Trotting Around UT/AZ

Thanksgiving this year was one for the memory books. My amazing friend came to visit me from Seattle (my very 1st visitor since moving to Utah and a super special visitor at that!). Wanting to make sure I got 5 stars on ‘FriendAdvisor’ as a host, I made sure to line up a Thanksgiving that would be memorable and delightful…I think I succeeded!

We stayed at a great little cabin, via AirBnB, between Colorado City and Fredonia. Don and Cindy at the Coral Pink Ranch were amazing hosts! Our cabin was a former one-room school house that had been converted into a cabin, with every detail accounted for. The property was great with views of the red rocks, a hot tub, fire pit (complete with firewood and fire starter) and even a little kitty host (her name is Ocean and she is a darling). The property is off-grid, run by solar power and gas. There is no cell phone service and the wifi is a bit rough – i.e. put the devices away and enjoy being unplugged! The cabin is equipped with a two burner stove and gas grill (no microwave as the wattage is too high) and all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay. There were even farm fresh eggs in the fridge! Our hosts were super knowledgeable and offered some suggestions on getting to Zion National Park – with a highway route or a ‘scenic’ route (that was technically shorter in mileage).

We took the road less traveled, because that is what we do.

(I will painfully admit that the first 3 miles were ROUGH and I mayyyy have considered aborting the mission – but my parents didn’t raise a quitter and I would have NEVER lived that down – so onward explorers!).

100% – ABSOLUTELY – COMPLETELY – MOST AWESOMELY WORTH IT!

By less traveled I mean REALLY less traveled…think beyond gravel roads to “unimproved roads” i.e. the most basic dirt road EVER! The views were STUNNING and absolutely worth the drive.

Note: If you do not have 4-wheel drive or a small SUV this route is not advised. Also, have a co-pilot to take pictures and let you know when to look up and admire the SPECTACULAR views. I wasn’t able to grab pics at the truly spectacular spots, as I was very focused on keeping us on the road without destroying the underside of my vehicle or putting us over a ravine – honestly the latter wasn’t my concern but my co-pilot made some pointed remarks about it (?). He captured some amazing photos that I’ve requested in print form because WOW!

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From the cabin – UT 59 towards Colorado City, to Main Street which turns into S. Bench Road which turns into another road, which then leads to 250 S where you can go to Grafton (a super cool ghost town) or to Rockville which leads to Zion National Park.

David really wanted to see a ghost-town, so that was stop 1.

Stop 2 was Zion National Park. I happily got to add another stamp in my NPS passport. We took the bus loop around the park and enjoyed the views.

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It wasn’t a particularly great day to hike so we enjoyed a picnic lunch before taking the highway route back to the cabin – where steaks and asparagus were grilled, wine was consumed, and a fire (with our fur-hostess) was enjoyed.

Note: I recommend taking the ‘scenic route’ to Zion as opposed to the opposite, the drive back is mostly uphill and void of the spectacular vistas.

Everyone enjoys a good campfire

The weekend was perfect. It was another reminder for me of how lucky I am to be in such a great location and how blessed to have friends to explore with. (Also, I’m pretty sure I earned 5 stars on “FriendAdvisor” :->)

As I looked at the door of the cabin in Grafton, it reminded me that I took the opportunity to move to UT on blind faith. Going on an adventure isn’t exactly something new for me. This time though, the Universe has provided me with a most magnificent experience since walking through that door. For that I’m thankful.

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“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Paulo Coelho

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From Sheep Parades to Hiking Canyons

“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”  -Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Life in Utah has been one adventure after another.

Everything from Heritage and Livestock Festival…

To spectacular hiking…

I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest while I am.

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Always enjoy the scenery

Skiing into the Winter Season in Park City

So the state of Florida does not have a “Fall Break”. I found out that this is a lovely two day break in which there is no school! Since it has been about 6 or 7 years since I was last in Park City, I decided to drive up for the long weekend.

The trip wasn’t purely vacation, as I took the opportunity to schedule some site inspections. I forgot how amazing some of the properties in the resorts are.

