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  • Writer's pictureMiranda

Hiking Our Way Through 5 National Parks

If you ask our kids if they like hiking, they will say “no.” But they pound out the steps and have fun doing it, most of the time. In April, once we left Arizona, hiking was nearly a daily occurrence.

Before leaving Lake Mead on April 9, we drove to the Hoover Dam walking across it as well as viewing it from Memorial Bridge. Very impressive engineering and also nearly as stunning was the 150ft drop in water level over the past 22 years.

Back at the RV, we packed up and headed for Kanab, UT. After a six and half hour travel day we squeezed into a tight campsite that we would call home for the week. I headed to the laundry room after some time with Chuck and the kids at a park with basketball courts they had found on Google .

The kids have gotten into the habit of researching three things as we are driving to our next campground: coffee shops, smoothie bars and parks with a basketball court.

My time, as Chuck is driving, is spent planning the details of our next stop based on weather, events and availability. I made a discovery on our drive, our Adventure of touring National Parks would not include the grandest of all: The Grand Canyon. Ugh! I had planned for us to visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon when we were in Kanab, but upon further research, learned that entrance point doesn’t open until May 15. So, after considering a six-hour one-way drive to the southern rim we decided the Grand Canyon would not be part of this adventure.

But there were many other grand things to be seen and experienced while in southern Utah.

A day trip to Page, AZ, on the Utah and Arizona boarder provided an opportunity for us to navigate the canyons of Lake Powell on a pontoon. Our family loves anything on the water and this was no exception. It was a relaxing afternoon on the boat making duck friends, picnicking, taking naps, and soaking in the scenery. We weren’t able to tour the famed Antelope Canyon but did make a stop at Horseshoe Bend to view the canyon walls and aqua water from above.

The next day after school and work, we ventured out to find local slot canyons, something this area is famous for. We started with Belly of the Dragon which begins with a 150-foot tunnel and dead-ends in a place where you can build rock cairns. Next we sought out Huntress Canyon. Chuck enjoyed sharing trails with UTVs as we navigated BLM trails. We finally got to a trail that the Explorer was clearly not going to go down or would get back up, so we parked and began our hike to the canyon. A rocky wide path narrowed as we continued, s-curving through the canyon. Spider-manning the close sandstone canyon walls was enjoyed by the kids. The stripes of orange, yellow and white hues were beautiful. Back at the campground sloppy joes, fruit salad and creamed corn were on the menu. Mallory and Ben enjoyed the freedom of driving to the nearby basketball courts to match up with the locals. Chuck, Kate and I joined them on our bikes later.

Zion National Park was the next destination. This park was busy by the time we passed through the 1.1 mile tunnel entrance and made our way to the Visitors Center where the required shuttle buses picked up and dropped off park visitors. Despite instruction to bring warm clothes, a few of the Andersons were wearing shorts and t-shirts when we parked for a day of hiking. Snow was on the ground and highs for the day were forecast to be low 40s. So our first stop was in the village shops so the girls could buy sweatpants and sweatshirts. The monthly budget they had individually agreed to was now exceeded and it was only April 12. But they were much more comfortable as we spent the day hiking in the park. Our first trail was to the Lower Emerald Pools. It was packed and we were that family weaving in and out of people passing on the left. The pools were very pretty but crowded, so on the recommendation of another couple, we continued onto the Grotto hike which over-looked the river below and was a much quieter trail. The spring flowers were in bloom along the mountain side adding bursts of color to the panoramic views. We boarded the shuttle again to the last stop for the Riverside trail. This paved walk winds along the river with towering rock walls and leads to a water logged hike called the Narrows that we were curious to see. We passed a number of people in water shoes and waiters who were returning from the hike, we noticed none of them looked happy just cold. We also dodged super friendly attack squirrels who clearly associated people with food. By the time we got back to the RV we were all hungry and enjoyed chicken fajitas from the grill and played games of Card Monopoly into the evening.

The next day started with frozen water hoses (a low of 23 degrees overnight was unexpected), an oil change for Harvey, and school and work from a local coffee house. I bounced in and out of the Explorer for meetings as the small coffee shop was busy and loud. By 11am everything was good to go and much had been accomplished. The afternoon was focused on the sands of the area. First, we visited Sand Caves that were accessed by scaling a sandstone wall after a hike to the base. This was not in my comfort zone, but well worth the scramble up and down. Then off to the Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park. Ben rented a stand-up sand board (think snowboard) that you waxed to get a smooth ride down the tall dune. He had great success, while Chuck bit it twice going down the hill with tumbles both times. He had wisely tucked his shirt in before the attempt and the sand was a relatively soft landing. The winds were blowing, so after one sled ride down us girls found a small tucked away area to play Pictionary in the sand. Showers were a must that night as we all had a layer of sand dust in our hair and on exposed skin; after dinner and dishes at the RV and of course time on the basketball court.

