Coming back from a trip is always tough for me. Myanmar – where I’d been for four weeks, and my first adventure since quitting my job to travel – was especially difficult, but there is something to say for coming back to America. This time when I came back, I didn’t settle into my old routine, because, well, I don’t have a routine anymore. A week after I returned, I went off to the Southwest with my family to explore more of America – which is already great, for the record.
My sister planned an incredible trip for us and all I had to do was pick where we ate and smile in the pictures my sister took of me (some of which are below). We flew into Vegas, spent a few days in Sedona, and then visited three U.S. National Parks in three days – and three canyons at that. Especially for someone who, in the realm of National Parks, had only been to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Mount Haleakala in Hawaii, seeing these canyons was an incredible experience, and an amazing welcome-back to the States.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon was at sunset and we arrived right before the sun did its thing. Instead of stopping at any of the various car-filled viewpoints along the way, we hiked to Shoshone Point, which we’d heard about from some friends on our Fathom cruise. We parked the car, speed-walked through the woods for about 20 minutes and all audibly gasped at what met us.
There are people who say that the Grand Canyon is “just a big hole in the ground”, but those are not people I would ever travel with. Our family clearly thought otherwise as we spent a little too long staring into the distance, as the sun disappeared quickly. Walking back, the secluded path seemed much longer than on the way there. It was becoming dark, we were the only humans around, and a creature in the woods made an unrecognizable aggressive sound toward us that startled us all. Naturally, I drew the conclusion that it was a mountain lion and that I’d be the only surviving member of the attack, get a book deal out of the ordeal, appear on the Today Show to promote it the same day as Justin Timberlake appeared to promote his new album, etc. But good old Bruce Springsteen and “Thunder Road” ending up saving our lives – that’s a story for another time.
The next day, we did the normal tourist thing of hopping on the shuttles to different viewpoints for just about the entire day. The Grand Canyon is one of those places that looks incredibly fake in every direction, as if it’s a gigantic backdrop painted by the most skilled artists in the universe. We half expected to see a door in the sky, like in the Truman Show when Jim Carrey (spoiler alert) realizes the ocean he’s sailing in is an indoor studio and that his entire life has been a lie. Only, the Grand Canyon isn’t a lie. It’s about the truest thing out there.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
It was raining the next day when we were driving to Bryce Canyon and became super aggressive right as we arrived. Unexpectedly, it began to hail when we reached the farthest viewpoint, Rainbow Point, where we’d decided to start. We camped out in the car for a little until the hail stopped and the rain stopped after a few viewpoints. This worked out well because while it was pretty foggy at the first few spots, it cleared up throughout the day when we got to the more stunning viewpoints, like the amphitheater.
Even with all of the weather, each view was still something I’d never seen before. Since Katie had planned the whole thing, I didn’t actually even know what Bryce looked like past the fact that it was orange and there were columns of weird rocks called “hoodoos”. When we arrived at the major viewpoints – the ones that make you say “Wait, what?! Are we on Earth?!” – I was 100% surprised and overwhelmed by the natural beauty, which I felt belonged more on Mars, which is also where my grandmother says I’ll end up if I keep traveling.
It should be noted that Bryce is not *geologically* a canyon as it was not carved by a river, but it is in its name and that is what matters for the sake of this blogpost.
Zion Canyon, Utah
The final day of our trip, we woke up right next to Zion Canyon at Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens. We only stayed one night there, but I definitely recommend this hotel, if only for the fact that we felt like major ballers as we walked to the park entrance instead of driving. Just like with Bryce, I didn’t really know what Zion looked like before seeing it in person. It was a cool experience to have been above both Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, but then be on the inside of Zion with rocks rising up next to us like skyscrapers in Manhattan.
Zion, whose name means “Promised Land”, was carved by the Virgin River and is pretty prone to flash floods. There have been some in recent years that have changed the landscape and have put people in danger. On the day we explored, flash flooding was rated as “possible” – the 2nd lowest rating on a scale of 4. The rocks of the canyons in some spots are about 2.5 Empire-State-Buildings tall (the best measurement for me to understand). So yes, your neck might hurt a little bit from looking up and you might feel a little faint and like you’re going to black out when you get to where the canyon starts, at the Temple of Sinawava. Take it in gently – you’ll be there all day.
We took the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava, through the forest. The hike is 2.2 miles, pretty easy, and beautiful. It leads to a stream where some people continue on into the waters with huge waterproof hiking shoes and wading pants. We took many of the easier hikes, including Weeping Rock Trail to dripping springs, the Lower Emerald Pool Trail to pools, and (most importantly) the Grotto Trail to the lodge for hot dogs and ice cream. There are many more moderate and difficult trails but we skipped those in favor of dry feet and safety. If you’re a rock climber (and thus braver and more coordinated than I am), Zion is a hot spot for thrills.
Speaking of thrills – keep an eye out for these little guys:
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