Day Nineteen: Thursday, June 7th, Zion National Park, and more…


You know that hiking in from the highway option if you miss curfew? Turns out people use it at all hours, and the quickest way back to any site in the campground is through our site. Thankfully none of them were putting forth any effort at being stealthy, so I had no fears that they might be Purgatory inmates sneaking in to rob us blind.

The original plan was to spend two days in Zion National Park, about forty-five minutes from here, then head to Boulder, stay with family for a day, and then bust it for home.

The first revision came when the nice lady at the Mexican joint last night told us that we absolutely had to go to Bryce Canyon. Zion was beautiful, but Bryce was mandatory. When I inquired–after my chimichanga–about a cave she’d been telling us about, she pulled in her manager.

“Bryce? Bryce Canyon? Whaddayawannaknow? I grew up around Bryce. Best place on earth. What can I tell ya’?”

We left the restaurant with a new plan, including a day at Bryce and a detailed map sharpied on a napkin taking us to a hidden slot canyon outside the National Park.

So today was to be our Zion day, and tomorrow we would truck up to Bryce. Not ideal, since Bryce was a full two hours from camp, but reservations were set in stone, and we’d have to make due.

Further selling point? Bryce is over 3,000′ higher than where we are here. As previously established, this equates to considerably more reasonable temperatures. Which are absolutely worth driving way the fat out of our way for.

img_20180607_082012.jpgWe got to Zion nice and early this morning. Early enough to snatch one of the last parking spots, but not early enough to be anywhere near the front of the growing line to get on a shuttle.

Again, I wonder how things worked around here before the shuttle services were started. The line–not unusual based on the amusement park zigzag setup out by the road–was long. We sidled up to the last folks way back by the Visitor Center bathrooms. The sandwich board right next to us said the wait from this point was thirty minutes. The tortoise on the other side of us looked to be telling a more accurate tale. You’re gonna be here a loooong while.

An hour. That’s how long it took for the shuttles to come by enough times to pick little old us up and take us into the park. Sandwich Board: 0 Tortoise: 1.

Me at the beginning of our only hike of the day. Note there is still a smile.

Did I mention it was hot? Zion does not have the benefit of greater elevation with which to shed degrees. It is but a s’muge chasm wherein the sun’s rays beat down and then wallow. Fester. Smolder.

It was atrocious.

We had determined that we–minimally–needed to take the shuttle ride all the way through the park before throwing in the towel and digging a hole somewhere to ride out the day.

The views from the buses were great, but they alone couldn’t constitute our whole visit.


We needed one hike. I mean, can you really even say you stopped at a National Park if you never get off the shuttle?

Embarrassing request: Let’s conveniently forget that we counted Teddy Roosevelt as one of our eight National Parks this trip, riding only on memories and a five-minute roadside overlook. K?

Given our current proximity to Purgatory, it was going to be a relatively short hike. Upon consideration of the options, The Emerald Pools won out. The image Google showed me last night helped the decision along.

The Virgin River at the trail to Emerald Pools, significantly downstream of the Narrows

We really wanted to do The Narrows, a stretch of the Virgin River that you can walk up for miles and miles.

The Virgin is not exactly a rager–we crossed it in a million places on the drive up from CA, and in many we couldn’t even locate running water–and I’m certain that you could walk right up the river pretty-much anywhere, but the draw of the Narrows has to do with geography surrounding the water–the canyon is narrow at the Narrows, and high and steep at both banks.

Feet in water. Head in shade.

It sounded lovely, but the eight hour hike-time turned us off. As well as the supposed need to rent waders or waterproof boots should you not want to lose your toes in the fifty-degree water. I think we’d have been fine in our Keens, but time was definitely not on our side. Also, Zion Narrows is the most popular hike in this, the third most popular National Park. That is far-too many people.

IMG_20180607_094027.jpgEmerald Pools it was.

So the funny thing here is that the pools are neither Emerald, nor really pools. I do believe I’ve been the victim of advertising flim-flammery and inadequate Googling.

Okay, okay… Middle and Upper Pools were pools. I guess. They were puddles anyway. Lower was just an overly excited weeping rock. A trickling waterfall.


But nowhere was there any Emerald.

What there was was a great deal of sand and heat.

I cannot tell a lie. I didn’t think I was going to make it.

But that promise of the last pool–certainly the one that held the magic–kept me going, along with some of Scott’s water once mine was sucked dry.

It was a gorgeous hike. It was. Really. There were even rocks and stairs, like a sane, respectable trail.

