Overdue re-visit

With a world full of places to explore, it’s been our general policy to steer away from revisiting.  There are notable exceptions:  Orlando,  San Francisco, Boston, New York.  They’re all in the archives of this blog more than once. 

On the other hand, this list is tiny compared to the list of places we’ve loved but will likely not see again.  The cayes of Belize.  Quito.  Cody Night Rodeo and Custer State Park.  Rome, wonderful Rome. We might not even make it back to the St. Louis City Museum.

So, readers might infer that there is something special about Quebec City.  This is our third time visiting here, and we’re dedicating to it a milestone anniversary and a lovely long fall weekend.

Infer away.   From the cobblestones right to the top of the tallest buildings, you’re surrounded here by rich history and cool modernism.   Th restaurant scene (which Jen covered a bit yesterday) and the sounds of the street musicians shout out Quebec’s culture and class.  It’s the kind of city where you can find anything you want if you walk around enough (more on this later).

Peak foliage and apple harvesting time make for a nice setting for cider tasting.

In some ways, it feels like a new city to us.  Where’s the white winter coat it wears for Carnival (and the day-glow snowmobile suits everyone was wearing 22 years ago)?  Even in fall, this city  is very clean and well-maintained, and the foliage rivals that which causes tourists from away to flood New England this time of year.  It’s crowded with tourists here, too, but things seem bustling and convivial as opposed to oppressive and claustrophobic. 

This is the first time we’ve ventured significantly outside the old city.  On Saturday we walked down the hill to patronize the wonderful farmers’ market and to (somewhat unsuccessfully) seek out a hip neighborhood called the Saint-Roch district.  

Then, on Sunday, we struck out even farther, to the farmlands that seem to surround this city in a way that suburbs and sprawl surround every other city we’ve explored in the past.

Also good for a vineyard visit — note the Chute-Montmorency is that white smudge in the distance toward the top left of the picture. This was during a break in the fog.

Jen orchestrated this trip and she should be congratulated for steering us toward the Isle d’Orleans.  This island in the St. Lawrence River is 15 minutes from the walls of the old city, but calm, quiet and pastoral. It’s quiet, but the concentration of agro-tourism outlets is quite rich.  To find a setting like this outside their city, a Bostonian might have to drive two hours to get to Vermont or lakes region New Hampshire or far-western Massachusetts.   

Once across the bridge and onto the island, we had 40-plus miles of vineyards, cideries, bakeries and farm stands for us to wander through, and some of them were in view of the city!  That is to say they would be in view of the city except that for much of the morning we were frustrated by drizzle and fog.  During our first vineyard visit,  the fog broke briefly and we were able to see first the river, then the mainland, and then we were even able to make out the white smear of the Chute- Montmorency, a waterfall higher than Niagra Falls, way over on the the far bank.

Then the fog came back and rain.  Then more rain.  Then rain and wind.  We kept on driving along.  The attractions on the north side of the island were mostly art galleries, we were told, and we were ok passing them by while staying dry in the car.  

That’s sunlight peeking our behind me while I wait for the Resto de la Plage to open.

Just before noon, we stopped at almost the halfway point along the route.  We waited for a restaurant by the water to open, and, wouldn’t you know it, first the wind went away, then the rain, and by the time we were eating, there was blue sky and sun.   It was the nicest weather for the whole trip so far, and it allowed for extensive views east and west along the river.  The soup was nice, too.

The sun and clouds battled each other for the rest of the afternoon while we stopped in a bakery, a locally-made vinegar shop, a boutique selling Quebecois-designed clothes that Jen really liked, a dairy that produces a version of the first cheese made in the Americas (we were not around back then to verify its accuracy, but it tasted very good roasted in a pan),  a few cideries, a few vineyards, and a microbrewery.  The tastings offered at the latter locales were small and Jen and I were sharing them; still, the day started to take on a bacchanal-like feeling.   (The last vineyard we went to was even named after Bacchus.)   The wines and hard ciders seem of fine quality to us, especially the ice wines and ciders which are produced from fruit harvested after they’ve frozen on their vine or tree.  

Here’s where we tried the first cheese made in the new world.

All along the route were farms, some for hay and livestock, and others for the main produce crops on the island: strawberries, apples and grapes.  Such is the climate here that all three of those crops were being harvested as we wandered past.  (Strawberries in October!)

