Mom: We couldn't do Zion in a weekend, are you crazy?
Me: What about a long weekend?
... a few more details ironed out and some serious excitement later, the trip was planned.
See, mom has wanted to go to Zion since literally ever. We would pass by it every time we headed to ski in Utah or Colorado and every single time, without fail, she would ask emphatically "Who wants to go there with me?!" Well we all did, but we were always either on our way to ski or coming home from it, so none of us were in the mood to hike miles and miles of red rock. Weird, right? So now that I'm leaving, mom and I wanted to have a little weekend getaway - which are vastly underrated by the way - before I fly off into the wild blue yonder. We decided on Zion bc what's a 7h drive on a Thursday afternoon? Small potatoes, right? That's where you're wrong. Or rather, it may have been small potatoes if it hadn't gone the way it did.
"We should not be taking your truck," mom stated with a little anxiety and a lot of aggression in her voice as we pulled out of the driveway. To her credit, my brake pads needed replacing something terrible and the screeching of metal on metal was a painful reminder of the upcoming necessary replacement process that would inevitably involve me bribing my father to fix them while he teaches me how to do it myself so I can handle it on my own in the future. He's good about that. Between grunts of frustration and strings of well-placed expletives that would make even the most eloquently spoken sailor blush, he has a way of making me understand what he's doing and how/why. So anyway, my ever-optimistic-ray-of-sunshine-positively-upbeat mother and I headed out for our long weekend at Zion with high hopes and higher doubts about my lil' truck's ability to get us there.
About three hours into our 7h drive, I took the wheel, and mom promptly proceeded to pass the hell out. It's a good feeling when your parent feels comfortable sleeping while you drive. I know that may sound strange, but think about it for a second. When you're a kid on a road trip it's all you can do not to immediately pass out in the back seat. At 16, you think you can drive the whole way without supervision, but your parents' awake and alert attitudes and not-so-subtle gasps while pushing hard on an imaginary brake pedal that just won't work prove otherwise. Now, at 22, my mom probably trusts my driving less than ever, so either she has a death wish or else she let Jesus take the wheel, but either way she was able to take a nap without any serious qualms about my driving, and that felt good.
We arrived at the campground at 1:30am, having lost an hour on the drive East. You ever set up camp in the dead of night? Not the dream, people. Not. The. Dream. Tent set-up takes 3x as long and involves a lot more colorful language, particularly when the tent you just set up falls down bc you put the wrong sticks in the wrong places bc it's pitch black. We set everything up by the eerie glow that my headlights projected into the darkness. They kept automatically turning off, which while good for my truck's battery, was decidedly not having the same affect on our short tempers - thanks @Honda - until we gave up and switched to headlamps. Why did we have headlamps, you might ask? Bc my mother is Mary Freaking Poppins. She is in a perpetual state of preparedness, and practically perfect in every way. In all seriousness, everything was going alright all things considered, until we realized that we didn't have the cap to the air mattress, so we obviously couldn't inflate it - I'd like to note that mom instantaneously blamed dad for this, she didn't even have to think about it, it was pretty impressive. Anyway, I reminded her we had lots of blankets we could sleep on top of rather than underneath, and sacrifice some warmth in order to alleviate some of the impending pain. Our moods were drastically improved when we looked up into the sky and saw the outline of the canyon surrounding us. As our gaze traveled upward, we wondered at the sheer number of stars visible to the naked eye. It looked like someone spilled glitter all over the sky, it was absolutely surreal and a sight I will never forget. After taking a moment to breathe and appreciate where we were and the experiences we were lucky enough to be sharing (something we think is very important to do) we hopped in the tent to try and get some sleep. Emphasis on the word try, bc before we even got the tent zipped, we heard a very angry wildcat at a much closer distance than any angry-human-eating-top-of-the-current-food-chain-animal should ever be to yours truly. Mom's instant reaction was to close the tent with a speed I'm not sure I've ever seen her move at before, while I literally LAUGHED OUT LOUD and waited for death to take me. Top notch survival instincts, ya'll. Heeeello natural selection. Anyway, after a riveting discussion in which mom thought of all the creatures out in the desert that could kill us, and I learned that wombats are cute and cuddly creatures, (not the man-eating beasts I had in my head), sleep crept up on us around 3am.
