Zion in Zion

After we got married, Zion and I decided to take turns planning something for our wedding anniversaries in lieu of gifts. This year was our fifth anniversary so I splurged a little to take us to a place we had talked about going to since we were dating...

Zion National Park! Despite a couple minor slip ups (like flight confirmation emails being sent to our joint email address, oops. Don't worry, I caught it immediately), Zion swears he had no clue where we were going until I told him the morning of our flight. We flew into Las Vegas and drove two hours to Hurricane, Utah, where we set up our home base for the weekend at the Zion Lofts studio.

Though we didn't have the convenience of staying in Springfield and taking the free shuttle into the park, we enjoyed staying in the quiet town 20 minutes away from the herds of RVs and tourist crowds. The well designed studio is one of two units that was built in a refurbished historic pioneer mercantile a couple years ago. It was cozy, polished, and rustic - just what I like!

Day 1:

Because the midday forecast was a high of 43 C, we woke up at 5:30AM to catch an early shuttle shortly after 6:30AM from the ZNP Visitor Centre so that we wouldn't be hiking in the desert heat.  The shuttle system is great because it's free and you don't have to spend time looking for parking at each stop.

I originally wanted to hike Angel's Landing, one of the most popular hikes in ZNP and mostly known for its dangerous (several have died) and fear-inducing (narrow with steep drop-offs) last 1/2 mile up to the summit. Part of me wanted to do it to redeem myself from letting my fear of heights stop me from finishing the last leg of the Half Dome hike in Yosemite, but the flash floods in mid-July closed several hikes, including this one. After doing some research on AllTrails, I picked the Observation Point hike; not nearly as famous, but turned out to be a great hike nonetheless.

As we started hiking, the sun slowly lit up the tops of the rocky canyon surrounding the Big Bend.

The trail was well marked with clear signage at every fork in the road and was a mix of uphill switchbacks with some short flat and downhill parts.

View of the switchbacks near the beginning of the trail, from above.

I loved how the sunlight lit up the rocks. My favourite part about this hike was seeing all the different colours and hues of rock from dusty bone white and golden yellows to deeper reds and those in between.

Sandwiched between switchbacks, the trail brought us through Echo Canyon, our first encounter with the beautifully carved out gargantuan rock.

2000 feet of elevation gain later, we were rewarded with this view of the roads and river weaving around each other on the canyon floor. We summited Observation Point around 9AM and took in the view while we ate snacks (and watched Instagram couples in action, setting up their perfect shots). 

Around 9:40AM, we started heading down and could already feel the air heating up. The entire way down, I wondered how people were hiking UP in the heat while I was sweating from walking downhill!

Mesmerizing lines and hues on the rock surface.

We were back at the trailhead around 11AM and could feel the heat heavy in the air and the sweat trickling out whenever sun hit our skin. Our original plan was to take the shuttle and check out each stop on our way back to the lodge...wishful thinking! We got off at the next stop and both immediately decided it was too hot to hang out outside for another couple hours. Plan ditched, we took the next bus to Zion Lodge to eat lunch and bought too many Zion souvenirs at the gift shop (hat, mugs, Christmas ornaments...shall I go on?). After getting back to the visitor centre to grab our car, we were especially glad that we woke up extra early for the hike; there were 100+ people waiting in line to get on a shuttle! Again, I was shocked at all the people who wanted to be outside and go hiking in 40+ degree weather!

When it cooled down to the tolerable mid-30s after relaxing at our Airbnb, we drove through Springfield and checked out a couple art galleries and gem stores. The owner of DeZion gallery told us about the quick thunderstorm that came through the park while we were hiding from the heat - perfect timing, or what? Live music accompanied our delicious, everything-beer-infused dinner at the Zion Canyon Brewpub and we ended our evening with two too many scoops of ice cream and spectacular views.

Day 2:

When I first started planning our trip, I knew one of the places we had to check out was Antelope Canyon. Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons are just outside of Page, Arizona. They are famously photographed, making them a popular attraction, so I wasn't surprised when all the forums and blogs warned me of the crowds and busyness during the summer, its peak season. After doing some more Googling and digging around, I found Taadiddin Tours who take people through the lesser known Antelope Canyon X, which named after a distinct "X" opening in one of its mouths.

