Hot Stuff

Original Post: July 29, 2015

No, not that Zion.

As if driving through the Utah landscape wasn’t torture enough, we faced another scorching day.  Leaving Bryce, we found the first place to shower since we’d left Missouri and I swore I heard a heavenly choir when I stepped into that shower stall.  Or perhaps that was me.  The bathroom was empty and everyone knows showers have great acoustics…

After showering and doing a quick load of laundry, we headed to the road and to Zion National Park.  Talk about a phenomenal park entrance!  Zion has an incredible road that travels straight through the mountain for 1.1 miles.  The tunnel is exceptionally dark and it is, hands down, a million times cooler experience than driving the Lincoln Tunnel.  Oh, right. The Lincoln Tunnel isn’t really that cool (at least if you’ve been in it a few dozen times).  Plus, if you’re really daring, you can park your car near the entrance of this tunnel and walk through it.  That’s right.  There’s a walkway!  And a “secret” window about halfway through that takes you to a lookout point – only viewable by foot.  Nate and I said we were definitely going to do it, but time got away from us and we ended up missing that opportunity.

It was amazing to me that the views in Zion were so drastically different from those in Bryce Canyon just a few hours’ drive northeast.  Everything in Zion was bigger, more solid, and yes, still breathtaking.  The biggest shock, perhaps, came when we reached our campsite at Watchman Campground to find that it was 100% in direct sun, there was no shade in sight, it was 2 pm, 104 degrees, and the sun wasn’t due to set for another 6 hours at least.

Oh, and of all of the campgrounds I’d booked for this trip, it was the only one I’d managed to secure that was a walk-in site, meaning that we had to carry everything from our car in the parking lot to our campsite about 50 yards away.  That doesn’t sound too awful until you start to do it in 104 degree heat and direct sunlight.  It didn’t seem to matter how much water I consumed, I was sweating it out as fast as I could put it in.  So much for that shower this morning.

The Watchman

We dragged our picnic table off the camp pad and next to the only tree around (which didn’t provide much shade, either) and watched a couple of fawns in the brush behind us as they warily kept an eye on us, trying to figure out whether they should continue foraging or take off in our presence.  The temperatures didn’t seem to bother them in the least. I wished I had their outlook.

The heat didn’t do much for our nerves either.  Nate was instantly annoyed with me for having booked such a site, even if our view was of The Watchman. And I felt horribly guilty as if I should somehow have known that the weather would be so unbearably and unseasonably (for the time of year, anyway) hot.  Somehow, we managed not to bite each other’s heads off and decided that putting up the tent was out of the question. Instead, we headed to catch the shuttle bus through the park to hike the Emerald Pools.  (Just like my spreadsheet said: 6/25/15 Zion, Hike Emerald Pools 1-4 pm.)  I was in no mood to hike, but it seemed to be the only place where we might find some shade.  And though spending hours in the gift shop was an option, I’m not much of a “crowd” person and the gift shop really wasn’t that big.

Photo credit:

Thankfully, once we joined the trail, temperatures immediately dropped in the shade and, though we were still sweating, it was no longer intolerably uncomfortable.  We reach the Lower Pool after about an hour or so (it was a slow hike), and were surprised by how empty it seemed.  Where was my gleaming pool that I was itching to photograph?  It was supposed to look like this —>

It was underwhelming to say the least…but oh, right, there’s that little thing called evaporation that happens when it’s hotter than hell out.  What I didn’t realize before coming to Zion was that what I actually wanted to see and believed I would see at the Emerald Pools  was this (below): 

(Photo credit: & Photo Credit:

Oh, I’d seen the photos and I couldn’t wait to see it in person.  But, I didn’t do enough research into where exactly these particular Emerald Pools were located.  These bad boys aren’t on the Emerald Pool trail at all.  They’re on the Subway.  That’s right.  The Subway.  (Because that’s just where gorgeous, natural, emerald-colored pools always are, right?)  A 9.5 mile hike requiring 7 hours, rappelling skills, and one of 80 permits issued by the park per day – none of which I had.  Well then.

But no disappointment lasts long in any national park.  Our trail back led us to these cuties, and I managed to get at least one worthy landscape shot (of the trickle that barely flowed).

One thing we noticed in Zion, and even in the previous parks before, was that wildlife didn’t seem to be intimidated by humans at all.  Sure, if you got too close, they’d take off, but most of the time you could walk right by and you’d get an ear flick or a tail swish as acknowledgement.  It was like living in a Disney film.  (I wonder what would have happened if I’d broken out in song…  Ah, well.  Too damn hot to try.)

When we reach our campground again, the site was still blazing hot.  Dinner?  You bet – someplace air conditioned, please.  We ended up stopping at Flanigan’s Spotted Dog Cafe just outside the park.  Once inside, the decor indicated that perhaps we were a bit underdressed (and undoubtedly wearing more sweat stains than necessary), but other patrons were similarly dressed and the hostess greeted us warmly.  The menu looked fabulous and made me believe that this restaurant was really quite out of place.  But, thank goodness.  Air conditioning AND real food!  It’s a minor miracle.  For Nate – filet mignon.  For me – pasta “purses” – homemade ravioli made from pear and ricotta and quite out of this world.  If I ever end up on death-row (for a crime I didn’t commit, naturally), please note that I choose pasta purses from Flanigan’s to be my final meal.  The view from our table (in the air conditioned cafe – did I mention that it was air conditioned?) was nothing short of spectacular.