The next morning, we found the cap to the air mattress. You laugh, but to us it was more of a cruel joke. Whatever. We had it for the next two nightss. Shut up, it was dark. We also quickly came to the realization that our side of camp was completely enveloped in shadow no matter the time of day, so it was freakin' freezing. Now I know we're a couple of California girls but it's important to remember that we've both lived on the East coast for several years and there is a vast difference between waking up in your warm bed and getting ready to go out into the frozen tundra where the wind hurts your face versus waking up outside and trying to remember what it felt like when your blood circulated to all your limbs. Overdramatic? Maybe. But it felt about that cold to ME, and I'm who we're talking about after all. After a protein-filled breakfast, we packed up our Camelbacks (and by we I mean mom bc I am useless and slower to get going than she is) and headed to hike our first trail, Observation Point via East Rim Trail. It's only 8.6 miles, we thought. What an easy hike this will be, we shrugged internally, despite the "strenuous" rating the hike was given. Now I don't know if you know this, but we Southern Californians live at - if not below - sea level. As such, this is where we do most of our hiking. Seeing the problem, ladies and gentlemen? Yeah. Elevation is a bitch. We found ourselves panting about 60 seconds in (and that's being generous), and I've never been so grateful for such incredible views, bc photo taking is a fantastic excuse to stop (and try to get back into the lungs that are absolutely screaming at you to stop). Luckily the aforementioned views were worth the exertion and we made it through the course of the hike an hour ahead of the average (whoohoo!). We headed back, all smiles and adrenaline, using the extraordinarily convenient park shuttle system which flows directly into the Springdale public bus line that took us back to our campsite. We took some quick showers - I say quick because you got a token for 6 minutes of shower time which was great for those of us with long/curly hair - and took a walk into town. We didn't last long before the exhaustion set in and we headed back to warm up dinner over the fire and have a glass of wine bc we deserved it dammit. It was kind of comical bc we were on our phones sitting around the fire but we had literally spent the last like 36 hours talking endlessly. Our comfortable silence was masked by the flow of the Virgin River through our campsite and eventually lulled us into bed earlier than anticipated.
We slept for 11 hours. Or rather, I did. Mom tried to wake me up every hour after 7am and I was decidedly not having it. In my defense, she didn't get up, she just pushed me to get me to wake up, and when I didn't, she just rolled back over and fell asleep again. We were still up by 9 though, bc we'd fallen asleep at 10, so we most certainly did not sleep through anything. Day two was for hiking the Narrows, which is effectively hiking the actual Virgin River (which runs through the whole park and then some) at the narrowest points of Zion Canyon. If you've never hiked a slot canyon, I recommend it, but be aware that it is like nothing you've ever done before. When we rolled up to the bus stop, we made friends with a couple from North Carolina who were visiting with their son. After speaking with them, we learned that they were hiking the Narrows that day as well and had already donned their - astonishingly attractive and later deemed "hot pants" as a term of endearment - high rise Gortex pants, neoprene socks, and water shoes. We knew the water would be cold but we weren't sure whether we wanted to shell out the cash for the gear when we might be able to tough out the cold and make it on our own. Mom and I don't exactly handle the cold well, specifically cold water (does anyone?) and we wanted to actually enjoy the hike, so we took the cue from our new friends and headed for the rental shop. In hindsight, the pants were one of the best choices ever made by anyone ever. The water was so freakin' cold. There were people in shorts and regular water shoes, don't get me wrong, but mom and I decided those freaks of nature must be from Minnesota or Alaska or some other place where they're inherently immune to the cold bc oh my God no way in hell was I gonna make it more than a few hundred feet without those magical pants. To give you an idea, and so that you know that I'm not a total wus, please understand: not only is this not shallow water (it constantly flowed anywhere from my calves to my hips and I'm almost 5'9), it is actively running water. So on the way up, the current is against you and you're working twice as hard. In contrast, on the way down, the water wants to take you down with it (and it did take mom down - twice as a matter of fact). I, however, moved with the sure-footedness of someone who spent much of her youth in the water (swimmer). Mom compared me to a hippopotamus, which let me tell you did not go over well, but she defends her statement by saying she meant that "they move through the water with ease". You know what else moves through the water with ease, mom? Lots of animals. Literally so many other, cuter animals. SO MANY. I'll handle the aftereffects of this deep emotional blow some other time. I personally think that I just move so quickly bc I have the overconfidence of a twenty-something who hasn't lived long enough to be wise enough to be careful enough to walk a little more hesitantly through potentially dangerous, definitely uncharted territory. But I guess the "hippo" reasoning works too. About 3 or 4 miles in mom, and I stopped for a snack, which is when mom realized she was freezing and it was time to make our way back to our temporary home. We got back before the sun set and mom just wanted to take a moment to take it all in. She was loving every second of every minute - the rushing of the river, the crispness in the air, the moon peeking out above the gravity-defying rock formations an artist could base a whole new color wheel off of looming in the distance, and each other's company. We sat and just enjoyed the moment for a little while before warming up dinner yet again on the fire. Conversation ebbed and flowed easily and comfortably until words faltered and we were left to listen to the sounds of the world around us before falling onto our (newly inflated and much appreciated) air mattress.
