Coming round full circle

I awoke to the scraping and beeping of a snowplough as it systematically cleared the hotel car park at around 4am. Lying there, not wanting to put my earplugs in and try to sleep in case I missed a phone call, I waited for 5am to arrive. With no call, I texted my dad who said they couldn’t get through again. Sleep didn’t look like it was on the cards anymore so we made our way inside for a hot drink and to discuss a plan of action. When we eventually go through, the advice was to call back at 7.30am when the airport opened. In the meantime we went and had breakfast and got the van packed ready to go. I phoned again just after 7.30am, and was told that they still didn’t know and wouldn’t know until half an hour before the flight time. I explained that as we were some distance away this didn’t really work for us, and then she phoned through to the airport that said everything was on hold till 11am. Not wanting to faff about, we rebooked in for the next day, when the weather was supposed to be better. This meant that by 7.45am we were standing in the hotel car park, with no plans for the day. It sounded like another cup of tea was in order.

Back in the room, we came up with a plan. My dad decided to reschedule the flight time to give us a bit of a lie in the next day as we were all pretty tired after only a few hours sleep, and didn’t really want to do it again tomorrow. Lee found a short hike just out of town in some underground lava tubes. This sounded pretty interesting, as long as the road wasn’t shut due to snow. We all piled into one car, and set off to have a look. It was a pretty drive through the snowy trees, and the day was clearing up a bit.

On the downside when we reached the turnoff, it was indeed closed. As it was still pretty early, we decided to go for a bit more of a scenic drive, before returning to Flagstaff. This also had the benefit of giving us an idea of how long the drive would be tomorrow morning. The receptionist had assured us it was only an hour, but Google reckoned an hour and a half. From this, we concluded that the receptionist must drive like a maniac.

The last part of our day, we went into Flagstaff itself for a wander around the town. We saw some interesting murals on the walls as well as some killer icicles.

The last place we stopped at was the Flagstaff Brewing Company.

We tried one of the local beers and a few nibbles in the warmth, before heading back to the car.

Stopping briefly at the visitor centre in my quest for a magnet for each state, I managed to get Arizona sorted! The fridge magnet collection is getting better, but still missing quite a few from the east coast.

That night we all piled into the camper to cook, which was a little cosy to say the least. We also found that as it had snowed during the day, the additional weight of snow meant that the gas struts couldn’t lift the pop-top anymore. Not being able to reach it to clear it off, we ending up using bungee cords inside to hold it open, with a bit more snow still falling I didn’t want us to have it collapse on us in the middle of the night.

The next morning was far more civilised. The hotel were letting us have breakfast even though we weren’t proper guests and having access to a lovely hot shower in this chilly weather was a bonus. We set off around 9am, arriving in perfect time for our 11.25am flight. It was very cold that morning, despite being bright and sunny my phone reckons it was -5c. We headed inside for a safety video before being kitted out with life vests before we boarded. I’m still not entirely sure why they have us these, as an emergency landing seemed unlikely to involve water, but there we go. We were all weighed and given cards with our seat numbers to balance the aircraft, my mum ending up with the best seat in the front! Soon we were bundled in along with another couple, strapped in place and given a headset so that we could talk to each other.

It wasn’t much warmer in there than outside, so in a way it was good that it was a bit of a tight fit! 10 minutes before our scheduled time, we were in the air, heading out to the Grand Canyon.

The flight there is another 10 minutes or so, as the pilot flew low over the trees. We also got to see just how long the queue was to get into the park, which we would be joining afterwards. Soon we were at the canyon edge.

The helicopter flew out directly across the canyon giving us some unforgettable views.

It was also quite a long way down.

It was obvious from up here why the north rim was shut, as it was noticeable more covered in snow than the south where we had come from.

Once he had flown over, we turned around and headed back so we got to see the view from the other side.

It was a spectacular sight, and I’m glad we got to go in the end. Bucketlist – check.

The plan for this period with my parents was that they would stay in motels along the way as they travelled, the next one they had booked was in Page, which we had actually driven through on the way to Zion previously. The logical route to Page from where we were staying was along route 64 east. This meant we could drive through and look at the Grand Canyon on foot, before heading north to their hotel. Having seen the queue to get in, we knew we were in for a wait. Despite thinking that this time of the year would be quite, it was crazy busy. We queued for an hour and 20 minutes to get to the ticket booths before attempting to find a space in the car park.

This is where it all went wrong. I got out of the van to show my parents where to turn off and then got in back of their car. This left Lee in Ruby and the three of us in the hire car. We had no phone signal up here, and agreed to park and meet at the visitor centre. As easy as this sounds, it let to a lot of time we were both ended up trying to find each other unsuccessfully. We got to the point where both our cars were in the same car park, but we still couldn’t find each other. In between walking circles of the visitor centre, my parents and I walked down to one of the viewpoints.

It is a breath-taking view, but it was so horribly busy it kind of ruined it. Eventually back at the car, we were about to leave as Ruby had moved fro m the car park and we thought Lee had left. It turned out that he had actually managed to find the hire car and was parked near it sitting in the van. We had spent literally hours trying to find each other with no luck as it was so crowded, but we finally met up as we went to leave. I’m glad that we got to do the helicopter ride, because if this had been my total experience of the Grand Canyon I would have been very disappointed. I would definitely like to return on a less manic day and actually go for a hike and enjoy it.

