Day 4: Zion, Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Home!

On the agenda for Day 4? A long drive home! But I had a few stops planned along the way. I didn’t wake up at dawn, but pretty close. Oh well, it was good for getting an early start on the day. Breakfast was included in my Zion Ponderosa room rate. It was fine, but not great. Still, it was paid for and so I ate up.

I wanted to go to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park but the access road was under significant construction. Kind of a bummer, but I hadn’t gone too far out of the way. So, I headed West on Hwy 9, which took me through Zion National Park.

The ride was pretty cool! I stopped at the viewpoint for Checkerboard Mesa. The red rocks bordering the road were super cool. My eyes were peeled for Big Horn goats but alas, I didn’t see any.

The drive took me through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, which was very impressive. It is 1.1 miles and built through the sandstone. There was a lot of blasting involved with completion in 1930.

I stopped at the Zion Visitor Center, parking in a 15 minutes only spot. I was hoping to go on the shuttle to a trailhead, but the main parking lot (which is quite large) was completely full at 9 am. There were a lot of people. The number of people, coupled with the old-fashioned, rounded shuttles, made it feel very Disney theme park like and not in a good way.

So, that idea was a bust but no problem! It was a short time/long driving distances trip and I had certainly seen a lot of the park from an Observation Point distance the day before.

Next up was Valley of Fire State Park. What an awesome place! I was going to say cool, but it was anything but! I met a nice couple at the entrance pay station and we talked about electric cars. They were actually from Kingman, AZ where I had been three days earlier.

I stopped by the visitor center and then headed to the end of Mouse Tank Rd to hike the White Domes trail. It was 1.25 miles, 95 degrees but don’t worry, it was a dry heat! I was pretty well-hydrated and felt cool at the start, so I was pretty confident I’d be ok for the short hike. I took water with me, which was a good idea.

The hike was great. There was a small slot canyon. I found an arch rock that provided some nice shade and a cool vantage point to look out over the valley. I enjoyed the hike mainly because it was my one experience being close to the rock formations on this drive-by trip of the park.

On the way out, I stopped at Atlatl Rock to look at the petroglyphs. They were very easy to access. It’s sort of unbelievable that some assholes carved their names over them in the past, but they’re pretty well-protected now.

After the Valley of Fire, it was time to focus on the drive ahead. I did stop at the Hoover Dam just to enjoy one last experience of low-grade terror at being really high up and far away from the ground.

Technically, I looked at the dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge pedestrian walkway. Both structures are impressive. And honestly, the railing on the bridge seems like it would be really easy to jump over. But I refrained from Googling how many people had since I was worried it would trigger some crazy surveillance rescue drone that would think I was in trouble. And in case you think I’m a total weirdo, I think living in Coronado and the suicides on that bridge have made me a little morbid in regards to bridges. [Whoa, this entry took a dark turn. Although thinking more on it, I bet it would be a really tempting place for a BASE jumper to launch who, technically, are not suicidal.]

After that, I stopped to charge the Tesla. A French woman scared me out of my wits by tapping on my window to ask a charging question in regards to her Tesla S rental. While I’m quite sure she’s normally very chic and harmless, she was skinny with kind of stringy blond hair and given the hot, blindingly white desert surroundings, I thought she was a member of the Walking Dead. [Ok, it’s official. This post is off the rails.]

I bought a cup of coffee and Dairy Queen Blizzard that was a disappointment since I wanted Choco Brownie Chunk and I instead got lots o’candy Vanilla but hey, win some, lose some. The last charging stop of the trip was in Riverside, where I went to a cool food court. I did not get tacos, but I did get a teriyaki bowl which led to a small lesson that it is easier to use a fork, rather than chopsticks, while driving.

And after two more hours, I was back in San Diego! That meant I had two more days ahead of me to complete clinic, OR, and administrative tasks before my time in the Navy was complete!

Day 3: Bryce Sunrise, Red Canyon, Zion Observation Point

Holding onto the branch like it would save me…

I decided to wake up for another sunrise. It was cold but worth it! After doing some pre-reading, I decided to check out Inspiration Point rather than Sunrise Point. The reason is that Sunrise Point is right next to the campground, so likely more crowded. In addition, Inspiration Point has a broader view over the entire Hoodoo Canyon.