Sunday was our last morning in Zion, and boy was it cold. The plan was to wake up earlier than we had been in order to get the truck packed and head out for our last hike at Angel's Landing, and we made it happen! ...just an hour later than we intended. It was like, super cold, okay? In accordance with the frigid temperatures, our hiking gear was so layered that our pictures of this hike look like they were taken over the course of several days bc we have so many different outfits on. We peeled off more and more of our layers as we got to each landmark of the hike - the intro was long with rapid elevation gain, immediately followed by 21 aggressively steep switchbacks which I will curse till my dying day. As if that's not enough, then comes the exciting part. A bit of context here: mom is afraid of heights. Not necessarily deathly afraid, but put her up somewhere she doesn't want to be and she will begin to unwind. The next part of the hike is where the trail gets its name, bc it was said that only angels could reach a peak so high. How do you get to the top? By climbing, of course. Are there harnesses? No. However, you do have a severely over-hyped "helpful" chain link to hold onto while you traverse the sometimes one-foot-in-width paths with 1,000+ foot drops on either side. No big deal. Honestly, I thought it was awesome, but I don't have issues with heights and also I'm sometimes fearless to a fault. Funnily enough, while I wasn't concerned about myself, I was mega worried about mom, so I made sure she was in front of me when we were climbing up and behind me when descending - bc in my head I could break her fall at 1,200 feet bc I defy physics and gravity and all the other relevant scientific theories. Speaking of science, we did make friends on the way up with a group of science nerds who'd just graduated and had varying levels of degrees in their respective fields of study, and they were awesome. One of them had a phobia of heights as well, so she and mom bonded over their fears and we headed up to the peak. A few deep breaths and some well-placed "photo-taking" pauses later, we'd made it. I am SO proud of my mom. Seriously, can you imagine having a fear of heights and not only climbing a damn peak with barely anything to hold onto but also watching your dumbass mountain goat of a daughter do it? She's tough as nails, man, I'm tellin' you. The way down was much easier than the way up because we already knew she could handle whatever this trail could throw her way, and we made it back down to my truck by 1:30pm to begin the drive home. Seven hours of driving, one frustrating stop at Chipotle, lots of good music to sing along to, and some holy-crap-we-made-it realizations later, we were home. And seriously unprepared for work on Monday (today) but that's not the point.
We made it happen. We made the trip from Temecula, California to Zion National Park, Utah over the course of a long weekend - much to Jesse's chagrin seeing as she figured we'd die and she'd get all of mom's jewelry and my clothes. I mean at some points we weren't really sure we'd make it what with my brakes threatening to go out at any time, but I'm a big believer in the practice of turning up your radio louder when it sounds like there may be something wrong with your car. Safety first, right? Just kidding. But it really was an incredible weekend. It was full of surprises and small joys that I could never have anticipated, but it was also everything I could have hoped for and more. Even when everything was going wrong, it was all alright, because she was right there with me. My mom is my best friend, and a damn good travel buddy. Now that we've covered parts of Europe, and now another National Park, I think it's time to get her a ticket to Southeast Asia, don't you? Goodness knows I can't go too long without seeing her, bc what's a baby hippopotamus without her mama? In the meantime I see lots of Facetiming and Whatsapp calls in our future, but we got this. We always do.
Until next time, lovelies!
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)