Friday, November 2, 2012

Zion National Park Vacation (Part 1)

During Fall Break at Caleb's school, the five of us joined my parents and my brother's family at Zion National Park for a whole-family vacation!  We planned this almost a year ago, and everything was even better than Dad promised it would be :)  The villa was gorgeous and huge, Zion National Park was the perfect playground for our kids, and we didn't see so much as the scat of a bear!  The weather was nice,  a little cold first thing in the morning, but in the 60's during the most active part of the day.  I liked it because I never broke a sweat in all the miles of hiking we did.

Despite the fact that our travel took us through all four of the continental U.S. time zones, the kids did remarkably well.  They were tired the whole week (I had to get up with at least one kid by 5:00 am every day), but they were only mildly whiny and still had a great time.  Caleb had the hardest time with the lack of sleep because  he needs more sleep than Ethan does, and he can almost never catch up during the day, so his tolerance level for frustration just stayed a little low all week.  Ethan did great, rolling with the 5:00 am wakings and catching a nap when he could.  Lydia got enough sleep, but she cut her first molar the day we got back and was struggling with a cold the whole week, so she spent quite a bit more time being unhappy than is usual for her.  All the kids loved playing in the backyard with their cousins, and Caleb and Ethan loved all the hikes and exploratory trips that we took them on.

Aunt Jennifer and the boys hanging out in the backyard of the villa.

Jasper (far left), Bennett, Ethan & Caleb

Another shot of the villa's backyard, with a better view of the beautiful desert/mountain formations all over Zion.

Ethan looking cute and contemplative. 

Ethan throwing rocks in the Virgin River, the main body of water the park and the "creator" of Zion canyon.

Our most exciting wildlife sighting: a squirrel that stole a granola bar from my brother's backpack :)

All of us taking a break during a hike, completely unaware that we were being profiled by a squirrel.

We took a day trip the Grand Canyon. 

This picture is at the end of short hike out to Bright Angel Point. The path was treacherous enough that I left Lydia back with her Papa.

Mom and Dad, after her hike out to Bright Angel Point.

The four cousins showing off their muscles. Youngest to oldest: Jasper, Ethan, Bennett, Caleb

Lydia. Just to prove she was there :). We did leave her back at the villa a lot with Nanna, but both she and Nanna had a great time hanging out.

Family shot at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon 

Zion National Park Vacation (Part 2)

I kept getting shut down putting all the pictures I wanted on the last post, so I just made it into two.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a 15-mile hike that Dad talked Marcus and I into taking with him.  At first, the night that we were all talking about it, it sounded like great fun and I was all for it.  But the next day I found out that the 15.5 miles also included 3,600 feet of elevation change.  The longest hike Marcus and I had ever been on was 14.5 miles, and we  had split that into two days!  Dad told us that he did this one in Zion in 7 hours.  I started getting worried that my 66-year-old father was going to leave me in the dust, but I couldn't see a way out of it, so I arranged a babysitter for the kids, packed our Camelbaks, and we headed out early the next morning.

I am so glad I didn't back out, because that hike was absolutely gorgeous.  I have no pictures because Dad brought his camera for all of us, but so many of those views are seared into my memory.  In some ways, it was very like that other long hike we took 10 years ago in Southern China (Tiger Leaping Gorge), in that more than half the trail was edged into the side of a mountain and there was a several-thousand-foot drop just to our left much of the time.  But the first few miles of the hike made it even better than the other: it was on a ridge overlooking miles and miles of Zion National Park, often with 360-degree views.  Marcus had some fun with his iPhone 5 camera taking panoramic photos.  I just couldn't stop soaking it all in.  We were beat at the end of the day, and Marcus's knee was pretty sore for more than 24-hours, but we were both extremely glad that we had that time with nature and with our companions.

The most fun we had with the boys was taking them exploring (with Papa) off the beaten path.  The first couple of days, we went on hikes spelled out on the park map.  But on our day trip to the Grand Canyon, we drove through a beautiful part of the park that was just begging to be explored.  So the next day, we drove back there, parked on the side of the road, and started walking.  Walking up the rock formations afforded beautiful views, and walking down almost always led us to a little hidden canyon with a sandy floor.  The boys rock-climbed to their hearts content, and even learned how to pull cactus spurs out of their hands without crying.  Most of these pictures are from our two days of exploring.

Though it was a little later in the fall, we still discovered a few trees still sporting their brilliant autumn red.  Can you see Caleb hidden in this foliage?
It fascinates me how trees grow right out of sandstone rock here!
Marcus carving "Marcus & Rachel" into a heart-shaped rock he found.  So sweet :)
Look!  A space ship landed on that rock!
One of several small canyons we stumbled across.
The last morning we were in Zion, my parents kept our kids so Marcus and I could go on a trail ride.   My favorite part was crossing the river on horseback.  I felt like a frontier settler!

Here are all the cousins on the Campbell side: Bennett & Jasper Campbell, Lydia, Ethan & Caleb Wagner. They are dressed in Christmas pajamas because the kids won't all be together at Christmas and I knew my Mom would love to have this picture :)