We were not sad to Leave Las Vegas, we are not big city fans and it’s a manic place to say the least. (We realised the next day that we were, for us, unusually grumpy as we turned into our next campsite.) When we thought about the experience, we realised that we had been given the wrong order more than once; even I can spot the difference between sea bass and cod and potato nachos are nothing like crispy nacho thingies. Las Vegas is a high pressure place where, unless you like gambling, you do not feel comfortable. Oh well, at least the room was good value (even if they whack on a whole load of tax). We drove on towards our next destination , stopping at a MacDonald’s in Mesquite for breakfast. When it came, I was a tad miffed because my egg MacMuffin had nasty sausage stuff in it, but Tim took it away (my hero, sigh!) and I ended up with egg and bread. (Meh!) As I was supping on my surprisingly good tea (the only reason that we keep on putting up the profits at MacDonalds is the quality of the tea) I got chatting to a nice old guy who wanted to know how to work the internet (I was busy uploading photos at the time).
He turned out to be very interesting; he lives for four months in Mesquite, during the winter, during which he takes his trailer out into the local wilderness and traps animals to feed himself, then in the summer months he returns to his christmas tree farm up in Oregon until the trees are put into cold store ready for Christmas and he finds it too cold to remain. The fact that he looked like Father Christmas (even to himself) we all enjoyed. It was fascinating to talk to someone that can still live off the land, knowing where to find water in the desert and how to trap animals to eat. We drove on and found a KOA site about 30 miles from Zion national park. The site looked unprepossessing and they had a difficult time finding us a pitch (being the Thursday before Easter and all) but in the end they squeezed us on a very small RV pitch and we were fine. It was interesting to note how our feelings about the site changed. When we first arrived, it was OK, but as we began to feel better, it was pretty darned good; beautiful views, clean washrooms and hot showers!!!! YEH!!!.
On Good Friday, our neighbour got chatting to Tim. They had a large trailer and two tents on their plot, not really surprising as the family had six children.
They were most intrigued by the tent so we let the children go in to have a look; we were very careful to make sure they all came out again, although as they streamed out, it gave us the impression of one of those clown cars, where they just keep coming. The Torgensens were a delightful family who had been hiking around Zion park; the youngest was aged four and she had managed to walk seven miles the previous day. (That puts us to shame then.) They really liked Camel and the boys enjoyed sitting behind the steering wheel pretending to drive a right hand drive car.
We went to explore Zion, the canyon of which was carved out by the surprisingly small Virgin River. We passed through the town of Virgin on the way and some of the signs caused a few immature sniggers
and after crawling for ages in a queue of traffic
we drove along the main road that goes through the park, for which you have to pay $30 for the privilege, if you don’t have a pass.
The route was magnificent and truly beautiful. I always had the impression that photos from the area had been photoshopped, but the colours are wonderful (I am going to need a thesaurus at the rate we are travelling through the National Parks around here, as I am running out of superlatives). We even saw a herd of buffalo on the way out
which was very exciting, even if they were farmed.
There was a scenic drive through the park, but you have to park somewhere and then take one of the free shuttle busses. As the park was heaving, we thought we would try it on Easter Sunday, when we hoped people might be heading home. When we got back to the campground we were a tad concerned about the tent next door to us, which had been so badly pitched that it couldn’t cope with Hurricane Valley’s high winds
There was nobody near it, so we dug out some spare pegs and got it standing again, hopefully in a better state to cope with the local conditions.
After a nicely lazy Saturday, we headed out as early as we could (we tend to wait for the sun to hit the tent, to ensure appendages don’t drop off when we get up and that is about nine am around here) and bought breakfast in a cafe just outside the park. We then queued to get in on foot and eventually hopped onto on of the jam packed shuttle busses.
It was a bit frustrating at first because we had to stand and the commentary about all the lovely mountains was wasted as all we could see was the edge of the road. As the bus started to empty, we were able to sit down and we could finally glimpse the fabulous scenery. We waited until the final stop and then gradually worked our way back through the park, sometimes taking short hikes and sometimes just gawping at the views.
We took the mile or so hike to the Narrows, but, as we were both unprepared and unwilling to scrabble through the freezing cold water to see the famous bit where the sides of the canyon nearly meet. (A lot of other people were busy sweating away in waterproof trousers and shoes that they had hired at the entrance to the park; we were hot enough in our normal clothes).
We did make it up the short and sharp path to the wonderfully aptly named Weeping Rock, where we got dripped on but really enjoyed the view.
I loved the wild flowers, although it was a bit early in the season for many of them to be out.
It was a beautiful place but I felt a little underwhelmed, mainly due to the fact that we were shepherded around by the bus and there were so many people there. We met someone in Death Valley who felt that was too crowded, but was nothing compared to Zion.
In the campground we met a lovely couple from El Salvador, who were really entranced with the Tentipi.
(I’ve never met anyone from El Salvador before!) and then we met Cathy who loved our whole setup.
She used to be a teacher and was delightful to talk to and she ended up bringing her lovely husband over for a beer and a chat (they brought the beer, bless them). He used to be in the forces and they have travelled extensively throughout Europe. They have not long moved on to a Winnebago and I get the feeling that they miss their tent camping days.
We also met several delightful dogs on the campground, including a genuine bloodhound (who seemed very relaxed and didn’t to want to seek out escaped convicts at all)
and this wonderfully fluffy pup which was a Native American hunting dog, not a husky.
I resisted the temptation to steal it, despite the fact that it was sooooo fluffy and ever so cute.