Because tours in Canyon X started only a couple years ago, it's definitely the lesser known section of Antelope Canyon, which is funnily named after all the "antelope" seen in the area that were actually deer. Initially, I couldn't decided between the group hiking tour (40USD, up to 90 minutes) and the photography tour (80USD, up to three hours) but am so glad I opted for the photography tour to have a smaller group and more time in the canyon. Not only did we spend the full three hours in the canyon, we ended up being the only two people who booked that tour so we had a guide-turned-personal-photographer to ourselves - definitely worth it.

One thing to make note of if you do what we did and stay in Utah and drive out to Page: although Page is further east, it's behind Hurricane by an hour! We set our alarms for 7AM, drove 2.5 hours and made it for 9:30AM.

Once we were in the canyon and our guide Josh realized we didn't have fancy DSLR cameras and only signed up for this tour to have more time exploring, he appointed himself our photographer for the day and insisted that we simply enjoy the canyon and leave the photos to him. He taught us a few tips and tricks to capture the colours and curves of the canyon on our phones and directed a few shots of us. Thanks to Josh, we had what felt like an anniversary photoshoot throughout our walk! 

Zion and I were both in awe of the canyon's beauty; the way the sun illuminated it and the edges of its striations and how the millions of waves were carved into the rock, seemingly magically, by wind and water.

Josh got very into his self-assigned photographer role, directing us where to stand, place our feet and hands, and where to look. Some are just too cheesy to post!

We ran into a couple that were both our doppelgängers and just couldn't believe it. 

Though surrounded by colours of fire, the canyon was cool as if there was a secret AC unit installed somewhere; another great quality of the canyon on a hot day!

After leaving the heavenly canyon AC and enduring a sticky ride back to our cars, we followed Josh's recommendation and had lunch at Fiesta Mexicana which has THE best salsa. We drove the short seven minutes to the next "must-see" attraction in the area: Horseshoe Canyon. Not going to lie, we sat in the car with the AC on full blast for a good five minutes to trick ourselves into thinking we were cold and actually wanted to be outside in Arizona at two in the afternoon in the summer. The short walk felt long but the view was really worth enduring the heat. 42 C to be exact!

Seeing the vivid blue-green water against the already picturesque desert rock bend was breathtaking and worth risking shrivelling up in the scorching afternoon sun.

All I could think when Zion set the timer for this photo and ran over in his flip-flops was, "don't fall and die, don't fall and die, DON'T FALL AND DIE".

Is the fear in my eyes noticeable? Zion kept inching me towards the edge, saying that I would be fine but WILL I REALLY BE FINE?! After snapping some quick photos, we started heading back to the car, again, to avoid shrivelling up into raisins and frying on the rocks to later nourish birds.

On our way out of Page, we stopped by the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge for a few short minutes.

On our way back to the Airbnb, we stopped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park - yet more amazing scenery to take in. I appreciated the lack of crowds here and was taken aback by how soft the sand was and how extensive the dunes were. 

Renting ATVs would've been a great way to explore the dunes but the rental companies in the area were closed on Sundays so we settled for sandboarding. Zion, being a snowboarder, was a natural but I wasn't quite as successful (the reason why there are no videos of me sandboarding haha).

We watched the sunset with a cool breeze drying off our sweat and the distant laughter of a large French-speaking family on the next dune over.

Post sunset glow over the dunes.

Day 3: Our first day to sleep in! We made a fun(ky) breakfast with what was left of our groceries and enjoyed coffees on the deck overlooking a river valley at the River Rock Roasting Company before heading back towards Vegas. 

Since we had a few hours before our flight, we made a detour to say a quick "hi, bye!" to the Hoover Dam (which will always remind me of National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation).

Zion had read on Reddit that August 6 was National Root Beer Float Day, where A&W gives out root beer floats for donations to raise funds for the Disabled American Veterans. Needless to say, we stopped by to have our dessert before lunch at Penn's Thai House in Henderson (which was mighty delicious!) and catching our flight. Yes, we successfully avoided Las Vegas the entire weekend!

Hurrah! Five years! (And no, Zion's not wearing socks.)


Popular Posts