The run-down:

The Resorts: Winter season – Park City and The Canyons are connected – which equals lots of skiing opportunities on one lift ticket! Summer season provides an opportunity for golfing and hiking. I was able to do some short hikes on the golf course (and ski runs). The vistas were spectacular, and walking straight up ski runs isn’t for the faint of breath!

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The Canyons: I was fortunate enough to stay at the Grand Summit. Great location (ski in/out in the winter, golf-course access in the summer), great amenities and becoming a Rock Resort has truly agreed with this property (I want to live one of these units). I recommend the breakfast burrito and grabbing a drink and bite from Legends Bar and Grill (their Cubano Pork Sandwich was delightful). If you really want to treat yourself, I HIGHLY recommend visiting the spa for a treatment.

Coffee with a view

Coffee on the patio of my Grand Summit unit

Other properties that I highly recommend: Hyatt Centric, the decor is very 70s mountain modern and I commend the decorators on a job well-done (great location and amenities); Waldorf : the lobby is absolutely divine, s’mores by the pool-side fire pit in the winter evenings!; Silverado and Sundial are both great properties for the budget minded but still provides an upgraded feeling. The nice thing about The Canyons is that everything is walk-able to the lifts and the village center.

Park City: I spent a good portion of an afternoon strolling Main Street and wandering in and out of shops. I recommend taking advantage of the public transportation (which includes several busses that are electric powered!). If you don’t have to stay right on the mountain then I recommend the Park City Peaks, the property just underwent renovations (skiers breakfast buffet in the winter) and the restaurant is a local favorite (so make reservations if you want to dine there).

I taste tested a couple spots including The Spur . In addition to the the Loco Moco, which was very tasty, they carry lots of local brews, and the upstairs dining has great outdoor seating and views of Main Street. For dinner, Shabu was absolutely divine! The service was impeccable and for dinner I had the bibimbap – it was excellent (I was also told that the firecracker shrimp was a good choice). Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a fun stop, however the real gem is Dolly’s Bookstore connected to the chocolate shop, be sure to say hello to the bookstore cat!

A good lunch stop for wood-fire pizza is Vinto Pizzeria, a very cozy location, and after you eat something walk into Old Town Cellars for a glass of wine (say hi to Stella!). If whiskey is more your thing than I suggest High West Distillery (I did a whiskey flight but the ‘hot toddy’ seemed pretty popular). The building is a converted auto garage making for a fun ambiance. They do serve food – so a good stop for lunch or dinner (and would probably be a very fun spot for an event).

Deer Valley:  Even if you aren’t staying in Deer Valley, I recommend taking a drive up. The views are stunning. Properties at which you can indulge yourself: 1) The Stein Collection: Stein Ericksen, Stein Ericksen Residences, and The Chateaux at Deer Valley. The Stein Lodge recently underwent a multi-million dollar property enhancement that includes a beautiful pool, game room, and theatre. If old-world elegance isn’t your style, then the Stein Residences are unmatched in modern luxury. Anddddd let me tell you about the infinity pool…better yet see below pictures.

2) If the Stein isn’t for you, then I recommend going down the mountain and checking-into the St. Regis. Even if you don’t stay overnight, you should have breakfast at the J&G Grill (recommendation: short rib hash). If you are on the mountain skiing, ski into the St. Regis beach and have a drink on the Mountain Terrace before skiing back down the mountain. If skiing isn’t your thing, take the funicular from the base area up to the St. Regis, enjoy the views and grab a drink (or visit the spa for a treatment).

All in all it was a fantastic trip and a mini-road trip that I very much enjoyed. Very grateful to the properties that took the time to showcase their amazing products. Also, a very, very big thanks to Alpine Adventures for helping me put this fab trip together. I can’t say how appreciative I am for being a continued part of the AA team.

From the Sunshine to the Beehive State

Initially, I was going to drive from FL to UT on my own. I felt deeply that I needed to do the trip solo. My mother had different ideas and used her powers of persuasion to join on the journey (i.e. guilt, the levels to which the Catholics can learn from); and so, “Thelma and Louise” hit the road for another great adventure.