One other stop of interest was to climb a four-story tower (during one of the day’s sunnier moments) on the northeast corner of the island.  Not only could we see well down the St. Lawrence, we could also look across to the north bank and see Mount Saint Anne, the ski resort that we’ll be visiting during February break.   This weekend’s itinerary is serving as a reconnaissance mission for February’s family trip.

Mount Saint Anne in the background. See you in February.

With the this reconnoitering goal in mind, we turned ourselves loose on the Old City again this evening in search of the fondue restaurant we visited during our first visit here — or something similar.  It seems like the kind of dinner the girls would appreciate.  We walked by dozens of other highly promising restaurants to investigate a “fondue” offering at one of the bars in the lower city,  only to find  the description on the menu drew a picture of something much more like mozzarella sticks than we had in mind.

Mission accomplished! Course three of the fondue trio

So we walked back up the hill (no funicular for us this trip).  Before we could decide which of the promising restaurants we might try, guess what we found at the base of the Chateau Frontenac itself?  A creperie that featured a three- course fondue meal.  Ask here, and ye shall receive.

And if you ask in makeshift French like ours, you’ll likely get answered in cheerful English.

Revisiting our youth

When planning a trip for our 20th anniversary, I thought it might be fun to return to a place that we enjoyed long ago, before children and houses and all the associated responsibilities of middle age.  So we returned to Quebec City, a place we visited a few times before we were married.

Of course, a few things have changed since the days where we were roaming around the Winter Carnival with our friends Sarah and Chris, carrying a hollow red cane shaped like Carnival’s mascot, Bon Homme, that was filled with a mysterious liquor known as

It’s Bon Homme himself!

“caribou”.   For example, not even once today did we take swigs from a random bottle of alcohol that we found protruding from a snow bank.  (There are not yet snow banks available, even up here in the north.)  Also, in October there are not so many people wearing comical snowsuits.

Another difference is that we’re at an even greater language disadvantage.  For one thing, I’m 20+ years further out from my high school French classes.  Also, I discovered that attempting to learn Spanish a couple of years ago, during our Central America trip, has had a disastrous affect on what little French I used to possess.  Last night I told someone “gracias”, and today realized that I’d been responding to the parking lot attendant with “si”.  It’s all jumbled up in my head as “language that is not English” and there’s no telling which will emerge when under pressure.

Still, it’s pretty cool to drive a mere six hours from our home and feel like we’ve been transported to Europe.  Melodious (and incomprehensible) strains of French swirl around us as we pass by patisseries, cafes, and ancient buildings of brick and stone.  Our airbnb rental is a tiny flat on the outskirts of the old city, looking out over the cannons guarding the old wall.

The drive was pretty good, too.  The foliage colors in Vermont were stunning, and St. Johnsbury proved to be an excellent dinner stop, even if it did prove a bit challenging to actually find a restaurant.

Apart from miles of wandering, today’s main excursion was a food and drink walking tour of old Quebec.  I did a food tour with some friends in Charleston a few years ago, and realized that this is a great way to get an overview and orientation to the area.  On our six stops we sampled local favorites such as poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, and seafood fritters, as well as wine, a cocktail, and herbal tea from the local monastary (which has become a health spa).

At some point we’re planning to venture beyond the walls of the Old City into the Sainte Roque district for dinner.  But now rain has begun to fall, and we are enjoying a bottle of ice cider that we purchased at the farmers’ market — so it may need to wait until tomorrow.

 

A day of extremes

Bob and I must be gluttons for punishment. Despite freezing our tails off in Bryce on Friday, we went back for more — and upped the ante — by getting up at 5:30 on Saturday morning and heading back to watch the sun rise.

The early hour did not improve the temperature. The car’s thermometer read 25 degrees as we headed into the park. Since our children were still sleeping warmly in their beds, I borrowed Nadia’s jacket (which I judged to be the warmest) as an extra layer. It didn’t seem to help much. There was snow visible on the path and topping the many hoodoo rock formations.

