Our second 2 week vacation out west! Another stream of checks marked off our Family Vacation Bucket List! We took 15 days and flew to Phoenix, drove up to Zion NP, then Bryce NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Mesa Verde NP, Grand Canyon NP, and the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert NP. One thing we did to save money and time was to buy an America the Beautiful pass. It is a one year pass that gets you into any National Park and some other places for one yr. The pass is $80. Considering all the places we were visiting, it would save us about $50 if we were to pay for entry at each place.
Grab your coffee….I will tell ya all about it!
Day One, Thursday….SUPER LONG DAY!!! Originally, we intended to fly into Phoenix and then drive up the Vegas for the night and visit Hoover Dam the next day along with some other places. We were then only going to Grand Canyon and Monument Valley and Mesa Verde. After talking to my favorite Chiropractor (David Perry) and my friend and her husband Varinka and Gordon Williams, we took Vegas out and changed up the itinerary. However, airplane reservations had already been made and in order to make all the super cool places work out…we had to drive a LONG ways after our plane landed.
SO, we got up at 4:30 am, let the animals out and watered and fed them, showered, and packed last minute luggage and then off to airport. Plane left at 7:45am. We got lucky and the plane was full and they needed to check our carry on luggage…so that was nice, we didn’t have to carry it everywhere. BUT, we also had to hope it made it to Phoenix. Once in Phoenix, all was well. All luggage arrived. This year we used two large coolers as luggage and checked them. Instead of buying $40-50 coolers at Walmart, we chose to just use them as luggage and then empty them into the 31 bags I had brought with us and use one cooler for water and one for food. Worked out well for us! When we went to pick up our Suburban, they didn’t have one for us. They tried to give us a smaller vehicle, but I told them no, and to please check again. Turned out 3 were being brought in right at that moment. SO we waited about 40 minutes more for them to clean it up for us. And let me tell ya…Phoenix was HOT HOT HOT!!!! The Garmin in the vehicle showed it to be 116 degrees! Dry heat, dry shmeet!! Hot is just plain, HOT! Anyhow, we drove 2 hours to Flagstaff and stopped at Walmart. They had canopies in the parking lot for shade! We thought that was super cool. We ate some supper also and then headed over to Zion NP. It was another 5 hour drive! The last hour was a super struggle…we were SO TIRED. We had been awake for 22 hours! We drove through Zion on our way to the hotel. Our hotel was right outside the entrance on the other end from where we started. The roads were red and we thought that was super cool. We arrived at our hotel so late, we had to go to the special office to get an envelope with our room info and key. We didn’t officially check in till the next morning. We stayed at Quality Inn and it was pretty nice and roomy.
Day Two, Friday…we slept till about 9ish, ate hotel breakfast and then off to Visitor Center to catch the bus up to Temple of Sinawava. Our lovely friends Varinka and Gordon with their kid #4 and some friends of theirs were waiting for us up there. We hiked The Narrows, which is a hike through the Virgin River. It was such a cool hike! Literally and figuratively! HAHA The water ranged from ankle depth to waist depth. We hiked about a mile up river. We ate a late lunch at the Zion Lodge and then hiked up to the Emerald Pool. We made sure we got our NP stamps and said our Goodbye’s to the Williams fam and went back to the hotel. This day we hiked approx 7 miles.
Day Three, Saturday….Today we were up early and at the Visitor Center by 8:30. We hiked up to the Watchman’s Trail. When we got to the very top, we could see our hotel at a distance. We could also see the Visitor Center and the ice cream place across from our hotel. After this hike, we walked to the Museum, which was about a mile away. Afterwards we took the park bus (which by the way is the ONLY way to get around, they do NOT allow cars to drive and park inside, there isn’t enough room) up to the Weeping Rock. It was so so hot here…but we made sure we drank tons of water! After Weeping Rock we made our way back to the hotel, made some lunch and headed out to Bryce Canyon. Our hotel there was really cute, it was a Quality Inn but was set up like an old western town. Today we hiked about 7 miles.