  • We had fun in Austin, TX, with my amazing friend Whit. Austin was 1 of 2 stops that this trip was planned around (Go to Black’s BBQ and Flat Track Coffee)
  • We detoured to check out El Malpais National Monument (Conversation below)
    • Mom “O look, a national monument in 30 miles” (I have a habit of wanting to stop at ALL the NPS stuff, so it was a legit question)
    • Me (Road weary and moderately grouchy) “That’s nice”
    • Mom “Here is an exit, do you want to get off?” – Me “No, just keep driving”
    • Mom “Here is a second exit, you sure you don’t want to stop” – Me (big sigh) “Sure why not” – Fastest merge and exit ever
    • Verdict: TOTALLY WORTH IT! (Mom for the win)
  • Stopped at Cline’s Corner – which is basically in the middle of nowhere enroute to Santa Fe, NM. (A tourist trap the it one part creepy and one part kinda cool due to its history).
  • We explored Santa Fe, NM. Visited the Loretto Chapel (Mom’s one request for the trip), stayed at El Rey Court, checked out the Meow Wolf immersive, co-creative experience, and ate good food.

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Loretto Chapel

The story behind this staircase is beautiful. The staircase and chapel are a work of art.

  • Went through Petrified Forest National Park
  • Enjoyed the beauty of Lake Powell before cruising into Cedar City
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Leaving Lake Powell and headed to Cedar City

  • Spent some time getting acquainted with the new living location before the Madre flew back to FL via Vegas (Side note of irony: I despise Vegas, long story for another day – it is the closest major city and airport and I’ve been there more since moving here than I ever wanted to go ever again.)

Farmer's Market

Somewhere in the middle of the trip, feeling tired, nervous, and sentimental, I looked at my mom and said “I’m really glad you are here.” She looked back at me and said “Driving this alone would have been awful, huh?” #momentruined

She is, and always will be, my favorite road trip partner.

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SJL3: MT/WY

The next leg of my journey had me flying (back to that plane part) from Seattle to Great Falls, MT and then driving (o look automobile) to Red Lodge, MT with a brief stop in Bozeman, MT. My journey also took me to Cody, WY.

Going to take things a little old school and omit the words and let the pictures do the talking.

SJL3: Scenic driving at its best

Leaving Red Lodge and headed to Cody I took the Beartooth Highway to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Lots of memories for me on this drive. If you don’t get carsick and aren’t in a big rig (there are probably some guidelines on the websites as to vehicle sizes – some of the turns and grades are pretty extreme), I HIGHLY recommend this drive. It is breathtaking.

SJL2: Park Pass please

The next big adventure of the summer was camping in two national parks. NOT one but TWO! First up was Olympic National Park, a stop in Fox Island to see friends and then onto Mt. Rainier National Park.

Day 1

To start the trip off the Bainbridge Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island! (hahaha got that sea leg in!).

Bainbridge Island was charming!

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Lunch was Fish & Chips at Doc’s Marina Grill. Then swing by Pegasus Coffee (it is absolutely charming and a great place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and a sweet treat). If you don’t want a sweet treat there you can walk to over to Blackbird Bakery The musical treat for the afternoon was having the Speakeasy Jazz Cats playing music out front of the bakery. Super fun stop and a must visit for anyone staying in the Seattle area.

Now then…onto Olympic National Park!!!

First stop in the park is to Hurricane Ridge, the drive is no bueno if you get carsick (consider yourself warned!). After a drive up to the top, a stamp in my National Park Passport it is down to Heart of the Hills campground and time to pitch a tent and build a fire. Heart of the Hills has some good spots that aren’t rocky and all pretty level. It is all walk-in for $20/night and firewood is cheap. As with being in most national parks, be sure to carry cash for firewood and campsite fees.