But we joined a small group of intrepid tourists at Sunrise Point (conveniently named by the National Park Service so you don’t need to wonder where the best place to go is), shivering as the sun appeared from over a distant mountain range. This place is amazingly gorgeous at any time, but the sunrise colors in the sky and the early morning light hitting the red rock took it to another level. (Not having to listen to complaining children also helped.) We took a short hike into the canyon and vowed to return again someday.

Then, in a move sure to shock our systems, on to a five-hour car ride in the car with three kids, heading to a loud and crowded indoor amusement park in Las Vegas. Zoe has been very concerned about maximizing this part of the trip, and so actually had managed to get her sisters up and mostly packed by the time we returned to our cabin around 8am. After a quick breakfast (sadly, the Bryce Pioneer Village breakfasts do not hold a candle to the Zion Ponderosa Lodge’s breakfasts), we were on our way.

The car ride actually went pretty smoothly. During the drive to Bryce, I’d decided to approach the intermittent bickering like an anthropologist, and identified each child’s One Fatal Flaw when it came to sisterly relations. My assessment was that we have one child who never lets anything go, one who goes out of her way to provoke people when she’s bored, and one who overreacts to everything.

We found the far northern end of the Strip to be considerably seedier than the middle where we spent our day last week.

Sadly, this combination does not always make for harmonious family time. Imagine, if you will, a long car ride where Likes to Provoke People is seated next to Overreacts to Everything. Never Lets Anything Go doesn’t get into arguments as often, but when she does, they’re guaranteed to last for hours and rise again, phoenix-like, days or weeks later.

Between the fun that everyone was having guessing their own and others’ Fatal Flaws, and the candy that Bob doled out occasionally, good spirits mostly prevailed on the drive back to Vegas.  We also had the entertainment of watching the car thermometer climb 60+ degrees over the drive.  I can’t think of too many places within five hours of each other that would be as different as the cold, snowy, quiet and natural Bryce; and hot, sunny, crowded, loud Las Vegas.

Escaping the Stratosphere

First, a little history:  Almost 20 years ago, Jen and I visited Las Vegas and our hotel room (in what was then the Las Vegas Hilton) looked right out at this Space Needle-like building with an amusement park on the top if it.  We could clearly see the roller coaster that went over the side of the platforms and the slingshot ride that went straight up a tower and dropped riders straight back down.  We could even hear the screams of terror from people hundreds and hundreds of feet above the desert floor being scared out of their wits.

I was scared out of my wits just thinking about it.  I didn’t want to go near that building or even touch its lengthy shadow.   I sensed that Jen had other thoughts about it, but realizing whom she had married, she did not pressure me to seek out these elevated thrills.  Nevertheless, to make up for anchoring Jen to the ground, I agreed to go on the New York, New York roller coaster and everything seemingly ended happily enough.

That six pack we bought in Bryce helped us celebrate the lax Vegas open container policy. It was a local brew called Evolution Ale.

Back to almost present day.  Zoe saw the tall skinny building, part of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, last week and is very interested in the elevated thrills.  On top of that, the New York, New York roller coaster was not running when got to that part of the strip last Sunday, so she’s thrill-deprived.   Then there was my highly-publicized reversed stance on the Angels Landing Trail.

This sets the stage for me to really come through as a father in a way that I rarely ever do.  Recall that we still have one activity left in our 3 activity for $57 packages we purchased on our first day here.  The first two activities we chose were the dolphin/big cat tour at the Mirage and the CSI Adventure at the MGM.  Our last selection (and they give you a whole week to use them up) was the Adventuredome, an indoor amusement park at the Circus, Circus hotel. This was our main family activity today.  Jen might suggest that the sojourn she and I took early this morning to see the sun rise over Bryce Canyon was a more pleasant — if extremely cold — experience,  but the girls decided to sleep in and miss the subtle shadows emanating from the hoodoos just beyond the clouds of our frozen exhalations.

Not El Loco. This is one of the Adventruredome’s spinny guys that Jen and I passed on.

The Adventuredome is a fine place, especially since we were getting in at a reduced price, and we ended up spending more than five hours there.  We walked around, ate a few things*, played some video games*,  tiptoed through a laser beam maze*, played laser tag, watched some 3-D movies and rode some rides.

