Fall Break

I'm sure everyone is dying to read a play-by-play account of our Fall Break vacation. Right? Well, even if you're not, I'm going to write it down so I can remember it all some day. This year I decided to take the kids on a little road trip down to Zion National Park. I don't remember when I got the idea exactly, but a few months ago I realized that I had never been there and that it would be a fun place to go for Fall Break with the kids. Plus I had not used any of my vacation time this summer (because I hadn't really earned any yet), and if you work while your kids are in school then you have to figure out something to do with them when they have time off. I'm not going to take time off during all of their holidays, but Fall Break seemed like good timing.

We left on Thursday afternoon; I had planned to leave a little earlier in the day but I ended up going in to work for a few hours and we just weren't ready to go until later. I thought it would be fun to drive down the 'back way' on the highway through central Utah. This was both good and bad. Good because the scenery was gorgeous and we saw lots of cool things, including two different groups of cowboys rounding up their cows for the winter, a herd of elk at a ranch, and lots of pretty autumn leaves. We stopped in Manti and played at a playground and ate ice cream cones. The bad part of going the back way was that it took forever. It got old after a while. We drove through Zion right as it was getting dark and I felt a little freaked out on the road that drops down the mountain through a series of little switchbacks. The kids loved that part and wanted to drive it again the next day (we didn't).

We finally got into Hurricane at about eight o'clock on Thursday night. It was dark and pouring rain and we had not eaten any dinner. I decided to check in to the motel first just in case they were going to give away our room, and then we went to McDonalds for dinner. It's not my favorite restaurant but it was the closest one to the motel. We were also quite happy that they were giving away Scooby Doo buckets with the Happy Meals. As is her usual when we get fast food, P.Bibby ate nothing for dinner. After dinner we went back to the motel and brought our stuff in. My mom got there right about the same time and so we hung out with her for a while before putting the kids in bed (each bigger kid got a turn to spend the night in Grandma's room so we all got our own beds). P.Bibby was quite happy that our hotel had Disney Jr. on the TV so she could watch all her favorite shows. We're not usually big TV watchers but when you have a toddler in a motel room it's one of the best things you can do.

Friday was cold and rainy, so after breakfast we decided to head up to Springdale to find some indoor things to do. We went to the IMAX movie about the park, which is a bit cheesy but also quite impressive at the same time. After that we shopped in a gift shop before heading out to find some lunch. That ended up being a bit confusing because we found a restaurant that looked good and casual from the outside, but after we sat down we realized it wasn't really the sort of restaurant we had wanted to eat at. Apparently there is a complex with several different restaurants and a gift shop and the signs are confusing about what things are where. Either way, we got lunch and decided to head into the park. After going back to the parking lot we had paid to use earlier in the day while watching the movie, we realized our other mistake of the day. Apparently there are two different shuttle systems in the area. One operates in the town of Springdale and the other in the park itself, but they don't connect. We had paid to park in a parking lot thinking we could ride the shuttle into the park, but it turned out that we had to pay again to actually get into the park. We could have just paid once and parked inside the park itself. Oh well--we lived and we learned.

The first thing we did when we finally got into the park was to stop by the visitor's center and pick up Junior Ranger booklets for S-Boogie and Little Dude. They took them very seriously and doing the activities in them was a fun way for us to focus our visit and really enjoy the park. After picking up the booklets we went to a program about the geologic history of the park that was being put on by one of the rangers. He was good at presenting and even had some fun little models of different geologic processes. After that we hopped on the shuttle and rode up the canyon to the last stop, where our guide paper had promised an 'easy' hike along the river. It was easy and the path was paved, but it was long and it started raining again about halfway through our hike. At the beginning we stopped and played by the river for a while so by the time we were done hiking we are all completely soaked and muddy. The kids didn't complain and had a great time hiking, even P.Bibby. For some reason I didn't wear decent shoes on this trip and spent the entire day with cold, wet feet. That night we stopped by Little Caesar's in Hurricane and bought a pizza to bring back to our motel for dinner (best decision of the trip--I'd totally do that again). The two older kids spent some time in the hot tub with grandma (I swear the hotel website promised an indoor pool and I was kind of mad when there wasn't one) and then we all had warm baths and got in bed.

Saturday was a much better day as far as the weather goes. The sky was clear and the temperature warmer, but not too hot. Before going in to the park we stopped by the local history museum in Hurricane because it looked interesting. It was a small building crammed full of all kinds of old things, manned by a very old man with a walker. The kids were less interested in it than my mom and I were, but we survived and got on our way to Zion again. We got stuck in a traffic jam behind some horses and wagons on the road and by the time we got there we had to park in the pay lot again. The day before we had realized that we lost our payment receipt and were a bit worried about getting back into the park, but a park ranger just let us right in when we explained (all the rangers we interacted with were just great). We did a little nature walk around the visitor's center to look for a few more things for the Junior Rangers. We were successful in finding some animal footprints and some animal scat, as well as many giant bumblebees and plenty of busy ants. Then we hopped on the shuttle and rode up the canyon to Zion Lodge for lunch. It seemed like it would be easier to get lunch in the park, but the food was overpriced and the dining area was crowded with older tourists who didn't appreciate the fact that Little Dude and P.Bibby both decided to have meltdowns. (I didn't appreciate it either). Little Dude's was a bit more understandable because a hornet was trying to eat his hot dog, but I couldn't figure out what P. Bibby wanted. Thankfully the older English couple who was sharing our table didn't mind too much but after a while I just had to take P.Bibby out to the lawn. We did get to see a cool woodpecker searching for insects on a tree and she eventually stopped crying.

By this point in the day it was getting a bit late and the kids were all grumpy. I almost wanted to get on the bus and go straight back to our car, but we convinced ourselves to take the nearby 'easy' hike to Emerald Pools. The hike turned out to be fairly steep and the trail was crowded, but it was short and the waterfall at the end was beautiful. The kids mostly calmed down while we were hiking and had a great time. P.Bibby found a large rock to hold for the duration of the hike and Little Dude loved posing with Grandma at every rock along the way. After the hike we rode the shuttle back to the visitor's center, where the kids showed their Junior Ranger books and took the oath to get their badges. We stopped for ice cream on our way out of the park and then got in the car to drive home. A few minutes down the road I realized that I had forgotten my jacket, so we turned around to get it, and then we hit the road for home. The drive back went much more smoothly than the ride down. P.Bibby fell asleep shortly after we left Zion and stayed out for almost two hours. We stopped once to get dinner and use the bathroom, and Little Dude had his second meltdown of the day because he apparently hates Subway and everything they serve (this after spending the last few months telling me how much he loves Subway and how he wants to eat there all the time). I told him that I wouldn't pay for food he wasn't going to eat and I wasn't going anywhere else for dinner, so he just didn't have any dinner. He had a bowl of cereal after we got home.

As I've been writing this up I've realized that it sounds like we didn't have a good time. We really did; I was pleasantly surprised by how much the kids like hiking and being outside. No one got hurt or sick and the scenery in Zion is just gorgeous. I'm already planning to save up some money and go again next year. I want to plan ahead to stay somewhere closer to the park and next time I will bring more of our own food for lunches to make things easier. It was a fun trip and I think it will be even more fun a second time once we've figured out all the details of how to do things. Next time I'll bring some real hiking shoes too.


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