Fortunately Arizona is fairly scenic in that part of the state, all red rocks and outcroppings that made me think of any number of novels where the good guys come up against castles on mountains that they either have to conquer or warn about something. I’m not sure what I would have warned anybody in Arizona about – drought, maybe? – and conquering really isn’t my speed, but it kept my mind occupied while the empty miles rolled by and we retraced our path into Utah.
Other than the mountains, the best part of this phase of the trip was stopping in a tiny little speck on the highway called Gap, Arizona, which as far as we could tell consisted of a convenience store and some signs indicating that a school was somewhere in the vicinity. I never did see the school though Kim and the girls insist it was right there to be seen, but we and almost every other driver on the highway stopped at the convenience store for snackage and drinks.
Yes, we stopped at the Gap Store. No, we didn’t think to take any pictures of it until long after we’d left.
We had two goals for the rest of this day, the first being to reach our hotel – what turned out to be a rather charming place called the Riverside Ranch Motel and RV Park just north of Hatch, Utah. It sits on a large plot of open land by the highway, and you can see for miles from your room. It’s run by a guy named Bill, who minds the place for his daughter now that he’s retired. Bill’s pretty laid back. He was out doing something in the RV part of the establishment when we got there, but our room (and that of two other guys who stopped at about the same time we did) was left unlocked for us. He was happy to talk to us for a while – I’d imagine he doesn’t get too much company out there – and when he found out that Lauren raised turkeys for 4H he recommended a movie called “My Life as a Turkey,” which is apparently available on YouTube and which we still need to see.
We didn’t stay too long to talk with Bill, though, because we had another goal before we landed for the night: Bryce Canyon.
You’d think we’d have been canyoned out by then, but you’d be wrong. For one thing, the Grand Canyon is its own thing – there really isn’t anything like it in the world. And for another, so is Bryce. It’s much more human scale, and when you get right down to it, a good deal weirder.
We like weird.
So we hopped back in the car and headed off to Bryce.
We eventually found our way into the park – a long ride down a highway followed by a twisty sort of turning road that takes you through a couple of stone archways.
And then, after a brief detour because of a missed sign, we made our way to Inspiration Point just as the light was beginning to fail. We parked in the little lot and climbed up the slope to see what was on the other side.
It is astonishing what wind, rain, and erosion can do to rock.
And then we hiked further up the slope for a slightly higher perspective on the whole thing.
After a while the light began to fade in earnest and we had to head back to our hotel, but it was quite a sight, up there on Inspiration Point.
The next day we spent much of the morning foraging for breakfast. The restaurant next to our hotel was closed for retirement and scheduled to reopen whenever they found someone who would take it over, which would likely be longer than we had time to wait, and restaurants – like other forms of human settlement – are not all that common in that part of the world. So we drove south on 89 until we came to a nice little German bakery in the middle of nowhere. You could get pastries – most of which were nut-safe, actually – and a meat and cheese plate, and it was a fine meal out there on the range. I’m not sure what a German bakery – run by actual Germans, if the cashier’s accent was anything to go by – was doing out in the Utah scrublands, but it was good food and welcome.
Fueled and fed, we made our way to Zion National Park.
Zion is one of the most popular National Parks in America, and if you plan to go there you should expect a crowd. But it’s popular for a reason, as it is singularly gorgeous and fairly easy for the casual tourist to get around in. Once you park, at least.
We entered the park – our nifty Grand Canyon pass got us in for free, so it’s already paid for itself – and drove slowly along the road toward the Visitor Center. It is a ride filled with astonishing views, so you don’t mind the fact that you’re creeping along at about 20mph the whole time, and there are pull-offs every so often if you want to stop and appreciate the scenery for a while. We did both, riding and stopping, and enjoyed it immensely.
When we got to the Visitor Center there was a plaintive little sign announcing that all parking was full until possibly Christmas and that we should find a parking spot in the little town just south of the park’s official border. This turned out to be not all that hard. There are problems that can be solved by throwing money at them, and a parking lot is a grand symbol of that.
Now all we had to do was get back to the park.
Fortunately Zion, like the Grand Canyon, has an effective network of shuttle buses. In fact, it has two. There’s one for the town, where you ride it up to the border of the park and then walk across a footbridge to get into the park itself, and another for the park that takes you from the Visitor Center up to the canyon and various points of interest along the way. The line to get onto one of those park buses stretched for about a hundred yards or so, but with double buses arriving roughly every four minutes, it moved along nicely.
And the ride was suitably scenic.
Our goal was to find the Weeping Rock, which has what they call a hanging garden. Water seeps through the rock from above until it hits a layer that isn’t as permeable and then it goes horizontally until it comes out and drips down the side. This makes two things happen. First, the outside drips eventually carve an alcove into the rock where you can stand and enjoy the scenery. It’s about ten degrees Fahrenheit cooler there than anywhere else in the park. And second, plants take root in the rock overhead and form the garden.
It wasn’t hard to find – about a ten minute walk from the shuttle stop. We stood there in the spray and took it all in.
And then we wandered back down to the shuttle and found a stop that served us lunch and allowed us to purchase souvenirs. I mostly buy keychains and such, because we use them for Christmas ornaments. Eventually we will be able to decorate our entire tree just with reminders of places we’ve been.
After lunch we found the shuttle again and made our way back to our car and on to the next adventure.