We started to head out on the road towards Page, but after having only gone a short way we hit a stop. There appeared to be a car stuck on the ice on the road ahead with other cars slipping and sliding trying to get it out. We watched 3 people nearly completely lose it on the ice and waited a while before deciding that with still over 50 miles to travel on this road it was probably better to head back to Flagstaff and cut around on the main roads we knew were clear, pretty as it was.

We did at least get to see these deer on the way out.

This all meant that it was already late due to the massive queue, but now it would add an extra hour to our journey time, meaning another late long drive. We try to avoid night driving if possible, as not only are our headlights terrible but also the van gets pretty cold. If we had been by ourselves, we would have camped nearby most likely, but we had to get to Page so we set off on the 3.5hr drive to get there.

After what seemed like an age, we arrived tired and cold to the Travelodge, shortly before my parents. We found a local Japanese restaurant that cater to veggies and went there for a quick meal as it was already 9pm and too late to cook. The past few nights we had camped in the hotel car park, but the Travelodge had quite a small car park and it was very busy. Having found out that there was a free campsite just 5 minutes down the road, we decided to move out and stay there with the prospect of morning views and somewhere for Aimee to run around as well.

The morning view did not disappoint.

Aimee was probably more disappointed, as she didn’t get the free run she would have liked. This is mainly because she abused the privilege of being lead free, headed straight to the camper next to us and tried to get in the door. They were another young couple and while they didn’t seem overly bothered, they definitely didn’t feel the need for someone else’s cat in their van, which was understandable.

Arriving back at the Travelodge we decided what we wanted to do that day. My parents wanted to go an look at the marina on Lake Powell, while we opted to to the 10 mile rim trail around Page, with views to the lake. Aimee hasn’t had a good walk for a bit, so she’d be joining us. We agreed to meet back my 2 o’clock where we would go and visit Horseshoe Bend together. 

The trail for us started within walking distance from the hotel, so we set off. Aimee is now a bit slow to get started, she’s so excited to be somewhere new she has to stop at everything, sniff everything and then if possible, climb it. This meant that the first mile took us an hour.

The walk follows the outskirts of the town, as you come around the other side you start to get more of a desert view.

Birds of prey (which I don’t know the names of) circled above, causing Aimee to be slightly unnerved.

The first views of Lake Powell as we started to loop back round towards the starting point.

Unfortunately, due to our slow start, we had to cut the end off our walk in order to make it back for 2pm.  On the way, my parents phoned to say they’d go on ahead and meet us there, it was only a short drive down the road after all.  Back at the van we drove around to fill up our drinking water up at a point we had spotted along the way, before heading towards Horseshoe Bend. Due to a blonde moment, we ended up at the view for Lake Powell’s dam instead. Still it was worth the stop.

We continued on to Horseshoe Bend, where we bumped into my parents in the car park. They had already walked down and when I asked if it was worth the $10 entry fee, they informed me that it looked like the pictures. With this insightful information, we power walked down to the viewpoint, while they began the drive to Zion. It only took us about 10 minutes to walk to Horseshoe Bend, and I can kind of see why my dad described it that way. It was cool to see it, and maybe if you hadn’t just visited Gooseneck’s you would be more impressed, as it was very similar but on a smaller scale.

After a long dark and cold drive last night, we were keen to make it to Zion in the daylight. It’s a lot more enjoyable driving the van in the day and you also don’t miss out on all of the gorgeous scenery.

Just over two hours later, we pulled up at the hotel. We agreed that as we wouldn’t be able to stay in this hotel car park, we would drive out to the spot we had stay in before and my parents would drive with us, returning to their hotel after we’d all eaten.  This suited us, as having stayed in this spot two nights previously, we knew it was a good sight and also Aimee loved it. While we cooked, we decided what walk we wanted to do in the morning and settled for the Watchman Trail.

When morning came, Aimee was ecstatic to be out and running around. I wonder if she remembered the place. We met my up with parents in the visitor centre after only a comparatively short queue to get into this national park. The advantage of completing this trail was that you didn’t have to get the shuttle bus as the walk starts from the car park. Having got the bus twice before, it was a rather lengthy affair, adding a good hour onto actually being able to start your walk.  Compared to our previous two days in Zion, this one definitely had the best weather and we set off the sunshine.

Starting off at the base of these mountains, it was as steady climb on an easy, if sometimes muddy, path.

It didn’t take us all that long to reach the highest point, and the views were fantastic.

Turns out my new phone takes bad ass panoramas.

We completed the little loop trail at the top which takes you on a small detour around the edge of the ledge you have climbed to.

Stopping for a rare family photo opportunity.

As ever, I can’t get enough of photographing dead trees. Maybe I’ll actually find the time to draw this one!

Back at the bottom en route to the car park I stopped for some pretty pictures of the Virgin river with it’s mountain backdrop.

The walk itself only took a couple of hours, as we had gone full circle and needed to be back in Vegas again tonight. While we had already visited some of these places, it was nice to be able to show my parents them too and Zion is a beautiful place.

At least this time as we headed out, we had a drive belt and didn’t need to stop halfway to charge our batteries.

Back in Vegas, we picked up some post and located my parent’s hotel, which happened to be right next to the one we had stopped in before. We managed to sneak Aimee in for a bit and also make use of their cheap laundry facilities, which was a bonus. Deciding we had had enough of trying to cram everyone in Ruby, we cooked some things down there before carrying everything upstairs to their room to eat with a bit more space. It also meant we could wash up with hot water; it’s amazing how you miss the simple things!

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