It was chilly though! The temperature was in the 30s and there was a good breeze blowing. There were a lot of people wrapped up in blankets who looked really cold. They booked it as soon as the sun came up. I thought the canyon became more and more beautiful as the sun rose, so I’m glad I had my hoodie jacket even though admittedly, I could have used slightly better layers!

Yes, as the light increased, different areas became illuminated at different times. I think the most beautiful effect was when the lighter colored tops of certain hoodoo clusters lit up. Due to the color gradient, it looked like the rock was transilluminated which I’m pretty sure is an optical trick but still, very beautiful!

I had thought about doing Fairytale Loop but honestly, even though the hoodoos are beautiful, I thought it might feel a little more of the same. I know, so spoiled and sassy! But I had been hiking a lot, still had more to go, and I didn’t want to completely destroy myself given that a lot was going on that week.

So, I went back to the room, slept for another 90 minutes, got breakfast, and hit the road. But I didn’t go far! Just down the road, I stopped at the Red Canyon Visitor Center and did a short hike. The Red Canyon is pretty magical and slightly smaller in scale, which makes it feel more accessible.

I read a historical marker near the road tunnel which talked about the opening ceremony in the early 1900s where they cut the ribbon and proclaimed they were entering fairyland. People dressed as fairies and waved streamers. Seems a little whacky, but who am I to judge? The tunnel is kind of funny though, because it sort of looks like they could have just built the road around the rock but why do that when you could blast through it?

After a short hike, I continued onto Zion. The drive was beautiful and before long, I made it to Zion Ponderosa, a camping/glamping/hotel resort that provides activities just east of Zion National Park. I parked the car and quickly bought a ticket for the shuttle to the trailhead for Observation Point. Since 2019, Observation Point has only been reachable from this Eastern trailhead as rockfall blocks the trail from the valley. The view is incredible and not terribly crowded, unlike the crowds I saw the next day near the Western entrance!

I really enjoyed the hike. It had been billed as a walk through the trees, which it was but I did think there would be more shade. I was hiking midday but still, not a shady hike. Don’t be fooled! It was mostly flat, with a few gentle up and downs closer to the point.

The view was absolutely spectacular. It kind of reminded me of a smaller Yosemite from Tunnel View, where you see both sides of the spectacular rocks rising away from the valley except it is sandstone and volcanic, not granite.

I hiked back the way I came and caught the shuttle van. The road was dry and I could have made it in the Tesla, but the shuttle was $6.75 roundtrip and gave peace of mind. Worth it!

That evening, I treated myself to a delicious burger. After a carb heavy few days of bars, it felt needed! I stayed in a glamping tent which was super comfortable and makes me look forward to our late July glamping trip in Yellowstone. I settled in for a good night’s sleep with no sunrise hike planned. The next day was going to feature the long road trip home to San Diego.

Day 2: Grand Canyon Sunrise, Bryce Sunset

Ohaio gozaimasu!

Oh my gosh! This trip has been amazing and already I’m a day behind so rather than rhapsodize how I’m typing this in Zion under a twilight sky at 9:20 pm (!) waiting for the strawberry moon, I’ll write about yesterday’s awesome adventures!

Ooh Aah Point

So, I spent the night at Maswik Lodge which was very nice but also very NPS-feeling. If you’ve ever stayed at a NPS site, you’ll know what I mean. Honestly, it’s amazing how nice the places are for the amount of people that travel through them. I realize that’s the nature of all hotels and lodging, but outdoor adventures can result in a particular level of grime and stink so to the NPS I say, A+.

So, my alarm went off at 4:25 am. Yuck. But since I don’t think I’ll necessarily be back at the Grand Canyon, as amazing as it it, I made myself get up and seize the day. I packed, went to the ATM for a housekeeping tip, packed the car, and got to the Visitor’s Center by 4:55. I hoped on the shuttle to South Kaibab trail.

Heading down the stairs of South Kaibab trail on the way to Ooh Ahh Point

So, I walked out to Ooh Ahh point. I hate the name for its overly cutesy-ness but at the same time, it is pretty accurate. I got there right before sunrise and it was a great vantage point. The illumination over time of the various rocks was pretty spectacular. For me, I liked it a lot better than sunset, early wakeup notwithstanding.