Day Four, Sunday…we got up early and drove approximately 30 minutes to Bryce Canyon NP. We stopped inside the Visitor Center to get the “lay of the land” then took the bus up to Inspiration Point. We hiked around it and on to Sunset Point, Navajo Loop, and then to Sunrise Point. This hike was about 3.5 miles. It was absolutely beautiful! We even got to hike all the way down to the bottom of the Hoodoos! Then we went back to the truck, made some lunch and drove to the end of Bryce to Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point and did a 1 mile hike along the Bristlecone Loop Trail. We stopped at Fairlyland Point and then drove to the Mossy Cave Trail and hiked up to the waterfall. Total miles today were about 6.
Day Five, Monday…We left early from Bryce and drove about 4 1/2 hours to Moab. We stopped once along the way and looked at the super cool stuff the Navajo people were selling. We bought a couple things. When we got to Moab we drove up to Canyonlands NP. We did not hike here, it was afternoon by the time we got there and very hot, and there werent really any short trails. They were mostly 3+ miles and we werent up for that. Instead we just stopped at all the major lookouts, including, Grand View Point, Buck Canyon, Green River, Whale Rock, and Mesa Arch (which we did hike, it was about a 1 mile round trip hike). We spent a few hours here and then drove up to Arches NP to get the lay of the land and sign in for our Fiery Furnace hike the next morning. We found a yummy diner to eat supper at. We liked it so much we ate there both nights we were in Moab.
Day Six, Tuesday….up early and drive to the check in point for Fiery Furnace tour. The tour was 2 miles but somewhat difficult. It took us 3 hours to complete it. The kids LOVED it, and so did Jim and I. We had to climb rock, jump, shimmy, crawl….it was so much fun! Afterwards we drove up to the Devil’s Garden to hike to Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. We then drove to Upper Delicate Arch and hiked around it, then on up to Double Arch and hiked it. It was SO SO hot today…by lunchtime it was 100 and by 4pm it was 107. We drank almost an entire case of water, we did not sweat, we only peed one time, and when we took our clothes off they did not smell at all! It was such a dry hot heat that it evaporated off of you as soon as it left your body. Water was very important, as you actually don’t feel very thirsty, but you would quickly feel the effects of not drinking. We tried to stay on top of it because we knew that headaches were common with dehydration and hard to get rid of once they start, and they kinda ruin the day too. After hiking was done,we drove to a grocery store (which happened to be owned by Kroger, but it wasn’t called Kroger and they looked up my phone number and I could use my Kroger discount) to load up on more groceries and water. We tried to not have too much water sitting in the car when not in the cooler. We tried to continuously stock one of the coolers with water and ice. Then back to the hotel to unload and let the kids swim. We ate at the Moab Diner again and then drove up to the Fiery Furnace again to watch a sunset. However, clouds rolled in and it rained and messed up the sunset. Leave it to us to go to the desert, and hear the locals complain of no rain, and then when we want to see something, it rains…LOL
Day Seven, Wednesday…left hotel early and drove to Mesa Verde. We got to the Visitor Center about 11 and immediately booked our Cliff Dwelling tours. They book up quickly and we barely got them reserved for while we were there. We drove out to the Petroglyph Trail and hiked it. It was pretty cool, we saw some broken down cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, rocks where knifes and tools were sharpened, beautiful views, and LOTS and lots of Yucca plants. After this tour we went on the Balcony House Tour and the Cliff Palace Tour. Both were super cool and well worth seeing. I have decided the reason the majority of the women died early was from heart attacks while trying to keep their toddling babies from falling off the cliffs. One of the tours we wanted to take was closed due to rock slides. It was the Spruce Tree House. After our tours we drove to the lodge in the middle of Mesa Verde and ate at the Lounge. We saw some friends of Jim’s who happened to be vacationing there also.
