Monday, April 22, 2024

National Park Girls' Tour

Eva Marie started planning this trip more than a year in advance, putting together the travel group and making reservations.  It would be a "sampler" of national and state parks!  We would have 8, that's right, eight, women traveling together across the western United States. Four of the women (Jan, Kelly, Kristen & Suzan) would be from Alabama and four (Eva Marie, Nancy, Rebecca & BJ) would be from Florida (transplants from Georgia).  Our Puerto Rican friend Maria (now living in Colorado) would meet us in Moab. Some of us had never met.  Eva Marie and her childhood friend Jan were the "Kevin Bacons" of our six degrees.  

The itinerary began to gel over the 14 months of planning.  Click here to see the itinerary or continue reading to hear/see our misadventures.

Packing for the trip was a challenge since the weather reports varied from lows in the 20s to highs in the 80s, so layers were the key component.  Refer to the itinerary to see our packing list.

Day 1, Sunday, April 14, 2024 

*Note, this was Day 2 for some who flew out to Las Vegas on Saturday.  We heard Jan won some $$$ playing craps and that they had a nice dinner in Old Las Vegas.

Nancy & BJ got up at 3:30 for a 6:30AM flight from Jacksonville. We landed in Atlanta at 7:39AM, drove around for 10 minutes and finally pulled into Gate E18 at 7:50AM. By the time we got off of the plane, it was 8:00AM and our connecting gate was T1 for a 8:15AM departure. We got on the plane train which stopped and announced a delay at B concourse, but finally got moving. When we got to the top of the escalator, we RAN to T1. Of course we could see that the gate was empty of other passengers, but thankfully the door was still open! The agents called our names as we were running and said, "Get On!" We taxied out & were on our way! Viva Las Vegas!

When we got to Las Vegas, we got in the LONG line for the rental car shuttle. Four shuttle busses went by before we finally got on one and made it to the Rental Car Center. We had rented a mid-sized SUV for the trip. Thrifty said to pick any car in row 4. The first car we picked was a nice looking VW Tiguan. We loaded our luggage and outfitted the car with the cell phone mount. When we sat in the car, we decided the seats were too low and we couldn't see out very well, so we moved everything over to the KIA Sportage which was beside us. This was much better for our sightseeing trip!

Nancy and BJ picked up the other Florida girls at Aria and went to Total Wine to get some supplies. This turned out to be a crucial expenditure, given the strange liquor laws in Utah.

We had a fun experience at Planet 13, looking at all of the various dispensary products.

We got to our hotel, MGM Grand, and checked in. The view from our room was not very appealing but what can you expect for $100/night? We could barely make out the tippy-top of the sphere across the roof if we squinted.

Lunch was at Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel. The brie and chicken sandwich was perfectly paired with a St. Germaine spritzer!

We met some well dressed golden retrievers.

Our next stop was at The Chandelier Bar in the Cosmopolitan Hotel for a Royal Tenenbaum, a refreshing sipper made with 21 Seeds Jalapeno Tequila, Pink Grapefruit Liqueur, Citrus, Cilantro, Ginger, Tamarind Syrup and Cucumber Soda.

Eva Marie and Rebecca went back to their hotel and asked Nancy and BJ to cash their sports bet ticket on our way back to our hotel. When we finally found the sports book at the Aria hotel, we discovered they had given us the wrong ticket so we hoofed back to the Paris Hotel to get the right ticket.

We made it back to the MGM Grand around 7:30PM. BJ had walked 19874 steps today. Nancy had walked 20506 (because her legs are not as long).

BJ watched some folks play blackjack but couldn't bring herself to play $25/hand. We miss the days of $2 and $5 minimums!

Day 2, Monday, April 15, 2024 

We had a rough start. Thankfully we woke up early and got an early start. BJ and Nancy picked up Eva Marie & Rebecca at the Paris Hotel, but there was a problem with their bill, so while they went inside to resolve it, BJ tried to fix the problem with the rear passenger door which would not open from the inside. Big mistake! She managed to "fix" the door so that it wouldn't latch at all! The valet tried to help, but he couldn't fix it either.

We drove back to the airport rental car return with Eva Marie holding her door closed. We explained our situation to the attendant and he was able to get the door to latch by holding the outside handle open while closing it. He wanted to swap the car for another one but since we already had it loaded, we said we would keep it.

He sent us to the exit and the lady verified our contract and told us to leave but she forgot to lower the barricade, so we hit it, HARD! Now we had a dented front end and a stripe of red paint across the front of the car. She admitted, "Oops, I forgot to lower the barricade." We took some pictures and noted the damage on the contract and went on our way, glad we had started early!