All of Zion is all-around stunning. But we were a little disenchanted with the Emerald Pools, and they had required our entire daily allotment of energy.

When we got back down to the lodge, we collapsed on Emerald Grass under a Pool of Shadow. This was not disappointing. All we really needed today was some cool greenery under our bodies and some cool shade above. We just didn’t find it until after the Great Emerald Pools Scandal of 2018.

Refilled water bottles and rested bodies, we rode the shuttle through the rest of the park with Zion’s finest bus driver. Unlike the first, this guy loved his job, and took it upon himself to add Official Zion Tour Guide to his name tag. He was great!

And he got us back to our van before hunger overtook us.

After a lunch of melted chocolate and toasted grapes and cherries, we did a quick tour of the Visitor Center, which is really just a disguised gift shop. It did, however, house some pretty neat cooling towers, to passively cool the building. Engineering brilliance there.

Then we hopped back in the $900 miracle, and pointed her towards the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel–the longest tunnel in a National Park at 1.1 miles–and the scenery beyond, before returning to Quail Creek for some reservoir time.

The tent was not in great shape. Despite the ranger lady assuring us that there would be very little wind, what there was was enough to inflict some damage on my brother’s Ozark Trail while we were away.

We were sweating like pigs, the tent was leaning precariously, the van needed an oil change, and we needed dinner. We enacted the following order of operations:

First, the Ottinger-Mandatory Duct Tape came out, and we made the repairs that we could on our shelter, to right the ship for another few nights. The fiberglass poles were in need of a little assistance.

Second, the water needed to be consulted for an hour or two before we could even consider tackling the rest of our evening. We swam and we swam, mingling with the underwater willows and grasses of the flooded reservoir.

And then we headed into Walmart. We would change the oil before they closed, find dinner, and come back to swim some more until we could imagine going to bed.

I didn’t even take off my swimsuit.

This was the view from the highway as we passed the campground:

It may look innocuous, but look a little closer. That orange tent should not be nearly so… taco-shaped.

Moral of the story: If you want a tunnel tent, stick with REI. Fiberglass corner-cutters don’t quite make the grade.

Also, don’t borrow a tent unless you are comfortable with buying it.

Any Northern Exposure fans out there? If you look real close, that tent bears a strong resemblance to the coffin of Maggie’s boyfriend after he was hit by the satellite. Right?

And so the evening’s agenda now included a few more items.

Scott turned the van around (in the convenient highway-side parking turnouts, for late-nighters who value their Uniroyals), and we made a bee-line for the ranger’s booth.

They were so happy to see us. Had we gotten their messages?

Umm… No.

There was a terrible mix-up, wherein they had, through some inexplicable series of miscommunications and itchy fingers, accidentally cancelled our reservations.

Well, ain’t that serendipitous.

Long story short, we just stayed our one and only night at Quail Creek for free. Now if only we had somewhere else to go…

On to Walmart, to get that oil change before they closed. While the beast was getting all lubed up, we opted for Subway, the only ‘restaurant’ nearby. So nearby, it was within. Convenient. Unfortunately, this was Utah’s slowest Subway. I saw the plaque hanging above the guy’s head as he laid out each of my onions like he was reassembling a watch.

Just another day of camping…

This did give us plenty of time to recalculate the remainder of our trip.

Last-minute reservations were made for an Airbnb in Tropic, UT. Just outside of Bryce Canyon.


It was only available for one night, so we would rise early, make the most of a very abridged visit to Bryce, and then make an early exodus for Colorado. Spend one more night with our unlucky family members in Boulder.

It was perfect.

We were reunited with our beloved wheels, and returned to camp–to the scene of the crime–to tear the wreckage down and pack ourselves up.

Salvage Scott and his hearty crew of minions

Also to salvage every possible piece of usable materials from the skewered tent.

Don’t worry.

He got it all.

We got into our one-night Tropic bungalo getaway at 10:30. Without a hitch. Not too shabby, all things considered.

The drive was mostly in the dark, so we probably missed some spectacular scenery, but all we really cared about was the plummeting thermometer and the promise of beds on the horizon.


The place is immacculate, the beds feel, upon first flop, adequately comfortable, and a load of laundry is spinning away in the gratis washer and dryer–promising no one needs to resort to desperate underwear measures before we get home.

And we are exhausted.

Well, the kids aren’t exhausted.

They’re asleep.

But I’m exhausted.

In the final stretch,

The Whole Enchilada:

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