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2 Brits in a Chevy: a Southwest Road Trip LV, Southern UT and Northern AZ

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Sep 27th, 2009, 12:14 PM
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2 Brits in a Chevy: a Southwest Road Trip LV, Southern UT and Northern AZ

It's only 6 hours since we landed back in London having returned from our trip of a lifetime through Southern Utah and Northern AZ. I should of course, be doing sensible things like opening the pile of mail accumulated in 2 weeks, sorting more laundry, and getting some rest before going back to work tomorrow, but I don't want to get back to normality yet. It's far more fun to download all the photos and start this thread which will hopefully become our full trip report over the next few days/weeks (as I get time to add to it!).

This forum was (as ever) invaluable in helping me plan our trip - and what a trip it was! I'm still reeling from the sights we've seen and places we've been - thanks to all who answered my planning questions, or had posted previous reports/responses that gave helpful snippets of info.

I'll start with the background: DH and I live in London and are both in our early 30s. We like hiking, photography (especially DH who is a semi-pro photographer), sightseeing, history etc. Earlier in the year, I won an award through work of return flights for 2 to Vegas plus 3 nights accommodation and we could choose to extend the trip at our own cost. I was obviously delighted to have won such a great prize, but there was no way we were going to go all that way for just 3 nights, and only see Vegas! So after a bit of discussion as to whether to head East or West, we decided on the Grand Circle (or part of it) and the real planning began.

Our initial itinerary was to visit Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and GC South Rim and I'm delighted to say, we managed all this and so much more including Goblin Valley, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, Navajo Monument, Painted Desert/Petrified Forest etc. We hiked in most parks, kayaked down the Colorado River, took over 2500 photos between us, clocked up 1922 miles (in Betsy, our rental Chevy!) and bought 29 souvenir fridge magnets (explanation required: we collect them. The brief is that they must say where they're from and be in the worst taste possible. It means that every time we open our fridge/freezer/microwave we remember all the places we've been together!).

DAY 1:
We flew to Vegas from London with AA via Miami. Nothing much to report there - we arrived ok, so did our luggage. What more could we have hoped for?! We got the shuttle from the airport to our hotel (Excalibur) on the south end of the strip ($6.50 each).

At this point, it's probably worth me saying that for us, this trip wasn't about Vegas. It was a bit of a means to an end - I had been lucky enough to win (and was very grateful for) the flights and accommodation through my employer, but it's not somewhere I would choose to visit again. We're not big gamblers, not interested in lying by a pool all day and not really into the type of Vegas revue/spectacle shows in the evening.

We had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar before hitting the sack after a long day's travelling. 11pm on a Saturday night - we were probably the only people in the city who had gone to bed so early!

A note about the hotel Excalibur though. It's not posh. Far from it. Our wanderings the next day made us realise we were staying in the Vegas equivalent of Blackpool (for the Brits), or as I heard places described on a previous trip to the States 'the Redneck Riviera'. There were a lot of Stag/hen/bachelor/bachelorette party types there, and it was rowdy and raucus, Having said that, the room was clean, large and that was all we needed (and of course it was free for us, so I couldnt complain!).

DAY 2:

As I said, we don't really gamble much or laze by pools, so we were a bit concerned about how to fill an entire day in Vegas, but we set out to walk up the Strip and went into each hotel/casino/mall on the way. We made it up as far as the Wynn and down back to Mandalay Bay. I won't dwell to much on all this. It was quite an eye opener (seriously, who REALLY needs to play on a slot machine at 7.30am? had they been there all night?). I'm lucky enough to have been to the real Paris, Veince and NYC before so walking through the Vegas themed equivalent was a little amusing. The walk actually took much of the day as we strolled from one huge casino to another. As I said, it was an eye opener and entertaining for the day, but not the real high part of our trip - that was to come the following day....

Day 3 next - Zion NP.....
quiUK is offline  
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Sep 27th, 2009, 12:33 PM
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Oh good...a trip report!

Thanks for thinking of us.
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Sep 27th, 2009, 03:18 PM
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quiUK:

Good start - looking forward to more.

Sandy
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Sep 27th, 2009, 04:57 PM
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Really looking forward to your trip report. Sounds like you had an amazing trip!
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Sep 27th, 2009, 06:02 PM
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quiUK,

I'm so happy you are doing a report for us! Can't wait to read all about your adventures.
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Sep 27th, 2009, 06:56 PM
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If you get stuck in Vegas for three days again, take day trips to Death Valley National Park (could do more than one there), Valley of Fire State Park, or Red Rock Canyon. Sounds like you've been on a great trip. Thanks and keep writing.
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Sep 27th, 2009, 08:13 PM
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Lovely report so far - I'm looking forward to reading the rest!