Cedar Ridge

At Ooh Aah point, I ran into a foursome (two couples) who had taken my picture the night before at Powell Point. By the way, I was not awake enough to put this together. The woman who took the picture remembered me. Probably because my tee-shirt the night before was uniquely ugly. They headed back up while I proceeded another half mile to Cedar Ridge. That was pretty cool because it was the first layer of intra-canyon mesas, so it was neat to progress to the next “level” of geologic history. If I ever go back, I’d like to make it all the way to the Colorado River but the time to do that is not the Summer!

I hiked back up to the top (less fun!) and hoped on the shuttle back to the Visitor Center where I parked my car. Then, I drove out of the park via the East exit. On the way, I stopped at several scenic overlooks that were really cool because I could see the Colorado River as it entered the canyon. My favorite overlook was Navajo point because it was the best angle for looking up the Colorado river canyon as a smaller part of the Grand Canyon. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but at the Visitors’ Center, you can only see the dark gouge of the canyon level, rather than all the way down to the river. That is also cool but honestly, I think the Navajo point was my favorite of the park!

I had thought of going to Sedona that morning and hiking a vortex but there were several reasons not to: 1. It was hot 2. Pinecone fire shut down the direct route via the 89 and 3. the time I would have spent was freed up to spend on various outlooks. So, another trip will have to be planned. My favorite!

So, I went to Horseshoe Bend, which an article called “a quintessential American roadside attraction that someone decides to profit off of.” Weeeelllllll, since it’s the Navajo nation cashing in on its Instagram popularity, I don’t feel I can begrudge them the chance to profit off the Influencer!

It was pretty cool. I took a lot of pictures. I’m sure you can find better under Google Images. But they’re mine, and I like them! I also climbed the rock to the right of the bend which causes an off-centered horseshoe picture, but was a neat mini-scramble. My fear of heights kind of increases in those situations, but it’s worth the adrenaline surge and scaredy-catness!

After the Horseshoe Bend, I charged in Page and went to the Grand Canyon Brewery. They had pretty mild beers, but maybe San Diego has made me super tough! I only had a few tastes since I was driving, but it was fun to hang out at a local brewery.

Then, it was off to Bryce Canyon! Along the way, I drove through Red Canyon on the 12A which was super-cool. I was focused on Bryce but I made a mental note to stop through the next day on my way to Zion.

Through a window (but not the Wall of Windows) while hiking Peek-a-boo Loop

I checked into the hotel and immediately headed to Sunset Point to do the Navajo Loop-Peek-a-boo Loop hike, which is just under 5 miles. The hoodoos and other natural formations are spectacular and the changing light made it extra amazing. The sun went below the canyon about 45 minutes prior to the actual sunset so even though it was still pretty, photographically the light was “dead” as SMS would say.

For the loop, I went clockwise, which was recommended in a guide. I don’t have the CCW to compare to, but it was a great direction and the benefit (I think) is that you have a great view down the Wall of Windows rather than not appreciating the panorama that would be behind you if you walked up CCW. I don’t think you would be wrong either way, though!

Coming through a small tunnel on Peek-a-boo Loop

Day 1: San Diego to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon! Sunset, looking East.

This has been such a fun road trip! Since I’m traveling West to East for a mini-vacation rather than a long-distance move, I’ve taken some routes I’ve never been on. Plus, the Tesla forces me to stop in some pretty unique places. [Side note: It’s pretty wild how different the Tesla supercharger stops are. SMS thinks there’s a real opportunity in creating nice rest stops like Spasso in Japan or AutoGrill in Italy. I think he’s right!]

The first stop was in 29 Palms at the Tortoise Rock casino. There are no pictures. I was definitely glad the charger was there, but that was about it. Although Joshua trees are pretty cool, it’s a pretty hardscrabble place.

The next stop was at a historic Rte 66 town: Kingman, AZ! There are several superchargers at the Kingman visitor center in the historic Powerhouse. I used the restroom and then quickly toured the Electric Vehicle museum, which has a pretty amazing collection! There was a Tesla roadster, tripped out golfcarts, a retro-fitted Porsche, and two university designed concept cars. There were several other cars and early prototypes, as well.