Day Eight, Thursday…We got up super early today and left the hotel by 6:45. We had at least a 45 minute drive down to the bottom of Mesa Verde and then drove to Durango. We had booked a train ride from Durango to Silverton. We boarded the train at 9:15, and it left at 9:30 and arrived in Silverton at 1:15. We didn’t have much time there, just enough to eat lunch and shop a couple stores. Silverton was a super cool place, a very old mining town. The building were old and looked like something from an old western. We did get to eat at Thee Pitts BBQ, which is one of Guy Fierro’s Diners Drive-ins and Dives. It was very good! Boarded back on the train at 2:50 and arrived back to Durango at 6:30. The train ride was fun, it was long and tiring at times, but it was still pretty cool. We saw tons of prairie dogs and meerkats, and a few deer. The waterfalls and river along the way were beautiful. We also saw old original livestock cars gold mine buildings and equipment. After the train we found something to eat and then drove back to Mesa Verde and up to the campground to hear the Ranger’s National Park presentation. He gave us the history and timeline of NPs and how he came to be a Park Ranger. Hearing him has caused Kat and Sam to talk about the possibility of being a ranger someday, even if just for a year or two for fun.
Day Nine, Friday…up early and ate some breakfast bars and bananas. We left our lodge by 8am and checked out of hotel. The sky was showing a clearing of morning rain, but by the time we arrived for our 10am tour of the Long House it was lightly raining. we had to walk a good 20-30 mins to the Long House and along the way saw so many trees leftover from a forest fire in 2002. 2,600 acres were destroyed from fire caused by “dry lightning” which is what most fires are started from. There have been fires started from careless people, but most are dry lightning. In the last 14 years, there have been 5 large wildfires just in Mesa Verde alone, destroying almost 29,000 acres. By the time we were halfway through the tour, the rain stopped and the sun came out and the rest of the day was fantastic. When our tour was finished we drove back to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and visited some more ruins. We left mid afternoon and drove to Four Corners Monument, which was pretty cool. Getting to stand in 4 states at one time. Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Colorado. We then drove to our hotel in Grand Canyon. We were starting to wind down and get tired and I totally messed up the time and mileage on this portion of the trip. I am usually very careful about writing down mileage between points so driving is done when we wouldn’t get too tired. However, I big time goofed this one and our drive was 3x what we thought it would be. We arrived quite late to our hotel. However, it was very convenient to be inside the park and close to most of the main hikes. The park is huge and the direction we came in required an hour drive inside the park just to even get TO our hotel!
Day Ten, Saturday….tired but up early as we had a reservation in Page, AR for a Raft Tour. Originally we were going to get up early and visit the Glen Canyon Dam. However, we were too tired to get up that early. We arrived about 30 minutes before the required time to be there for our tour. A bus took us about 10 minutes away to the Glen Canyon Dam where our boats were waiting. Fortunately, some good friends of ours, the Honeycutts, who we had not had the pleasure of hanging with in several years, just happen to be in some of the same places as us during our vacation. We were able to book this raft trip together and get on the same boat. It floated us down the Colorado River, we had one stop in the middle to take a short hike to some petroglyphs, and also take a short swim in the river. The river was SO cold, but my kids, Melanie’s kids and Melanie herself all took the plunge in! Jim and I and Andy only waded with our feet. After our boat trip, we were able to catch some dinner together at a place our tour guide recommended called State 48. We had the most delicious burgers…and even got an appetizer neither of us had eaten before, deep fried avocado! DELICIOUS! Then we drove over to Horseshoe Bend and hiked up it to overlook the very same river we just rafted down. The sun was setting and it was certainly gorgeous. There were TONS of people there and zero fences. One slip and you were plunging down 1000ft. So many people allowing their small children to walk around without holding hands, or stand close to edges for pictures, it made my stomach hurt. We stayed about 30 minutes and then back to our hotel we went.
Day Eleven, Sunday…we got up about 7am and went to Verkamp’s Visitor Center. Kids got their NP stamps, we made sure they got them at every NP we visited. We got the the lay of the land and some ideas for hikes. First hike we took was the Bright Angel Trail. We hiked a total of 4.5 miles on this one. It was so hot! We drank plenty of water and rested several times to just take in the view. On our way back to the vehicle we saw some native people at the Hopi House starting a performance of traditional dances. We stopped to watch them for a while. After our hike we went back to our lodge for sandwiches and a short nap. Then walked over to Hermit’s Rest and grabbed a bus to take us up along different viewpoints. No cars were allowed on this road, only the park buses. The sun was setting and at each veiwpoint we got a different view of the sun setting. We ate supper at the lodge cafeteria and then showered and bed.