We set out for our lunch destination, paying no attention to the ticking, clicking noises coming from the car. KIA's tagline should be, "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking." We made a detour to see the Joshua Trees before arriving at our lunch stop.

Lunch at River Rock Roasting Company was fabulous! The view of the canyon and Virgin River from the deck and patio was stunning, but the sign warning of rattlesnakes was a bit disconcerting!

This was the first time BJ and Nancy had met the Alabama girls! We became instant friends!

After lunch, we went to our hotel to check in. We had a little trouble finding it since our reservation was for the La Quinta Inn and the hotel had changed names and became The Lodge at Zion Country by Marriott between making our reservation and checking in.
Our afternoon activity was in Kanab. The route took us through Zion National Park.

Several of us had purchased our America The Beautiful National Park Pass in advance. Our car got through the gate with no problem, but the other car had only brought the mirror hangar that is supposed to hold the pass. Try as they might, they could not convince the guy at the gate that the mirror hangar WAS the pass, so they had to buy another pass.
The PeekaBoo Slot Canyon tour was great! We were really really glad we had elected for the enclosed van instead of the dune buggy tour. The ride in the van was so bumpy that I scored 11000 steps on my Fitbit without taking a step! The dune buggy tour would have had us COVERED in dust!

Our guide, Becca, led us through the beautifully textured walls of the canyon and pointed out how the canyon was formed.

From the slot canyon, we went to see a hidden lake. It was a little hard to see so we had to be careful not to get our feet wet.

We drove through the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and learned about their efforts to provide a healing home for up to 1600 dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, horses pigs and other animals.

After the tour, we went back through Zion to our hotel. By the time we got checked in, we barely got to the Spotted Dog before the restaurant stopped serving dinner.

Day 3, Tuesday, April 16, 2024

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise at the Lodge.

We had breakfast at the hotel, then walked to stop 4 of the Springdale Line Zion Shuttle. A bus had just passed, so we had time to do a little stretching before the next bus. It was a chilly morning!

We got seats on the bus for the short ride to Zion Canyon National Park.

We showed our America the Beautiful passes to enter the park and got on the "inside the park" shuttle. We were the last to get on so it was standing room only. Lots of the younger folks offered us their seats but we didn't want to appear old, so we insisted on standing.

We were riding to the last stop, so by the time we got there, the bus had cleared out and we got seats. We took the River Walk trail which was beautiful but not much of a workout.

When we got back to the bus stop, we caught the bus to stop number 6 where we split up. Rebecca, Kelly, Jan, Kristen and I went up the trail toward Scout Lookout and Angels Landing. Nancy, Eva Marie and Suzan went up the Emerald Pool trail.

The West Rim trail was steep and a bit challenging, especially for those of us from close to sea level and ascending to 5330 feet!

When we got near the top there was a series of short steep switchbacks (about 20 or so).

None of us had won the lottery for the Angel's Landing trail, but at the top of Scouts Landing, Kristen and Jan went around the corner and took a peek at it and said it was crowded and scary looking.

Those who took the Emerald Pool Trail said it was rocky and the pool did not look emerald.

Nobody had a cell phone signal, so we decided to figure out a plan when everyone finished their hike and got back in range.
Kelly and BJ were the last to get back to the bottom. The rest were having lunch at Camp Outpost. We learned a new Utah law when we went to get a second drink. You can't order a drink without ordering food.

We headed back to The Lodge to pick up our rental cars and drive to our lodging (glamping) for the night at Under Canvas Zion in Virgin, Utah.

Our tents were comfortable and roomy with a wood stove and a "private" bathroom. Two people got the queen sized bed and two slept on the hide-a-bed.

We didn't notice the sliding "barn door" for the bathroom until we looked back at the pictures. Thankfully there was also a bath house on the property that had toilets, showers, and ELECTRICITY!

The sun was still out making for a warm afternoon to enjoy a beverage on the porch of our tent.

A few of us took a short hike into the surrounding hills to look for petrified wood before dinner.

There was a limited menu for dinner but we had a lovely table in the sun. (If we did this again, we would probably bring our own food.)

Fire pits and s'more kits were supplied so we tried our hand at making s'mores, but no one could get their chocolate to melt. We met a couple from Dallas who were traveling with their mom. The guy had a lot of advice for us on our s'mores and especially wanted Kelly to try a mystery s'more kit which had a Twix bar in it.

It was starting to get a little chilly, so we decided to start the wood stove in our tent before we went to bed. It got a little smoky, so we decided to let it go out. The tent stayed pretty warm.