Lee Ann
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Sep 27th, 2009, 11:00 PM
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I love the tasteless fridge magnets! I've been working on my own 'bad art' collection for some years now and it's so silly. Looking forward to more!
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Sep 28th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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Thanks for your comments everyone - I recognise most of your names from your previous helpful forum posts on the area!

Day 3:

We woke early, checked out and got the shuttle to the airport to pick our car. This then involved yet another shuttle to the rental car centre which isn't near the terminal itself. Whilst not particularly onerous, we discovered when we returned the car to the airport at the end of the trip that if you're staying on the South end of the strip, the cost of a cab to/from the airport is comparable to the shuttle, and saves a bit of hassle. We took taxis instead when we got back to Vegas for our final night before flying home the next day.

Anyway - back to the beginning of the trip! We cashed in some airmiles to get a heavy discount on our rental car, and had a Chevy Impala - aka Betsy. Prior to the trip, we had ummed and ahhhed about whether to upgrade to a 4WD SUV, but in the end were glad we didn't spend the extra as it wasn't required. Once we'd piled all our gear into Betsy, we hit I15 North and hoped to pass a Walmart or similar to buy a cheap cooler and stock up on some road trip essentials - picnic items, trail mix bars, water and most importantly a few cold beers! The suburbs of Vegas we passed through didn't appear to have anything of the sort though - where do people do their food shopping in these parts?! Even our GPS (nicknamed Tim) didn't appear to have anywhere local listed (although perhaps he was still in a bit of culture shock having been plucked out of London and plunged into Vegas). We decided not to spend too long in the city though and headed off up the Interstate hoping to pass somewhere en route and exited at Mesquite where we found a Walmart.

Having managed to get everything, we set our course for Springdale, UT and reached there and checked into our motel by early afternoon. We stayed at the Zion Park Motel and were very pleased with it. I'm sure you can't go wrong with any lodging in Springdale though as it's such a nice place! We had 2 nights in Springdale, so set off to make the most of what was left of our first afternoon there. I'm sure many of you who read this forum are familiar with the shuttle service there, but for those that aren't: there are 2 free shuttle bus services in operation in the summer months (until October I think?). The first takes you from any of numerous stops in Springdale to the Zion Visitors Centre, and the second runs inside the park from the VC up the canyon and back again - also with frequent stops and plenty of excellent and informative commentary on the park, the stops and access to the different trails. The system works like a dream - it's frequent, pretty quick and makes the park itself a much nicer place by not having traffic, noise and parking issues.

We gained entry to the park with our annual pass which we could also use for all other NPS run parks we visited too - it proved to be excellent value for money. We spent some time by the excellent VC looking at the detailed information on the different hikes we could do, and decided that as the afternoon was ticking by, we'd use the time to take the shuttle up the canyon and get our bearings, do the Riverside walk at the end and then see what we had time left for and get an idea as to what hikes we would do the following day. The sky was also looking threatening in parts, and we did have a brief rain shower whilst on the bus.

Zion is stunning. Simply stunning. We enjoyed our first ride up the canyon and hopped out at the last stop to experience it for real. The Riverside Walk was pleasant. It's not long (about a mile to a mile and a half), and on level, paved ground. A nice introductory walk in the park, and fun to see everyone coming in off the Narrows at the end. It was also DH's first chance to get the cameras out and start shooting some of the fabulous scenery - as such, the walk took us while as we stopped quite a bit to enjoy our surroundings. As we came back towards the trailhead, the heavens threatened to open again so we thought best to head back towards the park entrance, have an earlyish dinner and night and prepare ourselves for the next day.

We ate at a restaurant next door to our Motel - the amusingly named 'Wildcat Willie's'. It was pretty good, service was very friendly and they served beer in 1l glasses so DH was happy. He had ribs, and I had a shrimp salad. Both tasty, but let's face it, this trip was not about the food.....

