Utah 2018: Zion National Park—Day 1

Take a hike—in Utah!

In my junior year at the University of Oregon, I fell in with a group of avid backpackers. Over the years, I had been on many day hikes: Toco, Trinidad; Namibia, Africa; and even the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, when I attended Lincoln Memorial University. But the backcountry aficionados I met in Oregon were hardcore wilderness trekkers, and I had no idea what I had signed up for when I joined them to backpack the Timberline Trail—a 38.3-mile hike around Mount Hood, rated difficult, and with an elevation gain of nine thousand feet. 

My biggest mistake, besides tagging along with these veteran hikers? New Vasque hiking boots, and I was not in the physical shape of any of my fellow hikers. But I survived the first day, pushing myself to keep up with their vigorous pace, and I completed the fourteen-mile hike. When dinnertime rolled around, I opted for sleep over food; I’d need the rest to tackle day two. 

During most of the four-day hike, we walked in silence, drinking in the beauty, lost in our own thoughts, and savoring the silence. I don’t recall encountering any other hikers until late on day four, when we neared Timberline Lodge where our route had begun and now ended. I do recall some nasty blisters and wondering why my feet were sweating so badly, never imagining that they weren’t sweating but bleeding. That aside, this was the start of a lifelong love for backpacking. 

Flash forward to Utah. I’ve always wanted to hike the Mighty Five, so I booked the trip for late May 2018. I decided to fly into Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) rather than Las Vegas, even though I planned to visit Zion National Park first and Arches National Park last. I don’t mind a long drive on the front end of a vacation, but I’m not keen on ending with one, and the distance from Arches National Park in Moab to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is six and a half hours compared to a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Moab to SLC.

We arrived in Salt Lake City at 11:30 a.m., picked up our rental SUV, and were on the road by noon, making good time. But as life will have it, the drive from the airport to our hotel in Springdale took well over seven hours. Around eleven that morning a Utah trooper was alerted to a man driving erratically in the southbound lanes of the I-15 freeway. Before the driver could be stopped, the car crashed and the man was ejected from the vehicle. He died at the scene, shutting down all southbound and northbound lanes while an investigation ensued. In two hours we had gone less than twenty miles, so we exited the I-15 and crawled through the congested city streets to the first restaurant we spotted—Kneaders Bakery & Cafe—and ordered lunch.

An hour later the side streets had cleared, and a mile south of the fatal accident, we jumped back onto the I-15 and drove to our hotel—Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens. The lodge borders Zion National Park and is on the Virgin River, a tranquil and beautiful setting with a backdrop of the red cliffs at Zion. 

Parking in Springdale can be a problem, even at your hotel—more cars than parking spaces. On two occasions we had to ask the front desk to find parking for us. Evidently, six cars in the hotel lot belonged to locals who couldn’t find parking on the street. So the best way to get around town is to use the free Springdale Shuttle. And to see the park, take the free Zion Canyon Shuttle, which leaves from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. For more information on both shuttles and times and locations of pickup and drop-off, click on this link: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/shuttle-system.htm.

Our first evening in town, we ordered takeout, bought a bottle of wine, and enjoyed a relaxing dinner on our patio overlooking the Virgin River. As dusk descended, we watched mule deer munch on the lodge’s lawn and nibble shrubs, until the sun sank low over the red cliffs of Zion and a waning crescent moon graced the darkening skies.

Read more about Lincoln Memorial University (LMU): Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and MaracaiboLMU and Panama, and Bouchercon 2015: Murder Under the Oaks – Raleigh, North Carolina

Next post: Utah 2018: Zion National Park—Day 2 

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New Zealand 2014: Christchurch and Aoraki Mount Cook


Christ’s College was built in 1925 in the Gothic and Tudor perpendicular style. The structure was reenforce against earthquakes in 1987 and only suffered minor damage during the 2011 earthquake.

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, I am not a fan of long flights. After three hours, I’ve hit my limit for sitting in one place. But the flight from Brisbane to Auckland was quite pleasant—the seats roomy, the service excellent, and the food tasty. For once, I was a tad disappointed when we landed three and a half hours later.

And what I dislike even more than a long flight is riding in a puddle jumper plane. David tries to appease me by saying, “It’s a regional jet.” Regional jet or puddle jumper, being sandwiched in a seat on a small plane for more than an hour is murder. Thankfully, the “regional jet” from Auckland to Christchurch landed just twenty-five minutes over the one-hour limit. But who was counting?

With back-to-back flights and a layover in Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch at 8:00 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel—the George. Tired and hungry, we wanted to dump our luggage in the room and grab something to eat. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant, Pescatore, but we wanted light fare, so we ate at 50 Bistro—tomato bisque followed by grilled scallops. We finally climbed into bed at midnight and I snuggled up to George, the keepsake teddy bear left on our bed during the first-night turndown. A nice touch. I still have George and he is such a good traveling companion, always well-behaved and welcomed at lodgings worldwide. You can follow him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgeBear.

Christ’s College

We woke to a chilly, overcast day and walked into downtown Christchurch. There were still some signs of the 6.3 earthquake that hit the town in 2011, and I thought about the two thousand people killed in the quake. One shop owner shared her story and the deadly details hit home, as I’d had my share of earthquakes over the years—Mexico, South Africa, and a number in Southern California. We spent the morning exploring Christchurch and wished we had allowed more time for sightseeing. But a reliable source (David) told me we will return soon to explore some more.

In the afternoon, with David behind the wheel of our rental, we motored onto State Highway 8, the Inland Scenic Route to Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Before we set out, the receptionist at the George said, “This is New Zealand. The journey is as exciting as the destination. Take your time and enjoy.”  And indeed we did, driving past acre upon acre of farmland, pasture upon pasture of countless sheep, cattle, and deer farmed for domestic sales. I fell in love and wanted to take home a lamb.  

David will be the first to admit that he does not have the “farming gene,” so he surprised me when he said, “I could live here and I’d farm.” What? I asked him to repeat that statement, and he has, many times in the past three years. In fact, he liked New Zealand so much that we plan to return in 2018. And I can’t wait to head Down Under again.

For one, I missed out on visiting Lake Tekapo, an alpine spot at the foot of Mount John. I was captivated by the deep turquoise of the lake’s water, which is created by rock flour from the surrounding glaciers that is suspended in the water. The glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into a fine dust as they make their journey down toward the lake. Lake Tekapo is set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks—a magnificent blend of white and turquoise. I also wanted to see the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, so both the lake and the church are on my must-see list for trip two.

Nestled in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Hermitage Hotel was the perfect base camp for our hiking and ATV adventures, which is why we chose it. The building is not the typical log or timber lodge you’d see in the US or Canada. The commercial looking, blue-gray steel structure rises from the valley floor like a metal giant, and not everyone thought the modern architecture was appealing. “Military barracks,” I overheard one visitor say. Personally, I found the style intriguing, and we had a wonderful stay.

The first night, we ate in the Panorama Room. The porcini mushroom appetizer was good, but the entrées stole the show. I had smoked salmon with a potato mousse and baby peas. David ordered the venison with blueberry and juniper sauce and grilled vegetables—both meals cooked to perfection. For dessert, a sampler of homemade ice creams.

Damage to Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.



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