My brother and sister had plans to visit a few of the national parks in Utah & Wyoming and asked me to join them. What a great way to spend time with them, visit a few of the parks I hadn’t been to before and split the costs 3 ways (bonus). I was also excited to visit friends who had moved to the Las Vegas area several years ago. This was planned as an 11 day trip. We didn’t know what we had in store for us….
Vegas was our first stop. I visited friends in the area, while Ann & Gary went to The Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil show Saturday night. My sister is a big Beatles fan and they both loved the show! Tickets were $145
I stayed with Blaire & Dale overnight and we had great food and conversation. Years can go by with little contact, but when we get together, it’s like we saw each other just yesterday.
Ann & Gary at the Fairfield Marriott South in Vegas. I try to use Marriotts whenever it makes sense, in order to earn reward points for future travel. The Fairfield brand always offers reasonable rates, good bedding and amenities (like free breakfast and laundry), although their post-covid breakfast is not what it once was.
Blaire suggested we check out the Mob Museum, ($29.95 for basic entrance) on Sunday, which chronicles the beginnings of the Mob through current day Mob activity. This was really interesting, fun and I left wanting to assign everyone I know a nickname, as all of the mobsters have one. Head to the Mob Name Generator at http://www.mobmuseum.org to find out yours! Mine is “Amy Widow Maker Ansari”
You can spend 2-3 hours in the Mob Museum. My favorite character of the time was Ralph Lamb, the sheriff of Clark County who somehow stood up to the mobsters without getting “whacked”. What a great face!
There is no shortage of characters to marvel at; Al Capone, Virginia Hill, Bugsy Siegel, Estes Kefauver (the Senator from Tennessee who chaired the public hearings on the mob in the 50’s) & more. The actual wall from the Valentine’s Day Massacre is on site. A password given on their website allows you entrance to the speakeasy downstairs and we stopped in for a beer after our tour of the museum.
We followed up the museum with a walk through Freemont Street (there were eye opening characters there too;) and then to Container Park, which is a kind of shopping center created out of shipping containers. I’m sure the place has a fun vibe but since we were there on a Sunday evening, it was pretty quiet.
We checked out the worthwhile Bellagio fountain show, which runs every 15 minutes at night then had a cocktail inside the chandelier at the Cosmopolitan. I enjoyed a signature Cosmo (only cosmo I’ve had that wasn’t pink). Gary played some roulette -no luck tonight 😦
On to the part of the trip we were most excited about. We arrived in Zion around lunchtime (3hr drive from Vegas) and hopped onto the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive shuttle. It takes you to various points along an accessible trail next to the Virgin River – no cars allowed past the Canyon Junction. It was an easy and beautiful walk and we went as far as the beginning of the Narrows. Most people venturing into the Narrows had rented waders and waterproof boots in the park, since it is rocky and the water can get chest high in places. The outfits were clunky, considering you also need to walk the trail to get to the Narrows area. You may want to talk to a ranger before renting the equipment to see if it’s necessary.
We spent the afternoon there and then headed to the Desert Pearl Inn to check in. This was our favorite accommodation of the whole trip. Spacious, thoughtfully appointed rooms, great beds and a crazy good view from the large, heated pool and hot tub. Attached restaurant Camp Outpost served up a beet salad to die for. I could have stayed there for a week!!! Love their logo and purchased coffee mugs with the design to take home with us. The town is cute and provides several dining and souvenir options and also shopping for wine, beer or liquor.
We left our hotel around 9am and drove to the east entrance of Zion along the Zion-Mount Carmel highway. We took route 9 to 89 North which heads to Bryce Canyon. This was a stunningly beautiful ride, every canyon and mountain different than the next in shape, color and texture, just awe inspiring.
We took our time on the ride, arrived at the Bryce Lodge just before 3pm and were able to sneak into the lunch buffet just before closing. The waitress warned us that we had 5 minutes and no more, to grab any food we thought we might like to eat from the buffet, as we wouldn’t get a second chance-it would be gone! There was a good variety of food available but we would have preferred a $10 sandwich to the $70 (for 3) with ice tea and tip.
We brought our bags to our Western cabin. This was a really cozy, log cabin, tucked into the pines, with a ceiling fan (no A/C) so it was comfortable. We walked a short path to the rim and an incredible vista. We started on the Queen’s Garden trail, which is considered a moderate hike (1.8 miles) but it descends on a path that’s about 3 ft wide, is sandy/small pebbles to unsure footing and no railing or anything to hold onto and before long opens up to vistas that challenged my sensitivity to heights. My brother and sister were able to handle it, but I had to turn back – I know, wimpy. Now that some time has gone by, (and the fact that I’m now 2,000 miles away) I think I would try it again 🙂
We headed to dinner at the lodge (another buffet) and when we asked for drinks, the manager confirmed that we would be eating-things are a little different in Utah and you can’t enjoy drinks without having food as well.
The atmosphere in the lodge felt a little cultish, the dining room manager eyeing our every move, as if we threatened the carefully controlled environment there. The Mormon influence is definitely felt there. By 9:pm we were the last of the diners to head back to their cabins and you could hear a pin drop and all lights out in the entire area by 9:30pm.
We left for Moab at about 9am (a 4-1/2 hour trip) and unexpectedly passed Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home on 89. We also passed the Pahvant mountain range (named after the Indian tribe) which was beautiful and still snow covered. We continued to Canyonlands and took the Island in the Sky Trail with beautiful vistas.
Dinner was at Moab Grill, which turned out to be our best meal in Moab. Delicious Wedge salads and burgers, great staff, reasonable prices.
We headed out on a Moab Adventure Center rafting trip on the Colorado river the next day ($98pp). The trip started at 11am and we were only on the water 45minutes before we stopped for lunch at Red Cliffs Ranch. The Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage is housed there, but unfortunately the raft trip didn’t include a tour of the museum.
