(The continuing adventures of Charley, the little black cat that Tim sent me the day after he passed. Read all about her shenanigans here. -jb)
Charley and I have had quite the week! Well, quite the last couple weeks actually.
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On Wednesday, March 8, my little black cat was quite dismayed by the fact that my son Will and I were up at O’Dark Thirty (aka 4 a.m.) so he could take me to the airport for a few days of hiking with my daughter Marissa out west. Don’t worry – Will and Charley took good care of each other while I was gone. But she was very, very concerned that morning.
The plan was for Marissa and I to meet in St. George, Utah (me coming from Traverse City, her from Los Angeles, where she lives), hike a couple days at Zion National Park, hike a day at Bryce Canyon National Park, and then come home on Sunday, March 12, flying out of St. George.
While I’ve only flown Delta the two times I flew to L.A. last year, this time I couldn’t piece together a Delta flight to St. George. So I ended up flying United out there, then Delta on the way back.
By the way, I was glad this trip gave me experiences at O’Hare, Denver and Las Vegas airports. I was a little nervous about these new-to-me airports, but had no issues getting to where I was going at all three (I even had to take a tram to get to my concourse in Denver). A pic from O’Hare.
A few pics from the plane as I flew into St. George, Utah… this is why I love window seats.
Based on this trip, I still like Delta as my main airline. First, I have an American Express Skymiles card, which earns me Delta points every time I fly. This flight home would have been free if I’d flown out of St. George as originally planned. I did not do that, however, so ended up getting a “refund” of my points back into my Delta account. More on that later. (I guess I could get a United credit card for points, but I like to keep my credit cards to a minimum.)
Second, I’ve realized that flying is a great time for me to unplug and either read or watch something on the airline’s entertainment system. The airlines offer wifi, which I think you can use for texting, surfing the web, etc., but I’ve not connected to it on any of my flights, because it’s nice to have that time “off.”
I’ve also gotten more comfortable with being up in the air, and did not have any existential panic situations this time about being enclosed in a metal tube with other people high in the sky. I can’t dwell on that idea too much! But I was fine for all my flights this time.
As for the entertainment systems, my United flight did not have a screen on the seat-back in front of me, so if you watch something, you have to watch it on your own device like a phone or iPad. Delta, on the other hand, has a beautiful screen where you can not only watch movies and TV shows, but also watch your flight as it moves across the country. That’s pretty cool.
On my flight out there, I read and finished “Force of Nature,” a book on my Kindle by one of my favorite authors, Jane Harper. It’s the second of three books (so far) about Australian mysteries involving Federal Agent Aaron Falk. We read the first book, “The Dry” in Peninsula Community Library’s Pageturners Book Club, and I’ve got the third book, “Exiles,” installed on my Kindle ready to go, as well as another book of hers, “The Survivors.” I love her writing. Thus ends this installment of Jane’s Mini-Book Report.
Everything went as planned, and I met Marissa at the airport in St. George, which looks remarkably like the Traverse City airport. I felt right at home.
We rented a car and drove to Springdale, Utah, about an hour away just outside the boundaries of Zion, and stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites, a nice hotel with friendly staff, free breakfast, and bagged snacks like carrots and dried fruit for hikers and bikers. We saw a lot of bikers and e-bikers. There seemed to be lots of places to rent e-bikes.
That first night, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant called the Bit and Spur, where I had a great chicken burrito called the Flauta Verde.
Our first trail the next morning was The Watchman Trail (check out the trail maps here), a 3-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation of 636 feet. The AllTrails app calls it “moderately challenging,” and I would agree with that. Beautiful scenic views that open up to a plateau at the top.
One hiker said she’d come out early in the morning and the trail was icy at that time, but by the time we got there, it was dry and clear, with a few muddy stretches toward the top. It definitely got my heart pumping, and I’m glad I was in full-out training mode for the month leading up to the trip.
Over the past month, I frequented some of the steeper trails around northern Michigan like the Empire Bluffs Trail, Pyramid Point and Alligator Hill. If you know of other good steep trails around northern Michigan, let me know in the comments below.
A few pics of the Watchman Trail…
I was pretty proud of myself for getting to the top…
And, of course, I always do a yoga “tree pose” wherever I roam – in honor of my friend Kathy Hardy, who always sent back tree pose pics from her travels.