Day Twelve, Monday…we got up early again to hike the South Kaibab Trail. If you want to hike here, get done early and before lunch or else you will die from heat and high elevation. This was a hard trail for us considering we had been hiking for nearly 2 weeks already. Our bodies were winding down and the many many switchbacks and steep climb back up did us in. We only hiked 2 miles on this hike but it took us about 3 hours. We stopped at Ooh Aah Point halfway in our hike to take about a 30 minute rest and pick the brain of the Volunteer who worked there and was stationed at Ooh Ahh for the day. A week after we were there we read a news report of a woman falling off the cliff and dying. It was sad to hear, esp since she fell from the same spot we took our family picture. After our hike we drove over to the main Visitor Center and watched the videos they had. It is hard for us to watch those videos at places like these because we believe in Young Earth. We believe God’s Word is pretty plain when it comes to an accurate timeline of Earth. The millions and billions of years is silly to us. We also fully believe the Great Flood of Noah’s time played a huge role in the formation of the Grand Canyon so listening to their gap theories drove us bonkers. After Visitor Center we grabbed sandwiches at the truck and drove back to the lodge for another nap. After our nap we walked around the Village and shopped in the stores and bought our souvenirs. Then we drove out to the Desert View and climbed up the Watchtower. We stopped at a few overlooks and the Tusayan Ruins. Back to the Lodge Cafeteria for delish pizza, then showers and back to cafeteria for ice cream.
Day Thirteen, Tuesday…Up early and left lodge by 7:15 to drive to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest. We started on the Forest end and drove through, stopped at several places along the way. We stopped at the Rainbow Museum, walked around the Giant Logs, stopped at Agate Bridge (which was a large petrified tree that had fallen across 2 large rocks), Blue Mesa, Newspaper Rock (petroglyphs on the rocks), Pintado Point, Chinde Point, and the Painted Desert Visitor Center. Then we drove back to Flaggstaff for supper and our hotel. We drove on Historic State Route 66 and ate at the Galaxy Diner. The kids ended their meals with a classic diner milkshake. Back at the hotel the kids swam while I showered and then we hit the sack after they showered.
Day Fourteen, Wednesday…we left our hotel about 9am and drove back to Phoenix. We found a couple things to do that were simple and in the air conditioned. We went downtown and ate at Five Guys and then visited the Wells Fargo Museum. It was pretty cool and gave fantastic history of Wells Fargo and had several hands on things for the kids to do. They even had a Telegraph and you could use morse code to talk to kids in other Wells Fargo museums across the United States. A screen next to you would show up the conversations an where they were. The lady at this museum told us if we walked a block we could go visit the Police Museum, which was also free and a neat place. So we hussled over there before they closed and a retired officer gave us a tour. It was pretty cool seeing the history of police in that city. Uniforms, cars, guns, what people were put in jail for over the years, bomb disarming devices, guns,and funny sayings. After our museums we checked into the hotel. The boys swam and Kat and I repacked all of our luggage. We hoped and prayed we hadn’t gone over the limit in our checked bags since there was no scale to check them on. We had souvenirs to pack plus I had a few fragile items we had to figure how to carry safely in our backpacks. We went to Chickfile for a very light supper and then went to Sweet Republic ice cream. Alton Brown loves this place and I ordered the same ice cream that he likes from there. It was a vanilla with bananas and homemade caramel. Sound plain but it was fantastic. Then back to the hotel for showers and bed.
Day Fifteen, Thursday…up early to get to airport and drop off Suburban and wait for our 10am flight. We had no problems with our luggage being overweight or going through security and we were a good 2 hours early in sitting and waiting for our flight. However, only 20 minutes after we got there we could see large influxes of people and lines at security, so I would much rather be through it and waiting than standing in those lines. Esp with kids. We had our layover in Atlanta and were home by 8:30pm.