Day 4, Wednesday, April 17, 2024

We woke up in the middle of the night to hear the yip-howls of coyotes outside of our tent! Eva Marie unzipped the window but couldn't see them.
It was cold in our tent when we woke up since we didn't keep the fire going all night. Thankfully, it was a bit warmer when we crawled out.
We had coffee and breakfast watching the beautiful sunrise over the mountain.

We took a stroll around the property before heading back to our tent to pack up.

We saw, what we thought was a helicopter pad, but it turned out to be a yoga platform. It was a good spot for a group picture!

After we got packed up, Eva Marie, Nancy, Rebecca and BJ played horseshoes while we waited for the other girls to get ready. Nancy was the only one of us to get a ringer!

The staff at the campsite told us how to get to a place where we could see dinosaur footprints. (see the itinerary for more information) We had a little trouble finding them but we were amazed when we found them! BJ put her size 7 foot next to one to show the size and depth of the prints.

We drove to Panguitch to Backroads Bistro where we had a fabulous lunch! The meal was one of the best of the trip and the service was great!
We drove to Bryce Canyon Log Cabins to drop our bags so we could hike.

As we were getting ready to leave for our hike, a couple approached Kelly and Jan's cabin. They said they had reserved all of the cabins for a 50th wedding anniversary party. They had the code to get into one of our cabins. We tried to call the reservation number and got a recording. We told them we were going to hike and we would figure it out later.
On our way, we got in touch with the management and they confirmed our cabins. We felt better and headed to Bryce. The drive to Bryce Canyon was beautiful!

When we got to the parking lot, a sign said cars with no permit would be towed, so I tried to hang the permit from the rear view mirror and the mirror fell off of the windshield! Thankfully, it seemed to be designed to do this so we were able to slide it back into place.

We took the Rim Trail to Inspiration Point. We had a beautiful view of the hoodoos below.

The higher we got, the more snow we encountered. It was just starting to melt and the trail got pretty muddy in places.

At the top, there was an outcropping that jutted out over the canyon. You could see for miles!

Back at the cabin, we met on the porch for cocktails and a charcuterie tray from the general store.

Danny, of the couple that thought our cabin was theirs, stopped by to say that they had mixed up their reservation so they were staying at an Airbnb nearby. He invited us to come down and join their party.

Day 5, Thursday, April 18, 2024

We went to Clark's Country Market to pick up some supplies and fill up the gas tank.

We wanted to do a quick hike at the bottom of the hoodoos so we decided the Queen's Garden Hike was what we wanted to do. We promptly got lost, so after we wandered around awhile, we went to the General Store and asked for directions.

They said the quickest way to get to the bottom of the hoodoos was to drive to the Mossy Cave where there would be a short walk. It was a decent hike, but not exactly what we were hoping for.

One direction led to the base of the hoodoos but you had to cross a river to get to a trail. The other direction led to the mossy cave, which was just that, a cave with moss.

With a 4 1/2 hour drive ahead of us, we decided we needed to hit the road. It was a pretty desolate drive.
We found a really cute General Store in Koosharem where we got some snacks. (We could also have purchased some live chicks.)

Lunch was in Loa at Marinia's Country Cafe where you get a free piece of pie if you leave them a review. This explains the 5 star reviews they got! Their motto is, "It's like eating at home." That might be true if you have a shotgun and a toilet seat hanging from your dining room wall!

It was a LONG drive to Moab, but once we got to the interstate, the speed limit was 80! We only stopped once for gas.

We found our spacious vacation rental, the Bella Casa Retreat, were so happy alight for 3 nights! The place had gone downhill a bit since the VRBO pictures were taken, but it was clean and certainly spacious enough for our party of 9. The hot tub was not working and the rental company told us they would not compensate us for that (we didn't ask), if we didn't like it, we could rent something else. Our only real complaint was that the mattresses were pretty worn out and uncomfortable. BJ and Nancy put a bolster pillow under their mattress so they wouldn't roll to the middle.

The best thing about the house for us was the spacious kitchen, dining and living areas, AND most importantly that our friend Maria was able to join us!

Day 6, Friday, April 19, 2024

Jan cooked us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.

We had a reservation to enter Arches National Park at 8AM which was a perfect time since there was very little traffic. We had decided that we would do the Corona hike, but when we asked the gate attendant how to get to it, she said it wasn't actually in the park. Nancy, Eva Marie, BJ, Maria and Rebecca went to the visitors center and got some advice on which hike to do. We decided on the Delicate Arch hike. The other car had followed the wrong KIA through the gate so we had a little trouble getting in touch with them. We were finally able to connect and met at the Wolf Ranch Parking Lot.

We thought it was very interesting that the information sign at the beginning of the hike warned against wearing high heels!