I spent the next full day working, with a lunch break to join Chuck and the kids at a cheap pizza buffet they scoped out just a few blocks away. They restocked our groceries and enjoyed lots of time at the local park.

The next day we left early for the hour and half drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. Our first hike of the day was 3 miles winding down and then back up 950ft through the hoodoo rock spires and tight canyon walls of “Wall Street”. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the end of the park at Rainbow Point and walked off the meal on the Bristlecone Loop Trail. Ben wanted to go his own way on the trail and meet us. As we obliged and he walked in the opposite direction of the loop I recalled the book “Wild at Heart” I read early on in becoming his mother. It spoke of the unique aspects of being the mother of a boy. The kids have all grown and changed so much in the past eight months. Ben literally out growing everything we left home with from shoes to clothes. He now towers inches above me. The hike was a success and we were back on our way through the park stopping at nearly all the overlooks as Mallory was the DJ playing the latest tunes from her new favorite music genre Country Rap. Our final hike would be based on a lottery drawing. It was a full moon ranger led hike for 20 people that night. The lottery drawing was held at 4pm that day, if drawn the location would be disclosed for the 9pm hike. We gathered early in a large meeting room with 200 other families, serious hikers, and casual visitors in hopes of being drawn. Before being issued a ticket for the lottery drawing your shoes had to pass the ranger’s inspection. This was hardcore. About 60 tickets were issued, then the family before us got vetoed. We were up next, we presented our dust covered shoes that we already had logged 5 miles on just today, but Kate’s flat bottoms did not pass inspection. We were vetoed as well, despite a brief protest that I made explaining the rigorous hikes we had already done. It was not meant to be and probably for the best as we had a long drive back to the RV, were hungry for a good dinner, and had laundry and packing to do. The kids quickly got done what they needed to so some evening games of 2-vs-2 could be played against the locals. An attempt for late showers at 11pm were thwarted when the code to the women’s bathroom wouldn’t work.

The next morning was moving day, the plan was to back track across Utah and Nevada through Vegas to Shoshone, CA, near Death Valley on a route that offered the least elevation changes. I was up early as I really wanted to get one last shower in at the campground. Public showers are my least favorite part of our adventure and we have experienced a large range in the quality of bathrooms. This was a good one. The next one, who knows… But the code still didn’t work, so I woke the owners in hopes to get the problem resolved (it was 8am by now). The electric lock had broken, so it needed their attention, and Mallory and I both enjoyed hot showers before hitting the road. We drove caravan style for the first two hours due to steep passes and strong winds (20-40 mph). We stopped to fill with gas and loaded the Explorer continuing another two hours as the wind gusts got stronger the further west we drove. By the time we got to Vegas gusts were up to 65mph and we faced a 5,500ft mountain pass into California. We stopped to regroup at a gas station on the west side of Vegas, our options:

  1. Wait out the wind travel warning due to expire by 6pm (it was currently 2pm)

  2. Continue driving but unload the Explorer and go caravan style over the pass

  3. Call it a day and stay somewhere in Vegas

We chose option number 3 after talking with the gas station employees (not helpful at all), another RVer who had stopped at the gas station and Chuck helped fix his awning, and some quick research that found a campsite 20 minutes away at the Oasis RV Resort. Within an hour the kids were swimming in the pool surrounded by palm trees and sand. Chuck made a Target run for Easter treats and pizza for supper. That evening Chuck and I took a stroll through the large campground observing the various rigs.

Easter morning we were up early to attend the 8:30am service at Hillside Baptist Church. The service was theatrically delivered as I had expected from a church in Vegas including spotlights and singers proceeding up and down the aisles, but that didn’t detract from the message of redemption preached from the Bible. No Easter baskets this year, but we did stop at a Starbucks before returning to the RV to pack up and travel caravan style over the mountain pass on a much calmer day. It was a short and beautiful drive to Shoshone, CA, population 31, with no cell service. But we did have wifi for work and school and a natural spring swimming pool. We ate chicken salad for lunch and cleaned out 10 bags of partially eaten chips we found buried in cupboards, some were still good others too stale to eat. Then we soaked up the sun and relaxed in the pool for the afternoon. That evening card games were played and eggs were colored.

The next day was dedicated to touring Death Valley National Park. We had a loop route planned through the desolate park and only saw five cars in the first 50 miles. The landscape here is unique to few other places on the earth and in fact, probably the closest we’ll ever come to experiencing another planet with little to no vegetation or animal life:

  • Lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 ft below sea level is at the Badwater salt flats. The ground here is literally salt crystals, even salty to the taste (we had to lick it to see).

  • Mallory drove us through a one-way, narrow 9-mile painters palette loop road. It featured rock formations and volcanic dust deposits that were brightly colored in contrast to the dark mountain walls surrounding.

  • We did a short, 1/3 mile hike, to a natural bridge that Kate trudged along. It was a 100 degree day as we later saw at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center’s thermometer where we had a picnic lunch in the shade. We opted for ice cream instead of a second hike that afternoon.