It was this last bit that I think earned me the Parenting Iron Cross.  Not only did I ride both roller coasters in thie place, I rode the yellow one —  El Loco — three times.  That’s right.  Me.  El Loco.  Three Times!  This is the roller coaster that has a 90-degree drop and -1.5 g forces, and an inverted drop and a whole slow motion upside down part.   It is also the one roller coaster that didn’t make me motion sick — the red Canyon Blaster, with its two loops and double barrel roll made Jen and I both queasy.

Everyone but Zoe passed on this ride.

It should be said that neither of these rides lasted more than 45 seconds and that 90-drop was only a fraction of the 1,000-foot precipice Jen had to navigate in Zion. (Also, Jen eventually agreed to a turn on El Loco just before we left the Adventuredome.  This is probably because I had started to make such a big deal about how brave I am.)  Plus I refused to go on any of the rides that spun or swung back and forth.  Zoe had to go on most of those herself.  (Though I did surprise everyone by going on the one that shoots you straight up to the top of the dome and then drops you down — almost like the one on the Stratosphere, in as much as baby aspirin is like morphine.)

The point is that by the time Zoe had gone on all the rides and had been on El Loco four times, her thirst for thrills had been sufficiently quenched.  Plus we had run out of time for her to go up on the Stratosphere.  I had started to get the impression that Jen was not that interested in going up there.  The Stratosphere is in a somewhat rundown section of the Strip and its casino/lobby smelled more like smoke than the other hotels.  It does not fill one with confidence vis a vis safely supporting one a thousand feet about the desert floor.

Me caught in the act of being brave

So, practically before Zoe knew what was happening, we were whisking everyone away from the questionable excitement and into a much more palatable experience, dinner at P.F. Chang’s on our way to the airport.  Then it was just a matter of a five-hour flight spanning most of a continent and the hours of 11 pm PST to 7 am EST to get us home.  Hopefully the Space Needle thing has been put to rest for at least another 20 years.

*All the starred activities cost extra money beyond the entrance fee.

Yes, this is snow

Frequent readers of this blog might remember our experience in Yellowstone National Park, whereby we were caught off-guard by cold weather. History has repeated itself: Bryce Canyon gave us a chilly reception today.

It actually got colder than this, down to 27-degrees, at one point in our drive along the rim.

Sad to say, in both cases we really have no excuse for suffering. Our guide book told us to bring hats and gloves to Yellowstone, even in August, and we laughed it off. Yesterday the internet forecast temperatures in the 30s today in the canyon. We just couldn’t get our heads around it. It’s almost May. We were sweating in shorts a few days ago in Las Vegas.

Even as we embarked on our main hike today, around 9:30 a.m. Utah time, we told the girls that it would get warmer as the Sun rose. It would get warmer as we got below the rim and out of the wind. It would get warmer as we lost elevation and reached the canyon floor.

Picture would be improved with wool hats an mittens

It did get warmer…somewhat. From 28 degrees in the trail-side parking lot to maybe 31 degrees inside the canyon. There, as we feasted on microwave popcorn Zoe had ferried in her backpack, I started to notice white flecks in the air. Errant cheese powder from the snack? No, it was snow. Because it was still sunny out, my brain stuck to the cheese powder explanation for quite a while. But no, it was snow.

The flurries followed us around the canyon as we hiked among fantastical sandstone formations and ducked through carved-out doorways. At times it reached squall proportions right where we were; at times we could see the squalls darkening the forests of rock spires in distant parts of the canyon. Bryce is well worth the effort to get here, plus the effort to move up and down its switchbacks, and even the effort to ignore the merciless cold.

I, particularly, rate it favorably to Zion for its relative lack of crowds and its relative lack of vertiginous overlooks. Sadly, not everyone in the family would agree with me, solely based on the relative lack of a cafe selling hot chocolate in the lodge.

This is a place Jen and I would like to visit again. We could hike around a lot more in the canyon (the girls have reached the end of their hiking rope and we couldn’t wring many more miles out of them even if it were a sunny 65 degrees outside) and there is a very appealing bike path that calls out for further investigation.

Now the squalls are across the canyon, in the center of the picture.

For now, we’ve retreated to our cabin in the nearby — and rather ironically named — town of Tropic, UT, where the heater is turned on and the wifi is just good enough for us to crank out a couple of blog posts.