The hike was fairly easy. It was very wide until we got almost to the arch and then there was a narrow ledge.

When we rounded the corner on the narrow ledge, we could see the beautiful arch!

A few of us were brave enough to actually climb over and stand under the arch for a photo. The hike over to the arch was like a bowl. One lady dropped her water bottle and freaked out when it fell to the bottom of the bowl.

Maria had packed wine and cheese for us to enjoy at the top.

We hung out at the arch for awhile and enjoyed the beautiful day!

After the hike, we went back to the Bella Casa to clean up a bit and then walked to the Moab Brewery for lunch and to shop for T-shirts.

We shopped our way back to the Casa Bella, and enjoyed a margarita at ZAX on the way.

We had dinner reservations at The Cowboy Grill at Red Cliffs Lodge. It was a beautiful drive along the Colorado River to get there.

We had a great table on the deck, but shortly after we were seated, the wind picked up and we had to move inside.

We had a great meal and wanted to thank our friend Andrea for the recommendation!

There was a museum in the hotel with lots of information about farming and the film industry. It looked like a great place to spend some time. There was live music and a bulletin board with lots of activities listed.

Everyone went to bed early since we have a tour starting at 7AM in the morning.

Day 7, Saturday, April 20, 2024 

Kristen decided to do a difficult hike instead of the tour so she left the house at 6. If you get to the park before 7, you do not need a reservation to get in.
The other 8 of us were to meet our guide, whose name, coincidentally was "Ryan Guide" at the Hyatt Place Hotel. Do you think his name was really Ryan Guide?
BJ's car load went to Hyatt Place, but the other car went to another location, so we had a little confusion.
Ryan was a little nervous at first, but he seemed to relax once we all signed the waiver.

We weren't sure what to expect from the tour, and Ryan wasn't sure what to expect from us.
We started in Arches National Park.

Our first stop was at Double Arch Trail. Once Ryan saw us scrambling up the rocks, I think he realized that we were pretty able to do some of the more difficult climbs.

We were very pleased that the tour included many stops where we could get out of the van and do some hiking!

Ryan had some interesting names for formation and challenged us to come up with creative names. We renamed this one "Camel Toe Rock".

Ryan was a wealth of information about how the Arches were formed and he was an excellent photographer for our group shots.

Next was the Windows Trail.

Back in the van, we could see some brave folks doing some serious rock climbing in the crevices of some tall rocks.

Next was the Sand Dune Trail which led us to a slot canyon with a "Fat Man Squeeze" like we have back home at Rock City and Ruby Falls.

Our next stop was Dead Horse Park, named after a sad story about some dead horses. It is an unfortunate name for a beautiful park. Ryan said that a lot of proposals take place in the park.

The tour company had prepared some lovely boxed lunches.

Rebecca and BJ climbed over the retaining wall and enjoyed our lunch on a ledge with a hungry raven.

We had time to do some exploring while Ryan packed up the lunch supplies.

We headed for Canyonland Park next. Grand Viewpoint was amazing to see. We could see some jeeps riding around the edge of the canyon. They looked like little ants from our vantage point.

We were starting to tire, so we told Ryan we were ready to head home. We made a couple of drive bys and jumped out of the van for a photo or two. Buck Canyon was another awesome inspiring view.

Ryan dropped us off at our cars and we drove back to Bella Casa for pizza and card games!

Day 8, Sunday, April 21, 2024

We had said our goodbyes the night before. The "Bama" girls got up at Oh Dark Thirty to head back to Las Vegas.
The Florida team said goodbye to Maria and we left Casa Bella at 8AM headed for Salt Lake City. We made 1 stop at a rest area that was so smelly people were shouting "Shoowee" and coming out so fast they didn't have time to fasten their pants.

We got to Salt Lake in time for a nice lunch on the patio at East Liberty Tap House.

After lunch, we drove through The Avenues and out to see the Salt Lake. We went by the capital and made a loop around the Tabernacle which seemed to be undergoing some construction.

BJ dropped Nancy, Eva Marie and Rebecca at their hotel and headed over to see her nephew, Jared, his wife, Cassie and their dog Mabel. We had a very pleasant ride to Sawadee Thai Restaurant for dinner.

Day 9, Monday, April 22, 2024

BJ woke up at 3AM to the beeping of the smoke alarm in her bedroom so decided to get up and stand by for an earlier flight than planned.  She dropped (pieces of) the car off at the Thrifty car rental return around 4AM.  Thrifty was closed, so she had to just leave it there and hope not to get charged for the damage.

Everyone else made it home by the evening and we all started texting each other what a great time we had!  It was the trip of a lifetime with new lifelong friends!

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