Sunday, June 30, 2019

10-Day Road Trip to National Parks & Sights in Utah and Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona
Richard and I just took a fabulous 10-day road trip to see five national parks, two iconic places on Navajo land, and the red rocks of Sedona. We could have spent more time in Zion and Bryce, but we were limited for time (and the weather wasn't so great).

Several people have asked for itinerary for the trip we just took, so here it is!

Day 1 

Arrive at Las Vegas airport and pick up a rental car. Drive 2.5 hours to Springdale, Utah, near Zion National Park so you can be there in the morning when the park opens.

Stay at one of the many hotels in Springdale or nearby. I don’t have a recommendation, because we stayed overnight in Vegas to see some friends who live in the area. But unless you have a desire to see or be in Vegas, head for Zion.

If you have 2-3 hours to spare, Visit Hoover Dam, which is a 40 minute drive from Las Vegas, but will add about 45 minutes to your trip to Springdale because it’s a little out of the way.

Day 2 

Get up early and drive 5-10 minutes to the park before 10 a.m., because if you get there after 10 a.m., the park parking lots will probably be full. If that’s the case, park in town and take the bus to the park entrance.

Take the bus from the Visitor’s Center all the way to the end of the park to the Temple of the Sinawava stop. Walk the Riverside Walk trail; see the Narrows (if open).

On the way back, get off at The Grotto stop and walk the canyon trail to the Zion Lodge stop, where you can have something to eat and do one or both of the Emerald Pools hikes. Or, for a longer, more moderate hike (4 hours), take the Angel’s Landing trail, which starts at The Grotto stop.

After you’ve had your fill of Zion, head northeast out of the park and drive 1.5 hours to Bryce Canyon City just outside of Bryce Canyon. There’s a tunnel on this route that sometimes gets backed up and causes delays, but it’s a very scenic drive.

Stay overnight Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, 30 N 100 E, Bryce Canyon City, UT 84764. Enjoy the buffet dinner at Ruby’s Inn, which is a short walk across the street.

Day 3 

Take the park bus, which stops near the hotel, into Bryce Canyon National Park as early as you can in the morning. Stop at Visitor’s Center or stay on the bus to Bryce Point. Walk the easy Rim Trail to Sunset or Sunrise Point.  At Sunset, you have the option of walking Navajo Loop trail (moderate) into the canyon.

Depart Bryce and drive 4.5 hours to Moab, Utah. There are many hotel options in Moab, but we enjoyed our Airbnb at Moab Parkside Rentals, 360 North 100 West Unit B, Moab, UT 84532. It’s within walking distance of the main street where there are many shops and restaurants.

There’s a City Market grocery store about a mile from the Airbnb, where you can pick up breakfast/lunch items, drinks, and snacks.

We had a wonderful dinner at Thai Bella, just down the street from our Airbnb, not on the main drag.  Also enjoyed quesadillas for lunch at the Quesadilla Mobilia truck on the main street.

Day 4 

Drive 45 minutes to the Islands in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park in the morning. Drive to the Mesa Arch and take short hike to see this magnificent arch. Drive to Grand Canyon Point and take the Rim Trail out and back (@1-2 hours).

Head back to Moab for lunch, or if you’ve packed a lunch, go directly to Arches National Park (10 minutes from Moab). Go to Delicate Arch viewpoint; take short trail up to Upper Viewpoint. Go to Windows area and take trails to Double Arch and North/South/Turret arches.  For a longer hike, take primitive trail by South Arch.

Option: Take a sunset hike on the Delicate Arch trail, which is 45-60 minutes each way, but you have to plan this so you don’t end up hiking in the dark.

Stay overnight in Moab.

Day 5 

Depart Moab in the morning and drive 2 hours south to Monument Valley. Drive the 17-mile Valley Drive, which is a gravel road with stops along the way so it takes about 2 hours. Note: This is not part of the National Parks Service, so you will pay a fee to the Navajo Nation to get in.

If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can book a tour with a company that will take you on the drive in an open air truck. Be prepared for the dust and heat, though. Note: People in RVs, tour buses, or motorcycles can only do the drive this way, as those vehicles are not allowed on the gravel road.

There’s only one hiking option in Monument Valley and you have to sign in at the Visitor’s Center to do it. Walk from the Visitor’s Center to the Wildcat Trail trailhead. Plan on another two hours to do this hike, unless you only go part way and turnaround.

After you’re done seeing everything you want to see in Monument Valley, drive 2 hours to Page, AZ at the base of Lake Powell.

Option: Take a 90-minute boat ride on Lake Powell at 5 p.m. – but best to book this ahead, as spots fill up. They serve water, coffee, and lemonade on the boat, but if you think you’re going to be hungry, bring a snack.

