As Americans, many of us are limited to one, maybe two weeks of "vacation" time per year. The trips we chose to take often establish traditions, define rituals, and form important human bonds. Like many families, I grew up in this paradigm of one trip a year and as a child, it's certainly what I looked forward to. About a year ago when my sister told me she wanted to take her three kids to the Southwest for a family vacation, I knew I couldn't resist the chance to join. The area occupying Northern Arizona and Southern Utah has become a magnet for Erin and I, its crumbling red cliffs are our cathedrals while the canyons our sanctuaries. Its landscapes are rooted in Native tradition and ooze spiritual energy from every mesa and river. It's a place we fall more in love with every visit and through that love, we were able to serve at the guides for this expedition.
The beauty of this region (aside from its actual beauty) is how dense the natural wonders are. Only three hours east of Las Vegas offers the first access to adventure, Zion National Park. From Zion you can take anywhere between a 60 minute and 3 hour drive to experience Bryce Canyon National Park, Page, Arizona and Horseshoe Bend, The Grand Staircase National Monument, and Grand Canyon National Park. Woven into those more noteworthy map stops are endless stretches of preserved lands, wilderness, and recreation area. During summer months it's not uncommon to run into the same groups of people at the same stops along the route. For our trip we had five days to explore as many canyons, rivers, and vistas as time would allow. Budgeting for a brief stay at the Grand Canyon allowed us the chance to spend a full day on the Colorado River rafting around Horseshoe Bend before committing the bulk of our time in Zion. Page, AZ is a magnet for slot canyons tours, but I must say, not much else compares to rafting Horseshoe Bend. Make sure to look up Colorado River Discovery when you make your trip, their guides are top notch and the experience is not to be missed.
Zion National Park was the lynch pin in this trip. My sister and I went back and forth discussing where the best use of our limited time was spent, and it's no surprise that Zion was the winning ticket. During summer months Zion Canyon is only accessible by the park's free shuttle, which is actually a blessing. The six stops (within the canyon) provide dozens of hiking and exploring options and shuttles arrive every seven minutes making planning effortless. Having explored most of the stops, I opted to lead everyone on a hike to Angel's Landing. Since some of my nieces and nephews were a touch young, we refrained from completed the whole hike. Angel's Landing is arguably one of the most dangerous trails in the National Park System, and thus we weren't going to temp fate by navigating the narrowest sections where drop-offs exceed 1000 ft. Despite our conservative approach, we were still able to hike the intense switch backs and climb hundreds of feet about the valley floor.
If we were going to Zion, I wasn't passing on hiking The Narrows without putting up a fight. Thankfully persuading the crew was easy and we all agreed it wasn't worth missing. Often it's nice to diversify and experiment with new routes and different adventures, but diving straight into The Narrows for a second time was something I'd been yearning for, and more importantly, was excited to share with my family. I prepped them on the challenges of the terrain, the risks of the weather, and advised everyone on what gear to use. With the help of some clunky canyoneering boots and gnarled wooden walking sticks, Zion Adventure Company set us up for safety and success. Foremost on our mind was safety, as entering any slot canyon poses serious risks, especially in monsoon season. While The Narrows only flash floods a few times a year, one of those times was a week prior and park officials were giving plenty of reminders about safety in the canyon. With some overhead clouds swooping in and out, we hedged our bets and took the world famous hike head on.
I'm pretty sure the kids had more go left in them, but their vacation time had run short. In only five days we had rafted the land altering Colorado River, shared rocky slopes with bighorn sheep, and navigated a world renowned slot canyon. While I was just getting warmed up, Erin and I also had to wind down and start planning our next week on the road as my family headed back to Vegas for their return flights. Like any adventure, there's always a wish list left at the end. Hopefully this excursion becomes ritual, leading us to year after year of checking items off that newly born wish list.
Playtime. Zion National Park, UT.