As we were heading onto another national park, I thought it might be sensible to book ahead, after nearly not finding a spot near Zion. I phoned the Bryce KOA and was told that yes they had one tent pitch with electricity left and so I booked it straight away, feeling very lucky that the heaving campground could fit us in. We drove the hundred and forty miles to Cannonville really enjoying the scenery.
We passed a train that must have had about a hundred carriages and loads of locomotives
I chose the slightly shorter route to Bryce that theoretically took only thirty minutes longer than the other alternative, as it looked a bit more interesting than going so far up the freeway. Knowledge is a powerful thing. If we had known that that particular route was going to take us quite so high and into such a remote area, would we have chanced it? At various times over our recent travels, even in temperatures of up to thirty degrees, we have seen several beautiful and distant peaks, covered in snow. What we never expected to be doing was looking down onto distant snow fields.
As we drove up towards the (closed) Cedar Break national monument we watched the temperature drop to minus five degrees centigrade, Tim had to dodge several fallen rocks and it was all a bit stressful. Add to that I hadn’t had any lunch and it was getting well past one (really important, my lunch, just ask Tim!) and that we realised that we were driving at higher altitudes than any of the ski resorts we have ever visited, passing pretty deep snow at the side of the road, it was a little worrying, to say the least. What if the diesel gelled? Would there be anyone to rescue us as there was hardly anyone else about and there was no phone signal? What if we really did need snow chains? At last the road started to descend and we hit a main road on which there was eventually an open cafe. Hot food and hot drinks!
Pure heaven (I even ate some of the chips, jut goes to show what cold weather will do to you). After driving towards Bryce through the glorious Red Canyon we drove down into Bryce Valley and onto Cannonville, and our destination.
The campground was virtually empty. Ours was the only tent, but it turned out that there was only one pitch with electricity. It turned out to be just as well. The wind was really starting to pick up by then and we asked at reception whether it would be wise to wait for it to calm down. The answer was a firm no, as the wind was predicted to hit about fifty mph that night. The pitch was a nice surprise, as it had a generous sand pad and we got the Tentipi up in record time, complete with all the guys on separate pegs and everything strapped down that we could.
By the time that everything was in place the sun had come out and, despite the cold, we were contemplating our traditional post pitching beer. All of a sudden the wind really started blowing a hooley, so we hunkered down in Camel for the evening. It rained on and off and the wind gusted stronger and stronger and we decided the best place to be was in the tent with the heater on. Huge blasts of wind kept hitting the tent all evening and when a small calm occurred we hightailed it down to the facilities to brush our teeth. Back in the tent we put on extra layers and huddled under the duvet and extra blankets and put our faith in the tent, as we wondered if the central pole would hold. Of course it did; if you pitch a Tentipi right, it can cope with winds of up to 85mph. It just seems like it wants to either take off or collapse. We did get some sleep as the winds quietened down not too long after we went to bed, but I would love to find out who was talking VERY loudly in a Scandinavian-like language at about four in the morning and then go and play bagpipe music outside their rig one night.
We had been aware it might rain or snow in the night and that it would be very cold, but, after putting the heater on in the morning and seeing the sun hit the tent, it didn’t seem so bad. Eventually the bladders won out and we unzipped the tent to find snow dropping in from the outside.
It was still blooming chilly, but I was ecstatic as it was so beautiful. We decamped to the excellent open camp kitchen and cooked porridge liberally laced with syrup, feeling very adventurous and brave. We had camped in the snow!!! We took pictures and sent boastful comments to loads of our friends, as we felt like true, hard core campers. We loved the sunshine coming through, along with hot breakfast and drinks, but we were both too wussy to try using the not too well heated showers (the loo seats were bad enough!)(although I didn’t stick).
The fabulous landscape had been transformed by the mere half inch of snow and we were very excited to go and see Bryce Canyon. We passed through one of the tiny local towns
which seemed to suddenly have a highly ironic name. A couple of things caught our attention as we drove toward the park entrance.
We were not disappointed with Bryce Canyon; the snow managed to highlight the amazing stone structures, including the hoodoos (I couldn’t help doing the ‘how do you do that hoodoo that you do so well’, which probably shows my age).
The names of the structures were pretty prosaic, however, like Wall Street and these in Hat Shop.
We wondered why so many people were leaving so early from the park, but the snow had caused more than half of it to be shut, as they had about five inches of snow and they don’t snowplough in winter during storms. It didn’t matter, we managed to slither and slide up and down the paths to several of the views over the canyon and we were thrilled with each one. It is strange to think that we have been to several parks in a row now and you might think that it could all get old, but each one is so gobsmackingly different that it lifts your spirits every time. Well I hope that is the case, as we aim to go to at least a couple more before we have to slog back to the east coast to get Camel shipped home.
As we had to leave Bryce earlier than expected we took a drive past some fabulous local scenery hoping to find somewhere to get a hot bite to eat as it was so darned cold.
There are several small towns along the only local road, but not one had a cafe open, as it is very early in the season. In the end we returned to the campground for a cup of tea and actually managed to sit out in the sunshine for a couple of hours in comfort. In the evening we cooked a meal in the open kitchen, where we met a delightful couple of Ozzies, who are currently spending six weeks touring the USA, also camping in a tent.
I felt a tad put out for a minute (We wanted to be the only ones mad enough to camp in these conditions) but then they said they didn’t have a heater and their tent was only a three season one, as you could not buy a winter tent in Australia. I then felt in awe for a little bit, until we described how it had been the night before, at which point they said if that happened they would be booking into one of the cabins (I must say I was a bit tempted myself).