Our raft guide was entertaining but would float down backwards (I’m assuming it was easier for him to paddle that way) but it took away from the feeling that you were riding the river. The rapids were I & II level, so nothing too scary and that was okay by me! I had my foot shoved under the raft seats so far that my entire leg fell asleep within a few minutes!
Dinner was at Antica Formica, a wood fired pizza and pasta restaurant. They were packed so we sat at the pizza bar where we watched the assembly line of workers working the dough, dressing & firing 100’s of pizzas. It was a great spot to watch the process and the staff seemed appreciative of our attention. They were working so hard we tipped them in addition to the wait staff! I had a pistachio pesto pizza which was delicious! Great experience and would definitely recommend.
We were going to head to Park City overnight on our way to Jackson Wyoming, but decided we needed another day to see Arches National Park. The park now has a timed entry system and we had to call right at 6pm to get an entry spot for the following day.
We were so glad we made the decision to stay. We walked the Delicate Arch trail, Landscape Arch and most of Double O trail, which has a tricky final climb that we weren’t willing to make.
Moab hasn’t responded to the explosion of tourism with great dining and nightlife options, although a local told us that 11 new hotels were going in this year. Liquor stores have short and sporadic hours. Staffing shortages everywhere.
I usually include a lot of photos of food in my posts but I have to say, there is not much happening in the culinary world in this area. Dinner was at the Broken Oar which is known for their sweet potato fries, they were more like a desert. Our server was slammed so we waited, which was okay but the food was nothing special.
After dinner we decided to check out the “nightly blues” promoted at the Blu Pig. We took an Uber there but were disappointed when the band turned out to be more of a soft rock trio. We didn’t stay long and searched for an Uber, Lyft or taxi to take us back to our hotel. The waitress confirmed that this was very hard to come by…I guess we had found the one Uber driver in Moab earlier that evening.
With no other option, we started walking to our hotel which was 2.8 miles!!! On a hunch, I walked into a local hotel as we passed and asked the woman at the front desk if she had any ideas for us, since we were out of options. She called someone she knew, couldn’t get through to them and then said “my shift ends in 15 minutes, I can give you a ride”.
We thought she was kidding but she reassured us that it was not a problem and went back to her work. A few minutes later she walked towards the hotel restaurant. She reappeared in about 10 minutes with mini butterscotch desserts for us to eat while we waited. She was just about 20 years old, all wide-eyed innocence and an offbeat sense of humor. Seeing no problem with offering total strangers a ride, she ended her shift and drove us to our hotel, chatting the whole way about the town and how it is getting better! She was an angel and made us feel like the luckiest people on earth! We said, “you don’t do this a lot do you?” She said, I trust you! So sweet & totally un-jaded, she was a delight and the most memorable local we met on our trip.
Our plan was to head next to Jackson, Wyoming for a three night stay there, but the universe had other plans. The next morning covid put a hard stop to our Jackson trip and we isolated for five days until our flight back.
We had planned to stay at The Rustic Inn in Jackson. When we notified them and sent the requested certified positive covid test them, they offered us a credit to use in the next 3 weeks. Obviously we couldn’t take advantage of that (we were sick, plus we weren’t locals!) and we had multiple phone conversations with the manager trying to negotiate a credit for sometime in the fall. He was rude and inflexible. There were so many ways they could have handled the situation that would have left us satisfied and wanting to plan a future trip there, but the manager there did not understand hospitality. We lost $1,200 to them and will not consider them when we reschedule that part of the trip.
Though our trip was unexpectedly cut short, the first part was terrific and worthwhile! So, GO WEST and enjoy this section of the country.
Trip ups and tips:
-Stock up on sandwiches, snacks and drinks before heading to Bryce Canyon & Moab. Bryce has very little to offer. Moab is much bigger but there aren’t a lot of great offerings there either. The town hasn’t responded to the explosion of tourism with great dining and nightlife options. Liquor stores have short and sporadic hours. Locals just shake their heads when we asked and say “yeah, Utah is different”
-Save your food budget for another town while at Bryce, and order a pizza for dinner from the General Store. We paid $36/pp for a buffet that was just okay. Just be aware that the General store closes early (think it was 5pm then, now listed as 6pm).
-Try to find accomodations that offer a pool. The hikes are hot (and that was in May) and it was great to swim in a pool with a view at the Desert Pearl after our day out. There are postings warning that you shouldn’t swim in the virgin river due to toxic algae bloom. We took a quick dip in the Colorado but it was COLD!
-Plan at least two nights in Zion and Bryce- we did not have enough time to really explore and they are both GORGEOUS! If you are short on time and have to choose, I would skip Canyonlands and spend the time at Arches. Having said that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Each park offers something different and wonderful so try to get to all!
-Willow Flat campground near the Green river and inside Canyonlands looked like a great camping site as we went by.
-One thing that was surprising is that we saw NO wildlife. I’m sure if we had gotten to Jackson we’d find it there, but it was still surprising.
-We decided to split everything three ways and I created a spreadsheet to track our spending. It would have been best if just one person put all expenses on their credit card, then split that bill. But then that person gets ALL the points (and you know, we all want reward points 🙂
-Make sure you fill up with gas, especially between Bryce and Moab. We might have missed a station, but I don’t think so and we ran pretty low before getting to one. Also have water with you-remember, you are in the desert!
-Buy a cheap cooler (assuming you flew in) to keep cold drinks in your car. You’ll need a lot of hydration on your hikes!
-Consider trip insurance and make sure it covers covid! You would think that most hotels would help you out when you have the bad luck to get covid on your trip….well, MOST would.
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