By the time we left the cafe, the sun was near setting, but not down yet. I came up with the brilliant idea of — shopping!  Off we went for a few necessities, a few souvenirs, and by the time we returned to the camp- ground, the sun was finally off the site.  Oh, but it wasn’t so simple. Once we had the tent set up, the sand continued to bake us through the floor of the tent and the insulating layers we used as cushioning all night long.  It was like sleeping on an electric blanket set to high heat. Great in the wintertime.  Not so great when all you want to do is cool off!

Regardless we finally managed to get some rest…

…Until about 2 am.  Ridiculous wind gusts we never could have imagined made the windows of the tent (which had remained open for air flow in our little oven) flap like an entire flock of birds.  Raging nylon from every direction!  We managed to secure everything down quickly and settle in again.

But now my mind was awake and turning.  “I wonder what the sky looks like right now…”  Finally, I gave in to the impulse, set up the camera and unzipped the tent.

Wow.  Glad I did.

So, sometimes, my friends, when the wind wakes you up in the middle of the night, there’s a reason.  You just have to figure it out.  (This same reasoning does not apply to infants and toddlers, by the way.  There is no way to figure that out.  Ever.)

Yep, hot stuff alright.  Definitely visit Zion National Park.  In the spring.  Or the fall.  Or good God, any season but summer.

Here We Go…To Kansas

Original Post: July 21, 2015

In the beginning of the trip, I would take a photo of our next destination  from wherever we were when we started that day.  This habit didn’t last long…

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Kansas was not on my hotspot list.  I mean, other than Dorothy, who have you ever known to actually WANT to go to Kansas?  (I think even Toto would have opted out if he’d been given the chance, but dammit…Dorothy just had to ask “Toto, too?”  Poor dog.  He not only came from Kansas, but he had to go back!)

Shortly, before we left for vacation, I had taken a quiz on one of those ridiculous internet sites to see which state I should live in, as if answering 15 questions online could actually be a legitimate determining factor in where I’ll hang my hat.  And the result – you guessed it – was Kansas.  How on earth I could answer that I loved the ocean and still get a state smack-dab in the middle of the country as a result was beyond me.  The last thing I’d want to do is end up in any part of “Tornado Alley.”

I believe my exact words just a few days before we left were, “If I thought I could actually make it from St. Louis to Aspen in a single drive without going insane, I would definitely try.  But since we need to sleep at some point, Kansas it is.”

The drive through eastern Kansas provided endless views of slow rolling hills that eventually flattened into plains that went on for miles.  By the time we reached western Kansas, we’d seen more corn and more oil pumps than I had realized could exist in one state.  Our only saving grace?  The time of year we chose to travel.  Had we booked our trip just a few months later, those miles of landscape (though long and unchanging) would not have been visible at all.  Instead, higher and heartier corn would have meant stunning views of – wait for it – corn.  For 9 hours.  Corn and sky.  Thank goodness for June.

I was a bit hesitant when we stopped at a rest area and found a piece of molted snake skin.  I guess I hadn’t really thought I’d see any snakes.  Did I know they were out there?  Sure, the same as I knew rattlesnakes inhabited Hawk Mountain in our part of Pennsylvania, but since I don’t encounter evidence of their existence 99% of the time, I can keep them filed away in the “imaginary monster” files of my mind.  Suddenly, they had become much more real.

This surely came from the belly of a fairly good-sized snake.  Glad I didn’t get a chance to meet him.

When we finally arrived at Cedar Bluff State Park, I was impressed.  I had not expected to be at all intrigued with this strange land in the middle of the country, but there was actually a serene beauty in that tall grass which swayed like waves in the wind.  And wind there was.  With no mountains or tree lines to block it, the wind was constant.  I would be the last person to complain, however, since it meant we had some relief from the 102 degree heatwave.

We checked into our cabin, aptly named The Jumpin’ Catfish.  (Yes, I’d had Nate in mind when I booked that one.)  It was adorable.  From top to bottom, it was cute as can be – and covered with walking stick bugs (on the outside…not in – thank goodness!).  Funny how some bugs can creep you out completely and others are, for lack of a better word, cute.  Walking sticks definitely fall into the latter category.  So, if you happen to stop in Kansas and need a place to stay, Cedar Bluff State Park is it.  A great camp!

Nate fished the reservoir (of course) and we both enjoyed spending the evening on the porch of our cabin, watching the sun set and the lightning bugs buzz through the grass.  Perhaps the most memorable part of Kansas was the incredible birdsong.  I have never heard birds sing like the ones we heard there and it just added to the serenity that was the prairie.  If I didn’t know that tornadoes frequent the state every year, I could have contemplated buying a little cabin of our own in the area. Birdsong aside, I think I’ll pass.

We spent the evening experimenting with our cameras and scopes, practicing for the nights we knew we wanted to get some great dark sky shots, and despite the lack of geographical contrast to use against the sky, we got some pretty decent photos.

We headed to bed fairly early, knowing that we’d be up early and on the road to the “real” vacation tomorrow.  (Are you sensing a pattern, yet?)  Aspen, Colorado and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.  Finally, a change in landscape!  

And we survived Kansas.  Nary a tornado in sight.