Observation Point

A few words about our accommodations now. The Zion Ponderosa Ranch seems a little remote from the national park, especially compared to the campground behind the visitors center and the lodge right in the heart of the canyon. We drove though the town of Sprinvale on our way here, and it has plenty of hotel rooms right outside the main gate.

Lanie went for the two zip line trips for $12 deal, as well as the 20 minutes of bungee trampolining (also $12).

To get to our ranch we had to drive all the way through the park and into the highlands beyond. It’s situated on a windy plateau that is remote enough for us to spot deer and jack rabbits among the campsites, cabins and covered wagons (like the one we stayed in during out cross country trip!). It offers a fine assortment of activities, right here on the premesis — our cabin’s front porch overlooks the paintball arena — and the hot tubs we visited a few times were quite pleasant.

If it has an unfinished look about it, that might be because of this year’s long winter. Several projects got off to a late start, according to yesterday’s canyoneering guide Shelby, because the snow was so slow to melt.

Lanie’s power breakfast

Until this morning, we’d probably have said the best thing about this place is the restaurant. The dinners were quite good and the buffet breakfast — included with the price of the cabin — really impressed us. Waffle bar, oatmeal bar, breakfast parfaits, eggs and bacon. They were instrumental in getting us through our adventures here so far.

Secret “back door” trailhead

And then we found out a secret. Shelby told us we could access the national park from up here on the plateau. Not just accesss the park, but the Observation Point. Most park visitors have to subject themselves to a steep 7.5-mile hike just to get up to Observation Point. All we had to do was drive two miles of dirt roads and walk a nice, flat three miles through a lovely forest to get there.

We eventually got out of the woods and the views opened up.

So there we were on the East Mesa Trail, bellies full of breakfast, strolling our way to the best view in Zion National Park. It did not disappoint. We were able to look down on all we had taken in two days ago, and amazing view right down the canyon. We saw the lodge, the shuttle road, the Virgin River. We were even able to look DOWN on the Angels Landing that Zoe and Jen struggled so hard to reach.

We did still have to coax the girls along with a bribe of soda after the hike. But I think they thought this walk was worth the effort, too.

Looking down on Angels Landing

Although we checked out of our cabin before embarking on the hike, we returned to the ranch to cash in on the soda bribe, catch up on some blogging (wifi is slow; uploading pictures is time consuming), and get in a little more time on the tennis court.

It was in the 60s there and we were in no big hurry to get to Bryce Canyon, which was reportedly in the 40s and raining.   When we eventually did head out, we found out one more benefit of the Zion Ponderosa Ranch: It’s relatively close to Bryce Canyon, only an hour and a half drive.

A few hoodoos in Red Canyon State Park

As we gained altitude, the temerature dropped, but the terrain changed. We even had a chance to stop at Red Canyon State Park to get a preview of the hoodoos we’re going to see at the national park tomorrow.

Canyoneering with Lanie

This is a technique we learned called “stemming”.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we went canyoneering.  First they asked us if we had ever rappelled before. I had, once, but that didn’t really count because they were kind of lowering me down. I was 7.

This is a technique called “sliding”.

They said that we were going to practice. We went up 60 steps ( or 61, I can never get it right) and came to the highest point of the barn above the climbing wall.

Our guide’s name was Shelby. Shelby told us how to rappel. First you clip on a special harness that is also used for the zipline. Then your harness gets clipped onto a rope and the guide holds the other end of the rope so you’re secure. Then if you’re a righty you put your left hand on the loop on your harness and your right hand holds the rope behind your back. That hand controls how fast you rappel.

 

Parental addendum:

We Pavliks generally consider ourselves to be punctual and considerate guests.  However, upon arriving at the Zion Ponderosa Lodge, we found that they did not have a record of our canyoneering tour reservation, which we’d already booked and bought $600 worth of “recreation vouchers” to pay for.  Then they tried to charge us quite a bit more than that, since the deal we originally booked under was apparently no longer valid (and no one seemed to remember what it was).  Then they told us the minimum age was twelve, although in our earlier conversation they said our nine-year-old would be fine as long as she was an adventurous sort.  So we made a bit of a nuisance of ourselves, with the front desk and the recreation center and eventually the general manager.  Finally we got it all straightened out Tuesday night, and set our alarms to have breakfast right at 7:30 so as to be ready to leave for the tour at eight.