Before leaving London, I had read about Angel's Landing and thought 'there's no way we could do that', then I thought 'well, maybe we can, let's see what it's like when we get there'. For anyone not familiar with it, it's 5 mile round trip trail with an elevation change of 1500ft - most of it seemingly in the last half mile whilst hauling yourself up on chains over a giant precipice (on both sides). Not for the faint hearted. When we passed it on the bus, I had second thoughts again (or is that third thoughts?!) - it looked huge, steep, treacherous, beyond our capabilities and downright lunacy to even try and attempt it. But everything I had read suggested it was one of the best hikes going with tremendous views and this nagged in the back of my head. Could I overcome my fear of heights? Would DH be able to get some of his camera gear up there? Would we fall to our certain deaths in trying? Even if we got up, would we get back down again in one piece? We went to bed without having made a decision - if we were going to do it, we'd have to start first thing in the morning. We agreed we'd see what the weather forecast looked like in the morning, pick up some picnic items at Sol Foods just outside the park and play it by ear.

Next installment: Day 4 - "Angels Landing: did we or didn't we?"
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Sep 28th, 2009, 07:46 AM
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I'm really enjoying this. It makes me realize that I should see more of my own country.
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Sep 28th, 2009, 09:20 AM
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OK, we're waiting with baited breath, did you???
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Sep 28th, 2009, 09:24 AM
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Very good, adding suspense to your report. I remember you asking for advice for this trip. Looking forward to more.

MY
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Sep 28th, 2009, 09:42 AM
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I'm enjoying your report. It's good to see such familiar country through someone else's eyes. I hoped you waved as you passed me in Mesquite.
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Sep 28th, 2009, 10:18 AM
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I'n in...
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Sep 28th, 2009, 03:40 PM
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Day 4

In the morning the weather forecast predicted a 30% chance of thunderstorms (or, depending how you look at it, a 70% chance of no rain). DH muttered something about it being dangerous to be high up on exposed rock when lightening was nearby. Hmmmm. A fair point. Perhaps it was madness for us to consider hiking up to Angels Landing and it should only be undertaken by seasoned adventurers – the kind of people who make fire from damp twigs, kills animals with their bare hands for food, and build shelter out of leaves. Or perhaps we were being chicken and trying to talk ourselves out of it. ‘Lets get the shuttle there and ask a Ranger’ we agreed.

We arrived early at park entrance (8ish) and got a quick breakfast at Sol Foods and stocked up on some packed lunch items. As well as a mini mart there, the cafe also had a breakfast fruit and cereal bar which suited us fine as opposed to waffles, pancakes etc so it’s a handy place to know just outside the park. Whilst on the subject of breakfast, I’d like to digress slightly. What I’m about to say will do no good for international relations between our 2 nations, but with the veil of anonymity afforded by the internet I’m just going to come out and say it: America – your coffee is rubbish. It doesn’t taste of anything. There. I’ve told you all and I feel better for it (and sorry if I’ve offended anyone). At Sol Foods that morning, I noticed that aside from the usual ‘brew’ you guys serve up under the guise of coffee, I could also purchase espresso. Praise be - a decent cup at last, and I knew to look out for places serving it throughout the rest of our trip. ;-)

Thus fortified, we spoke to the Ranger at the entrance kiosk who said any thunderstorms would be more than likely in the afternoon, and early morning was the perfect time to start Angels Landing so off we should go. So we did. And it was brilliant.

The start of the hike was easy – shady and cool at that time of day, and not too steep. Then it got steeper, then levelled out in Refridgerator Canyon, and then came the Wiggles....pretty steep, but nothing we couldn’t handle. So far so good. We got to Scouts Lookout where the paved/gravel trail ended and Angels Landing loomed before us.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ DH asked. ‘We can always turn back now if you’d prefer’.

‘We’ll never forgive ourselves if we don’t at least try it. Let’s go.’ I said.

Looking back on it, it was pretty frightening, except I don’t remember feeling it too much at the time as I was concentrating so hard on where my feet and hands were going. I do recall however thinking that as hard as going up was, coming down looked even harder – you’re forced to look down! We took the ascent pretty slowly and carefully, stopping to catch breath and balance, and were rewarded at the top with the view to beat all views – the whole of Zion Canyon lay before us. We spent about 45 minutes up there taking it all in, but in the back of mind I kept thinking ‘how on earth am I going to get down?!’ Well, I got down the same way I got up – slowly but surely (although I spent more of it on my backside as I kind of ‘shuffled’ down the steeper bits)! Once back to Scouts Lookout we felt nothing could beat us so strode off down the wiggles and rest of the trail back to the canyon floor. The trail was busier – many hikers starting it later in the day and I can’t imagine how hot it must have been for them climbing up as by that time there was much less shade! Once we’d finished (about 3.5 hours round trip), we felt so elated – what an achievement (for us anyway)! We snacked on our sandwiches in the shady picnic area and both agreed that if we could manage this, we would feel much more confident tackling other strenuous trails throughout the trip.