There are many hotels in Page, but we stayed at a nice little Airbnb, Antelope Canyon Horseshoe Bend Casita, 72 South Navajo Drive, Page, AZ 86040. There’s a Safeway grocery store in town where you can buy food.

A good reasonably-priced Mexican restaurant option in Page is El Tapatio. They serve monster margaritas!

Day 6 

Visit Antelope Canyon. Since it is on private Navajo land, you have to book a tour to do this.

There are several tour operators, but we chose Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours. Our tour of Upper Antelope Canyon lasted a little over an hour. But you can also book longer tours that visit multiple canyons.

Hard to say which time of day is best. Light is probably better in the late morning-mid afternoon, but it also heats up during the summer hours (although it will be cooler inside the canyon). I’d probably go with a tour that starts before 1 p.m.

We scheduled an evening boat tour of Lake Powell on our second day in Page. The marina is in the Glen Canyons National Recreation area, so it requires a national parks pass or $30 fee per car to get in.  It is about 30 minutes from Page.

Other options are to take a paddleboard tour on Lake Powell, but you should allow at least four hours to do this. Or, if you’re into dams, you can visit the Glen Canyon Dam.

For a short easy hike, try the Hanging Garden hike just outside of Page on the way to the dam.

Day 7

Drive 10 minutes from Page in the morning to Horseshoe Bend. Hike 20 minutes down to the edge of the canyon to see the bend.

Drive 2 hours south to Grand Canyon National Park. Stop first at Desert View Lookout and proceed to as many other lookouts as you want. Park near the Visitor’s Center and hike the easy Rim Trail (1-2 hours each way).

Or, if you’re staying in the Grand Canyon Village at one of the hotels right on the rim, as we did, park near your hotel, hike the Rim Trail to the Visitor’s Center, and take the bus back.

Stay overnight at El Tovar Hotel, 9 Village Loop Drive, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023. Book this 6-8 months ahead, unless you are flexible in your itinerary and can nab a room on a night that someone gives up a month ahead. I suspect that many people book multiple dates ahead and then cancel once their plans are set.

Eat at the historic El Tovar Dining Room. But again, make reservations in advance.

You can also stay at a hotel in nearby Tusayan and drive into the park. Parking may be at a premium during busy times, though.

Day 8 

Eat breakfast in the El Tovar dining room or head down the trail to the take out café at the Bright Angel Lodge.

If you’re not afraid of heights and can handle elevation changes, hike the Bright Angel Trail in the morning.

The entire trail (difficult) takes more than a day to do, but you can do shorter more moderate out and back hikes as you have time and are able. This is also the trail that the famous mule rides go down and back up, which is another option.

Drive 2 hours to Sedona in the early afternoon. Stop at the open air market just before you get into town to check out the jewelry deals and talk to the person in the visitor’s booth to get recommendations for things to do.

There are many hotel options in Sedona, but we stayed at a comfortable little Airbnb called Sunset Casita, 230 Sunset Drive, #6, Sedona, AZ. There are Whole Foods, Safeway, and Basha’s grocery stores nearby where you can get breakfast items.

We took a stargazing tour at 9 p.m. with Evening Sky Tours.  It was amazing. Depending on the time of year you do this, it could be cold. But they provide blankets. (You can also do this types of tour in Zion, where the sky is probably a little darker.)

Day 9 

Relax, shop, or take a hike in the a.m. We did Devil’s Bridge, which is a 2-3 hour moderate hike until you get to the end; then there are some steep rocks you have to climb to reach the bridge.
Drive 2 hours to Phoenix in the afternoon.

Option: Stop at Alcantara Vineyards outside Cottonwood and/or Arizona Stronghold Vineyards in downtown Cottonwood.

Or, if you’re an architecture buff, visit Arcosanti – Italian architect Paolo Soleri’s urban laboratory about an hour from Phoenix. Be prepared to be underwhelmed (still interesting to those who like architecture).  But they sell the famous bells there.

Stay at a hotel or Airbnb in Phoenix.

Day 10 – Monday, June 3

Depart Phoenix.

Or, stay a few more days to explore Phoenix. Lots of things to do there!

Park Visitor and Hiking Tips

  • Bring plenty of water. Pack a lunch or bring snacks
  • Wear sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses
  • Stop at the Visitor’s Center in each park to get the lay of the land, maps, or talk to a ranger about how best to see the parks
  • Expect crowds unless you go in the off-season (November-March)
  • Be prepared for the weather. We had snow in Bryce on Memorial Day 
  • Bring casual clothes, with warmer clothes to wear at night (fleece, light jacket, long sleeved shirts/sweaters, etc.). Hat and gloves if you plan to go on a stargazing.
  • Buy a national parks pass; otherwise its $30 per car every time you enter a park. Well worth the money!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Singing the Night Away

Last night I went to a Karaoke party.

