Day 6 – Drive to Zion

Time to leave. I haven’t mentioned the weather yet, but for most of the trip it was lows just above freezing with highs in the 50’s. There was still a little snow on the ground here and there from some bigger storms the week before. However, the morning we left it was 17 degrees outside. I’m glad we weren’t trying to hike in that.

Our next stop was Zion National Park in Utah. Ordinarily this would be about a 4 hour drive, but highway 64 was closed through the Navajo Nation which meant we had to drive down to Flagstaff and then back up. This easily added 2 hours to the trip, but it wasn’t an unpleasant drive. I loved seeing the contrast of Ponderosa Pine with White Birch as we gained elevation through the mountains. A large stretch of this drive was empty countryside, but we planned a stop for lunch and gas in Page, AZ, just outside of Lake Powell. We found a drive-in burger place with bean burritos for the kids (hatch chili burger for me), and a grassy park to throw a frisbee around in. From there it was another couple of hours to get into the Zion National Park entrance.

The geography changes so much once you enter Zion. You go from plateau desert to the Flintstones in a minute. The over-rounded red rock canyon walls look like something out of an artist’s sketchbook, not real life. We didn’t have much daylight available to explore the first several miles of the park but I’d really like to go back and spend much more time on the small hikes and overlooks. We drove through a massive unlit tunnel, winded down twisty roads, waited for a construction crew to finish cleaning up some rock debris, and eventually found our way to the Zion Lodge where we’d be spending the night. Check in was a breeze, and our little cabin was adorable. The programable fireplace as a heat source was a cute touch.

We dropped our stuff off in the room and headed across the street to hike around the Emerald Pools trail. We only made it to the lower and middle pools because it was starting to get dark, and then it started snowing. Still, the hike was beautiful. We were starving at this point, and the restaurant at the lodge had an easy takeout system, albeit slow. Sarah ordered some trout, and I ordered a quinoa chicken salad dish. Both were great. The kids ordered grilled cheese sandwiches or something. I’m sure they were terrific.

Took a while to figure out the settings on the fireplace heater thing (and a middle of the night scramble of button mashing before it actually kicked on to maintain the temperature), but we ultimately slept fine. The mattresses here were the worst out of the whole trip, but even then they were good enough that we felt rested to try another hike the next morning before heading out.

Day 7 – Morning in Zion, Springville

We only did the one night in Zion, so this was our checkout day. There was enough time to fit in one more small hike, so we drove towards the Visitor Center to the do the Watchman. Conditions were great, and the hike was a good fit for the kids. Not too long, enough to look at, and we saw some really cute mule deer. Snow started to fall as we pulled back into the lodge area to pack up the car so we got a few more memorable visuals of the cliffs within the canyon. Also, some wild turkeys.

After less than 24 hours in the park, we were off. The original plan was for us to spend more of the day in Zion and then find a hotel in Cedar City before beginning the drive back up to Boise. Instead, we finished up in Zion early, got lunch at a Cafe Rio in Cedar City, and then drove to the Provo area so that we could have an outdoor picnic dinner with one of my wife’s friends who she hadn’t seen in a long time. About 30 minutes South of the hotel we drove through what felt like a late season blizzard. It was gnarly. The temperature also dropped into the 30’s which made the picnic dinner seem like a horrible plan. We did it anyway!

Let’s talk about the hotel, though. Due to our terrible internet connection during the Zion stay, our hotel reservation for the next night never actually went through. It made it to a confirmation page on the app but it got hung up somewhere. When I arrived at the hotel they couldn’t find my reservation, so they offered me the going rate for the night. The clerk was nice, and when I asked him if I could do a quick check to see if the price was better he didn’t mind at all. Sure enough, it showed that it was $20 cheaper. I told him that I’d split the difference with him and placed $10 on the counter as a tip for being a good dude. I also “joked” with him about that “free upgrade to the presidential suite.” This always seems to work in the movies so I thought it might be worth a try here. That’s when it all went wrong.

He couldn’t find my reservation in the system. We waited a little longer, and still nothing. He finally asked me to check the app again to confirm that it went through. Upon a closer look, I had booked the correct hotel name, but I had booked their location in Springfield Minnesota instead of Springville Utah. Wow. Of course this was a non-refundable same day reservation. The clerk made a phone call and tried to get it canceled and refunded, but since I booked through I had to connect with their support, who then had to connect with the hotel. I eventually did get a refund, but it took 2 weeks. Also, it turns out there are no upgrades at this hotel, so my ploy was a wasted effort to begin with. All that being said, if you’re ever passing through the area, the Microtel in Springville is a nice and clean hotel.

We ordered a couple pizzas, met up with my wife’s friends in a local park, and froze our butts off while we chatted for a couple hours in the frigid weather. Back to the hotel to throw the kids in the pool for a bit before bed, and then we were ready to head out the next morning.