After lunch, we took the Kayenta trail (more stunning canyon views) to the Upper and Middle Emerald pools. The trail to the former was good fun. Silly though it may sound, I like hiking on more ‘interesting’ surfaces than a path – the more varied the path the better! This path wasn’t particularly steep, but gave some opportunity for clambering round a few rocks, and the pool in a cool, shady glade was a welcome retreat at the end.

Once back on the canyon floor, we shared a cold diet coke before getting the shuttle back to the Canyon Junction stop where we got off to hike the gentle Pa’rus Trail back to the Visitors Centre. Great views again, and this was a nice end to such and strenuous day. DH & I have taken at least a couple of hundred pictures from that day alone (and still managed to purchase 2 Zion fridge magnets to boot).

We had definitely earned our cold beers by that evening, and ate dinner at a small Mexican restaurant in Zion. Tired, but pretty proud of our personal achievement, we hit the sack as we were leaving early the next morning to drive to Bryce.

At this point, I’ll throw in my 2 cents (for what it’s worth) on hiking gear – purely because before we left for the trip, I was wondering what we should take with us to minimise baggage but prepare for extremes of temperature and ensure we hopefully wouldn’t break an ankle! DH & I walk a fair bit back here in Blighty. We have a modest collection of what I term ‘technical clothing’ – you know, the kind of stuff found in an outdoor shops where every tag has a cross section diagram of the fabric to show its various wicking, breathability and/or waterproof features. I love technical clothing - I’m a sucker for it (especially buying new socks for some reason). Whilst we didn’t take the whole lot with us, the following were useful – fleeces for cool mornings and evenings, quick drying t-shirts and shorts, decent walking socks and hiking shoes (we call them approach shoes over here. Like a hiking boot but without all the ankle support). We found the shoes sufficient for the hiking we did and I was pleased as I hadn’t wanted to cart my boots over in my luggage. We each carried a small rucksack which could accommodate several refillable 500ml bottles of water, sunscreen, hat, snacks, cameras, binoculars etc. I felt we were equipped ok for the standard of hiking we were to do and the length of trails (5 miles max, but sometimes more than one in a day). What amazed me in several of the parks we visited, was the number of people setting off on some of the more strenuous trails and despite all the warnings and information provided by the NPS, they were wearing sandals/flip flops etc and carrying little or no water. Luckily we never saw anyone get into difficulty or hurt themselves though!

Anyway, that aside, as I said we were heading off to Bryce the following morning and I was excited because I had heard Hwy 12 on the way there was going to be pretty spectacular too and we were making our first foray onto it.
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Sep 29th, 2009, 04:07 AM
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So glad you had a great hike and the weather cooperated and your gear worked well. Keep it up.

thanks
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Sep 29th, 2009, 05:38 AM
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Great report!

"What amazed me in several of the parks we visited, was the number of people setting off on some of the more strenuous trails and despite all the warnings and information provided by the NPS, they were wearing sandals/flip flops etc and carrying little or no water."

My husband's family did this when he was younger. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a lark. The trip back up wasn't as fun. I think in the U.S., we all just secretly expect there to be an elevator somewhere that we can find if absolutely need be!
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Sep 29th, 2009, 08:17 AM
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Great report.

I never went near Angel's Landing and think maybe I should have done the lower part.

And coffee? Well, my wife is addicted and I've never had a cup in my life.

More, more, more!!!
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Sep 29th, 2009, 10:14 AM
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kelliebellie - "I think in the U.S., we all just secretly expect there to be an elevator somewhere that we can find if absolutely need be!"

It wasn't predominantly Americans - we saw lots of Germans and Japanese who were dressed more for sitting on their tour bus than hiking across slickrock. Now I'm not one for resorting to stereotypes (well, not often anyway ;-)), but you'd think given the reputation of those 2 nations for fastidiousness, they'd have been better kitted out for it!
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Sep 29th, 2009, 01:06 PM
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Great report...and yes, American coffee generally sucks.

We bring a single burner propane stove and percolator
with us in out luggage just to make sure we get a proper
"fix. We're always amazed how a great breakfast joint
will serve a watered-down mess as you describe as coffee.

FWIW, the Mean Bean Coffee Shop will serve you a decent
cup in Springdale...it is right across the street from
Oscar's.
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