, same Polygamy Porter posters. We chat at length with our waiter, Jalen, who came from S. Carolina 7 years ago and never left. He's sincere and truly wonderful.

Sun 9 May

Bad sleep night. The elevator makes several loud beeps when it arrives, and starting at 6:30 this acts as an unwanted alarm clock. But I wasn't really sleeping anyway.

The breakfast buffet is acceptable. K takes a bagel with PB and honey for lunch. I take an orange and a cinnamon bun to supplement the leftover pizza. We go to Zion Guru. There are lots of people getting outfitted with waterproof boots and poles for the "Narrows" hike, which sounds worth doing next time. We meet Rob, our guide, who's perma-stoked.

We drive about an hour. Rob explains the origins of town names like "La Verkin", and about the PC efforts to rename Dixie College (actually named after a Mr. Dixie). He says the tourist business in Zion is booming - it was up in the COVID year, and even more this year. The guiding companies are booked for months. He tells us to get an early start on Angel's Landing to avoid massive waits.

We arrive at Veyo Pool, a low-key resort centered on a spring-fed swimming pool. Rob knows the owners and spends some time chatting. There's a small canyon with 50' basalt cliffs, and ~200 sport climbing routes. We see just one other party the whole day. Rob uses a 60m rope in an "M" configuration to top-rope 2 routes at once. We start off with a 5.4 for K, who flashes it. In fact, she ends up topping out on 4 routes - truly a staggering success for a first-time climber. She also learns how to belay, and belays me on 2 routes. Rob is an excellent teacher, and we have heaps of fun.

My last climb is a 5.9 which Rob thinks is a 10A. I'm feeling pretty strong by that point, and I flash it; in retrospect I wish I'd tried something harder.

On the way back we stop for slices of pie at a place Rob claims is the best in the world. I get banana cream and K gets chocolate; it's only OK.

We discuss rising real estate prices in the bay area and Utah. I give Rob a $50 tip. He helps us verify our shuttle reservation for the next day.

Back in Springdale, K and I go for a walk across the river and into an affluent development in the hills. We head up a use trail toward the red cliffs. I try to scramble up a loose dirt slope and give up. K finds a golf ball. I question the notion of land ownership.

For dinner, we try Oscar's at Rob's suggestion, but there's a mob outside. The Bit & Spur has a 30-min wait. We decide to chill for a while and watch tennis highlights. Then we return around 9:00 to Oscar's, but it's just closed! Instead we go to the Bit & Spur, where K has a celebratory Margerita. Back in the room, I finish my pie, using the room cardkey as a utensil.

Mon 10 May

Another bad sleep night (i.e. no deep sleep). We drive to Zion Guru and catch the St. George shuttle. We get off at The Grotto and do the Angel's Landing hike. My back is stiff; K gets a touch of asthma and then uses her inhaler. K is a bit intimidated by the narrow chain sections; as usual I'm irritated by the slow-pokes, and I climb around them. It's crowded but not too bad. At the top, a newlywed couple dons their wedding clothes for pictures. I chat with a guy who did a 120-mile bike ride yesterday.

Those are clouds, not smoke signals

We get down around 1:30. Our shuttle isn't until 4:40, so we hike to the Emerald Pools. We don't see the actual pools but there's a huge crescent of overhanging rock with water dripping from it.

We see some deer.

We get to the Zion Lodge and split a chocolate ice cream. We walk .5 miles back to the Grotto. There are 3 dads and a bunch of kids who erupt into whistles and cheers as 3 moms approach, who presumably just did Angel's Landing (it was Mother's Day yesterday). The kids yell "Yay! You're not dead!". (Earlier, K sees a sign saying that 13 people have fallen and died on Angel's Landing since 2004).

In the shuttle, the chatty driver says there's been an enormous fire in Springdale and they weren't letting cars through, causing enormous traffic problems. Sure enough, there's a long backup headed into town. K and I get off the shuttle and walk the last .6 miles. Fortunately, our car is on the near (East) side of the fire, and we're able to get back on the road and head back through Zion toward Bryce.

As on the last trip, I stop at the Checkboard Mesa and climb up it far enough to feel the powdery white sandstone.

We arrive at the Happy Trails B&B in Tropic. It's slightly funky but nice. We set our sights on burgers and beer at the Route 12 Cafe in the gas station, but it's just closed. So we go to the Outlaws Restaurant, which turns out to be pretty good. We get trout and salmon. There's fresh-baked bread. I drink lots of ice water. K gives the obese and exhausted-looking waitress an extra $20 on top of the tip.

Tues 11 May

ANOTHER bad sleep night; the bed was hard. K and I both are sore in various places; especially the feet in my case.

The breakfast features pancakes with apple-cider syrup. We chat with 2 couples: a Christopher Walken look-alike and his wife, from Indiana. They're touring the parks east to west, doing a lot of hiking. A young athletic-looking couple are on their honeymoon tour: climbing (Zion Guru also), horseback riding, houseboat and kayaks. The proprietor mentions the "Heart Attack Grill" in Vegas where you eat free if you're over 350 pounds (see below).