  • Chuck’s favorite part of the park was “20 Mule Trail” a 3-mile narrow, one-way, dirt trail weaving between rocks formations. It would have been perfect for a ATV/UTV but we were driving it with our Explorer.

California gas prices, which we had expected to be high, did not disappoint. In the Park it was $8.02 a gallon. Shoshone well over $7, so we drove a few miles out of the way back into Nevada to top off our gas tank for the bargain price of $5.49.

Up at 5:35am, due to the time difference from CA to MN, I did my first few conference calls parked along the side of the highway a few miles from our campground where phone service worked. By the time I got back to the RV, Chuck had things packed up for our departure but kids were still sleeping so we took one more dip in the hot springs pool. We were under another wind advisory of 50 mph gusts as we left for Lemon Cove, CA, near Sequoia National Park. It was a long 300+ mile day with us averaging $1 of gas per mile. Yikes! We did have good cell coverage the entire way so the kids made great progress in school as we drove through the Mojave Desert to rolling hills covered with grass and trees to orange groves. The sweet aroma permeated the RV windows as we drove through the groves. We arrived and set up camp by 4:30pm and enjoyed fresh oranges for dinner.

The next morning started with a family favorite breakfast: Pillsbury cinnamon rolls grilled and flattened into a pancake and bacon. It was after all a special day, my birthday! We spent the day seeing the grand trees of Sequoia National Park. At the Visitor’s Center we stopped to get our passport stamped and check with a ranger on the road conditions. He confirmed that the road going west to east through King’s Canyon National Park was not yet open due to snow and warned that the following day was expected to bring more snow to high elevations of both Sequoia and Kings Canyon meaning more road closures and/or tire chain requirements. So we knew today was our day to see as much of the two parks as we could. After climbing more than 6,000ft and driving for an hour and half up the mountains of Sequoia to Kings Canyon to the Lost Forest we realized that although the views and trees were amazing to see from the Explorer windows what our family really liked to do was get out and hike, climb, jump, and touch the environments we were visiting. So we changed plans again and drove back to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest by volume. We did a tree pose (except Mallory) next to the giant tree, then hiked the 2-mile Congress Trail through the forest of giant trees. Then enjoyed a picnic lunch. We drove through “tunnel tree” and took in spectacular views as we drove back down the mountain. A stop at the local ice cream shop before grabbing a few groceries and getting fresh squeezed orange juice wrapped up our afternoon. Back at the RV we played can jam, watched the sunset and enjoyed a campfire.

The next day was work and school. As the Ranger had predicted snow was falling and travel into the Park was not going to happen. Instead we patronized a local coffee shop and boutiques in the afternoon, visited with campground neighbors and got tips for our time in Oregon, made hamburgers for dinner, and played cards in the camper as rain began to fall.

A short travel day, going north two hours to Coarsegold, CA, was the plan for today. The day was drizzly so we set-up minimally at camp and headed out to explore the nearby small towns. We have found an affinity for thrift shops and in Oakhurst we hit the jackpot finding a sports thrift shop: Ben got ski googles, Kate a scooter, and brand name athletic clothes for everyone at bargain prices! Pizza and grocery shopping to restock the RV and we were on our way back to the campground taking the long way home to check out Bass Lake. By the time we got back it was a great evening for a campfire while watching the sunset over the rolling hills.

We waited another day to go to Yosemite as it had received 14 inches of snow the day before and was warming up to melt the roads and hiking trails today. Instead an intentional easy pace was chosen for the day that included a pancake and bacon breakfast, pontoon fishing on Bass Lake, kayaking for a few hours, picnic lunch, and swimming in the pool back at the campground.

We were up early for a full day at Yosemite National Park. It was an hour and half drive up the mountain, through a recent wild fire area, to the park entrance. We passed through the famed “Tunnel” entrance and stopped for photos and a panoramic view of El Capitan, Half Dome Mountain and Bridalveil Falls. It was a clear, sunny day with highs in the mid 50s. Our first hike of the day was Vernal Falls, 4.5 miles with 850 feet of elevation change over about a mile span. On the way back down we stopped on a large rock in the sun to dry the mist from the waterfall and enjoy granola bars. Next was Yosemite Village for a park video, passport stamp and a few picnic items to be enjoyed later. Lower Yosemite Falls trail got us up close to another set of cascading falls down the shear mountain. Our final stop in the park was El Capitan, famous for rock climbing on its sheer face. We saw climbers high above hanging in slings off the side of the rock. Nearby, on a smaller mountain, multiple groups of climbers could be observed and heard calling out instructions to one another. We strung our hammocks at the base and took in the sights and sounds of this fascinating sport while the kids whittled walking sticks. We ended our evening enjoying a picnic supper in the pines with local mule deer passing by.

We head to the Pacific Coast next. It has been two months and seven states earlier (Mississippi) since we have seen the ocean. This will be the last leg of our adventure before heading back to Minnesota.


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