Indagare member AE Rueppel recently returned from a family trip to Vegas, Zion, the Grand Canyon and Sedona. Here are her impressions from the trip.
Las Vegas & Hoover Dam
After an early morning flight to Las Vegas we checked into the elegant and bustling Bellagio Hotel. Shortly thereafter we enjoyed lazing by the chic pool with cool drinks until the blazing sun drove us inside for a quick “pick me up” in the form of an exquisite dark-chocolate cupcake at French patisserie Jean Phillippe. A wonderful dinner at Jean Georges’ Prime (favorites included tender filet mignon with soy-rice wine sauce and crispy spaetzle) and a perfect view of the evening’s dancing fountains capped off a great first day.
The next morning we drove to Hoover Dam, where we were delighted with the self-guided tour and presentation which includes an informative movie full of impressive facts presented with charming “can do” American narrative. Afterwards, we remarked on how feats of huge physical engineering such as the Hoover Dam don’t seem to happen anymore in this current age of digital and high tech wizardry where so much is created individually behind a desk or in front of a flat screen, and a sense of proud nostalgia swept over us all.
We next headed to Zion, deciding to take the slightly longer “scenic” route through the Valley of Fire, and found its jagged and eroded sandstone formations interesting and slightly eerie. Although it was nice to break up an otherwise long, flat drive (after the intense crowds and bustle of Vegas, being on the open, desolate road was an interesting contrast) we did not find the Lake Mead area particularly appealing in general, and next time would head to Zion as fast as possible.
Zion delighted from the minute the road magically changes from dry, grey asphalt to deep red rust—a not so subtle signal that you have arrived somewhere very different, and very special. As we entered the small town of Springdale that sits just outside the park entrance—the cool vibe of a wonderfully local and edgy yet wholesome town was immediately present. We enjoyed an early dinner of piping hot fresh pizza at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., where the staff was genuine and friendly. Afterwards, we enjoyed wandering into one of the many local galleries to view vibrant photos of classic Zion scenes—a great precursor to what we’d see in person the next day. Our stay at Zion Lodge (location can’t be beat for hitting the trails early) was comfortable and clean, and the folksy staff was earnest and helpful (especially when they helped us find our room when we were disoriented in the total darkness upon check-in. Note: pack a small flashlight!) We particularly loved the environmental sensitivities—for example, instead of gratuitously handing out paper maps which guests lose or discard, laminated copies are provided which guests return upon checkout.
As experienced hikers, we were interested in challenging ourselves on the steep, cliffside Angels Landing Trail—but our youngest child’s age (7 yrs) and the blazing hot sun were factors that led us to choose The Narrows instead. We happily tucked ourselves into the base of this tall slot canyon and navigated the chilly waters of the Virgin River (which at times was as high as mid-thigh) for three glorious hours. We’d forgotten our (highly recommended) high-tech hiking poles but as we arrived at the river’s entry point we were pleasantly surprised to find a collection of natural sticks left by previous hikers leaning against the rock wall. It was a delightful feeling to suddenly feel a part of an invisible community of outdoor enthusiasts—people who embrace the arresting wonder of the outdoors—and leave something for others. We returned the sticks to the same spot at the end of the hike, ”paying forward” the favor to the next set of in-need hikers we’d never meet.
The next day, after an early hike to Emerald Pools (where we found beautiful waterfalls created by the prior day’s flash flood—typical in August—beware!) we headed into Springdale, where the children delighted in exploring the outside wooden tables overflowing with chunky heaps of rocks and minerals like peridot, rhyolite, azurite, aragonite, calsite and selenite at The Zion Prospector. Once again we felt the refreshing sense of a small and trusting community when we found this note, posted on the door: “Sorry—closed. If you would like to purchase a rock from the outside tables, weigh it on the scales and slide the money under the door. Thank you!”
A fantastic breakfast of fresh made crepes and waffles at newly opened MeMe’s Cafe gave us the boost we needed for the day ahead. (The “Court of the Patriarchs” was delicious, with blueberries, strawberries and powdered sugar, and a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice made before your eyes!). Nearby, Sundancer Books with its inviting patio and collection of regional guides and bestsellers would have been a perfect place to wander into for a long browse—next time! Just down the street, large outdoor “whirligig” wind sculptures at newly opened La Feve Gallery caught our eye—and we enjoyed browsing the beautiful array of sculpture, paintings, pottery and jewelry by local artists housed inside this peaceful and elegant spot.
We also enjoyed chatting with fun staff at Oscar’s who gave us local news and updates—while we waited for hot and spicy breakfast burritos. The dinner menu looked fantastic at nearby Bit & Spur, with items such as lamb and hominy “Zuni Stew” and Peach Custard Pie that diners can enjoy against a backdrop of excellent local music on many nights. Also, Sol Foods grocery store should not be missed with its fresh selection of picnic-ready organic fruits and vegetables, local Utah preserves and salsas, five types of gourmet sea salt—and lagers and ales from Zion Canyon Brewing Company.
Other spots in Springdale we noted for a next trip: a movie theater (monsoon-season rainy day spot!) and laundromat (mid-point road trip spot!). Registered guests at Zion Lodge can park their car on site, then use the free shuttles that run continuously throughout the park and into Springdale, which is easy and efficient! Despite wishing we’d had another day or two, we were soon winding our way through the impressive Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel heading to our next stop, the Grand Canyon.
Time did not allow us to visit the North Rim of the Canyon as we’d hoped, so we drove directly to the South Rim from Zion. (Note: as you pass by Lees Ferry Anglers—check out the well-stocked store for great gear if you too have forgotten your hiking poles or need an extra pair of shorts, socks or brightly colored bandanas) and arrived just in time to see a glimpse of the river sparkle in the distance from the Desert View and Watchtower.
Despite repeated warning that we would be too hot in August—we were pleasantly surprised at how easily we handled the heat. There was great cloud cover the day we hiked “below the rim” on the South Kaibab trail. As we descended into the canyon we were briefly frozen in awe as we absorbed its massive, imposing, timeless beauty. It was stunning and just a few hundred yards down the steep trail, a completely different scene is revealed. Remember to heed all warnings—even if you are an experienced hiker, outdoorsman and athlete—the Canyon is not to be argued with and the trail is steep and shadeless with no water filling stations.
Our meals in the El Tovar dining room were delightful—especially our breakfast (warning: hike hard, the portions are generous!) where we especially liked the pastry chef’s treats and deliciously different blue corn and buckwheat pancakes with honey pine nut butter and prickly pear syrup. At dinner, three huge elk lounged just outside our window, seemingly just as much at home as we were feeling. Disappointing notes about El Tovar include pre-dinner cocktails being interrupted by the big-screen TV blaring overhead, which seemed at odds with the natural surroundings and intent to keep the hotel true to its early-age elegance. Also, the musty odor that seemed to pervade the lobby and nearby hallways was a bit off-putting. However, the front desk staff was exceptionally welcoming and helpful, and had spot-on tips on where to view the Sunset (Mohave) and Sunrise (the flagpole—steps from our nearby room at clean and efficient Kachina Lodge).
Highlights included having our “aura” read at Center for the New Age, a delicious candlelit dinner with a view of a double rainbow in newly renovated restaurant Tii Gavo, and a sunrise hike along the Vista Trail in the peaceful early morning company of no one besides ourselves.