But, it was time to move to the main event. So, fueled by a delicious root beer float, I made it the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.

Oh.my.gosh. It is an amazing place. It is just so vast, but with so many details in the landscape that it’s impossible to take it all in. It’s a perspective that shifts from the largest scale (millions of years! thousands of feet!) to a very small scale like an eye-catching striation or undulation in one particular rock formation. And even though some 19th century naturalists were a little over-the-top in their descriptions (*cough looking at you John Muir*), it is a spectacular place.

I checked into the Maswik Lodge, then quickly headed to the Rim to catch the red shuttle towards Hermit’s Rest. I had read the best sunset viewing spots were along the Rim at that location. The bus only took us to Mohave Point since there were a limited number running. I walked back towards Hopi Point, where I found the tripod photographers and decided that it was a sign of a good viewing location. It was a good decision! Although I realized at a certain point that what I was mostly doing was staring into the sun, so I knocked that off before I did any damage!

After the sunset, I walked back along the Rim to the Lodge. It was a pretty walk and along the way, I walked out on Powell Point which, honestly, seemed a bit better than Hopi due to a wider vantage point. Another great place (I think) would be on the East Side of the Park, where certain scenic overlooks allow the viewer to look up the canyon. I really liked that perspective. I will tell you my favorite East viewing point tomorrow! In contrast, from the Rim where I was the first night, you can see the gouge of the canyon at the base but the river and sidewalls are hidden from view.

San Diego Day Trip: Cabrillo National Monument & Point Loma

Cabrillo Shoreline- cliffs and tidepools (at low tide)

SMS and I had a Sunday Funday where we resolved to get off the couch and get outside on a gorgeous San Diego day. We decided to go to Cabrillo & Point Loma, gorgeous places that don’t take too much of an effort to get there.

Looking towards North Island

Cabrillo National Monument is a federal monument that accepts the National Park Pass. Otherwise, it is $20 car/$10 pedestrian or cyclist for admission. Wow, that’s gone up since I first went! Anyway, it’s the site where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on the West coast of the US in 1542. There’s an old lighthouse at the top, which didn’t work too well during foggy times because it was too high. The current lighthouse is a working site near the tidepools.

Visitor Center Schedule- v. high tech!

There are several attractions. The Visitor’s Center is small but interesting. The views from that side overlook San Diego and Coronado at the inlet of San Diego Bay. It’s stunning. There is also a small auditorium, clean bathrooms, and a gift shop.

Near the old lighthouse, there is a small parking area where you can overlook the Pacific. It’s pretty majestic. There is also a small hiking trail down the steap hill that gets you to the base but not to the shore. I’ve never done it because it hasn’t seemed worth it, but I’m sure I’m wrong about that.

My favorite!

The tidepools & cliffs are my favorite. You take the first right after the admission gate and drive down the long hill, which is a favorite of road bikers so be careful! I have seen pedestrians, but it’s a narrow two-lane road without a shoulder or sidewalk. Since you’re in a car already to get to Cabrillo, I would recommend just driving down to the tidepools.

These are a few of my favorite things: perfect Arnold Palmer, puking chicken pitcher, and SMS!

After Cabrillo, SMS and I decided it was time for lunch. We drove to the neighborhood near the Native Plant garden and it is such a cute area! There are two pubs, a coffee house, a raw vegan cafe, a Mexican restaurant, and our new favorite restuarant, the Italian Cesarina. The homemade pasta was amazing. There were several vegan options and the food was spectacular. The decor is eclectic and cool. We ate outside on a spacious patio, but the inside decor is also cool. We will be back for sure.

Then we went to the Native Plant Garden. Things are green and coming into bloom. Very pretty! 1/10 dead sticks, 9/10 green plants- a winning ratio! We spoke with a volunteer for a while, who was very interesting. He was on weed patrol (weeds in the garden, not weed in Point Loma which is plentiful, I’m sure). His favorite plant is the willowy San Diego mint, which makes me think he is SMS’ brother from a different mother. Overall, I agree with the garden’s website- it’s a gem!