The only other time I'd ever done Karaoke (except in the shower), was on a Disney cruise somewhere off the coast of Florida about 15 years ago.

This was very different than that.

It was at a Korean Karaoke place in Chicago's Lincoln Park. We had a private room and there were about 20 people there to celebrate my niece Jordan's 30th birthday.

I went in to the evening thinking I was going to have to perform alone.  I'd practiced a few songs and my sister Sue and I had planned to do an Elton John song together.

But this was Group Karaoke. Everyone sings.

And because it was Korean, only 20% of it's extensive song library was American top hits.

They didn't have "Rocket Man."

It didn't matter. We still found plenty of songs to sing. I was surprised that these 20- and 30-somethings knew a lot of my music from the '70s and '80s.  Who knew?

Sue brought props (wigs, funny sunglasses, hats, etc.) and people put them on. Everyone was into it. Except maybe my husband Richard, who didn't know most of the songs, and isn't into costumes.

And as the night wore on and people had a few beers (and shots), the singing got louder and louder. The noise in that little room was at a decibel level close to a jackhammer.

After about three hours, I was done.

But today, I found that every song I heard, I was evaluating it for its Karaoke-ness. Slow lyrics in a medium range work best.

I'm going to have Journey's "Don't Stop Believ'in" in my head for a while. And I'll have a kick-ass Karaoke list for the next time.

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve at the Lake

“This is going to be the best oyster stew ever,” Dad declared, stirring the pot and peering at a milk-stained recipe. The men always made oyster stew for New Year’s Eve at the lake house when my parents lived there.

It was a favorite of my dad’s and he always wanted everyone to like it just as much as he did.

But only Eric, Richard, and Bruce were true fans.  We women made our own soup – corn chowder or some other new recipe we wanted to try.

As they got older, our kids started sampling the soups, but still only the boys gravitated towards oyster stew.

“Men, men, men, men,” my brother Eric chanted, as he tasted the soup.

Apparently, oysters were supposed to make you more virile. Someone probably thought that up so that more people would eat those nasty little things.  Blech.

Our New Year’s Eve family tradition for 20 years at the lake was to stay in, make food, play games, make predictions, and go to bed shortly after midnight. Sometimes, we’d dress up.

The girls were especially into this.  While the adults were cooking, they’d do their hair and make-up and put on sparkly dresses and heels.

“Alison, where are your clothes?” my sister-in-law Stacy asked. The kids had finished eating, left the dinner table, and were running around the house. We adults were savoring our meal and making the most of our last night together.

“I’m hot, so I took it off,” a naked 7-year old Alison stated. Stacy rolled her eyes at the rest of us and decided she was too tired to fight it. She had two other little ones – Will and Henry -- who still had their clothes on.

Alison ran off, calling to the others, “Com’on you guys, it’s almost time for Crazy Dancing!”

Crazy Dancing was started by Eric during one of our early holiday breaks together when he cranked up Glenn Miller’s “A Train” on the CD player, pulled me off the couch, and we started hop’in and bop’in around like fools.

After that, every New Year’s Eve, we’d burn a playlist, repeating some of our favorite dance tunes and adding new ones to create our own little flash mob in the basement of the lake house.

The kids, of course, LOVED Crazy Dancing.  We adults used it to show off our coolest dance moves.

“Feed the chickens!” Eric shouted over the pounding music, flicking his hand like he was spreading feed in the barnyard.  We imitated him.

“Mow the lawn!” He pretended to pull a starter cord.  So did we.

“Get the groceries!” He pulled imaginary boxes off the shelf.  We did, too.

Try as we might, none of us could twist as good as Richard.  Or busta moves like Lee.  Have Sue’s rhythm.

My mom and dad watched more than they danced.  Stacy was often more concerned with getting kids to bed than wanting to mimic Eric’s moves.

But it didn’t matter what you did or didn’t do.

Crazy Dancing on New Year’s Eve downstairs in the lake house was what you made of it.  And, inevitably, it would end with most of us, on the floor wiggling like crustaceans to “Rock Lobster" (see picture above).

After that, we’d get the little ones off to bed and retire to the great room.  There we would play games, make our yearly predictions (Will Stacy and Eric have another child? Will Mom and Dad buy a second home? Will Bruce give up the department chairmanship?).

Then we'd watch the ball drop, kiss each other at the stroke of midnight, and go to bed.

I do miss those days.

Favorite Crazy Dancing Tunes

“Down by the Lazy River,” the Osmonds
“Greased Lighting,” John Travolta and the cast of “Grease”
“King Tut,” Steve Martin
“Rock Lobster,” the B52’s
“The Twist,” Chuck Berry
“Car Wash,” Rose Royce
“Hey Ya!” OutKast
“Pump It,” the Black Eyed Peas