Day 2

After a night at Heart of the Hills, we drove to Port Angeles (a good place to stop and get some coffee and lunch fixings (I recommend Easy Street Coffee and Tea – get the Coffee milk, the cold brew syrup is made in house and it is excellent – for sandwhiches to go stop in at Country Aire Markets. )  From Port Angeles we went on to Lake Crescent, where we did an easy 1.7 mile hike to Marrymere Falls. The Lake Crescent Lodge is absolutely adorable and if you have the time I would recommend staying there. The views are spectacular and it is just charming! We did not stay there rather went to Sul dac camp, campsites are $25/night – ground is rocky and there are only a handful of walk-in spots so I recommend making a reservation. What I learned this trip is that those campsites not run by a concessionar are easier first come-first serve and there are more walk-in sites available.

Once settled in at the campsite (to which this would be my first night sleeping in a hammock), we mosied over to Hot Springs Resort to 1) get firewood and 2) check out the hot springs. So the hot springs: the set up is akin to multiple hot tubs and a pool, all at different temperatures. There are showers and lockers – I recommend taking your own shampoo/body wash and towel (you can rent towels). With that said – next time I would rather hike to find the hot springs and not just go to the resort and I would not stay at the cabins at the resort. Otherwise the night went well and I slept most beautifully in my hammock. Olympic is very much a rainforest, so do expect for a mist and damp weather, this would be a big contrast to Mt Rainier.

Day 3

Leaving Olympic we took the scenic route through Forks (it’s a dump…I get why Bella wanted to leave – I didn’t see Jacob or Edward but the drive through coffee stand was decent so there is that). The scenic route took us by Ruby Beach (holy amazing – get out and if you have time hike down!). Lunch was in Aberdeen, nothing worth really noting, and then it was onto Fox Island! Fox Island is delightful and it was great to visit with friends and enjoy great views paired with excellent conversation and laughter.

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Fox Island Sunset

Day 4

Leaving Fox Island we headed to Mt Rainier National Park and passed several cute town along the way. We stayed at Cougar Rock Campground in the park, walk-in sites are Loop A and R, reservations can be made however there were plenty of walk-in sites. This campground is run by the NPS and is $20/night, with firewood being $7/bundle. After getting settled in our campsite (i.e. hanging the hammocks) we drove over to the Longmire Visitor Center (another stamp in the NPS passport) and a short .7 mile walk around the Trail of Shadows (a very easy loop with educational points along the way).

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The general store at Longmire is fully stocked with anything you could possibly ever need and all the souvenirs one could ever buy – it is located next to a lodge with restaurant (whose food seemed a bit overpriced in my humble opinion). That night we attended the campfire ranger talk (If it is offered in any national park you are staying in GO!) and learned about the development of Mt Rainier (I may or may not have been super happy and geekily excited). Sleeping in our hammocks was pretty great, until temps dipped into the 30s and it was a tad chilly. My shining moment was waking up in the morning, starting the campfire all on my own (and made my own coffee!) and getting the coals to a heat factor of “fires of Mordor”. All without burning myself or anything else!

SIDE NOTE: The Cougar Rock Campground utilizes electric vehicles to patrol the campground – this made me VERY happy. I was very sad that I couldn’t find a ranger to speak with about the use of said EV. Side, Side Note: I’m a nerd – I know.

One thing we did learn was that even though we were traveling in July, it is still a bit early in the season for hiking the upper bits of the park. The Paradise area still had large amounts of snow and Sunrise had only JUST opened (i.e. the day before). So we didn’t really get to hit the trails we wanted to, however the drive was spectacular. With rain and dropping temps in the forecast for that night, there was a unanimous decision to forgo another night of tenting and head back to Seattle. Given that big, beautiful, glorious snowflakes were falling at the Sunrise Visitor center – we deemed our decision to be a good one.

Final Thoughts

I would really like to get back and explore Mt Rainier more (just a tad later in the season) – the scenery was spectacular and I didn’t get to do the hikes that I would have wanted to. In terms of lodges, the Paradadise Lodge and Lake Crescent Lodge are the two that I would be inerested in staying at. In terms of comparisons, I don’t think you can compare the two parks. The ecosystems are completely different and that makes visiting them both in the same time span absolutely fascinating.

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“The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.” George B. Hartzog, Jr., NPS Director, 1964-1972