Walking through the door at 8 o’clock sharp, pleased with ourselves for getting everyone up and ready in time, we were met with consternation by the staff — who informed us that it was in fact 9 a.m.  Which meant that for the past two days we’d been in the wrong time zone — betrayed by all our various devices, which still indicated Pacific time.  Which also meant that we’d arrived at the lodge restaurant just before it closed (so that was why they seemed to be rushing us!).  And that we’d been hanging out in the hot tub after the 10 p.m. closing time (so that was why the guy told us he was shutting down the pool when (we thought) it was only 9:30!)  So it’s possible that the Pavliks are not the most popular people at the Zion Ponderosa.

Fortunately,we were the only people on our tour, and the kind people at the recreation center scrambled around to accommodate us.  Poor Shelby hadn’t even expected to be guiding that day.  Between that and the fact that she had to spend much of the tour listening to Nadia and Lanie bicker about who was going to go first, we felt compelled to empty our wallets for a very generous tip.

And it was all worth it — the tour was amazing.  So you should all come do it!  But maybe don’t mention we sent you.

Back to earth

I admit, abandoning the Angels Landing expedition was not my proudest moment. As I returned to the sandy, beachy area (not close to any precipices) where we had left Nadia and Lanie, I felt a mixture of relief and embarrassment. We stayed there for quite a while watching the steady stream of people, old ladies and kindergarten-aged kids* among them, streaming out and back from the final peak. We scanned for Jen’s sage green or Zoe’s aqua jackets.

When the wind kicked up and hail started, I felt terrible and very worried. But it also seemed time to get back to the bottom of the mountain.

The girls and I took our time getting back down (part of the trail is etched right into the sheer cliff wall and we weren’t the only ones sticking to the inside track) but we only had to wait 20 minutes or so at the trailhead before Zoe and Jen caught up with us. Such relief — and a happy ending!

Or was it? An ending, I mean. Or course it was happy. It was still only noon or so (according to our watches and phones). There was a whole lot of national park to explore.

On the Zion Lodge front lawn

So, here’s what we did. We hopped on an adjacent path (the Kayenta Trail), which kept very close to the canyon floor, brought us underneath a few waterfalls and deposited us at the Zion Lodge. Here we refilled our water bottles, browsed the gift shop, and ate ice cream under a grand tree in the front yard.

Mostly dry under this waterfall

But it wasn’t over yet. We hopped on the bus and shuttled over to the end of the line to pick up the Riverside Walk trail head. This trail, also low in altitude, followed the Virgin River a mile further into the canyon. We got right up to the beginning of the famous Narrows, the part of the park that our friends Kevin and Cheryl said we HAD to do. This walk in the river snaking through the winding slot canyon is Zion’s most famous feature.

But, snow is melting in the mountains and too much water is making its way through the narrows. The trail probably won’t be open for another month or so. In fact, rumor has it that a woman was reaching in to touch the water and they had to fish her out 150 yards downstream.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to stay disappointed in Zion.

On the Riverside Walk Trail

Lift your eyes in any direction to scan the colors and angles of the canyon walls. Contemplate the natural forces that brought the canyon into existence. It’s enough to occupy any mind out of the doldrums.

Of course, we had a nice dinner for us waiting for us back at the ranch. That was nice to think about, too.

*Jen says she saw the kindergaren-aged girl out on the trail, tethered to the father. This didn’t strike her as an ideal arrangement.

Zoe tries to kill me

We have discovered that it’s a lot easier to get everyone moving in the morning when the lodge offers an extensive breakfast buffet. Between that and the sun shining in through the windows of our east-facing cabin, we got off to a pretty early start. (Spoiler alert: it was not as early as we thought. Details in a future entry.)

So many rocks to climb.

After fortifying ourselves with enormous breakfasts, we headed back into Zion. It was just as amazing as we’d heard. Every bend in the road reveals a new breathtaking vista, so after a while you just get saturated with the beauty.  Fortunately there’s a park shuttle, which goes to nine popular hiking spots, so we could look out the windows with abandon.

 

The vast majority of this hike had no guardrail.

These switchbacks are called “Walter’s Wiggles”.