The “Zion Canyon Scenic Drive,” which is where most of the trails stem from, was closed much of the day due to traffic (one way in and out), so we didn’t get into those trails until around 3:30 p.m. If you go, I suggest getting access to those trails early in the day so you don’t miss out.
Also, we arrived in Zion just a few days before the shuttle started running, so we were able to drive our car in on Thursday. Starting that weekend, the shuttles would be the only way in and out of the park. No cars are allowed during the busy tourist season.
While we were waiting for the Scenic Drive to open, we did our own scenic drive up Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which switchbacked up the side of the canyon and through a one-mile tunnel. I was a teensy bit anxious in the tunnel, but Marissa drove it like a champ.
There is a trail up there – the Canyon Overlook Trail – but it was tough finding a spot to park, I’m guessing because like us, everyone else was probably waiting for the other Scenic Drive to open up.
So we ended up not doing the Overlook Trail, and instead drove back down and hiked the Pa’rus Trail, a relatively flat 3.2-mile out-and-back trail that goes along the Virgin River and Zion Park Boulevard.
As mentioned, we got into the Zion Scenic Drive around 3:30 p.m. and decided to do “The Zion Narrows Riverside Walk,” a beautiful 1.9-mile out-and-back trail that winds through a canyon along the Virgin River. See more info about the Zion trails here. We looked at the challenging “Angel’s Landing” trail and decided that was a little TOO challenging for us, especially given that there was snow on the ground in some parts of the park. (I bow to those of you who’ve done that trail.)
There is a longer version of “The Narrows” trail that’s 16.1 miles long, takes about eight hours to do, and has you hiking through water. We talked with some folks who were just coming back from that, and they were outfitted with waterproof overalls and tall hiking sticks.
Looking at the Zion website today, I see that “The Narrows” trail is currently closed until the water level comes down. They’ve been getting some rain out there. Here are some pics from the shorter Narrows trail…
That night we had dinner at Oscar’s Cafe, another Mexican restaurant with great food and friendly service. When we got back to the hotel, I realized I’d forgotten my backpack, which I’d slung over the back of my chair at the restaurant, so we hurried back, and fortunately, it was waiting for me at the check-in area. If it had gone missing, that would have been disastrous because all of my cards and travel stuff was in that pack! Thank goodness for honest people.
We had planned to hike around Zion for two days, head over to Bryce Canyon National Park for a day, and then fly out of St. George on Sunday. But it started raining on Friday and the weather report indicated that it would be raining for the next couple days. So we switched gears, canceled our hotel in Bryce and flight out of St. George, and decided instead to drive a few hours south to Vegas for the remainder of our trip.
This is getting long, so I’ll write a separate story about Vegas and the Red Rocks Canyon trail we hiked there, along with Charley’s reaction when I got back home. I am very grateful for my Adventure Girl, Marissa, who gets me out of my routine and is game for anything. It’s been a long winter, my first whole winter without Tim, and getting a change of scenery breaks me out of my grief doldrums.
One of Tim’s favorite book and movie series was “Lord of the Rings.” The themes of these stories gave him the strength and courage to keep moving forward during all of his medical trials, and I know he is proud of us for going on adventures. I am Bilbo, who at first was not at all interested in leaving the Shire, telling Gandalf, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning. But please come to tea, any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Goodbye!” Adventures make one late for supper, after all.
But as Frodo recalled what Bilbo told him in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I am stepping onto the road, venturing out of my comfort zone, and I know Tim is guiding me wherever I might be swept off to.
What a wonderful trip! Thank you. Your writing triggers many emotions. Life, death, the journey, taking risks and being more alive as a result. The Alter of Nature is so dynamic. Thanks for sharing. I find equal beauty just about everywhere now. It comes from a perspective from realizing how large our real home is. It’s all home to those who understand. I’m so happy you were able to spend time at the fountain of youth. It’s good for the soul.
Thanks, John! Someone once told me about “forest bathing” – finding peace and calm among the trees and nature. I guess that’s what I do every time I’m hiking either here on the OMP or elsewhere around the country. You’re so right – being out in nature is so good for the soul.
Jane, I always love to hear your stories. For you and I to feel the presence of those we love and have lost is very real. The strength they send us helps us to enjoy these adventures in our lives after they are gone. I am so happy that you had this special time with your daughter.
Thanks so much, Joanie! I love your beautiful words – so true.