Wednesday, November 24, 2010


After my first visit to Zion National Park in 2000, I left knowing I had visited the most beautiful spot on Earth.  I've been back two more times, including most recently this past September, and I still feel the same way.  There is something very special about this place and you have to be there to truly feel it.  And of course pictures do not do the place justice.

Virgin River
What makes Zion so special to me are two things: 1. You're IN the canyon.  As opposed to Bryce or the Grand Canyon where you're on top, here in Zion you are the bottom of the canyon.  It's awe inspiring being able to look up in Zion and see those towering mammoths of granite high above you.   2. The Virgin River and the oasis in the desert it provides.  Zion is located in a desert environment, and the temperatures can be sweltering there in the summer.  But thanks to the Virgin River you can take a swim and sit under the trees that surround the river.  You can easily see why settlers were attracted to this area.

What To Do

The ascent to Angels Landing
The free shuttle bus is in itself the first attraction at Zion.  For most months of the year, automobiles are barred from entering the main drive in to the park.  The shuttle ride gives you an amazing tour of the canyon with views out either window.  Of course you have to get off the bus and take a walk (especially when the buses become overcrowded and you must escape from either overly talkative tourists and/or the overpowering scent of BO).  Some key hikes are: Weeping Rocks and the Riverside Walk offer two of the easier hikes in the park.  Weeping Rocks takes you up to a rock alcove with a hanging garden and dripping water.

Hiking the Narrows
The Riverside Walk, found at the very last stop in the park, is a paved trail that takes you to the mouth of the Narrows.  The Narrows hike itself can be quite strenuous as you hike across swift moving water and step on slick, uneven rocks.  The Lower and Middle Pools hike gets you off the valley floor allowing you to walk to a series of waterfalls.  And finally, for a strenuous hike with an incredible view, the Angels Landing hike is a MUST. Just be warned - you will climb almost 1500 feet and walk on trails that have steep drop offs.  But the view is well worth the effort.

And there's nothing like ice cream and relaxing on the cool grass at the park's lodge. This is a must reward after a long day of hiking.


A great view in Springdale
Nearby Springdale is the closest town to Zion and offers a handful or so restaurants, outdoor shops for Narrows hiking supplies, a bike shop and several stores to buy (overpriced) gifts.  The Best Western Zion Park Inn is a nice, moderately priced option for lodging.  The back patio offers a nice, commanding view of a nearby granite cliff and witnessing a sunset here is simply the best way to conclude a day at Zion.

When Vacations Attack

So I keep seeing previews for a show on Travel Channel called "When Vacations Attack", which is basically an overly-dramatic name for a show about bad stuff that happens to people while on vacation.  Looking back over the many years and many trips I've been on, I can say I've been pretty blessed with good vacation karma (except for the time my mom stepped on a sting ray and ended up having to go to the hospital...)  Two weeks ago, in a roundabout way, my anniversary vacation to St. Augustine attacked.  

Here's what happened:  After a wonderful weekend of ghost touring and beach lounging in sunny Florida, Brian and I embarked on an approximately 11 hour return trip to Nashville (which includes several hours of driving through what I've deemed "the I-75/Southern Georgia wasteland...unless you REALLY like pecans").  Long story short, we arrived home exhausted and I ended up dumping my suitcase in the middle of the living room floor rather than remove its contents and stow it in the attic.  The next morning, I wake up at 6:45 to the sound of my dad knocking on the door because he's bringing back our dogs after watching them all weekend.  I unhook the chain and suddenly I hear Brian call out, "Remember the alarm..."  So, I turn to unset the alarm, trip over my suitcase, and "OHGOD, OHGOD, OHGOD I'VE BROKEN MY WRIST!!!"  My dad busts through the front door and Brian runs out from the bedroom, look at my clearly broken and twisted wrist, and start running around like chickens with their heads cut off while I alternately bark orders and black out from my position on the floor.  "Take me to the hospital!"  "Get my flip flops!" 

I lay down in the back seat of Brian's car and start breathing like I'm going through labor (it really does help with the pain).  Walk into the ER and am the only patient there so I immediately get pumped with Dilaudid and eventually a morphine drip.  I get X-rays, and learn I'm scheduled for surgery at noon to reset my arm.  I wake up from surgery and "Holy Hell,  my right forearm and wrist is all wrapped up and I have two sets of pins sticking out from under my skin.  What is this contraption?"  I later learn this is called an external fixator and its basically pins screwed into the healthy part of the bone and held externally while my wrist heals.  It also elicits tons of sympathy and an equal amount of horrific stares in public.  Oh, and did I mention I'm right handed and the comp exams I'm required to take for graduation are scheduled in two days?  (Don't worry, I arranged to take them on the scheduled date by typing them out with my left hand using a computer in an empty office...and I passed!)

Surprise!  Hope you have a strong stomach...

Right now I'm in week three of the healing process, and have about three weeks left until the pins are removed and I start physical therapy.  For the most part, I've kept a positive attitude about it- afterall, it could be much worse, but I do get frustrated at things that I can't do on my own right bags of chips, twist off bottle caps, wear long-sleeves, hold up an umbrella, shower without covering my right arm with a Kroger bag and a rubber band, etc.....But it also means I have an excuse not to cook or do dishes (which comes in really handy considering tomorrow is Thanksgiving). 

In conclusion, I leave you with this one piece of advice when traveling:  Always put away your luggage immediately after returning home, no matter how exhausted you are. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

St. Augustine

Actually this is Vilano Beach, near St. Augustine.  Taken from a recent trip to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary.  Vilano Beach is located just across the Halifax River from St. Augustine.  There were grand plans for Vilano, with a city center and other developments planned.  But the recent recession killed all of that.  A Hampton Inn & Suites was built here and I highly recommend staying here, especially if you want to be away from the "hustle & bustle" of St. Augustine.