Category Archives: Utah

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.

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.