Our first destination was Angels Landing, because Zoe apparently has a death wish and wants to take her parents out with her.  Only the last part of Angels Landing is truly terrifying, so the whole group of us headed off to hike the first two miles. It climbed steeply up to the top of the canyon through a series of switchbacks and awe-inspiring views. Lucky for us it’s only in the high fifties here, so we weren’t sweating too much (except for Bob and Nadia, who were sweating with nervousness over the sheer drop that we had on one side of us).

The final mile of the trail is along a knife-edge ledge, with steep ascents and descents and a chain drilled into the rock to hold onto in most areas. Bob was bravely planning to accompany Zoe, but was clearly suffering after the first few

Proof that Bob gave it a try

feet, so I offered to take over.

 

The most frustrating thing about the trail was that you’d be climbing up to the top of a hill, thinking you were done — only to see further undulations stretching out ahead. My strategy was to maintain a death grip on the chain and stare at my feet. This worked reasonably well except when there were people coming from the opposite direction who were trying to follow the same strategy.

Eventually we labored to the top, at the end of the ledge, with spectacular views of the canyon stretching on all sides, and the road and river tiny ribbons far, far below.  We stood a few seconds, breathing in the thrill of victory.

That knife edge ahead of Zoe is the trail we’re following.

I was not looking forward to the descent, but was feeling pretty good about having made it.

Then it started to hail.

Seriously.  The skies darkened, and fearing rain, I told Zoe we should start down right away.  The wind picked up.  Then flurries of white specs appeared in the air.  I think I said something like, “You have GOT to be kidding me,” maybe with a few expletives thrown in.  And we were still passing people going UP.  Call me crazy, but when ice starts to fall from the sky I think it’s time to call an about-face.

Luckily, the weather here is even more changeable as it is in New England, and it wasn’t too long before the storm passed and the sun was shining again.  We made it back to the regular trail without incident. Bob, Nadia, and Lanie had been waiting for us there, but gave up and headed down once the hail began.

On the plus side, the trail down seemed like nothing after that.  Zoe and I walked along side by side, carefree and nonchalant.  (In contrast, Bob told me he’d been nervous enough on the descent that he made the other two keep one hand on the canyon wall the whole time.)

And this was just the morning!  Tales and photos of our afternoon to come in a future installment.

Two from the bucket list

We try to make every vacation day a special day, and generally we’re pretty successful at that. But today was one that exceeds even our normal standards of special: I think it was the first time ever that we’ve been able to cross two things off the 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up list. Two out of 500: that’s .004 percent of the entire list.

Who would believe that there are two places in the 500 Places list between Las Vegas and Zion Canyon? What’s more, none of the 500 are from Vegas or Zion. I mean, c’mon. Did you see that M&M wall? Seems strange that Mr. Fodor, or whoever wrote that book left that out.

But it does contain a visit to Hoover Dam, quite a wall in its own right, and our first stop today. No, it’s not made of M&Ms, or any other kind of candy. Yes, it does have a pretty good snack bar — the chicken avocado sandwich, today’s special of the day, was particularly impressive. Oh, and we did the Power Plant tour (which contained only one dam joke) and walked across the top of the dam into Arizona. Some people noticed Nadia’s UNH t-shirt and talked to us. They are from Barrington and have a daughter in Zoe’s school.

Terrific, fine. Cross it off the list.

Our next stop was in the Valley of Fire State Park, which seems an interesting inclusion to the 500 Places list, given that none of the nearby national parks are listed. Then again, it only costs $10 to get in and there are lots of cool petroglyphs and even more huge red rock formations all over the place. Not bad for somewhere we never heard of and would have totally driven right past if it weren’t for the book.

The highlight of this visit was spotting the heard of bighorn sheep on a hilltop about 500 yards from us. The petroglyphs were cool, too.

Check another one off the list. Some of these things we had to travel all the way to South America for, and here were two on the way between points A and B.

We eventually did make it to point B after a singularly interesting drive through Zion Canyon National Park. After about 20 switchbacks, the road goes right through a mountain. The tunnel is more than a mile long! The only thing that would make it better is if it were on the list.
Happily, we made it to our new accommodations — the ranch cabin we’ll be occupying for the next three nights — before the resaurant closed.

Approaching the Zion tunnel