Day 8 – Golden Spike and Boise

I loaded up the car for the penultimate time and we drove North. After a quick stop in Bluffdale for gas and some grub from Kneaders (cinnamon role, croissant, smoothie) we decided to deviate from our course a bit to visit the Golden Spike National Historical Park. I had been here when I was younger and didn’t find it all that compelling, but it wasn’t horribly far out of the way and it gave the kids another Jr. Ranger badge to collect. This is the location where the Eastern and Western railroads connected the country together. This was memorialized with a Golden Spike in the track (and a couple other silver spikes). If you’re really interested in railroad history, you’d like this. If you’ve been on a road trip for 8 days and spent time at the Grand Canyon and Zion, this will obviously not measure up. The kids were not having it. We left before they even opened up the train garage and continued our drive up to Boise. We didn’t stop for food, we just ate stuff we had in the car (jerky, nuts, cereal, sandwiches, etc.)

This was a tedious drive. We were all tired, and were feeling the miles. We made it to Boise/Meridian shortly before dinner time and picked up a mountain of empanadas at The Empanada Club. This was a highlight (but no pictures)! Granted, we hadn’t eaten anything decent that whole day, but these were (to put it in terms that I can understand) essentially the best Hot Pockets I’ve ever had in my life. My favorite was the Carne Picante (braised beef with hot peppers and onions), but the Traditional (ground beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and olives) was great, as was the Chimichurri Chicken and Spinach and Feta.

I also made a quick stop at Sodalicious. I had heard about this chain before, but had never had the chance to visit. Basically a coffee stand, but instead of coffee it’s fountain drinks with different syrups and mixes. Like Sonic Drive-In, but a bit more focused (no burgers and stuff). Not knowing what to get, I ordered three interesting looking drinks and then let the employee choose a fourth one for me as a surprise. This doesn’t warrant an entirely separate blog post, but here’s my quick summary:

  • Ice – They use the soft pebble ice. Good stuff. Easy to chew, and very satisfying
  • El Doctoro – A mix of Dr. Pepper and horchata. This was weird, but not bad. It wasn’t better than plan Dr. Pepper, though. It also wasn’t better than plain horchata (sweet cinnamon rice milk). So, what’s the point?
  • Million Bucks – Combination of Coke, cranberry, and vanilla. This was good. I like adding stuff to Coke, and cranberry was tasty.
  • Castaway – 7up, guava, coconut, and lime. This was the surprise drink. I liked it, and is something I wouldn’t mind drinking again. Fresh lime is always a welcome addition, and guava and coconut made it fun.
  • Boy Scout – Root Beer with Toasted Marshmallow syrup. This was the the real revelation in the group. The bitter earthy flavor of the root beer paired surprisingly well with the toasted marshmallow syrup. Definitely an improvement over the the standard Barq’s root beer as the base. If I were to visit again this is what I’d get.

We headed back to check in at the hotel and get some sleep for our last night on the road. We stayed at the La Quinta again, even though we had a bad experience before. They gave us a discount on the room as a gesture of goodwill, and everything was fine. Out of all of our hotels, this was my least favorite. The rooms were a little more worn down, the frequency of guests not wearing masks was higher, and it just didn’t feel nearly as welcoming. We slept fine, though, and we headed out the next morning.

Day 9 – Heading home

We grabbed breakfast burritos from Los Betos by the hotel (I went vegetarian with just potato, egg, and beans), and we took a detour to Boise to buy some doughnuts. Guru Donuts seemed like the shop that most closely resembled Frost Doughnuts back home, and we weren’t disappointed with their options. I was disappointed that they spell doughnut as “donut”, but it’s hard to expect perfection from everyone. The winners at Guru were the potato flour based doughnuts. They were soft and moist and had a more balanced flavor. The other doughnuts we tried were fine, but the vegan doughnuts lacked a bit of punch. Regardless, I recommend Guru if you’re passing through.

After about an hour of driving, I was exhausted and needed to switch out. From there I tried to nap but didn’t have a lot of success. My wife took over for a long time and we had a fancy lunch at Taco Bell in Hermiston, Oregon. From there we pushed all the way to Union Gap, WA (near Yakima) and picked up tamales from a James Beard winning shop called Los Hernandez. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the seasonal variety of asparagus/pepperjack, or the jalapeno and cheese. Both the pork and chicken tamales were good, though. Not drive to Union Gap good, but still good.

And then we were home. Felt so good to shower in our own bathrooms, sleep in our own beds, and use a stable internet connection. We put 3,000 miles on the car, checked into 6 hotels, visited three national parks, and took a lot of pictures. If I were to do it again I’d break the trip up a bit different and dedicate about two weeks. My goal would be to spend a little more time in each spot. Overall, I’m very glad that we did it and am looking forward to whatever our next adventure turns out to be.

To take a look at Part 1 of the trip, click here.

To take a look at Part 2 of the trip, click here.