We drive to Bryce, which is empty compared to Zion. We're able to find the Fairyland Loop trail in spite of poor signage. The day is gorgeous and the hike is amazing as always. Two different people comment on my "My Kingdom for a Beer" T-shirt, though it's not clear they get the Shakespeare reference.

London Bridge formation

We pass a multi-family group with a bunch of kids and babies. Up at the rim, we pass a giggly group of just-graduated female med students; I feign a groin injury. The last 2.5 miles seems rather long.

The General Store no longer has soft-serve ice cream, so we get ice cream bars. We watch a young man trying on a green jacket from the sale rack of park-logo merchandise. It fits him perfectly, and we urge him to buy it; he does.

I describe my search for a term to describe the feeling of sitting on a toilet whose seat is unexpectedly up. I propose "Butt Shock"; K prefers "Rim Rage".

We decide to skip the big hoodoo overlook and head back. The drive is long - c. 4 hours. We kill time with a discussion of SETI@home and PanoSETI interpersonal dynamics, and 2 games of Botticelli: I guess Dolly Parton, and K guesses Benedict Cumberbatch. K recalls an "immersive art" attraction in Vegas called Meow Wolf, which her daughter liked, and gets tix ($40) on her phone for the 8:20 entry.

On entering Vegas, we're stunned by the number of billboards for personal injury lawyers - they make up at least half the total. Some specifically mention "hotel room accidents".

K recounts her stay at the Trump hotel, whose slogan is "never settle". There were a number of problems with the room, and she and Sue didn't settle for them.

We stay at the Skyline Hotel and Casino in Henderson. Ahead of us at check-in is a nut case who seems to be paying in small bills and discussing his credit situation.

Leaving for Meow Wolf, Nigel tells me to make a U-turn. It's a big empty 4-lane road, so I make a quick U-turn. Turns out it's 4 lanes in each direction, and we're now pointed the wrong way! I quickly pull over, let a couple of cars pass, and do another U-turn. Yikes!

Meow Wolf is in a huge building called Area 15 that has some other quasi-hip commercial art stuff. There are lots of staff; one of them comments on my T-shirt and quotes the Shakespeare; he's an acting student. The exhibit starts in a supermarket poking mild fun at the food industry and corporate culture; doorways lead into a psychedelic "art" world, with loud Techno music everywhere. I have mixed feelings about it; my comments are here.

Afterward, we go in search of food. We find a shopping mall with some little places, and end up in Ramen place with QR-code menus. I get miso with pork belly, K. gets CA roll. It completely hits the spot.

Back at the hotel, we take a walk through the casino, which is empty and depressing and reeks of cigarette smoke.

Wed 12 May

Finally a good sleep night!

We have breakfast at the casino restaurant, and K discusses her ex. We drive through sprawling suburbs to Red Rocks Canyon, about 15 miles W. We stop at the first turnout, Calico I, and clamber down into a canyon at the base of a large formation of red and mixed red/white rock. There are a number of bolted routes but no climbers. We sit in a small cave for a while and marvel at the extreme visual complexity of the view. The canyon walls echo the shouts and laughter of the tourists, turning them into wonderful incomprehensible music.

In the cave

We continue to the Sandstone Quarry turnout and take the trail to Turtlehead Mountain. After about a mile we leave the trail and scramble up a yellow sandstone rock formation.

We sit at the top, enjoying the beautiful view and the extreme quiet, nibbling on trail mix. I survey the area around a juniper tree at the base of the rock.

On the other side of the gravel wash is a larger sandstone formation, with lots of shallow caves. In one of them is a prominent diamond-shaped rock, and I suggest that for a final adventure we try to reach it. This turns out to be hard, first because of thorny scrub, and then because the climbing is a bit harder than we're comfortable with. So we give up.

We drive back into town, looking for burgers and beer, and drive by a convoluted silver building that looks like Frank Gehry, and in fact is.

Based on Yelp, we end up in Old Las Vegas on Fremont St., at "Flippin Good", a dive-y place with sports on lots of TVs. More QR menus - maybe this is a product of the COVID era. I get a veggie chicken burger and a double IPA - yum. K gets a burger and Hefeweizen. A drunk couple does shots and offers us deep-fried pickle chips. We try to avoid engagement with them. We watch the NCAA field hockey championship game; North Carolina beats Michigan in overtime.

Back on Fremont St., a guy does poor Michael Jackson impersonations. We pass by the Heart Attack Grill. There's a 6-block stretch of pedestrian mall, covered by an enormous semi-cylindrical roof that displays psychedelic imagery on its inner surface. Zip lines run 30' off the ground, suspended from 3 towers. People zip by occasionally. There's some kind of malfunction and a worker has to manually pull a young woman the last 100' or so.

Drinks are allowed on the mall, and bars dot the sidewalks in the style of Bourbon St. in Nawlins. A young woman, naked except for crotch and nipples, hawks something.

Alas, all good things must end. We return the car and go to the airport. K's flight is a bit earlier so we wait at her gate. We say goodbye through our masks.

Copyright 2024 © David P. Anderson